After three months of blood, sweat and tears, the high school boys state basketball tournament has finally arrived. Forty-eight teams from six classes will descend upon Lincoln on Thursday to battle it out and determine this year’s state champions.
Pinnacle Bank Arena, the Devaney Center and a few Lincoln high schools will host games and Hail Varsity will be there bringing you coverage from the first game on Thursday until the last champion is crowned on Saturday.
Plenty of future Huskers (basketball, football, and baseball) will be competing with their teams in this year’s tournament along with some of the best hoopers in the state. Here is your guide for the who, when and where for this year’s tournament.
Omaha Central is the No. 1 seed in Class A after the NSAA stripped Omaha Burke of five wins — two of which came against the Eagles — for playing an ineligible player. The Eagles will be a tough out led by one of the best point guards in the state in Roman Behrens, the son of Central coach Eric Behrens. The 6-foot-1 senior is a wizard with the ball in his hands both as a scorer and as a distributor (16.4 points and 7 assist per game). Central has 6-foot-7 senior Jay Pal in the middle who is capable of putting up a double-double at any point (12.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game). The Eagles also have a pair of talented sophomore guards in Latrell Wrightsell Jr. (the son of former Creighton guard Latrell Wrightsell Sr.) and Max Polk and a 3-point sniper with above-the-rim ability in junior John Tonje.
Creighton Prep, the No. 2 seed, has been most people’s title favorite all season based on what it brought back from last year and key transfers. Prep is led by a crew of sharp-shooting seniors in forward Jayden Temme (Benedictine commit), wings Kyle Luedtke (Coach Josh Luedtke’s son) and Grant Matthies (Northwest Missouri State football commit) and point guard Spencer Moes, but it’s a pair of juniors that make them so tough to match up with. Junior forward Akol Arop (the younger brother of one-time Nebraska commit Aguek Arop who currently holds an offer from Omaha) is the team’s leading scorer (16.2), rebounder (9.5) and shot-blocker (2.1) while point guard Jaylin Hunter (the son of Nebraska assistant coach Kenya Hunter who transferred from Lincoln High) is second on the team in scoring (15.3) and first in assists (4.0) since he became eligible.
The Spartans of Lincoln East are the kings of Lincoln this year and the No. 3 seed. They’re led in scoring by 6-foot-5 South Dakota commit Sam Griese (17.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game) and Wayne State commit Jordan Janssen, a 6-foot-8 post who is close to averaging a double-double (15.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game).
Kearney is the No. 4 seed despite playing without one of the best juniors in the state in big man Shiloh Robinson all season because of injury. Senior wing Kanon Koster is one of the best scorers in the state in any class (22.7 points per game) and sophomore Seth Stroh has stepped up inside in Robinson’s absence (12.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game).
Bellevue West is the fifth seed after missing out on the state tournament last year. The Thunderbirds are led by the best freshman in the state in point guard Chucky Hepburn (13.8 points and 4.8 assist per game) as well as senior wing Cedric Johnson (16.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game), the nephew of former Husker wide receiver Clester Johnson.
Omaha Bryan is the No. 6 seed as the Bears qualified for the state tournament for the first time since long-time coach Tim Cannon left to take the job at Millard North after the 2012 season. The Bears endured some tough years but have risen under Coach Terence O’Donnell. The Bears have a strong backcourt led by senior Tre Crawford (18.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game) and junior Javen Udofia (14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game), who is trying to make it back from a sprained ankle that has limited him recently.
Lincoln Pius X avenged a loss to Millard South in last year’s district final to earn the No. 7 seed. Junior guard Charlie Easley (who holds a Nebraska-Kearney offer) leads the team in scoring (17.5), rebounding (5.8) and steals (2.9) while senior guard Joe Burt (a Doane commit) is second in scoring (10) and first in assists (3.3).
