Class B has always been one of my favorite classes for high school basketball. So, after delving into what has transpired thus far this season, I have decided to access the situation and attempt to clear the picture as far as what the path to the state tournament looks like for the 32 team field.
Yes, it is far to early to declare any definitive picture of who will and will not make it to Lincoln in March, but a glance at the District line-ups and wild card picture will at least clarify some things. I'm certain there are many fans that are not even aware what teams are in what districts. A quick look at the NSAA wild card standings help, but without knowing district assignments and future schedules, it's kind of cloudy.
So, here is a breakdown of each district as of Wednesday, January 10th:
Class B-District 1:
Beatrice 8-2 (44.20), Norris 7-2 (44.11), Waverly 6-3 (43.40), Platteview 5-5 (40.90), Nebraska City 2-7 (36.80).
Is this a stacked district or what? Beatrice (6), Norris (7), and Waverly (10) are all in the wild card top 10 standings. The bad news.. only one team can win this district. The good news would be another can grab a wild card slot if it is available by then.
Beatrice: This is a disciplined ball club. Remember, this team is not even a year removed from the Jimmy Weeks era, and new head coach Tyler Struck is carrying on the tradition rather well. I saw this team win the Northwest Holiday Tournament and players like 6-4 Matt Fujan and 6-3 Rylee Zimmerman make this team click. They rarely miss free throws and have solid composure in the crunch.
They have the River Cities Tournament next week and have only one "soft" game remaining on their schedule. Upcoming contests with Omaha Skutt, GI Northwest, Sioux Sioux City, Ralston, and Waverly will make the Orangemen a tough team come district time. Beatrice is coming off a 54-47 loss last Saturday at Norris.
Norris: The Titans already have wins over Waverly, Beatrice and S.S. City, but dropped a 67-61 decision to 5-4 Blair on Dec. 11. They have the Eastern Midlands Conference tournament coming up Jan. 21, which is always tough, and close the season with a brutal quartet of games that include Skutt, Lincoln Christian, Gretna, and Ralston. With standout guard Dylan Bohlke just starting to get back in shape after hernia surgery, Norris is a dangerous team. Just two years back the Titans were a semi final team in the Class B state tournament.
Waverly: Coach Mark Watton now guides this current group of Vikings. Waverly sports a tall line-up, going 6-3, 6-4, 6-5, 6-6, yet needs to rebound better if they want to be a threat in February. Waverly lost a couple of squeakers recently to Norris and Ralston and suffered through abysmal 3 point shooting and poor rebounding. Still a nice team that has the luxury of a "not so difficult" schedule the rest of the way.
Platteview: The Trojans are playing a predominantly C-1 schedule and may appear a little over matched when it comes to district time. They compete in the Capitol conference which means they have a game with Wahoo yet to come plus one with unbeaten Falls City. They have won their last three games, although one was over winless Conestoga.
Nebraska City: Pioneers are 3-7 and have not yet reached the toughest part of their slate. Three wins have been over teams with a combined 4-32 record. They would be a long shot at best to contend in this district.
Elkhorn South 8-1 (44.67), Omaha Skutt 10-3 (44.54), Ralston 7-3 (42.90), Gretna 7-3 (42.80), Omaha Gross 5-5 (40-90).
This District is the toughest Class B district in the state. Coach Bill Heard's Ralston Rams are no better than 4th here and have not lost a game to Nebraska competition. Have a look:
Elkhorn South: Alex Bahe's Storm is 3rd in the wild card standings behind Omaha Roncalli and Scottsbluff. South has not yet faced the meat of their River Cities schedule, plus has Norris and Roncalli up the next two outings. How they compete the remainder of the way will tell the tale for this bunch. Matt Thomas is a dandy for the Storm.
Omaha Skutt: Thanks to an opening 3 game trip to the far Western reaches of the state, the SkyHawks have 10 wins already. Competing as a special guest in the Western Conference Tournament may have served as an eye opener for Skutt. They beat Alliance 73-52 in the opener, but took overtime to beat Sidney, and then dropped a 65-52 decision to defending "B" champion Scottsbluff. Since then the SkyHawks have lost only to Elkhorn South by 3 and tough Sioux City Heelen (67-58). Big win for Skutt was a crusher over wild card leader Omaha Roncalli 62-42 on Dec. 18th. Nobody has a tougher schedule than these guys the rest of the way.
Gretna: Brad Feeken knows how to coach. This bunch is always dangerous come district time. Two of their losses were to Skutt (50-47) and Elkhorn South (69-47) and the other one was an ouchie to 6-5 South Sioux City (62-51). The Dragons have the Eastern Midlands Tourney coming up and are led by Mitch Drey and Trevor Leiting. Gretna is money at the charity stripe, especially late in the game and sometimes dictate the tempo against quicker opponents.
