The boys state basketball tournaments are underway this week in both Iowa and Nebraska.
Here is a primer:
What: Iowa High School Athletic Association state basketball tournament.
When: March 8-13
Who: 32 teams competing for four championships
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
History: The first Iowa boys state basketball tournament was held in Iowa City in 1912. From 1920-1922, two state tournaments were held – one in Iowa City and the other in Ames. The IHSAA began supervising the tournament in 1923. The tournament moved to Des Moines on a permanent basis in 1963.
Defending champion: Ames (Ames, Iowa)
Team to beat: Ames (24-0)
Next-best contender: Linn-Mar (Marion, Iowa) (22-1)
Top player: Some analysts rank Ames senior forward Harrison Barnes the top player in the entire nation, not just Iowa. The 6-foot-7 North Carolina recruit is averaging 27 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and three steals per game.
The skinny: It would take an amazing effort for any team in the field to keep Ames from its second consecutive title. Even a squad as talented as last year’s runner-up, Linn-Mar, which is led by 6-4 junior forward Matt Bohannon. His Lions hope to become second 4A school in three years to sweep the boys and girls basketball title. Iowa City High did it in 2008.
Defending champion: Bishop Heelan Catholic (Sioux City, Iowa)
Team to beat: Bishop Heelan (19-4)
Next-best contender: Carroll (Carroll, Iowa) (20-2)
Top player: Bishop Heelan’s Zach McCabe enters the tournament averaging 19 points and five assists per game. The 6-7 senior has signed to play at Iowa.
The skinny: Bishop Heelan did not lose to an Iowa 3A school all season but still drew no better than the seventh seed. That means the Crusaders will play top contender Carroll in Tuesday’s quarterfinals. Like Linn-Mar in 4A, Bishop Heelan can sweep both the boys and girls state tournaments this year. Carroll features super sophomore guard Casey Kasperbauer (19 ppg.) and Blake Haluska, who will walk on to play football at Iowa next season.
Defending champion: Solon (Solon, Iowa)
Team to beat: Des Moines Christian (Des Moines, Iowa) (26-0)
Next-best contender: Western Christian (Hull, Iowa) (22-3)
Top player: Branden Stubbs is just the 29th player in state history to eclipse 2,000 career points. The 6-2 senior guard is averaging 26 per game and has Des Moines Christian in the state tournament for the first time since 2007.
The skinny: Hull Western Christian drew the fourth seed and could meet top-ranked Des Moines Christian in Thursday’s semifinals. The Wolfpack has had more state tournament success than any team in the field, winning five titles since 1985 and finishing third four times.
Defending champion: Rock Valley (Rock Valley, Iowa)
Team to beat: Rock Valley (23-2)
Next-best contender: Northern University (Cedar Falls, Iowa) (24-1)
Top player: Rock Valley big man Jordan Dykstra has been dominant, averaging 24 points and 12 rebounds this season. The 6-9 senior has signed with South Dakota State.
The skinny: One has to wonder why Rock Valley isn’t better than the four seed in this bracket. Regardless, the Rockets are likely to face Cedar Falls NUH in Thursday’s semifinals. The winner of that one could breeze to the state title.
What: Nebraska School Activities Association boys state basketball tournament.
When: March 11-13
Who: 48 teams competing for six championships
Where: All finals will be played at Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln. Some Class B, C1, C2, D1, and D2 early round and consolation games will be played at Pershing Center, Lincoln Northeast, and Lincoln Southeast.
History: The first state championship game for a single class was held in 1911. In the mid-1920s, there were titlists crowned in up to 22 different classifications (Class A through V). The current Class A, B, C1, C2, D1, D2 format started in 1984.
Defending champion: Creighton Prep (Omaha, Neb.)
Team to beat: Norfolk (Norfolk, Neb.) (20-2)
Next-best contender: Creighton Prep (19-4)
Top player: Senior guard Deverell Biggs averaged more than 20 points per game during the regular season and has Omaha Central (20-4) in the mix for its fourth state title in five years.
The skinny: Top-seeded Norfolk beat state No. 2 Lincoln Southeast (19-3) and fourth-seeded Creighton Prep during the regular season, but the Panthers are far from a clear-cut favorite. The surprise team in the bracket is Grand Island (9-13), which ousted state-ranked Fremont in the district semifinals.
Defending champion: Ralston (Ralston, Neb.)
