Full Court Press: Across all six classes, every undefeated team remaining at a glance
The Mitchell Republic's Full Court Press, the weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball in South Dakota, takes a closer look at the seven remaining undefeated teams in SD prep hoops.
MITCHELL — With the calendar ready to flip to February, just seven programs across the six classes of prep basketball in South Dakota remain unbeaten.
Four of the six classes still have an undefeated representative, with Class A boys and girls boasting five of the seven total teams.
Before that number dwindles any further, we take a look at who has made it to this point unscathed, the path they've taken and where potential tripping points remain entering the final few weeks of the regular season.
In the cases of Class AA and Class B girls, which have no remaining no-loss teams, we'll take a look at the team with the top-ranked team in the class according to the South Dakota prep media polls, which owns the best win percentage in both instances.
Class AA boys
Sioux Falls Jefferson (12-0)
One reason for success: Much like the Jefferson football team that ran the table and won the Class 11AAA state title in the fall, this program brought back perhaps more top-end talent than any other in Class AA. With 2021-22 second-team all-state selections Kaden Year and Taylen Ashley leading the way as seniors, the Cavaliers are barreling toward a special season on the hardwood.
Best wins: The Cavaliers defeated No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln by 14 points at JHS on Dec. 20 (rematch at LHS on Feb. 17) and owns a more recent road win against No. 4 Brandon Valley on Jan. 24.
Biggest hurdles still ahead: Tuesday night, the Cavaliers host No. 3-ranked Mitchell (9-2) before a Friday night contest at Class A Sioux Falls Christian (11-1). Jefferson also has a crosstown rivalry game at No. 2 Lincoln on Feb. 17 and a home date with No. 5 Pierre on Feb. 21.
Class A boys
Dakota Valley (12-0)
One reason for success: The Panthers haven't won 39 games in a row on accident, they are loaded. From University of South Dakota-bound Isaac Bruns to do-it-all guard Randy Rosenquist; talented junior big man Jaxson Wingert to perhaps the best third-option guard in the state in Jaxon Hennies, there isn't another Class A team — and few across any division — that can match what Dakota Valley puts on the floor.
Best wins: Dakota Valley has already asserted its dominance over two of its top challengers, taking out No.2 Sioux Valley, 82-57, on Jan. 21 at the Hanson Classic and No. 3 Sioux Falls Christian, 73-57, on the road on Jan. 26. The Panthers have also handed losses to other top teams such as Beresford (10-3), Clark/Willow Lake (10-4), Tea Area (7-3) and Hartington Cedar Catholic of Nebraska (9-2) as part of Class A's most difficult schedule (.653 opponent win percentage).
Biggest hurdles still ahead: The Panthers visit Elk Point-Jefferson (10-2) on Thursday and face off with Western Christian of Iowa (12-1) on Saturday at the Sanford Pentagon Heritage Classic in Sioux Falls. Also remaining on the schedule is a road game at Dell Rapids (10-2) and a home date with Lennox (11-1).
Hot Springs (12-0)
One reason for success: Few teams can say they're as clutch as the Bison, who have pulled off six wins — half their total — by five points or less. In fairness, scheduling has helped, as Hot Springs has played a schedule ranked in the bottom 10 of Class A to date with a .472 opponent win percentage.
Best wins: By far Hot Springs' top victory came in a 58-55 final against Faith on Jan. 14. It's one of two wins the Bison have against a squad above .500 to date, and it's the lone defeat for the Longhorns, who would otherwise be on this list in Class B.
Biggest hurdles still ahead: Three teams with winning records remain on the Bison's schedule, the top two of which will be games played away from home. On Feb. 14, Hot Springs visits No. 4 St. Thomas More (13-1) before turning around to host Red Cloud (9-4) on Feb. 16, with the season finale coming on Feb. 24 at Rapid City Christian (12-1).
Class B boys
Aberdeen Christian (12-0)
One reason for success: There's probably not a better backcourt-frontcourt duo in Class B than first-team all-state guard Malek Wieker and second-team forward Ethan Russell. Behind those two, the Knights have perfectly navigated the sixth-most difficult schedule (.561 opponent win percentage) in the class.
