Dierks: Buckle up, because the 2023 Class AA boys basketball state tournament could get wild
"In recent memory, this year is probably (going to produce) the most worthy state tournament winner, whoever it is," said Mitchell head coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt.
RAPID CITY — As the eight Class AA boys basketball state tournament qualifiers descend on the Summit Arena, all eight likely feel they have the firepower to win three games in three days to take down a championship.
It’s not wishful thinking.
From top-seeded Sioux Falls Jefferson, which started 17-0 but faltered and lost two of three prior to the postseason, to No. 9 Harrisburg, which notched the lone SoDak 16 upset (by seed), this season possesses the most potential for parity the state’s largest enrollment class has seen in a while.
“It's unreal. We feel like we say that anybody can win it every year, but it's really true this year,” said Mitchell head coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt. “Class AA boys basketball was really good this year, and the tournament’s going to be brutal. Whoever wins it is going to come out of there wounded. In recent memory, this year is probably (going to produce) the most worthy state tournament winner, whoever it is.
“And there are two teams that are state tournament (caliber) teams that aren't playing this weekend in O’Gorman and Brandon Valley,” he added.
Styles and matchups make for good bouts, giving each Class AA quarterfinal its intrigue.
As Jefferson and Harrisburg clash, it pits two of the top scoring trios in the tournament against one another. Jefferson’s Taylen Ashley, Kaden Year and Griffin Wilde (45.2 combined points per game) go head-to-head against Harrisburg’s Ethan Determan, Jacoby Mehrman and Braeden VanBockern (44.4). They might very well wash each other out, leaving the game to be decided by the role players in a toss-up.
No. 4 Yankton and No. 5 Sioux Falls Washington, the top-two scoring defenses in the tournament, recently played to a 46-41 final in a Warrior win. Their quarterfinal meeting seems destined to follow a similar script, with a race to 40 points deciding the victor.
The quarterfinal clash between No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln and No. 7 Sioux Falls Roosevelt is a rubber match, as the two schools split their regular-season meetings. Lincoln won by 17 on its home floor in December, while Roosevelt returned the favor with a 14-point win in February. It feels unlikely either side will be able to run away from the other in the final eight.
Rounding out the slate is an Eastern South Dakota Conference battle between No. 3 Mitchell and No. 6 Pierre. The Kernels won the first meeting, 62-55, a month ago, but both squads are surging toward the finish. Mitchell has won five straight, while Pierre downed Roosevelt, Jefferson and O’Gorman in consecutive games to reach the tournament. Only one can move on to the semifinals.
“There are no easy first-round (quarterfinal) matchups,” Kreutzfeldt said. “People might say, ‘Oh, you got Pierre, they're pretty good.’ But really, no matter who we got, we’d say they’re really good.”
If one were to attempt to predict how the tournament plays out, a coin flip might be the most reliable method, as scrutinizing each matchup only tugs the mind in a multitude of directions.
“This tournament is going to be so competitive. Nobody would really be surprised if the No. 8 (or 9, in this case) seed is in the championship, because nobody would be surprised at anything,” Kreutzfeldt said. “Anyone can beat anyone. The only reason there are seeds is to determine who wears what jersey. Everyone is so good, that you'll have to be on the top of your game to have a chance at winning.”
Enough talking. It's almost time to tip off and see how it all plays out.