Ralston: Another superbly coached basketball team by Bill Heard. The Rams have not lost to a Nebraska opponent, with all three losses coming to Missouri and Kansas teams in the Blue Valley Shootout in early December. The Rams still have the River Cities tourney and the regular season River Cities games on the remaining schedule, so the road will be tough. Remember that this crew only missed the Class B state tournament one time between 2000-2010. The Rams have a tremendous player in 6-5 Zach Flott, who is one of the top 15 players in Nebraska.
Omaha Gross: This team has probably beaten the teams they should have and lost to the better squads. Two nice things about the Cougars; they spread their scoring out evenly and they always come to play. Nobody has really blown them out thus far and maybe Friday's game against rival Skutt may be an indication how the rest of their season could go. Gross would have a pretty good shot in a lot of other "B" districts.
Omaha Roncalli 7-2 (44.89), South Sioux City 6-5 (43.91), Blair 5-4 (41.00), Bennington 3-6 (40.33), Elkhorn 6-6 (40.25), Elkhorn Mt. Michael 1-8 (37.22).
Roncalli looks to be the class in this district, but we'd better hold the phone on that one while we investigate further.
Omaha Roncalli: Difficult to tell how good Roncalli is due to the fact they've only faced 3 Class B games through their first 9 contests. The fact they still lead "B" in the wild card standings point to the flaw in those ratings that states you aren't docked in points for playing down a class. Not to worry because the Crimson Pride have an exclusive Class B schedule the rest of the way including the River Cities Tournament and that takes place next week. We'll know more after that smoke clears.
South Sioux City: Pretty difficult to as good as a year ago when you lose a man the caliber of Iowa freshman star Mike Gesell to graduation. The Cardinals have fared pretty well despite that fact and their record is certainly deceiving. The losses have all been to top notch teams, two of whom (Sioux City North, Sioux City East) are among Iowa's best. South Sioux has beaten Gretna and Gross and could be a spoiler in next week's River Cities frey. Nathan Rogers is a nice holdover from a year ago, while junior Jordan Comstock and sophomore Alex Borchers also contribute.
Blair: Looks like a pretty tough district assignment for the Bears, although they do have a nice win over Norris in December. A brutal February schedule will tell the story for this club.
Bennington: Don't let that 3-6 record fool you, the Badgers are a lot better than that. Every single loss has been to a quality basketball team. I had the chance to see them play in the Northwest Holiday tournament and Matt Torczon and Jacob Bliss are pretty salty players. A tough slate the rest of the way will toughen this team for districts.
Elkhorn: River Cities dominated early season schedule has not been kind to the Antlers. Elkhorn has dropped games to Skutt, Gross, and Ralston (twice). Antlers have a tough February also, facing Gretna, Fremont and Elkhorn South. Still, Elkhorn cannot be counted out in this district.
Elkhorn Mt. Michael: Been a tough road for the Knights since the days of Killer Kane and the smothering 1-3-1 zone days. Still tough to play in their tiny gym but this team will have a difficult time competing in this district. Sad to see.
York 6-4 (41.10), Crete 5-5 (40.30), Seward 2-8 (39.90), Columbus 1-11 (36.83), Schuyler 2-8 (36.70).
Well....York is the highest rated team in the wild card standings and they are 15th. Draw your own conclusions. I think Crete has a real shot here and don't be surprised if Seward doesn't have a chance. The Bluejays are a ton better than their current 2-8 record shows.
York: Dunno. The Dukes have some athleticism with players like Ty Danielson, Jared Miller and Ryan Dolan. The fact is that Danielson, as dangerous a shooter as he is, can be controlled with a bothersome defense and can be frustrated into committing unnecessary fouls. Nonetheless, the kid can score so that makes the Dukes a dangerous team on a given night. York really hasn't beaten a top notch team and fell into GICC's defensive web while dropping a 54-47 game to the Crusaders last Saturday. Northwest did the same thing but laid a 22 point loss three days prior to that. York also has dropped games to Ralston and Waverly. Good news here is that they will not see that kind of opposition in the District 4 Tournament.
Crete: We'll know a lot more when the Cards tangle with York Friday night. Crete is another team that wins when they are supposed to and loses to to better teams. This team is capable of getting to Lincoln coming out of this district.
Seward: If you played the schedule the 'Jays played, you'd also be 2-8 . Losses to teams like Wahoo, Norris, Beatrice, GI Northwest, Elkhorn South and Pius X are nothing to be ashamed of. Trey Barnes and company, if a little more disciplined, could be a very pesky opponent in this district. A good measuring stick for Seward could be the Central Conference tournament. Keep an eye on that.
Columbus: Pretty tough year for the Discoverers, but remember they play a predominately Class A schedule. In fact, the only "B" team left on their slate is Elkhorn. That has to make you better, right?
