Half of the Kansas state basketball tournaments get going today, with the Class 6A boys kicking off the action at Wichita State’s Koch Arena, the Class 5A girls tipping off at Topeka’s Kansas Expocentre and the Class 4A boys getting underway at the Salina Bicentennial Center.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
1 Is this BV Northwest’s year?
Wichita North, 20-2, and Shawnee Mission East, 20-2, are formidable, but undefeated Blue Valley Northwest wouldn’t have to worry about either team until the Class 6A final. The Huskies, 22-0 and ranked No. 18 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national poll, reached the title game each of the last three seasons only to lose to Wichita Heights — but with Perry Ellis now at Kansas, the path is laid out for coach Ed Fritz’s junior-laden squad finally to attain championship glory. Led by Iowa State-bound point guard Clay Custer, the journey begins at 3 p.m. today against upstart Lawrence Free State, 11-11.
2 SM East hopes to pull upsets
Back to No. 3 SM East, the Lancers also hope to win the first state championship in program history — and are armed with the talent to get the job done. Montana State-bound point guard Vance Wentz (13.5 points per game), fellow senior Zach Schneider (15.5) and sophomore sensation Lucas Jones (10.6) are as formidable a trio as any team at state can put on the floor. The Lancers’ first-round opponent, Wichita East, 15-7, may not have the pedigree to trip up coach Shawn Hair’s squad, but Wichita North and Kansas-bound scoring machine Conner Frankamp certainly do. Of course, before that potentially delectable semifinal pairing, Wichita North would be wise not to overlook Blue Valley West.
3 Ottawa eyes its own perfect season
Newly crowned all-time Kansas scoring king Semi Ojeleye is no stranger to the Class 4A championship game, but his Cyclones have yet to wear the crown. Before heading to Duke next season, Ojeleye, who averages 40.1 points a game, would love to lead Ottawa to its second state title and first since 1971 (Class 3A). While most observers expect the Cyclones to meet fellow unbeaten Highland Park from Topeka in the title game, a feisty Piper boys squad led by senior Tyrone Jennings and junior Luke Long hopes to spoil the party. The Pirates, who handed Class 5A power Lansing its only loss so far this season, would face Ottawa in the semifinals if both teams win.
4 Saints getting defensive in title quest
St. Thomas Aquinas’ girls won’t be able to match their 2011 Class 5A state crown with an undefeated season, but these Saints, 21-1, arguably are every bit as good, if not better. Coach Rick Hetzel’s squad allows only 30.9 points per game and never allowed more than 47 points in game (twice, against. Blue Springs and Olathe Northwest). Aquinas has held opponents to 30 points or fewer 11 times and hopes to ride that suffocating D to the fourth state title in program history. Tia Weledji, Claire Ferguson, Allie Dierks and Kelly Sweeney all average at least 7.2 points for the Saints.
5 5A girls sleepers
Opposite Aquinas in the Class 5A girls bracket, Mill Valley harbors its own championship ambitions. The Jaguars, 20-1, who are making the program’s first state appearance, probably were tested as thoroughly by the Kaw Valley League as the Saints were in the East Kansas League. Still, the Kaw Valley was a fantastic league this season and should have coach John McFall’s squad prepared for Salina South, 16-5, in the opening round. Lurking as a possible semifinal matchup is Bishop Miege, another EKL power. Of course, the Stags, 17-5, who are led by Missouri State-bound senior Lexi Hughes, have defending state champion Kapaun-Mt. Carmel to deal with first.