Team to beat: South Sioux City (16-5)
Next-best contender: Skutt Catholic (Omaha, Neb.) (19-6)
Top player: Ralston guard Dwight Smith gets the slight nod over South Sioux City super soph Mike Gesell. Smith, a Colorado State recruit, was first team All-Nebraska as a junior.
The skinny: Second-seeded South Sioux City saved its best for last this season. The Cardinals have won eight straight and knocked off sixth-seeded Ralston and No. 1 Skutt Catholic within the last few weeks. Beatrice (17-5), the fifth seed and runner-up last season, is a strong darkhorse if senior guard Trevor Menke is 100 percent after returning from a foot injury.
Defending champion: St. Cecilia (Hastings, Neb.)
Team to beat: Chadron (Chadron, Neb.) (22-2)
Next-best contender: Hastings St. Cecilia (22-1)
Top player: Without question, it’s Chadron senior big man Elliott Eliason. The 6-11 Minnesota recruit is averaging 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and four blocks per game.
The skinny: Two-time defending champ Hastings St. Cecilia beat Chadron in last year’s championship game and drew the No. 1 seed, but it would be a surprise if the Cardinals don’t come away with the big prize this time around.
Defending champion: Ravenna (Ravenna, Neb.)
Team to beat: Axtell (Axtell, Neb.) (22-1)
Next-best contender: Ravenna (22-3)
Top player: Kendal Glidden of eighth-seeded Dundy County-Stratton (16-7) is a 6-7 senior post who is physical and enterprising around the basket.
The skinny: Top-seeded Axtell broke a three-game losing streak to No. 2 Ravenna in the district finals. They also beat top D-2 contender Ewing. The Wildcats could get a handful in the semifinals from fourth seed Archbishop Bergan (20-3), the D1 champion in 2008.
Defending champion: Mead (Mead, Neb.) (not in this year’s field)
Team to beat: Freeman (Adams, Neb.) (23-2)
Next-best contender: St. Francis (Humphrey, Neb.) (16-6)
Top player: Freeman’s Kyle Schlake presents nightmare matchup problems for most opponents. The 6-10 senior will play at Northwest Missouri State next season.
The skinny: Freeman, which finished second in the Class C2 tournament last season, has played great defense. Only two opponents have broken 50 points. Third-seed St. Francis has a championship and three second-place finishes since 2005, but the Flyers lost by 23 to fourth-seeded Humphrey (20-3) in this year's subdistrict semifinals.
Defending champion: Sterling (Sterling, Neb.)
Team to beat: Ewing (Ewing, Neb.) (23-1)
Next-best contender: Hay Springs (Hay Springs, Neb.) (23-1)
Top player: Versatile 6-4 senior Austin Kaczor of Ewing is a terrific athlete who has earned All-Super State recognition in both football and basketball.
The skinny: Second-seeded Ewing is hungry to win its second title in five years. The Tigers lost in last year’s championship to fourth seeded Sterling (19-5), which returns all-state forward Zach Lempka and can’t be counted out to repeat. Third-seeded Hay Springs is paced by senior guard Lars Backward, who averages 24 points and seven assists.
Iowa girls basketball: State tournament recap
Class 4A: Highly touted 6-3 junior Kiah Stokes led top-ranked Linn-Mar (26-0) to its first state title in 25 years. Stokes, whose father Greg is the third leading scorer all-time at Iowa, knocked down two free throws with six seconds left and had 20 points and 18 rebounds in the Lions’ 38-35 defeat of Des Moines East (25-1).
Class 3A: Bishop Heelan (26-1) won its second title in three years, blasting Waukon (25-2), 73-54. Creighton-bound guard Carli Tritz was electric, scoring 25 points and recording a tournament-record 11 steals.
Class 2A: Mount Vernon (25-3), which finished the regular season unranked, beat four Top-15 teams to close the year including No. 2 Mason Northwest Webster (24-2) in the final, 59-56. Six-foot-two junior Taylor Dicus captained the all-tournament team after scoring 22 points with 14 rebounds in the final.
Class 1A: Overall tournament MVP Hallie Christofferson led Exira (26-0) to its first state championship in what will be the school’s very last game. The Iowa State recruit had 27 points as the Vikings beat Mount Ayr (26-2), 57-55, in the final. She scored 92 in three games, the third highest total in five-player tournament history. Next year, Exira will close in order to merge with Elkhorn-Kimballton.
Des Moines-based Jamie DeMoney has covered high school sports and recruiting for more than 15 years. He is editor and founder of PrepNation.com. You can reach him at PrepNation@aol.com.