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Minnesota state boys basketball tournament: JCC opens against Annandale

MINNEAPOLIS -- Few teams have proven able to compensate for height disadvantages like the Jackson County Central Huskies in 2016-17. Without a starter taller than 6-3, the Huskies have used quickness, depth and sheer relentlessness to produce a 2...

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Jackson County Central senior guard Jacob Christopher (10) hovers above Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta rivals in the Section 3AA boys basketball finals last week. JCC will open state tournament play tonight against Annandale at Target Center. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Few teams have proven able to compensate for height disadvantages like the Jackson County Central Huskies in 2016-17. Without a starter taller than 6-3, the Huskies have used quickness, depth and sheer relentlessness to produce a 26-4 record heading into the Minnesota state Class AA boys basketball tournament.

Their strategy is always the same: play fast, play aggressive, open up the floor, and never take it easy no matter what the score.

Tonight (Wednesday, March 22) at 8 p.m. at Target Center in Minneapolis, JCC will match up with a familiar opponent in the first round of the 2017 tourney. The Annandale Cardinals bring a similar 26-4 record into the game and a No. 4 seed compared to JCC’s No. 5.

Although the records are similar, the styles are different. The quick, athletic Huskies will face an Annandale team whose starters measure up at 6-6, 6-6, 6-4, 6-3 and 6-2.

“We’re going to have to play our style. Make ‘em work, make ‘em run,” said JCC head coach Trent Sukalski Tuesday afternoon while watching his team do a Target Center shootaround. “We’ve got more depth than Annandale. It’s a big court, and we want to use the whole court. I told the guys, I think if it were up to them, they’d want to play it in a silo.”

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One year ago, Jackson County Central defeated Annandale 64-46 in the state tournament semifinals before falling to Braham in the championship game. Last year, the Huskies could count on its outstanding 6-9 center Bodey Behrends to be a presence in the paint, but now that he’s graduated it’s just a different set of pieces from which to attack. Senior Ryan Christopher is the school’s all-time assist and steals leader, and senior Jacob Christopher is a thousand-point scorer. Chris Gumto, Nico Feroni and Easton Bahr are proven veterans. Freshman Rudy Voss plays like a veteran, too.

The Huskies are hoping for another memorable tournament after placing second in their first-ever state appearance in 2016 (Jackson appeared in 1987). Annandale is marking its fifth consecutive and sixth overall appearance.

Other first-round Class AA games today have Lake City vs. Minnehaha Academy at 6 p.m. at Target Center, New Richland-HEG vs. St. Cloud Cathedral at 6 p.m. at Williams Arena, and Breckenridge vs. Crosby-Ironton at 8 p.m. at Williams Arena. Minnehaha Academy is the tournament’s No. 1 seed. St. Cloud Cathedral is No. 2.

First-round winners won’t play again until Friday, with semifinals slated for 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Target Center. Consolation semifinals are 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday at Concordia University in St. Paul.

The fifth-place game is 2 p.m. Friday at Concordia. The third-place game is noon Saturday at Concordia. The championship is 1 p.m. Saturday at Target Center.

Marshall seeded third The Marshall Tigers (26-3) are the No. 3 seed in the Class AAA tournament, which also begins today at Williams Arena. At 4 p.m., the Big South Conference team will open against unseeded Grand Rapids (24-5).

Last year, Marshall narrowly missed a state tournament berth by losing to Waseca 103-100 in four overtimes. This year the two teams split a pair of games during the regular season, but in the sectionals Marshall got it done 57-43.

Southwest Minnesota basketball fans will also be interested in how well Section 2 champion Springfield and Section 3 champ Central Minnesota Christian fare in the Class A tournament, which begins on Thursday at Williams Arena. Fifth-seeded Springfield (28-2) opens with No. 4 Nevis (28-1) at 1 p.m. Third-seeded Central Minnesota Christian (26-3) opens against North Woods, Cook (29-1) at 5 p.m.

Related Topics: BOYS BASKETBALL
Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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