As the season wraps in February, teams are preparing for the post-season substates and districts that will determine state tournament hopefuls. Missouri provides a much deeper and more difficult road to state, with more teams and more wins necessary. But in Kansas, there are many schools capable of winning state titles and some substates that are probably more competitive than the state fields that will be in Wichita (6A), Topeka (5A) and Salina (4A).
In February, teams that struggled early began to get better. When Manuel Barnes became eligible, Bishop Miege immediately improved with wins over St. Thomas Aquinas and Grandview. And programs such as Shawnee Mission Northwest and Blue Springs South have finally started to put it together. On February 7, we posted about sleeper teams such as Gardner-Edgerton and Winnetonka. GE then pulled the big upset against Blue Valley Northwest and Winnetonka has been on a roll to challenge Ray South and Park Hill South for the Mid 6 title. Many lower-seeded teams with records hovering around .500 are still dangerous, and we think teams to avoid include Raytown, Shawnee Mission NW and Derby. Of all the teams in our coverage area, we think the GE Mustangs and Liberty Bluejays have the most potential to surprise people come state tournament time
but watch out for Oak Park in Class 15, District 16. The Northmen have not been great for most of the season, but we have a feeling that Kris Reed and company may pull some upsets at districts. There are others such as Barstow (Class 3), Lincoln Prep (Class 4), Lawrence Free State (6A) and Wichita NW (6A) that could end up at state tournaments despite being in post-season groups where they are not the favorites.
We saw some elite Missouri teams continue to get better in February. O’Hara (18-4) has a dangerous mix of great guard play with DJ Jackson (our current #1 PG in the city), Jevon Lyle and 5’5 Rayshaun McDonald and inside presence with 6’6 junior Daniel Hurtt and 6’5 senior Josh Rupprecht. They also have in Coach Scanlon someone who has been to the tourney many times before. Along with the Celtics, Lee’s Summit North and Ray South have been elevating their game to the top of KCMO. The Lee’s Summit area has produced three good teams this season, but they will not all be in the same district. Lee’s Summit North is the best of them, but West and the LS Tigers are dangerous. In Class 5, District 15, Winnetonka has put themselves in position by winning 11 of their last 13 games and they will host the District in their gym. Led by seven seniors that play, the Griffins and Coach Howard have quality wins over teams such as Lincoln Prep and Platte County.
On the Kansas side, three Olathe schools have shown in February that they have as much talent as any other area in the metro. Combined, Olathe East, Northwest and South are 47-7 and will all play in the same substate. Olathe East hammered Washington on February 16 which told us they may be the best team in that group, with all-state guard Tyler Kalinoski among the city’s leading players. Schlagle and Harmon are good teams out of the KCKAL but league champion Washington (5A) and runner-up Sumner (4A) are both real threats for titles. Their game on February 18 was one of the most exciting we have seen in KCK and we walked away convinced of Washington’s chances to beat McPherson in 5A with T White and Jervon Hooks leading the way.
Lawrence Free-State pulled one of the big upsets of the month when they beat #3 ranked Olathe Northwest on the Ravens home floor. According to Ben Ward of the Lawrence Journal-World, OLNW had a hard time finding an offensive rhythm and could not control Eric Watson or Georgi Funtarov who both had big games. Gardner-Edgerton also provided a shocker by knocking off previously undefeated Blue Valley Northwest on February 11. Bubba Starling not only had 23 in the game but physically took over the game on the boards, in the open floor and on the Trailblazer’s defensive end.
February is always a time when teams lose players to injury. The most notable this year is Clint McCullough of St. James who has been out for the last week. We are told by Coach Huppe that he should return by February 28 for post-season play, and they will certainly need him in a competitive 4A sub-state. This is also the time we start thinking about the DiRenna Award for Kansas City’s best senior player. We believe these are the top five candidates:
1. Tra’vaughan White – scores in buckets, unselfish and has taken over games for one of the best teams in the city. Although undersized, he has a big motor and scores by being efficient (58% from the field) as well as playing with his teammates as opposed to dominating the ball. He averages 3 assists and 4 steals per game.
2. Tyler Kalinoski – Olathe East – Kalinoski looks effortless in the way he plays and is the primary reason Olathe East is 16-2 and one of the best teams in the city. Averages over 30% of his teams points at 16ppg and may be the best perimeter shooter in Kansas (over 42% from three). He also averages 6 rebounds per game.
