At the recommendation of the Lincoln and Lancaster County Health Department, the NSAA has decided to go forward with the boys state basketball tournament — only without the fans.
The decision follows news that a student from Crofton who attended the girls state tournament last week tested positive for the coronavirus.
Attendance will be limited to immediate family members only for the three-day, four-venue, 46-game event in Lincoln starting on Thursday morning. Each participating school will create a pass list for entry. Fans on those lists will be required to purchase a new ticket and tickets purchased online will be refunded.
Working media will be allowed to cover the tournament as well. Many of the games were scheduled to be televised already, but the NSAA is discussing ways to expand coverage.
The NSAA is still working through the logistics.
We’re less than 24 hours away from the start of the boys state basketball tournament now, which means it’s time to really dive into these mach-ups from A all the way down to D2. I highlighted a few of the key story lines in my Tuesday notebook, but there are plenty of other match-ups that intrigue me and a ton of standout players to know.
Let’s do it.
*All games at Pinnacle Bank Arena
- No. 1 Bellevue West (21-3) vs. No. 8 Elkhorn (17-7), 2 p.m.
- No. 4 Omaha Westside (18-6) vs. No. 5 Omaha Creighton Prep (19-7), 3:45 p.m.
- No. 2 Millard North (22-3) vs. No. 7 Papillion-La Vista South (17-7), 7 p.m.
- No. 3 Omaha Central (21-3) vs. No. 6 Omaha South (19-5), 8:45 p.m.
>> We get a treat in the first round of the Class A tournament, but we’ll have to wait until the Thursday nightcap at Pinnacle Bank Arena to see it. Omaha South beat Omaha Central in a 58-56 thriller in the title game last year, and this season they’re facing off in the first round.
Central has a well-rounded roster with size in the frontcourt as well as length and athleticism on the wings when Coach Eric Behrens wants to go small. But it starts in the backcourt with Latrell Wrightsell Jr., one of the state’s leading scorers who holds numerous Division I offers, and point guard Max Polk.
On the other side, the three-headed monster in the backcourt is what drives the Packers with Wayne State-bound combo-guard Jay Saunders, explosive athlete Ty Griggs and heady point guard Skyler Wilson.
Central got the better of South in the regular season, but the Packers were ice-cold in that game. There’s a bit more on the line in round two.
>> Central-South will likely get the most attention, but the first round also features a big rivalry game in 3:45 slot between the Warriors and Junior Jays. It wasn’t much of a contest during he regular season as Westside won 88-61 while shooing a ridiculous 16-31 from 3. The Warriors can really shoot the ball, but I wouldn’t expect them to shoot over 50% on that kind of volume again.
Westside has an incredibly talented group of guards in seniors Jadin Booth (an Omaha signee) and PJ Ngambi and sophomores Reggie Thomas and Reggie Thomas, but senior sharp-shooter Carl Brown (generously listed at 6-foot-4) is Westside’s tallest rotation player.
The Junior Jays have a bit more size inside with 6-foot-6 junior AJ Rollins, a Nebraska football target. He was in foul trouble and went scoreless in the first meeting. That can’t happen again. Prep will need a big performance from its only senior starter, Spencer Schomers. The Northwest Missouri State commit has been up and down this season but exploded for 29 points in the second half of Prep’s district final to lead the Junior Jays back to state.
>> Millard North will likely be the biggest draw based on the firepower on the team with 5-tar junior guard Hunter Sallis, senior Stanford commit Max Murrell and sophomore Nebraska target Jasen Green. Junior wing Saint Thomas is one of the biggest breakout stars of the season as well. However, the Mustangs are facing the Titans for the fourth time this season and have won the first three.
How this game goes could be determined by the health of Papio South senior point guard Jared Mattley, who went down with an ankle injury during district play.
>> Other players to watch:
— Bellevue West: junior point guard Chucky Hepburn (Wisconsin commit), junior wing Frankie Fidler, senior forward Louis Fidler (Morningside commit), senior center John Shanklin (Black Hills State commit)
— Elkhorn: senior forward Caden Schutte, junior forward Drew Christo (a Nebraska baseball commit), senior guard Bryson Hochstein (Graceland commit)
— Papillion-La Vista South: junior forward Danair Dempsey; junior forward Graham Cassoutt; sophomore wing Daniel Brocaille
- No. 1 Omaha Skutt (23-0) vs. No. 8 Norris (18-5), 9 a.m., PBA
- No. 4 Wahoo (23-2) vs. No. 5 Elkhorn Mt. Michael (21-5), 10:45 a.m., PBA
- No. 2 Scottsbluff (24-3) vs. No. 7 Alliance (20-6), 7 p.m., Devaney
- No. 3 Hastings (21-3) vs. No. 6 Omaha Roncalli (21-4), 8:45 p.m., Devaney
>> The most intriguing match-up of the first round for me is the 3-6 match-up between Hastings and Omaha Roncalli. Both teams are led by terrific point guards, but that’s about the only similarity they share.
Connor Creech is a 6-foot-4 point guard and the son of Hastings coach Lance Creech. He’s a lefty with a great feel for the game, and he’s committed to Western Nebraska Community College. Creech has a 6-foot-9 pick-and-pop big in the middle in Fort Hays State commit Haggan Hilgendorf and an athletic finisher inside in 6-foot-5 senior Jake Schroeder.
Roncalli senior point guard Jack Dotzler doesn’t have Creech’s size, but what the Morningside commit lacks in height he makes up in toughness and intelligence. The Crimson Pride doesn’t have a ton of size cross the board outside junior Nolan Gorczyca, but they’ll spend most of the time with a spread floor look featuring five players 6-foot-2 or shorter. Taiden Red is one of the heroes of last year’s state tournament, leading Roncalli to the brink of a state championships. The Midland commit is one of the best 3-point shooters in the state, regardless of class.
