The dual role served by Colorado Springs Christian
boys basketball is quite odd.
The Lions are undefeated 24 games into the season, yet as they enter the Class 3A state quarterfinals, they also can be considered an underdog of sorts. That's because four-time defending champion Faith Christian (Arvada)
is also in the bracket, and until someone knocks off the Eagles (22-2), the designation of favorite is theirs to keep.
"It's fine with us; they deserve it," Lions coach Mark Engesser said. "Win it four times in a row, they deserve the No. 1 seed. Doesn't bother us."
Very seldom does a team run the table the way CSCS has and not be considered the overwhelming favorite, but odds are, even mighty Faith Christian understands the Lions are not only close behind in the rearview mirror, but have their turn signal on, ready to pass.
The Lions have received standout production from University of Denver-bound Nate Engesser
(23.2 points a game; 85 percent foul shooting) and multiposition talent Kyle Broekhuis
. Engesser the coach believes Broekhuis is one of the most versatile players in the classification, because the 6-foot-6 senior can guard anyone from a center to a point guard.
While those two have shined, the reasons are deeper for the Lions' perfect entering Thursday's state opener Holy Family (Broomfield)
(10:15 a.m., Moby Arena). MaxPreps Colorado Boys Basketball Playoff Brackets
"We only have three guys back from last season, when we were 23-1, and all those other guys have stepped up who hadn't played varsity before this year," Mark Engesser said. "I'm really please, because I really didn't expect to be 24-0 at this point with all the new guys we have playing this year."
Faith Christian will begin its title defense against surging Manual (Denver)
(14-10), which received 37 points from Khalid Shareef
in a Sweet 16 win against The Pinnacle.
The bracket held form in the middle, as No. 4 Valley (Gilcrest)
will meet Manitou Springs
. Third-seeded Eaton)
, the last team other than Faith Christian to win 3A, will take on upset-minded Kent Denver (Englewood)
. The No. 11 Sun Devils upset No. 6 Pagosa Springs 46-44 in the round of 16. Class 2A
The story line is as clear as can be, although Denver Christian
coach Dick Katte doesn't like it that way.
Katte, you see, is the state's all-time winningest coach (873-233) and will retire after this season, his 48th at the helm. His team 23-0 Crusaders have ambitions of sending him out with a bang.
""It's very exciting and I've tried not to let the retirement talk be the focus," Katte said. "Anytime you have a season like we have this season, it's exciting. It's a great bunch of guys and they have played extremely well."
The top-seeded Crusaders, who will open against Sanford
(8:30 p.m., Pueblo Events Center), have two of the classification's most exciting players in Austin Lefebre
(20.4 points a game) and Alex Terpstra
(18). Only three of their wins have been decided by less than 10 points.
"I don't think we very sharp tonight," Katte said with a laugh after Tuesday's practice. "But overall I think we're at the top of our game."
Katte said part of the charm in the 2A tournament is that he is very unfamiliar with many of the squads because the classification is so spread out. He doesn't know much about the style of play or personnel of Sanford, Custer County (Westcliffe)
or Sargent (Monte Vista)
Sargent will have the unenviable task of taking on No. 2 Resurrection Christian (Loveland)
, while Custer County will do battle with Lutheran (Parker)
and talented senior guard Jonny Foote
will take on Limon
in the other quarterfinal in a matchup of squads that each are riding an eight-game winning streak. Class 1A
Unbeaten Sierra Grande (Blanca)
is the team to beat. The Panthers (22-0) haven't been in the title game since 1985, when coach Matt Lucero was a player on the team that fell to Arickaree.
The Panthers were only 13-7 last season, so few forecasted such dominance this season. They have scored more than 100 two times and have had only three games decided by single digits.
"We lost seven players off of last year's team," Lucero said. "We lost everyone but Logan Chavez
, who's our lone senior returning starter."
Sophomores who received limited varsity time last season have moved up, and boom, the Panthers have exploded. They have done so with balance, as four players average double figures, led by Ricardo Howard
The Panthers, who pride themselves on the concept of team, open against Norwood
(10:15 a.m., Budweiser Events Center).
"This year we are a lot more balanced, and we do have a little bit of size," Lucero said. "Our attack is pretty much based on what the other team is trying to do to us. . . . This group of kids is real unselfish, humble, and they understand that some night's it's going to be their night. Other nights, they'll try and take away what they do, and it's going to open it up for other people."
Also looming in the bracket is 21-1 Walsh
, which has not lost an in-state game this season. The Eagles will take on Stratton
. Then there is the defending champion Caliche (Iliff)
Buffaloes, who will match up with Plateau Valley (Collbran)
, coming off a dramatic 53-52 state-clinching win against McClave, will open against Hi-Plains (Seibert)
. The Patriots' last three wins have been decided by five points or less.