CLASS 1A BOYS BASKETBALL EARLY WEEK PREVIEW
BY: KERRY SHERMAN
While the Monday night slate for the final week of regular season play was lacking the big match-ups, Tuesday has them in bushel baskets. Included in the slate is a big clash between two of the top three teams in the CHSAA Selection and Seeding Index, which we use for all rankings in the preview.
Top-ranked Belleview Christian not only puts its unbeaten mark on the line, but the 5280 title is also at stake when the Bruins visit #3 Denver Jewish Day. The Bruins have beaten opponents by almost 600 points on the season, and have only had two games decided by single digits. One of those to a potential 4A qualifier (Jefferson). Nathaniel Owen has already eclipsed several milestones during his senior campaign, including going over 1000 points early in the season, as well as blocking his 200th career shot. With three more steals he gets to 200. He’s just 208 points away from 1500, and at his current average of 22.4 points a game, that figure is within reach.
Denver Jewish Day had a 10-game winning streak snapped in its last contest, a 52-50 loss to 3A Bishop Machebeuf. The Tigers saw Bishop Machebeuf hit 11 of 22 three-pointers in that game last Thursday. Andrew Zimmerman is the only player in 1A to average more than Owen in the score book, with his 24.8 points a game tied for seventh best in the entire state, regardless of classification. The Tigers have won 17 of the last 21 meetings with Belleview Christian, but are just 1-3 in the last four.
A month ago, Otis (6th) hosting 2A #6 Merino may not have been much more than a blip on the radar. However, with the Bulldogs having won 11 straight, and Merino having just handed 3A #5 Yuma its fourth loss of the season, Tuesday’s contest jumps into the spotlight. Otis has already locked up the YWKC league title, but the Bulldogs are still tussling with Stratton (5th) for the top seed in the District 5 tournament. They have not lost since suffering back-to-back losses to Stratton. Senior Jack Willeke is closing in on 1000 points in his career, but that milestone might have to wait until districts. He’s a load to handle in the post, which gives his guards good looks on the perimeter.
Merino has handled the move up to 2A about as well as one might expect. All of their five losses are to teams currently in the top-10 of a Seeding Index, either 1A or 2A. Kaden Piel will be one of the Rams tasked with limiting Willeke’s effectiveness, while Tyler Miller (18.9 ppg) patrols the perimeter with nearly endless range.
With the Union Pacific portion of their slate completed, the Genoa-Hugo Pirates (4th) begin the final week of the regular season with three games that will have big impact on the Seeding Index. First up, a trip to Cheyenne Wells (9th). The Pirates have won six straight since a modest two-game skid in mid-January. They have not lost to a 1A team this season, and all three of their losses were to teams in the top-15 of the 2A Seeding Index. With a deep postseason run, junior Trey Smith could potentially surpass the 1000 career point mark this season. He enters the week averaging better than 18 points a game and is less than 180 points from the milestone.
After fighting through a ton of injuries in December, Cheyenne Wells has only dropped three games in 2023 and have won their last three. Two of those losses were to defending state champions, #2 McClave and Greeley County (KS), who won the Class 1A Division 2 title last year and is undefeated this season. Ty Scheler (19), Blake Gilmore (16), and Bryson Hyle (16) all went for double digits in last Saturday’s 60-57 win over 2A #8 Holly. The Tigers have lost three of the last four meetings with Genoa-Hugo, including the last two.
Wiley (15th) is the last team to beat Cheyenne Wells and the Panthers find themselves locked in a tight race for the #4 seed in the upcoming District 2 tournament. They sit four spots behind Cheraw (11th) and only one in front of Eads (16th). Granada is only two more back in 18th. A win over South Baca (47th) doesn’t do a lot for Wiley, but it can boost the winning percentage portion of their RPI, and every win this time of year carries a bit more weight. With McClave looming on Thursday, this could be a chance to build up a little more confidence before that huge clash.
Eads actually has a chance to pass Wiley, thanks to a make-up game with Idalia (17th) on Tuesday. The Eagles enter the contest having dropped a 42-40 decision to Cheyenne Wells last Friday. Conner Wollert was one rebound away from a double-double, which would have been his fourth of the season. The senior is grabbing close to 10 boards a night, and scoring right around eight points.
Idalia needed a huge fourth quarter in its game at 2A Caliche (43rd) on Friday to push its winning streak to six games. The Wolves outscored the Buffs 27-9 in the final frame to pull out a 59-47 victory. Kale Morris scored 27 points, hitting six three-pointers in the contest. The junior has made at least two in every game, and has 11 games with at least four long distance connections. After making 77 last season, Morris is at 70 makes this year, and 172 in his career. Idalia has a slight lead over Arickaree (20th) for the #3 seed in districts, and a win on Tuesday would be big step in freezing the Bison out.
Cheraw is trying to chase down Cheyenne Wells for the #2 spot in the District 2 field, and the Wolverines have a couple of games down the stretch that could help them do so. First, they visit La Veta (22nd), looking to build upon last week’s 35-28 win over Springfield (23rd). That’s followed by a home game with McClave on Friday. Wins in both would shoot the Wolverines well inside the top-10 of the Seeding Index.
For the Redhawks, Tuesday’s game could help them secure the top spot in the District 3 field. With that district bringing teams from two different leagues together, the Seeding Index will determine the bracket order, and Springfield is right on their heels. La Veta has won three straight and four of its last five. The Redhawks have another big clash on Thursday against Sierra Grande (13th).
A couple of other games to keep an eye on have Pikes Peak Christian (14th) visiting 2A #16 Custer County, Ouray (34th) hosting 2A #36 Telluride, and Nucla (24th) hosting 2A #9 Plateau Valley. Pikes Peak Christian sits atop the 1A Black Forest, but trails Genoa-Hugo for the top seed in District 7. A win by the Eagles should result in a narrowing of the gap, but the biggest impact would be in regional seeding. Ouray and Telluride are both currently sitting outside of their respective regional fields, and the winner just might earn a spot after districts. Nucla is looking to bounce back from a five-point loss to Telluride last week, and get back on track before closing the regular season against Dove Creek (10th).