Best wins: Much like Dakota Valley in Class A, Aberdeen Christian has already defeated several top challengers, including No. 2 (then No. 1) White River, 87-68, at the Hanson Classic and No. 4 Lower Brule, 62-48, at the Hoop City Classic. Other notable wins include Waubay/Summit (11-1) and James Valley Christian (10-2).
Biggest hurdles still ahead: In all, six of Aberdeen Christian's final seven games are against teams with winning records at least three games above .500 as of Jan. 29. This week, the Knights are on the road at Northwestern (9-3) and meet up with Class A Dell Rapids in a game rescheduled from the Roncalli Classic. Later on, the schedule includes a DWU Classic matchup with Class A Hamlin (9-3) and a season finale at Class A Groton Area (7-2).
Class A girls
One reason for success: Experience from a run to last year's Class A title game primed the Chargers for another great start, and it all starts with the second-ranked defense in the class. Hamlin gives up just 32.1 points per game and owns an average scoring margin of plus-25.5, which is tied for third-best in Class A.
Best wins: As one might expect considering Hamlin's schedule, the most difficult in the class with an opponent win percentage of .614, the Chargers have rebuffed several other top teams. Among them are Florence/Henry and Sisseton, with both taking their only loss to date against Hamlin. Others include No. 5 St. Thomas More (11-3), Groton Area (10-3), Flandreau (10-4), Sioux Valley (10-4) and West Lyon of Iowa (10-4).
Biggest hurdles still ahead: Though several more difficult games remain, two immediately stand out above the rest. At the Dak XII-NEC Clash in Madison on Feb. 4, the Chargers battle No. 2 Vermillion (the next entrant on this list at 14-0), and the Feb. 10 DWU Classic features a matchup between Hamlin and Class B No. 1 Viborg-Hurley (12-1).
One reason for success: According to coach Jon Brooks, an extra year of growth from a successful 2021-22 for a young team has made all the difference in pushing the Tanagers toward the top this season. With that experience, Vermillion has racked up the most wins of any prep team in South Dakota to date.
Best wins: A one-point win over No. 3 Wagner, which remains the Red Raiders' lone loss, at the Jan. 14 Hanson Classic cemented the Tanagers' place among the Class A elite. Additionally, Vermillion gave Ponca (Neb.) its lone loss to date and most recently defeated Luverne of Minnesota (13-2) in the Sacred Hoops Classic in Sioux Falls.
Biggest hurdles still ahead: A Feb. 2 home date with Sioux Falls Christian (11-1) followed by the aforementioned Dak XII-NEC Clash tilt against No. 1 Hamlin on Feb. 4 stand as the only obvious challenges remaining for the Tanagers. Three of the other four games left on the calendar are against sub-.500 teams.
Red Cloud (13-0)
One reason for success: A high-powered offense has propelled the Crusaders so far, as Red Cloud claims the third-best offense (65.8 points per game) in Class A, behind only Rapid City Christian and No. 3 Wagner. They're no slouch defensively, either, as a plus-31.3 average scoring margin stands as the second-largest (to Wagner) in the class.
Best wins: While Red Cloud has yet to challenge any of the East River powers, its made light work of its West River opposition so far. Included in the Crusaders' conquests are Rapid City Christian (11-2) and Lakota Tech (8-4) on consecutive nights in the semifinals and championship of the Lakota Nation Invitational, as well as an additional home win over Lakota Tech and road defeat of Custer (9-5).
Biggest hurdles still ahead: Consecutive games at St. Thomas More (11-3) on Feb. 6 and at Rapid City Christian (11-2) on Feb. 10 loom large for the Crusaders, as does a Jan. 31 home meeting with Belle Fourche.
Now for a couple that were too close to discount...
Class B girls
One reason for success: Bringing back the senior core of Coral Mason, Denae Mach and Estelle Lee from last season's state championship squad has certainly played its part in a march toward a potential repeat (even if the Cougars prefer not to think about this season in that light).
