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Boys Basketball

Defending state champion De Smet favored to repeat

De Smet boys basketball players celebrate winning last year's Class B championship at Wachs Arena. The Bulldogs are favored to win the event again this year. Photo by John Davis taken 3/20/2021

While there will likely be plenty of intensity, emotion and hard-fought battles at the State B Boys’ Basketball Tournament this weekend, there is no suspense when it comes to picking a pre-tourney favorite.

Defending state champion De Smet brings back the majority of its team, has been top-rated all season and has not lost to a Class B squad all year. Needless to say, the Bulldogs are the logical choice to win it all again this year.

“De Smet is the clear favorite as they have played a tough schedule, proving themselves throughout the season. Their experience and talent sets them apart,” said Waubay-Summit coach Mark Amdahl. “That being said, with the quality of teams in this tournament you don’t want to count anyone out as anything can happen.”

Aberdeen coach David Rohrbach feels the same way. His squad lost to De Smet in last year’s championship contest.

“They obviously have a lot of talent in their lineup and Kalen Garry is the leader of it. They’re experienced from last year and with one loss this season coming to an out-of-state opponent, they have to be the favorite,” Rohrbach said. “That said, March Madness and tournament time is special for a reason. There are a lot of good teams represented and teams will be hungry to take a shot at winning it all.”

Potter County coach Bryce Hall also picked the Bulldogs and pointed out the talents of Garry, who will be heading to South Dakota State to play next season. The Jackrabbits are currently playing in the NCAA Division I tournament.

“I’m going to have to go with De Smet,” Hall said. “They return plenty of their pieces and have a Division I commit who would be playing in the Dance if he was older.”

While Freeman Academy-Marion coach Austin Unruh said De Smet is the favorite, he said the rest of the field is very solid.

“They’ve got a very, very complete team, but overall there’s eight really good basketball teams here,” Unruh said. “There’s a lot of good teams, good players and I think it’s going to be a really exciting tournament. It’s kind of wide open.”

De Smet coach Jeff Gruenhagen is not going to deny that his team is favored to win this year’s tourney, but at the same time knows that his players have work to do in order to hoist another championship trophy on Saturday night.

“I think we are the favorite to win in 2022, but the competition will be very high,” Gruenhagen said. “Lower Brule and Potter County are playing great. Aberdeen Christian and White River have a lot of tourney experience and are also having great seasons.”

Today’s opening round pairings have De Smet vs. Waubay-Summit at noon, Potter County vs. Aberdeen Christian at 1:45 p.m., Lower Brule vs. Castlewood at 6 p.m., and White River vs. Freeman Academy-Marion at 7:45 p.m.

Here is a look at each team in the field:

Aberdeen Christian Knights (20-3)

Key Players: Malek Wieker (17 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists), Ethan Russell (14.6 points, 9.3 rebounds), Jackson Isakson (11.1 points, 5.6 rebounds), Kaden Clark (5.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists), Andrew Brennan (5.1 points).

Thoughts on opening round opponent Potter County: “I expect a highly competitive and intense game. They are relentless with their defensive pressure, so we will have to take care of the ball well and use how they play to get high-percentage shots early in the game,” said Christian coach David Rohrbach. “We have to slow down their two main offensive weapons in Cooper Logan and Grant Luikens. Getting back on defense and not giving them transition points will be key for us.”

What the Knights need to do to have a chance to win the championship: “We will have to defend exceptionally well. There are a lot of good teams here and a lot of good players. Kids that can really score the basketball,” Rohrbach said. “We will have to be attentive to detail on the defensive end and rebound well. We can’t give teams second-chance points when every possession matters. Offensively, we will need to hit shots and find ways to put pressure on the rim.”

Castlewood Warriors (17-6)

Key Players: Tristan Nielsen (13.6 points per game), Lane Tvedt (11.9 points), Jackson Schofield (8 points), Bryon Laue (8 points), Kegan Tvedt (1.5).

Thoughts on opening round opponent Lower Brule: “They are very athletic and make you play fast and make mistakes,” said Castlewood coach Mike Thyen. “They really feed on those mistakes with run outs and layups. They’re a very solid team that we will have to play a very good game on both ends to give ourselves a chance.”

What the Warriors need to do to have a chance to win a championship: “We have to have a little luck and some real solid basketball with very good shooting,” Thyen said, “and excellent defensive efforts to give us a chance.”

De Smet Bulldogs (22-1)

Key Players: Kalen Garry (20 points per game, 6.5 rebounds), Damon Wilkinson (14 points, 8.3 rebounds), Rett Osthus (10.4 points, 4.3 rebounds), Blake Van Regenmorter (3.2 points), Tory Holland (9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds), Kadyn Fast (4.7 points).

