Here we go: Sections 3A, 3AA boys basketball teams are in action today
Boys basketball section tournaments begin in earnest as teams from sections 3A and 3AA flood onto the courts
Veteran Westbrook-Walnut Grove boys basketball coach Derrick Jenniges probably knows as much about the Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles as any other rival. He has butted heads with them repeatedly in the regular season and in sectional tournament play, and in more than a few contests where much was at stake.
Southwest Christian is the No. 1 seed in this year’s South Section 3A tournament, and that’s nothing new. According to Jenniges, this year’s SWC version is similar to previous versions, which is an analysis that cannot sit well with the Eagles’ 2022 rivals.
“It’s a lot like a lot of other Southwest Christian teams,” Jenniges described SWC this week. “As an opponent, you can’t really take any time off. It takes a lot of mental effort. You gotta be tough.”
Experienced point guard Micah Schaap and 6-6 inside-outside shooter-rebounder Carter Van Hulzen lead another deep SWC squad. It’s the way the Eagles play so well together, the way they play their relentless defense, Jenniges said, that puts so much pressure on opposing teams.
“You have to go for it for a full 36 minutes. You not only have to be mentally tough, you have to be physically tough as well,” Jenniges explained.
Sections 3A and 3AA have full slates of games scheduled today (Saturday). South Section 3A will have it’s “Super Saturday” at Worthington High School, with Southwest Christian (22-4) playing Red Rock Central (9th seed) at 10 a.m., followed by Murray County Central (4) vs. Westbrook-Walnut Grove (5) at 11:30, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (2) taking on Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda (7) at 1:30 p.m., and No. 3 Tracy-Milroy-Balaton playing Hills-Beaver Creek (6) at 3 p.m.
Pipestone Area is the top seed in South Section 3AA and hosts Windom Area (8) at 7 p.m. tonight. In other first-round 7 p.m. games, Montevideo (5) is at Jackson County Central (4), Luverne (6) is at Fairmont (3), and St. James Area (7) is at Redwood Valley (2).
Worthington High School’s start to the Section 2AAA tournament won’t begin until Tuesday, when the eighth-seeded Trojans go to Mankato to play the top-seeded Mankato East Cougars in an 8:01 p.m. start.
This will be an intriguing Section 3A tournament for several reasons, including the fact that two and three seeds Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (19-7) and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (19-8) play outside the Red Rock Conference, where all the other section teams reside. “Wild cards,” Jenniges describes the Knights and the Panthers.
For instance: What can anyone predict in early March when considering the fact that Southwest beat R-T-R 83-72 in their only meeting this season, on Dec. 7? That was three months ago.
Besides that, Jenniges pointed out that the 2021-22 regular season has been odd in at least one important respect: Hardly any team played it at full strength during any stretch, due to injuries and illnesses. Which are the teams now that feel most complete?
And how will teams that play most of their games in smaller gyms adjust to playing at Worthington High School today? Jenniges says some of them have never played there.
W-WG has gone 1-1 against Southwest Christian this season, winning the first meeting 64-61 in mid-January and losing the second 83-43 in mid-February. The Chargers, who are seeded No. 5, also lost to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 59-49.
T-M-B is a challenge of a different kind, according to Jenniges. “They’ve got a 6-7, 260-pound guy (Anthony Nelson) who can catch and move,” he said. “They have a Division I lineman playing basketball. What are we going to do with that?”
Good point. First and foremost, however, there’s Southwest Christian, still at the top.
“We’re ready to go. We’re excited. Everybody’s healthy,” Southwest head coach Jamie Pap said this week.
But Pap is careful not to appear overconfident.
“It’s a solid sub-section. There’s a lot of teams that can pull it out in the end,” he summed up.
And then there’s the Section 3AA South field, which appears deceptively deep.
Pipestone Area (20-5) is well deserving of its top status. The Arrows are a veteran-led club that can beat you in a variety of ways.
“I think we have a nice blend of some big guys, and I think we’ve got some good guards. Basically, we play an inside-out game,” said head coach Tinklenberg on Wednesday.
The Arrows are serious about defense. “Our goal is to keep teams under 50, and if we do that we think we’ve got a pretty fair chance of winning,” Tinklenberg explained.
It’s worked pretty well thus far. Teams are averaging 49 points per game against Pipestone.
But every other team in the southern half of the section can threaten. Redwood Valley (19-7) has split its two games with Pipestone Area in the regular season. Fairmont is 12-11 with a victory over Pipestone Area.
Luverne is 10-13 on the year, but that can be deceptive. The Cards have gotten healthy in the second half of the season, and they’ve won seven of their last nine games, including a 53-39 victory over PA on Feb. 15 (the Arrows may have been distracted, however, as one of their classmates was involved in a car accident that day). Nonetheless, LHS junior Gannon Ahrendt has been burning the nets as of late and the Cardinals remain dangerous.
Jackson County Central is 11-15 with a win over Luverne on Feb. 18.
Don’t count eighth-seeded Windom Area (10-16) out of it, either. The Eagles -- excellent long-range shooters -- scored 100 points on Feb. 24 against Springfield and have scored 90 or more on two other occasions. Windom’s Henry Erickson, Abe McKibbin and Dylan Serreyn can be formidable together.