>> Other players to watch:
— Omaha Skutt: senior guard Tyson Gordon (North Dakota State football commit), junior wing Charlie Fletcher, junior center Luke Skar
— Wahoo: senior guard Trey Scheef (Concordia commit), senior forward Thomas Waido (Doane commit)
— Elkhorn Mt. Michael: junior forward Kaleb Brink, junior guard Brad Bennett
— Scottsbluff: senior guard Jasiya DeOllos (Western Nebraska Community College commit), junior guard Dawson Mohr
— Alliance: senior guard Joel Baker (Concordia commit)
*All first-round games at Devaney
- No. 1 Hastings Adams Central (24-1) vs. No. 8 St. Paul (19-7), 9 a.m.
- No. 4 Ogallala (21-4) vs. No. 5 Kearney Catholic (18-7), 10:45 a.m.
- No. 2 Auburn (26-0) vs. No. 7 Ashland-Greenwood (17-8), 2 p.m.
- No. 3 Lincoln Christian (21-4) vs. No. 6 Wayne (21-6), 3:45 p.m.
>> The 4-5 game should be a fascination contrast of styles as Ogallala, led by senior combo-guard Carter Brown, loves to run up and down and get the game into the 70s and 80s. Kearney Catholic, fearing stellar sophomore Brett Mahony, likes to have the game in the 50s and low 60s. The Stars won their district final over Wahoo Neumann 39-28. Ogallala scored 76 points itself in its district final win over Battle Creek.
>> Other players to watch:
— Hastings Adams Central: senior wing Gavin Lipovsky, junior guard Cam Foster
— Auburn: junior guard Cam Binder, senior center Josh Lambert (Midland commit)
— Ashland-Greenwood: sophomore guard Cale Jacobsen
— Lincoln Christian: senior forward Justin Bubak
— Wayne: senior guard Shea Sweetland
*All first-round games at Lincoln Southeast
- No. 1 Grand Island Central Catholic (23-3) vs. No. 8 Palmyra (19-6), 2 p.m.
- No. 4 Yutan (22-3) vs. No. 5 Ponca (23-4), 3:45 p.m.
- No. 2 BRLD (26-0) vs. No. 7 Doniphan-Trumbull (20-5), 7 p.m.
- No. 3 Sutton (23-2) vs. No. 6 Centennial (21-4), 8:45 p.m.
>> Players to watch:
— Grand Island Central Catholic: junior forward Koby Bales, junior guard Russ Martinez, sophomore forward Isaac Herbek (brother of Nebraska football walk-on Jacob Herbek)
— Palmyra: senior forward Kaleb Kempes
— Yutan: junior point guard Brady Timm, senior guard Trey Knudsen (Morningside commit), senior forward Colby Tichota (Midland commit)
— Ponca: senior wing Carter Kingsbury
— BRLD: junior point guard Lucas Vogt, senior guard Darwin Snyder
— Doniphan-Trumbull: senior guard Keithan Stafford
— Centennial: junior guard Cooper Gierhan
*All first-round games at Lincoln East
- No. 1 North Platte St. Patrick’s (22-2) vs. No. 8 Pleasanton (20-5), 9 a.m.
- No. 4 Laurel-Concord-Coleridge (23-5) vs. No. 5 Paxton (21-3), 10:45 a.m.
- No. 2 Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family (24-3) vs. No. 7 Fullerton (19-5), 2 p.m.
- No. 3 Osmond (24-1) vs. No. 6 Southern Valley (19-5), 3:45 p.m.
>> The 4-5 matchup in this group is interesting because it pits two of the most prolific players in the state — from a statistical standpoint — against each other in the first round.
In Laurel-Concord-Coleridge’s district final, senior Noah Schutte went over 2,000 career points and 1,100 career rebounds. At 6-foot-4, he’s a terrific athlete who is putting up 23.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.
On the other side, senior center Blake Brewster is at the center of everything Paxton does. The 6-foot-11 post is putting up 22.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game this season.
>> Osmond is an interesting team to follow as the Tigers were the Class D-2 runner-up last season and moved up to D2 this season. Senior forward Keaton Timmerman is putting up big numbers as well at 18.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game to lead Osmond to a 24-1 record.
>> Other players to watch:
— Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family: sophomore forward Jason Sjuts, sophomore forward Jacob Sjuts, senior guard Bret Hanis
— Southern Valley: junior Carter Bose
- No. 1 Humphrey St. Francis (25-0) vs. No. 8 Randolph (17-7), 9 a.m., Lincoln Southeast
- No. 4 Mullen (21-5) vs. No. 5 O’Neill St. Mary’s (19-5), 10:45 a.m., Lincoln Southeast
- No. 2 Falls City Sacred Heart (26-1) vs. No. 7 Johnson-Brock (18-8), 7 p.m., Lincoln East
- No. 3 Loomis (23-2) vs. No. 6 Lincoln Parkview (19-7), 8:45 p.m., Lincoln East
>> Johnson-Brock, the reigning Class D2 state champion, has an uphill battle to repeat, entering as the No. 7 seed. Nebraska football walk-on commit Ty Hahn carries a heavy load for the team offensively, averaging nearly 20 points.
The Eagles will have a tough game against the second-seeded Irish led by senior forward Tyler Whitt.
>> Other players to watch:
— Humphrey St. Francis: senior guard Trevor Pfeifer
— Randolph: senior guard Carter Schnoor, senior forward Keaton Backhaus
— O’Neill St. Mary’s: sophomore forward Aidan Hedstrom
— Loomis: sophomore guard Quinn Johnson, sophomore guard Shay Swanson
— Lincoln Parkview: senior forward Jamie Juncal
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.