Finally, the Patriots of Millard South nabbed the wildcard spot and the No. 8 seed despite that loss to the Bolts. Nebraska baseball commit Kyle Perry was one of the most improved players in the state this season who can score in a variety of ways (20.7 points per game), and he starts on the wing with another Nebraska baseball commit in sharp-shooter Drew Gilin. At the point is Tyrel Carroll (17.8 points and 6.1 assists per game), a dynamic transfer from Omaha North who signed with Emporia State.
Game one at 2 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena pits the Patriots against the Eagles. Central beat Millard South 63-45 on Feb. 9, holding Perry to four points on 1-of-6 shooting while Tonje went off for 31 including 7-of-10 from deep.
In game two at 3:45 p.m, the Thunderbirds take on the Bearcats. Kearney beat Bellevue West 71-65 back in the second game of the season for the two teams behind 34 points from Koster.
Game three at 7 p.m. has Creighton Prep facing Lincoln Pius X. The Junior Jays handled the Bolts last time, 73-52, as five players scored in double figures led by Arop with 18.
The final quarterfinal is the only new match-up in Class A as Lincoln East takes on Omaha Bryan. East should have the advantage inside but Bryan has the ability to spread the Spartans out and attack from all over the floor. Udofia’s health could be a key factor.
This is the first year of a new postseason structure in Class B with sub-districts determining district finals and the result is a stacked tournament.
Game one at 9 a.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena features No. 4 seed Aurora against No. 5 Bennington. The Huskies are led by high-flying senior forward Henry Penner (a Nebraska-Kearney commit) and flashy junior point guard Baylor Scheierman (a South Dakota State commit), a tough match-up at 6-foot-5. Bennington features a pair of talented juniors in sniper Karson Gansebom (16.6 points per game, 46 percent from 3) and combo-guard Cooper Prososki (16.1 points).
Game two is a regular season rematch as No. 1 York faces No. 8 Crete at 10:45 a.m. The Dukes, led by junior guard Brady Danielson and junior forward Garrett Snodgrass (a Nebraska football commit), beat the Cardinals 61-38. Senior Simon Otte, a Nebraska football preferred walk-on commit, is one of York’s top defenders as well. A pair of Concordia commits in guard Carter Kent (15.2 points per game) and forward Klay Uher (9.9 points per game) lead the way for the Cardinals.
Game three at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Center is another rematch featuring No. 3 seed Platteview and No. 6 seed Gretna. The Dragons won round one in overtime 60-53, although that was shortly after the Trojans lost Midland commit Rayshon Hovaldt, a double-digit scorer, to a torn ACL. Nebraska basketball commit Brady Heiman (17.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game) and Wayne State commit Nate Thayer (15.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game) are two of the top few players in Class B and lead the way for the Trojans. Nebraska football preferred walk-on commit Joseph Johnson, senior guard Tyler Sullivan and Concordia basketball commit Chance Sterling are some of Gretna’s top performers.
The final quarterfinal at the Devaney at 8:45 is actually round four between No. 2 seed Omaha Skutt and No. 7 seed Omaha Roncallli. The Crimson Pride, led by sophomore guards Jack Dotzler (12.8 points and 5.8 assists per game) and Taiden Red (10.3 points per game) and junior Alex Rodgers (12.9 points per game; holds a Nebraska baseball offer), beat the SkyHawks at the buzzer in round one. However, Skutt avenged that loss in round two then handled the Pride in the sub-district final. Skutt has a deep and talented roster led by senior forward Austin Ash, sophomore point guard Tyson Gordon and junior big man TJ Skradski.
