Friday at the 2021 state basketball tournament is sure to be electric for the semifinals in Classes A, B and C-1. All the No. 1 teams have survive to the round, and a few other big names and upstarts will join them. Here they are, in order.
Auburn (24-0) vs. Omaha Concordia (22-4) at 9 a.m.
The top-seeded and top-ranked Bulldogs ran their winning streak to 60 consecutive games on Wednesday with a 51-28 win over Pierce. Auburn overwhelmed the Bluejays from the start, jumping a 21-6 lead at the half and cruising to the win.
Coach Jim Weeks’ stars shined on Friday, with Daniel Frary netting 18 points and Nebraska-Kearney pledge Cam Binder adding 14 for Auburn.
The Bulldogs get Omaha Concordia in the semifinal after they defeated previously unbeaten Milford, 66-54. Milford jumped to a 20-11 lead after the opening quarter, but then Concordia flipped the switch while pulling away.
Concordia put three players in double figures and shot 40 free throws in the win. Justin Otten (19), Karsten Mathsen (17) and Zach Kulus (15) all were in double figures for the Mustangs.
SAUTTER SAYS: Concordia went to Auburn and lost 50-39 on Jan. 7. A neutral site should help make the game a little closer. Auburn’s Daniel Frary is having a tremendous season and he will need to have a big game against the size the Mustangs front court size.
Let’s face it this game comes down to the pace. If Auburn can get ahead early then Concordia could be in trouble. Jim Weeks is a master as taking the air out of the game and winning low scoring affairs. In three of Concordia’s four losses the Mustangs didn’t score more than 40. If Concordia can get the game in the 50’s and make close to double-digit 3-pointers they have a chance to end Auburn’s winning streak at 60.
Along with Frary, Binder, his brother Maverick and cousin Ryan will need to be locked-in defensively. The key will be slowing Kulus down from distance and hindering his ability to get to the rim.
Wayne (23-5) vs. Adams Central (25-2) at 11:15 a.m.
On a day with some upsets at Pinnacle Bank Arena, Wayne may have pulled the biggest one, ousting Kearney Catholic — unbeaten in Class C-1 this year — 59-52. The Patriots advanced in equally thrilling fashion with a 63-56 overtime win over St. Paul.
The Blue Devils led 29-22 at the half, but saw the Stars cut the lead to 35-33 after three quarters, but pulled away with an 18-for-21 performance from the free throw line in the final frame. Brandon Bartos (18), Tanner Walling (15) and Colton Vovos (12) were in double figures for the Devils who will be in the semifinals for the first time since 2014.
AC survived against a gritty St. Paul team behind their own solid performance from the free throw line after the two teams played free basketball after being tied at 48 in regulation. Lucas Bohlen was 8-for-8 from the line in the extra session on his way to 18 points. Cam Foster added 15, his 3-point shot in overtime giving the Patriots the lead for good.
SAUTTER SAYS: Wayne didn’t come into the tournament with much respect. The win over Kearney Catholic proved that the Blue Devils belong. They have length and size to matchup with AC. Bartos has the ability to hit big shots in big moments. If Bartos and Walling can handle the intense defensive pressure Cam Foster and Tyler Slechta will provide they can win.
AC will count on Foster and Slechta to be the primary ball handlers and scorers. Bohlen, the teams leading scorer (12) coming into the tournament can stretch the floor from deep, specifically from the corner. AC’s length defensively with their extended 1-2-2 pressure and 1-3-1 in the half court has been hard for teams to handle. If Dante Boelhower’s athleticism at the top of that zone and team defense when they play man can cause some turnovers look for the Patriots to advance.
Norris (19-2) vs. Elkhorn (18-7) at 1:30 p.m.
The prep shouldn’t be too much work for Norris coach Jimmy Motz and Elkhorn coach Benji Hoegh, as the Eastern Midlands rivals will meet for a third time in the first Class B semifinal. Norris has taken both meetings so far.
Both teams advanced on Tuesday morning with nearly identical scores, the top-ranked and top-seeded Titans a 62-46 win over Blair and Elkhorn with a 63-48 win over Platteview.
Norris got 18 points from Brayson Mueller, 13 from Trey Deveaux and 10 from Cade Rice in the first round win. Elkhorn, which will make just its third semifinal appearance since 1971, got 19 from Drew Christo and 18 from Dane Petersen.
SAUTTER SAYS: Both teams are well coached and have multi-sport stars. Future Nebraska baseball teammates Christo and CJ Hood (Norris) are likely going to play a huge part in the game. Hood’s length and athleticism can be a problem for Elkhorn but so can Christo’s ability to score around the basket and stretch the floor by hitting free-throw line jumpers. Dane Peterson had a big game for Elkhorn in the quarterfinals. If he can get to double-figures that will give Elkhorn a chance. If Mueller and Deveaux can handle the length of the Antlers 1-3-1 defense Norris will play for the title.
Waverly (16-6) vs. Beatrice (17-6) at 4 p.m.
Both Waverly and Beatrice started off Wednesday’s quarterfinals by flipping the Class B bracket on it’s head.
Waverly knocked off defending champion Omaha Skutt 41-40 on Andrew Heffelfinger’s jumper with three seconds left and then Beatrice defeated Elkhorn Mt. Michael 49-39 behind a 31-point second half and Bennett Crandall’s 19 points.