Thoughts on opening round opponent Waubay-Summit: “They are solid on offense with (J) Gulbraa at 6-7 and physical inside, and their PG Damon Opdahl can score from beyond the arc and create off the drive and score or drive and kick out,” said De Smet coach Jeff Gruenhagen. “They are good perimeter shooters and we will need a great defensive effort not give them open looks at the rim. Rebounding will be huge right away to keep them off the offensive boards and limit them to one shot each trip with that post size. Offensively, we will have to try to have good ball movement and shot selection. Damon Wilkinson will be very important on O and D controlling the paint for us. We hope to push in transition and keep the floor spread out for our perimeter players to attack gaps and find open shots.”

What the Bulldogs need to do to have a chance to win the championship: “We will have to play great defense every night and try to control the boards. There are many teams shooting lights out from beyond the arc so we will be trying to get out and contest those shots and limit them to one shot each trip,” Gruenhagen said. “Offensively, we will need to establish some inside play, have balanced scoring, and have great ball movement. Several teams are using a lot of zone and we will have to have some patience and great ball movement to create open shots while limiting turnovers and any fastbreak points.”

Freeman Academy-Marion Bearcats (21-2)

Key Players: Thalen Schroeder (16.4 points per game, 6 rebounds), Quincy Blue (16.4 points, 6.2 rebounds), Connor Epp (14.6 points, 5 assists), Donte Butler (6.2 points), Dylan Johansen (3.5 points), Matthew Hagen (6.6. points).

Thoughts on opening round opponent White River: “They’re established, they’re a great program, they’ve got a great coach,” said FA-M coach Austin Unruh. “They’ve been in the system for years and those kids know how to play basketball really well. It’s going to be a great challenge to see a top opponent like that. We have to come out and play great defense….and continue to do what we do well, getting up and down the floor fast, and shooting the ball well.”

What the Bearcats need to do to have success in the tournament: “We have to stay true to ourself, play fast, play physical and keep our defense locked in,” Unruh said. “Our defense has brought us here so far, along with great shooting and great athleticism. We just have to stay hot, stay focused and stay together.”

Lower Brule Sioux (20-3)

Key Players: Keshaume Thigh (18.7 points per game, 6.6 rebounds, 3.6 steals), Brian Laroche Jr. (15.6 points, 4.4 assists), Ellwyn Langdeau (10.1 points, 5 rebounds), Gavin Thigh (10 points, 4.5 assists), Lane Gray (9.8 points).

Season highlights: Lower Brule, which faces Castlewood in the opening round, started out the season by winning the Lakota Nation Invitational. The Sioux have not lost to a Class B team all season.

Lower Brule features a high-powered offense and has scored 65 points or more 19 times in its 23 games this season.

Potter County Battlers (22-1)

Key Players: Grant Luikens (21.5 points per game, 7.9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals), Cooper Logan (19.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.6 steals), Drake Basset (12.3 points), Seth Sharp (9.9 points, 7.5 rebounds), Colin Arbach (1.9 points).

Thoughts on opening round opponent Aberdeen Christian: “Well, we said after we lost in January that they can have this one and we’ll get ours in March, now we just need to go play like we have at the end of the season,” said Potter County coach Bryce Hall. “We will need to move their three-pointer shooters off the line and get our D boards cleaned. Offensively, we will need to finish at rim and knock down some threes.”

What the Battlers need to do to have a chance to win the championship: “The hard part is getting into the dance, now we need to play consistent on both ends of the floor,” Hall said. “We’ve been doing better from the perimeter and scoring through contact more consistently. We will need to keep that up. Defensively, we need to continue with ball pressure and keeping punctures to the paint to a minimum and clean our defensive glass.”

Waubay-Summit Mustangs (20-3)

Key Players: Damon Opdahl (16.6 points per game, 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.2 steals), Jonathon Johnston (14.1 points), J Gulbraa (12.3 points), Seth Gaikowski (6.3 points), Jackson Wohlleber (5.8 points).

Thoughts on opening round opponent De Smet: “De Smet has talent and experience. Everyone knows they can score the ball, but they are just as good on the defensive end,” said Waubay-Summit coach Mark Amdahl. “We will need to limit mistakes, and do all the little things. It comes down to executing what you’ve done all year and playing confident.”

What the Mustangs need to do to have a chance to win the championship: “Our team will do what got us here and hope that finds us success,” Amdahl said. “We need to play loose and confident. We try to be the best defensive and hardest working team on the court every game we play.”

White River Tigers (19-2)

Key Players: Joe Sayler (29.1 points per game, 6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.9 steals), Dylan Marshall (15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.9 steals), Nicolas Marshall (9.1 points, 3.9 assists), Gavin Folkers (7.4 points), Kendrell Cuevas (6 points, 4.9 rebounds).

Thoughts on opening round opponent Freeman Academy-Marion: “FA-M is a very well-coached team,” said White River coach Eldon Marshall. “They’re made up of athletic guards that work very hard and together, and they have shooters and size in the middle. We’ll need to rebound well against them and play at our pace.”

What the Tigers need to do to have a chance to win the championship: “We will need to play good defense without fouling. We need to stay out of foul trouble,” Marshall said. “Offensively, we must be smart when we need to, and make other teams work defensively and get great shots.”

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