This is March, and that means it’s time for the high school boys state basketball tournament in Nebraska. On Thursday, 48 teams from across the state will travel to Lincoln with their dreams of winning a state championship alive. By Saturday, only six will be left standing to cut down the nets at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Hail Varsity will be bringing you coverage all weekend long. For those planning to attend the tournament or follow along on TV, here are some of the players to watch in each class.
All games at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
No. 2 Creighton Prep (22-4) vs. No. 7 Lincoln North Star, 2 p.m
If any Huskers fans are headed for the state tournament, this is the game they’ll want to be at. It pits two Nebraska commits — Creighton Prep senior Akol Arop and North Star junior Donovan Williams — against each other. Arop is averaging nearly 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks while Williams is putting up over 21 points and five boards per game for the Navigators.
Arop’s running mate is senior guard Thomas Faber, a sharp-shooting guard who is averaging over 14 points per game and shooting over 40 percent from 3. For the Navigators, senior forward Josiah Allick has really come on strong over the second half of the season and is averaging almost 16 points and 10 rebounds. Allick is the older brother of 2022 Nebraska volleyball commit Bekka Allick.
Round one between these two teams went down to the wire with the Junior Jays coming out on top in overtime, 77-71. Prep knocked off Bellevue West in the state title game last season and is looking to make it two in a row this year.
No. 6 Omaha South (18-6) vs. No. 3 Kearney (20-5), 3:45 p.m.
This game pits two totally different teams against each other; the Packers are guard-dominated while the Bearcats are built around their frontcourt.
South has four guards averaging over 11 points and four rebounds led by junior Jay Saunders at 15.5 points per game, 5.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Juniors Ty Griggs and Skyler Wilson and senior Tavion Anderson, a Doane Commit, are the other Packers scoring double figures.
Liberty commit Shiloh Robinson, a 6-foot-7 forward, missed his entire junior season but is still the school’s all-time leader in rebounds and blocks. He’s putting up nearly 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game this year. Junior Seth Stroh, a 6-foot-4 forward, is chipping in13 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
No. 1 Bellevue West (25-1) vs. No. 8 Papillion-La Vista South (14-11), 7 p.m.
After falling in the title game last year, the Thunderbirds reloaded and earned the top seed this year by navigating the season with just one loss. They’re riding a 22-game winning streak into the tournament and are led by 2021 point guard Chucky Hepburn who holds an offer from Nebraska. Hepburn is averaging about 18 points, five rebounds and five assists. Senior Nico Felici (14.1 points per game) and junior David Nuor (11.0 points per game) round out a talented starting backcourt for the T-Birds.
Papio South is built around one of the most productive players in the state in 6-foot-8 senior Lök Wur who is putting up 21.1 points, 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. He has the ability to score in the post or from the perimeter and can play above the rim. Junior guard Jared Mattley is putting up 15 points per game as well and is capable of catching fire from deep in any given game.
No. 5 Omaha Westside (19-5) vs. No. 4 Omaha Central (20-5), 8:45 p.m.
Westside qualified for the field on one of the most incredible sequences of the season while the Eagles have been one of the most high-powered offensive teams in the state, leading Class A in points per game (a tenth of a point ahead of Bellevue West).
Westside is led by the talented duo of junior guard Jadin Booth (18.9 points per game) and senior forward Chase Thompson (20. 9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game) while junior forward Carl Brown, the one that hit the miracle shot in the district final, is chipping in 10.6 points per game and shooting 45 percent from 3.
John Tonje, a 6-foot-5 senior wing who recently picked up an offer from Omaha, is the headliner for the Eagles. He’s leading Class A in scoring at 24.8 points per game while shooting nearly 50-40-90. Junior Latrell Wrightsell Jr. is one of the best 3-and-D guards in the state and is putting up nearly 18 points and three steal per game while shooting 40 percent from deep. Junior point guard Max Polk is adding nearly 13 points and four assists per game.
*Games at Pinnacle Bank Arena; +Games at the Devaney Center
No. 1 Lincoln Pius X (24-2) vs. No. 8 Scottsbluff (14-10), 9 a.m.*
The Thunderbolts have only lost twice this season and both losses came against Class A teams. After dropping from A to B this season, Pius still played mostly a Class A schedule with just six games against Class B teams included two in their district.
Senior guard Charlie Easley leads the way for the Bolts and is one of the most complete players in the state, capable of scoring at all three levels as well as impacting the game as a distributor and a defender. Nebraska has talked to him about walking on, as has Omaha, and he has a few Division II offers as well. Junior Kolbe Rada is talented combo-guard and senior Austin Jablonski, a Nebraska football preferred walk-on commit, plays bigger in the paint than his listed 6-foot-2 height.
The Bearcats missed the state tournament last season after a runner-up finish in Class B in 2016. They are lead by sharp-shooting senior guard Connor McCracken and junior multi-sport standout Jasiya DeOllos who knocked down two free-throw line pull-up jumpers in the clutch to seal Scottsbluff’s district final win over Seward.
No. 4 Omaha Skutt (22-4) vs. No. 5 York (21-4), 10:45 a.m.*
Fans get a rematch of last year’s double-overtime thriller in the Class B championship in the first round. The Dukes won that one to capture last year’s state title and returned their top two scorers in Northern State commit Brady Danielson and Nebraska football commit Garrett Snodgrass.
Skutt returned three starters and their sixth man from that team led by multi-sport star Tyson Gordon, one of the most dynamic guards in the junior class. TJ Skradski, a 6-foot-6 senior center, allows the SkyHawks to match up with any team they come across with size in the frontcourt.
No. 6 Bennington (20-6) vs. No. 3 Omaha Roncalli (23-2), 7 p.m.+
If you like good guard play, this is the game for you as both teams roll with four-guard lineups.