The Vikings got 14 points from Heffelfinger and nine from Preston Harms as they advanced to their first semifinal since 1995, while Beatrice is this far for the first time since their 2008 championship team.
SAUTTER SAYS: This is isn’t the matchup anyone outside of Waverly or Beatrice would’ve projected when the brackets came out. The Orangemen defeated Waverly 57-33 just under a month ago (Feb. 19).
Much like the first Class B semifinal, this game will be about pace. If Beatrice can control possessions and use the clock to get the best shot possible like they did against Mount Michael then look for the Orangemen to advance to their first final since 2014. If Waverly plays with the same defensive effort and intensity they did in their quarterfinal win they will be tough to stop. A key could be the 3-point shooting of Beatrice senior Devin Smith and Waverly’s Harms.
Millard North (24-2) vs Millard West (18-5), 6:15 p.m.
The two teams met once earlier this season in a Feb. 12 matchup at Millard North that saw the Mustangs win 60-45.
Millard North turned Millard West over 19 times in the first matchup. Of those 19 turnovers 14 came from Millard North steals. Old Dominion signee Jadin Johnson and five-star Hunter Sallis each had four steals. Millard West senior Ryan Larsen had a team-high 20 points on 6 of 13 from behind the arc in the first matchup. The Mustangs made just 2 of 16 3-pointers in the first matchup but the forced turnovers turned into layups as the Mustangs shot 24 of 33 from inside the arc.
Sallis led Millard North with 26 points, eight rebounds and four steals in the Mustang win. After controlling virtually the entire game in the quarterfinals, Millard West needed just about every second and Evan Meyersick’s game-winning shot at the buzzer for the 47-45 win over Pius. Millard North cruised to a 73-46 win over rival Millard South in the quarterfinals.
SAUTTER SAYS: If the first matchup is any indication of what to look for on Friday night then expect Millard North to reach their second final in as many years. Millard West is going to need a big game from senior guard Dom Humm and his backcourt mate Larsen.
The Wildcats generally like to play a little faster but have wins while scoring in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Expect Millard West to try and use their size and athleticism when they can. The frontcourt of James Conway and Meyersick are going to have to play big. Conway has scored in double figures each of the last six games while Meyersick came into the tournament as the Wildcats leading scorer (13.5). If Millard West can get the same production from Larsen they did the first time they played and more from Humm while keeping the game in the 50’s they will give themselves a chance at the upset.
Millard North needs to just do what they do. Play fast, play loose and let the stars shine. Sallis and uncommitted senior Saint Thomas are the clear leader of the team. It’s well documented that both can score and defend but the key to the game will be if the Mustangs can speed up Millard West. If they can and if Tyler Sandoval and Jasen Green can control defensive rebounds then look for the Mustangs to move on.
Creighton Prep (23-2) vs Bellevue West (23-2), 8:30 p.m.
Creighton Prep’s two losses, Bellevue West. As the saying goes it’s really hard to beat a good team three times. Well the Jr. Jay’s are exactly that, but not just good, a very good team.
The first matchup was a 73-64 win in the Metro semifinals. A game that was much closer than the score might indicate. After three quarters the T-Birds held a 50-46 lead. The second was a back and forth affair with the T-Birds winning on Prep’s home floor in overtime 79-77 on Jan. 30.
A small trend in the two games is that Bellevue West’s two stars needed to score 30-plus in each of the games. In the first matchup, it was Omaha bound Frankie Fidler with an even 30. The second game saw Chucky Hepburn score 32 and hit big shots down the stretch and in overtime to secure the win.
Prep has won eight in a row including a 76-75 road win at Millard North. The Jr. Jay’s have an extremely balanced attack and a senior laden roster. Both teams like to play fast but have shown they can win close games, if needed. It was the fourth game of the year, but Prep did go on the road and win at semifinalist Millard West 42-40. For a team averaging 78 points per game, Bellevue West slogged their way to a 55-47 win over Lincoln East in the quarterfinals.
SAUTTER SAYS: There shouldn’t be any long possessions in this one. Both teams would rather play fast and have quick possessions. The matchup to watch is the two junior forwards. Prep’s Luke Jungers came into the tournament leading the team in scoring (12) and second on the team in rebounding. T-Bird William Kyle is averaging 9.5 points and 5.6 rebounds. Both didn’t have great games in the quarterfinals and should be more comfortable on the bigger stage on Friday night.
Prep senior point guard Justin Sitti has had two really nice games against the T-Birds. He’s had a team-high 21 in both matchups and if he can duplicate that and the Jr. Jays can get a little more production in the paint from senior AJ Rollins and Jungers then Prep will have an edge.
It’s hard to say a team played the worst game of the year and they won but that is the exact sentiment T-Bird coach Doug Woodard had after the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Bellevue West shot 46% from the field and just 2 of 15 for 13% from 3-point range versus East. If Josiah Dotzler knocks down big shots like he did in the second half and overtime against Prep on Jan. 30 and at the state tournament in 2020 then give Bellevue West an edge.
This one will be close and could come down to the final possessions. The stars for Bellevue West, Hepburn and Fidler will likely shine like they have all season. Sitti will likely play well for Prep and the balance of the Jr. Jays will be there. The key for Prep is the continued strong production from junior Casey O’Malley off the bench. If they can get 10 plus from him and a few rebounds Prep should be the winner.