No. 5 Lincoln Christian vs. No. 4 Grand Island Central Catholic, 9 a.m., Devaney
Notable Players: LC — SO F Justin Bubak (16.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg; younger brother of Arizona State tight end Jared Bubak); GICC — SR G Mayra Almayra (17.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
No. 1 Wahoo vs. No. 1 Ogallala, 10:45 a.m., Devaney
Notable Players: W — SR G Brendan Lacey (16.5 ppg, 43% 3FG); O — SR Cameron Raffaeli (13.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg)
No. 3 Broken Bow vs. No. 6 Boone Central/Newman Grove, 2 p.m., Devaney
Notable Players: BB — SR PG Padyn Borders (13.2 ppg, 5.7 apg); BCNG — SR F Jessie Sullivan (17.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg)
No. 7 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Winnebago, 3:45 p.m., Devaney
Notable Players: S — JR G Ben Nannen (17.8 ppg, 40% 3FG); W — SR G D’Von LaPointe (16.8 ppg, 6.0 apg), SR G MaNaPe Cleveland (17.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
No. 6 South Loup vs. No. 3 Hastings St. Cecilia, 2 p.m., Lincoln Southeast
Notable Players: SL — SR G Cade Connell (17.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg); HSC — SR C Blane Boyd (11.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
No. 2 Yutan vs. No. 7 Arcadia-Loup City, 3:45 p.m., Lincoln Southeast
Notable Players: Y — SR G Mason Timm (12.2 ppg), SR F Colton Feist (11.5 ppg; Nebraska football preferred walk-on commit); ALC — SR G Nolan Baker (15.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
No. 1 Ponca vs. No. 8 Perkins County, 7 p.m., Lincoln Southeast
Notable Players: P — SR G Logan Kingsbury (10.8 ppg, 6.1 apg), SO F Carter Kingsbury (11.3 ppg); PC — SR G Josh Johnston (13.2 ppg, 3.7 apg)
No. 4 Elmwood-Murdock vs. No. 5 Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur Northeast, Lincoln Southeast
Notable Players: EM — JR F Wesley Dreamer (22.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg); SR G Zach Rust (Morningside commit); BRLDN — SR F Kenyan Lovejoy (12.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
No. 2 Paxton vs. No. 7 Nebraska City Lourdes, 9 a.m., Lincoln Northeast
Notable Players: P — SO C Blake Brewster (16.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg); NCL — Quinten Vasa (15.3 ppg, 40% 3FG, Briar Cliff commit)
No. 6 Johnson-Brock vs. No. 3 West Holt, 10:45 a.m., Lincoln Northeast
Notable Players: JB — SO G Ty Hahn (17 ppg, 5.7 rpg), FR G Kaden Glynn (14.9 ppg, 3.7 apg); WH — SR G Payton Williams (10.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
No. 4 Heartland vs. No. 5 Osmond, 2 p.m., Lincoln Northeast
Notable Players: H — SR G Lane Huebert (24.6 ppg, 4.2 apg); O — SO F Keaton Timmerman (18.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg)
No. 1 Kennesaw vs. No. 8 Fullerton, 3:45 p.m., Lincoln Northeast
Notable Players: K — SR F Will Gallagher (13.8 ppg, 8 rpg), SR G Tyson Burr (14.5 ppg, 5 rpg); F — SO G Brandon Rasmussen (16.2 ppg, 39% 3FG)
No. 8 Cody-Kilgore vs. No.1 Falls City Sacred Heart, 9 a.m., Lincoln Southeast
Notable Players: CK — SR F Garrett Egger (12.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg); SO F Tyler Witt (13 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
No. 4 Giltner vs. No. 5 Wilcox-Hildreth, 10:45 a.m., Lincoln Southeast
Notable Players: G — JR G Josh Hinrichs (11.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg); WH — SR F Lantz Grauerholz (12.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg)
No. 2 Riverside vs. No. 7 Wynot, 7 p.m., Lincoln Northeast
Notable Players: R — SO G Tredyn Prososki (18.8 ppg); JR F Joseph Bloom (16.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg); W — SR F Justin Lange (10.7 ppg, 7 rpg)
No. 6 Mead vs. No. 3 Mullen, 8:45 p.m., Lincoln Northeast
Notable Players: Mead — SR G Josh Quinn (18.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg); Mullen — SR F Tell Spies (13.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg)
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.