The high school basketball season tipped off on Thursday across the state. The reigning Class B champion and preseason No. 2 Omaha Skutt played host to No. 1 Elkhorn Mt. Michael in what could be a state final preview.
The Knights showed that preseason No. 1 ranking was much deserved as they put on an offensive clinic and ran away from the SkyHawks for a 67-49 win.
Here are five thoughts on the game (plus a bonus thought on the varsity girls game).
You’d be hard-pressed to find a team in the state with more collective starts than this Mt. Michael bunch, which is why the Knights are ranked No. 1. They return all five starters from last year’s state semifinalist, and three of those players have been starting since they were freshmen. Of their eight-man rotation, seven are seniors.
Mt. Michael has been building toward this season for a long time, and with many of the big-time players in the class graduating from the other top teams, the path forward is clear. Thursday’s win is a big step forward on that path.
Battle of the Big Men
The game featured two of the best post players not only in the class, but in the state. Mt. Michael’s Kaleb Brink is one of the most skilled post scorers in the state and is coming off a season that saw him average 15.4 points while Skutt’s Luke Skar set a school record for field goal percentage as a junior, converting better than 70% of his shots.
Both big men led their team in scoring, but Brink certainly won the battle and was the start of the game. He finished with 20 points on 8-of-14 from the field, 2-of-4 from 3 and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line, chipping in seven rebounds, two steals and a block. Brink is tough to stop on the block, and he developed a reliable 3-point shot last season to round out his game. Skutt did a good job of limiting Brink’s opportunities in the first half, but he got going in the second to score 16 of his 20 points to help Mt. Michael pull away.
On the other end, Mt. Michael did a great job of limiting Skar’s touches as well as he scored just two points in the first half. However Skar is relentless and defenses are going to have a tough time keeping him in check for a full 32 minutes. He scored 11 points in the second half to finish with 13 points on 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 from the foul line. He also grabbed eight rebounds, five of which were on the offensive end.
Kyle Pelan has started a lot of games for Mt. Michael, but on Thursday Coach Derrik Spooner decided to go with Parker Hottovy at that spot. Hottovy has been a glue guy for the Knights since his freshman year, and he’s one of their toughest defenders. He drew the defensive assignment on Charlie Fletcher, Skutt’s leading returning scorer who averaged over 14 points last season.
Fletcher is at his best when he’s getting downhill. He’s crafty off the bounce and has a soft touch on short jumpers and shots around the rim. Hottovy and the Mt. Michael help defense didn’t give him many chances to do that, however. Fletcher finished with eight points on 2-of-10 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line, with half his shot attempts coming from behind the 3-point line.
In addition to what Hottovy did on defense, he also made every shot he took — two 3s, two free throws and a layup — while dishing out four assists.
New Skutt Supporting Cast
Skar and Fletcher returned from last year’s title team, but the rest of the varsity returners combined to score 49 points. That duo is going to be tough for teams in Class B to stop this season, but they’re going to need some help.
On Thursday, junior Grant Dvorak scored 11 points in his varsity debut, shooting 4-of-7 overall and 2-of-5 from deep. He was the only SkyHawk to make a 3-pointer as they shot 2-of-12 as a team. Dvorak’s shooting will be key for this team all season long.
Junior James Gninefou, a 6-foot-2 wing, chipped in seven points including five straight in the third quarter. He had a couple of nice moves to the basket to draw one foul and create two other buckets using his ball-handling and his length to take advantage of a smaller defender. He’s going to have to provide more consistent offense moving forward.
The SkyHawks also have a couple of seniors who didn’t play a ton of varsity minutes last year and a strong sophomore class. This team still has plenty of room for growth and should be a lot better come March than it was on opening night.
There certainly looked to be a little bit of rust early for both teams in their first live action of the season, but it came more on the defensive side of the ball than offense, at least for Mt. Michael. By the end of the first half, three players had three fouls and another two had two apiece. Both teams struggled to defend without fouling.
However, the Knights looked incredibly sharp offensively throughout. For the game, they shot 60% (24-40) from the field, 50% (8-16) from 3 and 91.7% (11-12) from the foul line while dishing out 16 assists.
Senior wing Joe Chouinard set the tone early with seven of his nine points in the first quarter before foul trouble slowed him down. He also dished out six assists with just one turnover. If the Knights can get that kind of play out of Chouinard in addition to the 14 points they got from senior sharp-shooter Brad Bennett, teams are going to have a hard time keeping up with them.
BONUS: Krause Can Hoop
I got to Skutt early to catch the varsity girls game against Wahoo Neumann as well, and it turned out to be a rout as the SkyHawks ran away with the game 72-29. Omaha soccer commit Cece Behrens led the way with 21 points as Skutt did an outstanding job of playing together and sharing the ball.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing from this game for Hail Varsity readers, however, is that 2021 Nebraska volleyball signee Lindsay Krause decided to go out for basketball again this season after not playing as a junior.
The 6-foot-4 senior finished with 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting, eight rebounds (three offensive), three steals, one assists and one block. She’s as competitive and vocal in basketball as she is in volleyball, she has a soft touch around the basket and she passes the ball well. At her height and with her athleticism, she probably could have played basketball at the next level as well — if she wasn’t one of the best volleyball players in the country.
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.