The Class B Boys basketball state tournament is the crown jewel of North Dakota and let’s hope it returns this March after the pandemic sidelined it in 2019-20. ‘Unfinished business’ will naturally be the mantra for the reigning region champs who try to make it back to The B. A lot of eyes this year will be on Enderlin’s Joe Hurlburt who’s quickly becoming the highest recruited basketball player in state history. But, the depth of the division this year will make for some exciting hoops this winter.
Boys Class B
1. Four Winds-Mwkn.
The reigning Region 4 champs will be right in the thick of the championship race again this winter.
The Indians have reached the state championship game four times over the past decade, but their most recent trip came in 2017. Four Winds-Minnewaukan loses all-state performer Doug Yankton to graduation but returns the rest of their main contributors that helped the Indians finish with a 23-1 record a season ago.
A trio of players returns that averaged double figures in scoring last season: Bronson Walter (14 PPG, 7 RPG), Jaeshaun Shaw (10.5 PPG, 60 assists) and junior Jayden Yankton (12 PPG, 46 Treys). Walter is an absolute force in the post at 6’10”. He’ll see plenty of double teams and occasionally triple teams and that’ll lead to opportunities for Shaw, Yankton and company to get open looks.
The Indians will likely put up points like crazy again this season. The key will be discipline on defense when it comes to postseason play. Rick Smith is one of the best coaches in the state and looks to have another outstanding squad.
Enderlin is a team that has everyone’s attention this season and looks to be a state title contender, as well. The Eagles have everyone back from last year’s squad that finished 18-3 but was upset in the region quarterfinal round by Tri-State. It’s a loss that head coach Calvin Kraft wants to learn from, “The loss still stings and we will use that to fuel us this year. We have one of if not the toughest schedules in the state to make sure we are ready to come tournament time.”
A lot of eyes will be on 6’10” junior Joe Hurlburt (21 PPG, 15 RPG, 65 assists) who continues to be talked about as one of the top prospects in the country for the 2022 class. Hurlburt has ten division one offers already: Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa State, Oregon State, NDSU and UND. His stock really rose over the summer as he continued to perform well on the AAU circuit competing against some of the best talents in the United States. Now, we’ll see how that translates to the varsity season. Joe’s twin brother, Gus, has garnered D-1 interest, as well. The 6’8” junior averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds per contest in his sophomore season and already holds an offer from UND. The twin towers will lead the way, but the supporting cast is pretty darn good too.
Senior Dawson Lemna (9 PPG, 59 assists), junior Alijah Dixson (10 PPG, 34 Treys) and sophomore Carson Bartholomay (8.5 PPG, 6 RPG) are also big-time impact players for Calvin Kraft’s team. Lemna is the senior leader this team will count on when adversity strikes. Dixson is an outstanding athlete that really improved over the course of last season. The Eagles are going to be a lot of fun to watch this season!
I guess you could call this a #SpoilerAlert! The last time Grafton made the Class B state championship game was 2011. Will they celebrate the 10-year anniversary with another appearance in the big game?
With all five starters and their key reserves returning from an 18-win squad, there’s a great chance! 6’2” senior Stevan Garza is a returning all-region selection after averaging 18.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG and dishing out 100 assists in his junior year. As you can tell from his stats, he’s a well-rounded player that can score from anywhere on the floor. 6’1” Brandon Albrecht (11.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 53 Treys) and 5’11” Justin Garza (11.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 90 assists) are the other two primary scorers for Riley Lillemoen’s team. Junior Will Jiskra (8.5 PPG, 8 RPG) is another player that’ll be very active on both ends of the floor for the Spoilers. Region 2 has been dominated by Hillsboro-CV and Thompson in recent years, but I see that changing in 2020-21.
“What might’ve been?” That’s the question Beulah players, coaches and fans were asking after last year’s season came to a screeching halt due to the pandemic. After recording just two wins in their first five contests, the Miners finished the year on a 19-game win streak claiming the Region 7 crown with a nail-biting 57-54 win over Trinity. Jonah Larson is the key loss from last season’s team, but it’s a group that returns a lot of letter-winner. Junior guard Trey Brandt is coming off a stellar sophomore campaign in which he averaged 21 points and six rebounds per game. Brandt, who also quarterbacked the football team to the Dakota Bowl this fall, is a tremendous leader and one of the top basketball prospects in the state for the 2022 class. He has the ability to take over games and seems to thrive in high-pressure situations. Remember, he’s the one who recorded a steal and hit the game-winning shot with .3 seconds left in the region's final victory.