Schuyler: Just a hard luck year for the Warriors. Not much else to say. Sometimes schools just go through years where the talent isn't as good as other seasons. Schuyler is there.
Grand Island Northwest 11-1 (44.00), Hastings 5-5 (39.4), Aurora 3-6 (38.67), Holdrege 3-8 (38.18), Lexington 2-9 (37.55).
This is the year Northwest has bee waiting for. Athleticism from top to bottom and splendid athletes that tasted the sweet success on the gridiron for the first time in years. Led be all-state footballers Alex Larsen and Zach Rouzee, the Vikings are poised and have all the tools to get to Lincoln.
GINW: Talk about all the cards laying right. Northwest couldn't ask for a better group of athletes and a better district setting than this. What's more impressive is the fact returning starter from a year ago Connor Eberhardt, is not even out for basketball this season. Vikings are solid everywhere, especially in the middle vacated by Eberhardt. 6-3 Trevor Kraft and 6-4 junior Derrek McNelis have plugged the gap down on the block and this team seems to always find a way to win.
Hastings: Tigers have an awful murderous schedule and really do not have a "bad loss" to speak of. Ty Ripperber is a three year starter in football (QB) and basketball and is the true leader of this team. Hastings could very well play Northwest for the right to make a trip to Lincoln.
Holdrege: This is the final season for head coach Jerry Buck and it's been a tough one thus far. One thing about this team is the fact that they can pull off an upset at any time. Two quality players in Luke Ackerman and Marcus Van Eperen. Matter of fact, Van Eperen could be a force on any Class B team.
Aurora: This squad will get better as the season progresses. Football injuries took a toll on the Huskies. We'll watch this team in the Central Conference tournament and then in a regular season finale vs. rival GI Northwest to chart their progress
Lexington: I think this team is actually better than a year ago. They are probably overmatched in this district....maybe next season.
Scotsbluff 10-2 (44.75), McCook 9-2 (44.27), Sidney 6-5 (41.18), Gering 7-5 (41.17) Alliance 4-6 (40.40).
Wow, all five teams in this district among the top 13 in Class B wild card standings. Tony Siske's Scottsbluff team made believers of all the Eastern pumpers last season when the Bearcats won Class B by beating mighty South Sioux City and Mike Gesell. Do not sell the Western part of the state short.
Scottsbluff: Lost Zach Clemens, Richard Williams, and Isiah Castellaw to graduation, but still have players like Michael Hadden and Eric Moreno on the team. And consider the fact that standout Matt Klein hasn't even played yet because of a football injury. The 'Cats were rated #1 until losing to McCook and Class A Kearney in the GNAC Tournament over the Christmas break. The Bearcats will not potentially see McCook until the East/West Shootout. Scottsbluff has a shot to repeat in Class B.....Tony Siske is that smart, trust me.
McCook: Speaking of brilliant young coaches...how about the McCook's Jeremy Yilk? All he and the Bison have done is fashion a 9-2 record and lost only to Ottawa, Kansas (unbeaten at the time) and Class A North Platte (2 points). The Bison are a superbly balanced team that seems to have a different player come through in the clutch each game. Mack Alspaugh, Cody Wuptke, Austin Cherry, Sean Backer, and Zane Gillen can all sting you. McCook is deadly on the offensive boards and know how to extend possessions which as we all know, limit the opposition's possessions. Nobody can say McCook is afraid of a heavy schedule. Last season the road weary Bison already had 26 games under their belts when districts rolled around. This is Class B's number one team at the moment.
Sidney: Who isn't nervous when they play the Red Raiders? 6-5 record....don't be fooled. This is a team that will be well acquainted with it's district foes by the time February arrives. They have already played Gering 3 times and will meet Alliance and Scottsbluff twice before it's over. The Red Raiders love to shoot from beyond the arc and are a scrappy team that will hit the floor for a loose ball. Paxton Ehler, Casey Mabay and sophomore Lane Harvey lead the way for Sidney. Dangerous team.
Gering: Just a sliver behind Sidney in the district standings, the 'Dogs only questionable loss was to C-1 Mitchell (5-6). As mentioned above, Gering does own two wins over Sidney, but The Red Raiders won the rubber match 60-55 a week ago. The Bulldogs were a state tournament team a year ago but graduation took it's toll with the loss of scoring sensation Zach Smith, Danny O'Boyle and Dillon Wademan. But Gering has nice returning players like Zach Bibb and junior Christian Groskopf that have kept the fire going. Never count this team out come at district time.
Alliance: Never know about the Bulldogs. They have been beaten pretty soundly by Gering, Sidney and Scottsbluff, and have Chadron and Sidney twice more before districts. The East/West Shootout the first weekend in February will give us a good indication of where this team stands.