3. Dillon Deck – Smithville – The 6’9″ PF not only averages over 20ppg but over 11rpg and 3 blocks. He has been a big surprise for us this year and probably KC’s best big man. Although Smithville has lost some games in February, he has been dominant in several city tournaments and averaged over 20 and 20 in the Pleasant Hill Classic.
4. David Kravish – Lee’s Summit North – If Deck hasn’t been the best big in KC, Kravish has been. He may not score like some of these other guys, but his balanced game in passing, rebounding and defending makes him one of the premiere players. In a high school era when many kids are selfish on the floor, he is not and plays within the Broncos team concept.
5. DJ Jackson – O’Hara – We did not even have Jackson on our top pre-season team in Missouri but he has definitely proven us wrong. He is averaging over 20 ppg and runs O’Hara on the offensive and defensive side of the floor. Probably the best PG in the city.
In Wichita, February really did not produce many surprises. Heights continues
to be the best team in the entire area (now ranked 6th at Rivals) and looking to make it a 3-peat in Kansas while McPherson appears to be the best 5A team in the state. We continue to like Andover Central and Maize because of their size, and we believe Northwest, Southeast and North could all surprise in their sub-states. Wichita East has loads of talent and if they can find consistency and avoid Heights in the Washburn Rural substate, they could advance to the state final, according to Joanna Chadwick of the Wichita Eagle. Wichita Collegiate (16-2) looks poised to win yet another 3A state title with a team that has played 14 different guys during the course of the year. The Spartan’s top players are Trace Clark, Kevin Richardson and Marcus Phox, but they have had contributions from a host of others in big wins vs. Gardner-Edgerton and Kapuan. We have not been out to see Dodge City this year, and based on what we have heard do not think they are a contender in 6A, but Rico Hogan can play and when it comes to post-season, having a go-to scorer can make the difference.
February Milestones – Congrats to Basehor-Linwood coach Mike McBride who got win #200 in February and to Tra’vaughan White who passed Kansas City legend Earl Watson to become the all-time leading scorer in Washington Wildcats History. Speaking of Washington, they just picked-up Dominique Wilson for the 2011-12 season as the 6’9 junior has moved back to Kansas City. That will be a game-changer in the league.
Top February Performers
1. Semi Ojeleye – The Ottawa sophomore has a college body already and at 6’5 can really move and jump. He is now averaging 24 and 6, which has him in the top of both categories state-wide, and he is over 50% from the field for the year. Once it is all said and done, Ojeleye will be one of the best to ever come out of rural Kansas hoops.
2. D’Vante Mosby – Not only is this sophomore one of the best kept secrets in Kansas City but he is contributing to his Fort Osage team in many different ways. Although the Indians have struggled a bit this year, Mosby has had a double-double in more than half of the team’s games and is averaging 15 and 14 on the year. He also set a school record with 20 rebounds vs. Chrisman in a Feb 4 win.
3. Wichita East – After a rough January, the Aces rebounded with a strong February, including a narrow OT loss to Wichita Heights and seven straight wins in the CL. Not only has the backcourt of junior Jalen Love and senior Ja’ln Williams continued to play well, but 6’5 junior Nathan Jackson has picked-up his scoring, now averaging 15.4ppg.
4. Winnetonka – Preston Oakes leads the Griffins who are now 17-6 and as we mentioned the favorite in Class 5, District 15. In addition to Oakes, who averaged over 25 per game in February (including 37 against William Chrisman), Skyler Harris adds post presence to go along with a bunch of seniors who contribute minutes; Jacob Moore, Alex Djakovic, Dreau Neuman, Sean Morris, Tre Spann and Louis Moehlre. Bennie Curtis has also boosted the team off the bench.
5. Christian Hildebrandt – Park Hill South – The 6’4 senior was a force in the Panthers state tournament run last year and he has had a nice 10-11 season as well. In February, he averaged 20 points per game and had big rebounds down the stretch in their win over Raytown on February 8.
Team of January – Salina Central (14-4) has played well enough to now be leading the AVCTL. They have quality wins over Maize and Goddard and will be in Salina for their substate where McPherson will also be playing. Senior Shay Wooten is a terrific player (14ppg, 8 rpg, 3apg) and Treyton Hines, Mark Vaughan and Kyle Mcquaige bring scoring balance to a small but tough team.
Under the Radar – St. Thomas Aquinas has had highs and lows this year, including a bad loss to Blue Valley West and great wins over Blue Valley North and then Gardner-Edgerton on February 18. The Saints always seem to put together solid seasons without a dominant player, and this year they have done it with a 10-deep rotation that includes seniors Joe Downey and Shane Nachbar and a mix of juniors and sophomores such as John Ekedahl, Jimmy Clark, Will Markway and Tyler Clement.