Best wins: A resounding fourth-quarter surge in a 72-52 defeat of No. 2 Wolsey-Wessington at the Hanson Classic is likely to remain the best win by any Class B team for some time — perhaps until a challenger can knock off the Cougars themselves. Also, in fairness to the Cougars, no team from South Dakota has defeated them this season, as their lone loss came to Campbell County, a ranked team from Wyoming's largest enrollment division, in the Hoop City Classic.
Biggest hurdles still ahead: A Sacred Hoops Classic contest against Class A No. 3 Wagner (12-1) originally scheduled for Jan. 28 has been rescheduled for Feb. 4, while a battle with Class A No. 1 Hamlin at the DWU Classic on Feb. 10 remains, as does a season finale at home against Howard (12-3).
Class AA girls
Sioux Falls Jefferson (11-2)
One reason for success: Stop if you've heard this one before. Much like the boys team and the football team, Jefferson brought back a talented group from a state tournament team a year ago, headlined by senior guard Cierra Watkins.
Best wins: Jefferson toppled then-No. 1 Sioux Falls Washington (9-2) on Jan. 26 to avenge an earlier loss to the Warriors and assume the top spot in the most recent rankings. The Cavs also own wins over No. 4 Harrisburg (10-2) and Rapid City Stevens (11-2), which is receiving votes.
Biggest hurdles still ahead: A pair of ranked matchups remain, as the Cavaliers will host No. 5 O'Gorman on Feb. 16 and travel to No. 3 Pierre on Feb. 21.
Three that impressed
A look at the top team performances of the week.
Ethan girls: Behind a 3-0 week that was capped by a seven-point win over a 12-3 Howard team, the Rustlers entered the Class B poll for the first time this season, checking in at No. 5. Overall, Ethan is 10-2 and on a five-game win streak. Perhaps more importantly, Ethan is still undefeated against Class B opposition (losses to Class A No. 3 Wagner and Hanson).
Hamlin girls: It's hard not to be impressed with the No. 1-ranked team in Class A every week. However, between Jan. 21 and Jan. 26, the Chargers won three contests, including handing both Florence/Henry and Sisseton their only losses of the season (the third was a 44-point blowout of an Aberdeen Roncalli team with a winning record).
Brandon Valley boys: The Lynx jumped into the Class AA polls at No. 4 this week (and have climbed to No. 6 in seed points) after knocking off then-No. 5 Yankton on Jan. 26. Two day earlier, Brandon Valley came as close as anyone to defeating Sioux Falls Jefferson, falling by single point. Going back a little further, the Lynx also clipped then-No. 3 Pierre by one point on Jan. 19.
What we’re watching
Three games we’re watching in the coming week.
Mitchell at Sioux Falls Jefferson (Boys), Tuesday, Jan. 31: The Kernels become the next challenger to try and end the Cavaliers' perfect season in this No. 3 at No. 1 Class AA showdown. Jefferson knocked off Mitchell in a No. 4 versus No. 3 tilt at the Corn Palace last season.
Wagner vs. Viborg-Hurley (Girls), Saturday, Feb. 4: Weather denied fans the opportunity to see this matchup at last weekend's Sacred Hoops Classic in Sioux Falls, but the Class B No. 1 Cougars and Class A No. 3 Red Raiders will square this weekend in a neutral site game in Yankton.
Hamlin vs. Vermillion (Girls), Saturday, Feb. 4: No. 1 versus No. 2 in Class A, this could be a preview of a state championship game coming in a month and a half at the Dak XII-NEC Clash in Madison. Both teams could enter with an undefeated record, meaning someone is guaranteed to be knocked from the unbeaten ranks by Saturday's end.
Bonus: Dell Rapids at Aberdeen Christian (Boys), Saturday, Feb. 4: Class B No. 1 will put the ranking and (likely) perfect record on the line in another rescheduled game, this time from December's Roncalli Classic. The Knights have proven they're the class of Class B, but how do they stack up against this quality Class A contender?