Elkhorn Mt. Michael took home the River Cities Conference title in impressive fashion on Saturday afternoon, beating Omaha Roncalli 56-32 in the conference tournament championship.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
Change of Venue
The River Cities final typically takes place at one of the conference’s schools, but that wasn’t the case on Saturday. Tom Krehbiel, the head coach at Boys Town who runs the Nebraska Prep Classic, had to get creative when he put together this year’s schedule.
The Classic typically features both boys and girls teams from Nebraska, Iowa and elsewhere, from many different classes. Class A teams weren’t in the mix this year, however, so Krehbiel wanted to find another way to create some marquee games. He reached out to the athletic directors at the RCC schools about playing the conference final at Creighton’s D.J. Sokol Arena as part of the Classic, and they agreed.
Both schools had student sections as well as families there, creating as good of an environment as could be hoped for during the pandemic.
In the girls game, Omaha Skutt took down Omaha Gross 48-28 behind 16 points from Cece Behrens, 15 from Peyton McCabe and 11 from Lindsay Krause.
It Pays to Have Experience
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more experienced team in Class B than Mt. Michael, and that starts with the backcourt. Joe Chouinard, Brad Bennett and Airan Lopez are all four-year varsity players. Chouinard and Bennett started since their freshman year, while Lopez transferred to Mt. Michael after spending his freshman ear at Gross and has started the last three years. On Saturday, that trio outscored Roncalli’s entire team by themselves.
Chouinard led all scorers with 17 points on 7-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free-throw line. Bennett added 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and a game-high seven rebounds. He also had the highlight of the day with a three-quarters-court shot at the first-quarter buzzer. Lopez scored seven of Mt. Michael’s first nine points and finished with 12, four boards and two assists while running the show.
Roncalli is the opposite of Mt. Michael. The Crimson Pride brought back just one starter from last year’s Class B state runner-up and their top returning reserve is currently injured.
Outside of those two, the rest of the returners — five in all — combined to score just 59 varsity points last season. Roncalli’s relied a lot on inexperience this season, and a couple players in particular appear to have stepped up.
Junior guard Austin Schwarz scored eight of Roncalli’s 10 first-half points and finished with a team-high 12 points including both of the team’s 3-pointers. He also grabbed a team-high six rebounds and added a couple of steals and a block.
Quincy Evans, a junior wing, also shows some real promise with his length and athleticism. He was the only other Roncalli player to score in the first half, but he picked up his second foul early in the second quarter and had to take a seat. He scored six points in the second half to finish with eight points and four boards. Evans was the driving forced behind the Crimson Pride’s upset over Omaha Skutt in the semifinals. Evans put up 27 points as Roncalli beat the SkyHawks 59-56 just a couple weeks after losing to them 81-48.
The lone returning starter for Roncalli is Jake Orr, a junior wing who has been one of the most productive players in Class B this season, averaging around 18 points and eight rebounds this season.
Mt. Michael deployed senior forward Parker Hottovy as the primary defender on Orr. The result? Four points on 2-of-9 shooting, one assist, four turnovers and no free throw-attempts. Hottovy was also the primary defender for Skutt senior Charlie Fletcher in Mt. Michael’s season-opening win at Skutt, holding him to eight points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Hottovy is only seventh on the team in scoring, but he’s just as vital to Mt. Michael’s state title hopes as anyone else. He’s a terrific glue guy — hustling all over the court for rebounds and loose balls while knocking down the occasional open 3 — and one of the better defenders in the class.
Man in the Middle
Mt. Michael was without senior center Kaleb Brink, one of the best big men in the state, on Saturday. He’s leading the team in points, rebounds and blocks this season.
The backcourt picked up the offensive slack as mentioned above, but Hottovy wasn’t the only one who payed a big role on defense. Kuon Kuon, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, started in place of Brink and was a big part of Roncalli shooting 10-of-31 inside the arc.
Kuon struggled with his jumper on Saturday but still finished with six points, five rebounds, four blocks and a steal. His length caused all kinds of problems at the rim for Roncalli. Mt. Michael is going to need a lot more out of Kuon moving forward depending on how long they’ll be without Brink.