Outside shooting should be a strength of the Miners who return five players that made at least 14 triples last winter. Seniors Nathan Battest (6 PPG, 103 assists, 27 Treys), Dawson Zuroff (9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 24 Treys), and junior Trapper Skalsky (7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 25 Treys) can each knock down big shots or connect on pretty passes. Head Coach Jeremy Brandt told me one of the most important things for his team is how healthy they are following the fall: “We made it through the football season pretty healthy for the first time in a few years, so we should be 100% for the most part when the season starts.”
The Titans are the team that’ll have to get past Beulah if they want to return to “The B.”
Gregg Grinsteinner lost seven graduated seniors from last year’s team but will have that same amount in the 2020-21 senior class. Tanner Soehren (9.9 PPG), Jake Daniel (9.1 PPG) and Cole Fitterer (7.2 PPG) are the three returning starters that’ll lead Trinity this winter. Daniel has a high basketball IQ from the point guard position and won’t hesitate to pull the trigger himself if you leave him open. At 6’4”, Soehren can score in the paint and stretch the defense. They’ll need him to be a consistent threat on a nightly basis.
Defense always seems to be a strength for the Titans. They held opponents to a state-best 43.3 points per game last season. If they’re able to repeat that success, they’ll have a chance to win every night.
Over the past two seasons, Rugby is a combined 42-6. They would’ve appeared in their first state tournament since their championship run in 2015 had the pandemic not thwarted those plans. Now, they’ll try to replace a very talented group of seniors with a group of underclassmen that’ll certainly be hungry after how last season finished.
The Panthers really had a dominant 2019-20 campaign. They led the state in scoring offense (76.5 PPG) and finished 4th in scoring defense (45.7 PPG). 6’2” senior Warren Walker (8.8 PPG, 83 assists) is the top returning scorer and assist man. Isaiah Bundy-Smith (8.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 20 Treys) is 6’6” and can stretch the floor with his shooting range. Cole Slaubaugh (8.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG) has a great motor and can pick your pocket in a hurry. He finished with 46 steals last season. It seems like the entire roster is over 6-feet tall, so that length alone will make it tough on opposing teams to score. I see the Panthers repeating as Region 7 champs.
The Tornadoes are a program on the rise in recent years and if the 2020-21 season goes according to plan, it’ll finish with a trip to state for the first time since 1995.
The first hurdle for this group will be getting familiar with a new system under new head coach Rod Kramer. Kramer hopes to turn up the heat on defense and get out and run on offense. He certainly has the athletes to play that style. Seniors Garret Meehl and Steel Hansen each averaged more than 16 points per contest last year and are a couple of highly motivated individuals. Meehl’s quickness and vision are off the charts and the proof lies in the numbers. He finished with 109 assists and 56 steals in his junior season. 6’4” senior-post Ashton Biesterfeld (9.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG) is a nightmare to play against. He knows how to use his big body in the paint and will be key to the Tornadoes making a run at a region title.
Linton-HMB will join Oakes in the race for the Region 3 title this winter.
Lucas Schumacher will be in the conversation for all-state this year after averaging 22.4 pts and seven rebounds per game as a junior. Schumacher’s confidence should be sky-high after guiding the Lions football team to a state championship in the fall and being named 9-Man senior athlete of the year. He battled a foot injury during the football season, so staying healthy will be key for the 6’2” senior who has already topped 1,000 career points. Fellow senior Carte Renz buried 62 triples last season on his way to averaging 11 points per game. 6’3” Landon Bosch (7.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and 6’2” Grant Bosch (5.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG) are a couple of sophomores that gained plenty of varsity experience a season ago.
I think if the Lions take that next step it’ll be because those two raised their game to new heights. This team finished 13-10 last year, but there’s a buzz surrounding Linton-HMB athletics right now and I think momentum continues for the co-op in both boys and girls basketball this winter.