Seniors Cooper Prososki and Karson Gansebom lead the way for the Badgers as both guards average better than 15 points and shoot over 40 percent from 3. Gansebom is leading Class B in 3-pointers made (among teams that report to MaxPreps) while Prososki is a physical three-level scorer.
Junior Jack Dotzler is a tremendous floor general for the Crimson Pride, capable of controlling a game both with his scoring and with his distributing. Senior Alex Rodgers is a multi-sport star and a great athlete. Junior maiden Red is a knockdown 3-point shooter and Shane Orr plays much bigger than his listed 5-foot-10 height.
No. 7 Alliance (19-6) vs. No. 2 Aurora (25-1), 8:45 p.m.+
The final first-round match-up in Class B pits two of the most productive players in the state against each other.
Senior guard Mason Hiemstra is averaging over 22 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals and has recorded five double-doubles this season with 16 games of 20-plus points including four over 30. Alliance got a game-winning 3 from junior guard Joel Baker in the district final at Elkhorn Mt. Michael to earn their trip to Lincoln.
Aurora has won 17 straight and the Huskies’ only loss came against a Class A foe in Gretna in the Gretna Holiday Tournament final back in December. Leading the way for the Huskies is South Dakota State signee Baylor Scheierman, a 6-foot-6 point guard who is equally as capable of putting up 30 points in a game as he is dishing out 10 assists or grabbing 10 rebounds. He’s got a terrific shooter on the wing as well in Concordia commit Cade Reichardt.
All games at the Devaney Center.
No. 6 Grand Island Central Catholic (18-7) vs. No. 3 Auburn (21-3), 9 a.m.
Junior guard Jack Goering (15.3 points per game) leads the way for GICC while Nebraska football commit Jacob Herbek chips in 8.6 points and 5.1 boards per game. Auburn’s high-scoring sophomore guard Cam Binder is coming off a 40-point game in the district final.
No. 2 Wahoo (23-3) vs. No. 7 Boys Town (19-7), 10:45 a.m.
Wahoo brought back two key pieces from last year’s C-1 title team in Kearney commit Winston Cook (20.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game) and Briar Cliff commit Blake Lacey (16.8 points per game, 45 percent from 3). Boys Town’s starting frontcourt of senior Chrishaun Henry and junior Uzziah Freeman combine to put up nearly 23 points and 17 rebounds per game.
No. 1 Ogallalla (26-0) vs. No. 8 Milford, 2 p.m.
Ogallalla is one of two teams who have made it to Lincoln without a blemish on their record and is one of the highest-scoring teams in the state at nearly 74 points per game.Milford advance to state with a dominant 58-35 win over Cozad in the district final. Senior guards Nathan Mensik (14.4 points per game) and Bragan Meyer (12.5 points per game) lead the way for the Eagles.
No. 4 North Bend Central (23-3) vs. No. 5 Hastings Adams Central, 3:45 p.m.
Seniors Tanner Wietfeld and John Emanuel are both double-digit scorers and sophomore Jaxon Wietfeld is another capable scorer for the Tigers. Junior Haggan Hilgendorf (16.5 points per game) is a 6-foot-8 forward with the ability to shoot from the perimeter and put the ball on the deck. Seniors Nolan Sughroue (12.5 points per game) and Nebraska Wesleyan commit Thomas Hunt (10.6 points per game) play big roles as well.
All games at Lincoln Northeast.
No. 3 Sutton (24-2) vs. No. 6 Yutan (21-5), 2 p.m.
No. 7 Ponca (22-4) vs. No. 2 Bridgeport (23-2), 3:45 p.m.
No. 1 BRLD (24-1) vs. No. 8 Howells-Dodge (18-9), 7 p.m.
No. 4 Centennial (23-2) vs. No. 5 Wakefield (20-3), 8:45 p.m.
Players to watch: BRLD sophomore Lucas Vogt; Bridgeport senior Drake DeMasters; Centennial senior Jackson Hirschfeld; Yutan junior Trey Knudsen and sophomore Brady Timm; Ponca junior Carter Kingsbury
All games at Lincoln East.
No. 8 Nebraska City Lourdes (8-16) vs. No. 1 Elm Creek (21-3), 9 a.m.
No. 4 Fremont Bergan (17-8) vs. No. 5 Fullerton (18-6), 10:45 a.m.
No. 7 Hartington-Newcastle (16-9) vs. No. 2 Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family (20-6), 2 p.m.
No. 3 Paxton (23-1) vs. No. 6 Wauneta-Palisade (20-5), 3:45 p.m.
Players to watch: Elm Creek sophomore Trey Miner; H/LHF freshman Jason Sjuts; Paxton junior Blake Brewster; Fremont Bergan senior Grant Frickenstein; Fullerton senior Jordan Maxfield; Wauneta-Palisade senior Duncan Rector; Harrington-Newcastle junior Sam Harms; Nebraska City Lourdes freshman Blake Miller
*Games at Lincoln Northeast; +Games at Lincoln East
No. 4 Humphrey St. Francis (22-4) vs. No. 5 Johnson-Brock (21-4), 9 a.m.*
No. 1 Falls City Sacred Heart (24-1) vs. No. 8 Blue Hill (18-8), 10:45 a.m.*
No. 2 Riverside (22-0) vs. No. 7 Exeter-Milligan (21-4), 7 p.m.+
No. 3 Osmond (25-1) vs. No. 6 Loomis (19-6), 8:45 p.m.+
Players to watch: FCSH senior Drew Bippes; Riverside junior Tredyn Prososki and senior Joseph Bloom; Osmond senior Merrix Denn; Johnson-Brock junior Ty Hahn and sophomore Kaden Glynn; Loomis senior Aaron Dow; Blue Hill senior JC Himmelberg
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.