Full Court Press: Five storylines to watch in the South Dakota boys state basketball tournaments
Inside: Class AA parity, Dakota Valley's unbeaten streak, De Smet's quest for three straight, tournament regulars and newcomers and a player to watch for each class
MITCHELL — The final three days of basketball are right on the horizon.
From the tipoff in early December, there have been a slew of storylines across South Dakota high school basketball. And come Saturday night, there will be resolutions to all of them.
Here are a few storylines going into the boys basketball state tournaments, which get underway Thursday, March 16.
Class AA: Parity galore
From top-seeded Sioux Falls Jefferson to ninth-seeded Harrisburg, Class AA feels like anyone's to win.
Sioux Falls Jefferson has largely sat at the top of the class for most of the season but suffered two losses in its last four games to No. 6 Pierre and No. 5 Sioux Falls Washington.
The Warriors are one of the hottest teams in AA, having taken down Mitchell, Sioux Falls Roosevelt, Jefferson and Yankton during their current nine-game winning streak.
Harrisburg, the lowest seed, has beaten Mitchell, Roosevelt and Washington this season, but lost to Yankton and Lincoln, while the Patriots defeated Mitchell, Washington twice, Pierre and Yankton and split with Roosevelt.
To put it simply, Class AA is the ultimate toss-up, with all eight teams capable of making a run.
Class A: Can anyone keep up with Dakota Valley?
The answer to that question has been a resounding no for the better portion of two years now.
The Panthers won all 26 games en route to a state championship last season, and this year, they’ve played 23 games and won them all. Adding in their win in the third-place game in the 2021 state tournament, and the Panthers have won a Class A-record 50 consecutive games, breaking the previous record of 49 that was set by Custer from 1989-91.
So the question remains, will the winning streak hit 53 by Saturday?
Anything can happen, but Dakota Valley figures to be the prohibitive favorite heading into the Class A state tournament, already having beaten No. 3 Sioux Falls Christian, No. 4 Sioux Valley and No. 7 Elk Point-Jefferson during the regular season. The Panthers open up their state tournament against No. 8 Hot Springs.
Led on offense by University of South Dakota commit and Gatorade state Player of the Year Issac Bruns, who averages 26.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, Dakota Valley is home to the highest-scoring offense in Class A at 77.2 points, over three points clear of the No. 2 team, Rapid City Christian. The Panthers also have Jaxson Wingert, who gives them 15.2 points, and Randy Rosenquist, who contributes 13.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 3.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per contest.
That big three forms one of the best trios across all classes in the entire state of South Dakota and has Dakota Valley as the favorite to take down its second state title in a row.
Class B: Defending champs lurking
For two years in a row, it’s been De Smet cutting down the nets in Aberdeen when everything was said and done.
At 20-3, the Bulldogs are back as the No. 3 seed in Class B looking for their third state title in a row. Last season, the Bulldogs’ stifling defense held Lower Brule to 26 points in the championship game, completely shutting out the Sioux in the fourth quarter.
This year, De Smet’s defense was the top in Class B, surrendering a class-low 40.3 points per game. And Damon Wilkinson, who put up 19 points and 23 rebounds in the championship game from last year, is back for the Bulldogs.
Wilkinson, a 6-foot-10 senior center, averages 21.3 points and 12.6 rebounds per game and was named the Dakota Valley Conference MVP after the Bulldogs Kalen Garry, who now plays Division I at South Dakota State, to graduation at the end of last season.
Even though the Bulldogs aren’t the No. 1 seed, they were unbeaten against Class B competition, falling three times to Class A foes, and they beat state-tournament teams in Lower Brule, the No. 1 seed, and Castlewood, the No. 8 seed, this season.
De Smet opens up with a strong sixth-seeded Viborg-Hurley squad, but with one of Class B’s best players, as well as the top defense in the class, a third consecutive state title certainly isn’t out of the question for the Bulldogs.
There has not been a three-time state champion in Class B in the state's modern three-class era. A three-time champion in Class B has not happened since 1946-1948 when Webster won it all.
Who’s back, who's new?
Across all three classes, a host of teams return to the state tournament from last season. All three champions from a year ago are back in the state tournament defending their respective titles.
Here’s a list of each team returning to the field from a year ago.
Class AA: No. 1 Sioux Falls Jefferson, No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln, No. 3 Mitchell, No. 4 Yankton, No. 5 Sioux Falls Washington, No. 7 Sioux Falls Roosevelt (defending champion), No. 9 Harrisburg.
Class A: No. 1 Dakota Valley (defending champion), No. 2 St. Thomas More, No. 3 Sioux Falls Christian, No. 4 Sioux Valley.
Class B: No. 1 Lower Brule, No. 2 Aberdeen Christian, No. 3 De Smet (defending champion), No. 5 White River, No. 8 Castlewood.
In Class AA, Pierre is the lone newcomer to the tournament field, making its first appearance since 2017. Meanwhile, in Class A, seeds No. 5 through 8 are new to the state tournament from a year ago, and Class B features three new teams.
Here’s a list of each team that wasn’t in the tournament last year with the last time they made the tournament.
Class AA: No. 6 Pierre (2017).
Class A: No. 5 Hamlin (1993), No. 6 Mount Vernon/Plankinton (2017), No. 7 Elk Point-Jefferson (2010), No. 8 Hot Springs (2019).
Class B: No. 4 Faith (2020, will be playing first game since 2015, though, due to COVID-19 cancellation), No. 6 Viborg-Hurley (2021), No. 7 Ethan (2014).
A player to watch in each class
In a wide-open class, having a star player like JT Rock helps give Sioux Falls Lincoln a boost not every team has.
The 7-foot-1 junior helped lead the Patriots to an 18-3 record, averaging 18 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest. His ability to stretch the floor (he knocked down 14 3-pointers at a 29.2% clip), combined with his height down low makes him a matchup nightmare for Class AA.
On the defensive end, the Iowa State commit averaged 3.8 blocks per game and came away with just under one steal per contest, too.
Averaging a double-double for Sioux Valley, Alec Squires may not be the leading scorer on his squad, but he could be the most important on a team with an abundance of talent.
Squires, a junior, averages 15 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and 2.5 blocks per game for the Cossacks and shoots 70% from the field and 84% from the free-throw line.
His presence, along with Oliver Vincent’s 20 points, 6.5 assists and two steals per game, makes Sioux Valley a tough out in Class A.
Last year, Joe Sayler set the Class B boys record for most points in a first-round game when he dropped 43 against Freeman Academy/Marion.
Sayler, a South Dakota State commit, is back in the state tournament with White River for his senior season as the No. 4 seed after averaging 30.8 points per contest.
He sits at No. 5 in South Dakota history in scoring with 2,611 points heading into the state tournament. He’s the only player in the Class B state tournament this season averaging over 30 points per game.