I tabbed Enderlin as the favorite in region one but finding that next team is difficult. Kindred, Central Cass, Oak Grove, Northern Cass and Wyndmere-Lidgerwood could all state legitimate cases. I’m going with the Vikings for my preseason poll.
The Vikings are coming off a 28-5 season and return 4-year starter Gavin Keller (16 PPG, 8 RPG, 4 BPG). The 6’9” senior is entering his fourth year as a starter on varsity and continues to get stronger and more confident. He’s obviously great on offense, but he disrupts so many things on defense too. Outside of Keller, Head Coach Brad Woehl will need some players to fill bigger roles this season. He graduated all-state pick Andy Freier and standout Dawson Schaffer. Senior Matt Pearson was in the rotation last season and should take a step forward this winter. Eli Heinrich, Paul Olson, Max McQuillan and Jaiden Peraza all played varsity minutes, as well, last season. The Vikings have some question marks entering the season, but I think they have the personnel to be a top ten team.
10. Shiloh Christian
One of the best senior classes in Shiloh Christian boys basketball history graduated following a 3rd straight region championship last year. Now what?
Jaden Mitzel, Trey Brunelle, Cole Walth and Josh Lardy were part of a group that led quite a run for the Skyhawks, including a runner-up finish in 2019. Now, it’s a new crew in charge of Brad Miller’s team. 6’2” senior Luke Wanzek (6 PPG, 28 Treys) and 6’6” junior Carter Englund (8 PPG, 7 RPG, 40 BLKs) are the two players that return with the most varsity experience. Wanzek has the ability to be one of the top shooters in the region, while Englund is great at scoring in the post, crashing the boards and blocking shots. That duo along with good athletes like Josh Kolling, Braiden Kuehn and Patrick Wrigley should have the Skyhawks soaring high again in 2020-21. Look for Drew Bordeaux to move into the point guard spot. He registered 97 assists last year for the JV squad, while also scoring 10 points per game. He has great vision and can fill it up from the outside.
Bubble Teams: Langdon-E-M, Hatton-Northwood, North Border
Buzzer Beater Thoughts
Langdon-E-M has been more known for its football success having won three consecutive state championships, but they’ve been pretty good in hoops too. Not surprisingly, senior twins Simon Romfo (11.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 94 Ast) and Grant Romfo (15.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 44 Treys) will lead the charge for this crew that’ll try to improve on its 18-6 finish a year ago.
I really like what Hatton-Northwood returns. The Thunder will be led by senior Colton Konschak (14 PPG, 4 RPG, 54 Treys) and junior Kelby Azure (8.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG). Konschak is one of the top shooters in the state and with defenses paying extra attention to him, it should lead to some scoring opportunities for the players making the transition from JV to varsity.
North Border showcased its athleticism during the football season and a lot of those same athletes play basketball. 6’2” senior Jaden Lee (14 PPG, 5 RPG) earned all-region honors last season and 6’5” junior Jaxen Johnson (8 PPG, 7 RPG) is a great post player. Newcomer Ayden Stainbrook should give the Eagles an immediate boost. He’s a 6’4” forward that earned a lot of varsity playing time late in the year last season as a freshman for East Grand Forks Senior High. This Eagles team could be dangerous.
Top 10 Players to Watch
- Trey Brandt, Jr. Beulah: 21 PPG, 6 RPG, 82 Ast, 39 Treys
- Jase Crockett, Sr. Northern Cass: 21.5 PPG, 63 STL, 106 Ast, 38 Treys
- Stevan Garza, Sr. Grafton: 18.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 61 STL, 100 Ast
- Joe Hurlburt, Jr. Enderlin: 21 PPG, 15 RPG, 29 BLK
- Gavin Keller, Sr. Kindred: 16 PPG, 8 RPG, 4 BPG
- Lucas Schumacher, Linton-HMB: 22.4 PPG, 7 RPG, 45 Treys
- Noah Swenson, Sr. Oak Grove: 18.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 62 BLK
- Scott Wagner, Jr. Ellendale: 18.6 PPG, 11 RPG
- Bronson Walter, Sr. Four Winds-Minnewaukan: 14 PPG, 7 RPG, 29 Ast
- Jesse White, White Shield: 25 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 SPG