In our coverage areas, we believe these teams (in order) have the best shot at a state title, using nothing more scientific that our gut:
Wichita Heights – 6A – As media throughout the state has pointed out, unless the Falcons face a hot-shooting team or fail to execute against a good zone, this is almost a lock. We are talking about one of the best teams in Kansas high school history. Prob: 90%
McPherson – 5A – It is hard to find a better inside/out team in Kansas. With Jack Pyle and Christian Ulsaker you also have two kids with experience and nerve. They will have to beat Washington or Gardner to get it done but there is also a chance they could play Salina Central in the sub-state. Prob: 60%. Check out McPherson:
Basehor-Linwood – 4A – A month ago, we thought B-L was a lock for the top seed in 4A, but that was before Lansing beat them twice to take the Kaw Valley title. The Murphy twins, along with Ryan O’Donell, Ben Johnson and Even Theno, still make the Bobcats our favorite. They narrowly missed out last year when losing to eventual state-champ Sumner in sub-state, and Sumner and Ottawa will both be in the way this year as well. At least they won’t have to play 5A Lansing again. Prob: 40%
Sumner Academy and Ottawa – 4A – If BL does not win the title, we like Sumner to repeat or Ottawa to get their first. Although they have struggled a bit lately, the Sabres have Bennie Parker, Eli Alexander and a cast of athletes to include Marcus Allen and Vernon Vaughan. Sumner’s speed and strength will cause 4A teams trouble and they have last year’s experience to lean on. If Ottawa can get the ball to Ojeleye and play together (something they don’t always do), they definitely have the talent. Prob for both: 30% Check out Ojeleye’s dunk vs. Schlagle earlier this year:
Olathe East, Olathe Northwest, Olathe South – 6A – You can probably flip a coin for which Olathe school will emerge from their sub-state but we like Olathe South best because of DJ Cole. He is a game changer on defense and when he is hitting mid-range jumpers, it makes the team all that more dangerous inside and in transition. Olathe East has senior Tyler Kalinoski who keeps them in every game, and the Hawks are one of the only teams to handle Washington this year. Olathe NW may not be deep but they have four kids who can score and good guard play to complement 6’10 Willie Cauley. They also beat East and South in the regular season. Prob: All at 10%
Why no mention of the fine seasons for both Blue Valley North or Blue Valley Northwest? We think both have a great shot at making the tournament in Wichita, but neither school has played a tough schedule and we don’t think they have the size to knock-off other 6A powers. We give them 2% chance which isn’t bad when you consider Heights is our overwhelming favorite.
O’Hara – Class 3 – When the Celtics put it all together they are lethal. DJ Jackson has been one KC’s best guards this year and with backcourt partner Jevon Lyle and the inside play of Josh Rupprecht and Daniel Hurtt, O’Hara is probably the best Class 3 team in the state on paper. Prob: 50%
Hogan Prep – Class 3 – Another power team in the smaller class is the Rams. They play an up-tempo style and when they are running and pressing on makes, they are hard to handle. We love the balance of Maurice Mason, Broderick Newbill, Dominique Washington and Roy Jackson and they play deep with additional contributions from Devante Busby and Anthony Riddley, They have played a tough schedule late in the season with losses to Sunrise Academy and Rockbridge, but they have good wins against Nixa, St. James and Highland Park. Prob: 30%
Raytown South – Class 5 – You just don’t know what you are going to get with the Cardinals but they certainly have the talent to win the whole thing. When Corey Hilliard is scoring and Ishmael Wainwright is rebounding, watch-out. Probability for a title goes up for them for each “extra” pass they make in the post-season. Prob: 25%
Lee’s Summit North – Class 5 – This team lost their season opener to Olathe Northwest pre-Willie Cauley but have been very good since. Not only do 6’9 bookends David Kravish and Tory Miller command the paint, but the senior guard play of Kenny Berry and PJ Lewis has steadily improved all year. Prob: 25%
Platte County and Smithville – Both of these teams will play out of Class 4, District 16 which means one should advance to play the District 15 champ at the end of the month. We knew nothing about the 17-5 up-tempo Pirates until they ran off eight straight, and really had not followed Smithville until we saw the dominant Deck in December. Prob for one of these to win title: 10%
There are many other teams that will compete for titles this year, and as there were last year with Park Hill South, Derby and Blue Valley North, there will be surprises. With some of the sub-state/district pairings as competitive as they are, several top ranked teams will not make it to their state tournament. For a complete look at these brackets, click Kansas or Missouri.