Last year, I flipped a coin to predict which team was going to win the Division 1 Marshfield Sectional…and a 1994 quarter came up with Eau Claire North–the team that wound up going to Madison. I used my traditional prognosticating abilities for the other divisions, and went 1-5 when it came to forecasting which other teams would advance out of the local sectionals.
So…with Division 1 being even more up for grabs than last season, I go back to my collection of loose change. The first quarter I remove from the jar is dated 1992, which is ironic. That was the first WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament I witnessed in person. Interestingly enough, Eau Claire North (featuring the likes of Brian Schwechel, Nate Schurman, and Mister Harshman) was part of the Division 1 field. Can the Huskies make it back to Madison? Possibly, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if either Hudson, Chippewa Falls, or either of the two Wausau schools won the sectional. Beyond that, River Falls and Memorial could pull off a few upsets along the way.
The 2007-08 Huskies had some ups and downs during the regular season, but after surviving a regional final at the Doghouse with Hudson, North dominated in two sectional wins. This year, the Huskies are capable of doing the same, but they’ll have to win two difficult road games just to get to the sectional semi at Memorial. The road begins at Chippewa Falls, where North hasn’t won in the last two seasons. The Cardinals can shoot the ball from the perimeter, which is a must against the Huskies’ 1-3-1 zone defense. If the shots are falling from the corners and from up top, then Chi-Hi can win. With heads representing the higher-seeded team, what does does the quarter say? Tails: so North advances past Chippewa. Memorial makes the trip to River Falls, where the Old Abes have won this season….but the ’92 quarter comes up heads, so it’s the Wildcats moving on. The coin does not forecast an upset in Superior, where the Spartans will defeat Menomonie. In the regional finals, the ’92 quarter says heads for Hudson over North, and tails in predicting a River Falls win at Superior. The Raiders-Wildcats rivalry moves to Memorial for their sectional semifinal matchup, and the coin comes up heads…Hudson moves into the sectional final. In the bottom part of the bracket, the coin forecasts Marshfield over Antigo, D.C. Everest beats Rhinelander, Wausau East defeats Merrill, Wausau West over Marshfield, Wausau East knocks out Everest, with East avenging last season’s sectional semi loss to West. In the sectional final at the Marshfield H.S. Fieldhouse, it’s Hudson defeating East. Other sectional winners: Milwaukee Hamilton (Racine Horlick has tremendous talent with Jamil Wilson leading the way, but it’s tough to pick against a Tom Diener-coached team), Madison Memorial, Germantown, Bay Port, Beloit Memorial, Oshkosh North, and Milwaukee Washington.
The coin goes back into the jar, and I go back to picking games based on what I’ve seen, either in person, or on video. There was a time when I thought no team would come close to knocking out Northwestern, and while I think the Tigers still have the most talent in the area sectional, Altoona is playing its best basketball of the season, Rice Lake is a dangerous team and has a win over Superior on its resume, while sharp-shooting Jack Taylor leads Black River Falls. Still, I think this is a bracket where the seeds will hold true, with the 4 #1 teams advancing to the sectional (although I’d take Altoona over Rice Lake if the regional final were someplace other than Spooner). In the sectional semi’s, Northwestern goes down to the wire to eliminate Rice Lake, while BRF does likewise against Adams-Friendship. The all-Tigers sectional final at UW-Stout is a high scoring affair, but Northwestern has a little too much talent for BRF, so that group of Tigers is headed to Madison. Other sectional winners: Whitefish Bay, Waupun, East Troy.
Regis won this sectional the past two seasons, and the Ramblers are one of a number of teams that could take the title this year. As a #3 seed, Regis will have an awfully tough road just to get out of its regional. The Ramblers should be able to get past #6 seed Colfax, a team that started the Dunn-St. Croix with seven straight wins, but has since gone 4-8. The Vikings are aggressive and athletic, but that won’t be enough to beat Regis on its home court. All the other games in the quarterfinals should go to the higher seeds, but I think the 5-4 game with Eleva-Strum and Osseo-Fairchild will go right down to the wire. Form should also hold true in the regional semi’s, although Regis at Mondovi will be the exception. I like the Buffaloes’ athleticism (a more talented and athletic version of Colfax), but the Ramblers are playing very good basketball right now, and after seeing them dismantle Marshfield Columbus in the Cloverbelt Playoffs, I like their chances, even on the road at Mondovi. That takes us to the regional finals, where Regis will face Luck at Menomonie. The Cardinals have perhaps the most talented player in the entire section, in 6-4 senior Brennan Olson, who has outstanding leaping ability, a solid low post game, plus the ability to hit the mid-range jump shot. Both these teams have playoff experience, having made the trip to Madison last year (Luck in Division 4), but I think the Ramblers’ balance will allow them to move forward, and defeat another solid team out of the West Lakeland, Grantsburg, in a sectional semifinal. In the lower part of the bracket, I see Ladysmith and Hurley advancing to a regional final, with the Lumberjacks winning that matchup. Maybe the only regional final more competitive than Regis-Luck will be the one between Colby and Fall Creek, a rematch of the previous Saturday’s game in the Cloverbelt Playoffs, won by the Hornets. I like Colby’s 1-2 punch of guard Jordan Rahm and center Wade Sebold, who lead a group of good athletes that haven’t lost all school year in either football or basketball. The Hornets are also one of the better passing teams I’ve seen all year. All that being said, I still think the Crickets have had a crash course in dealing with close games over the latter part of the season. Fall Creek’s dropped four of its last five, but all four of those losses have come away from home against quality competition (Regis, Black River Falls, Altoona, and Colby). I don’t know exactly why, but I think the Crickets can learn from that experience, and the next time around, can beat Colby on a neutral court. Ladysmith will be another tough opponent, but I think Fall Creek’s fans will fill the Chippewa Falls gym and lift the Crickets to a win. That will set up a third meeting this season between Fall Creek and Regis. Just like the first two games, I’d expect this game to come down to the wire. The Ramblers aren’t a deep team, but they’re deeper and more balanced than the Crickets. Fall Creek was able to have an outstanding season even after starter Matt Steinke and top reserve Shannon Herick went out with ACL injuries (in the same game!), but eventually that catches up with a team. The Crickets will be a force in 2009-10, with all five starters returning, but this season, the edge goes to Regis, as the Ramblers advance to state for a third consecutive season. Other sectional winners: Dominican, Roncalli, and Cuba City.
In the Spooner sectional, keep an eye on #2 seeds McDonell and Cornell. The Macks are one of two Division 4 teams in the Western Cloverbelt, but finished in a very respectable tie for 4th. The Chiefs, meanwhile, surprised a lot of people by bouncing back after a sub-.500 2008-09 season to take the title in the East Lakeland. It wouldn’t surprise me to see these two meeting in a sectional semi, but McDonell defeating Clayton is a more likely scenario than Cornell bumping off Blair-Taylor. In the upper part of the bracket, an interesting regional final could pit Rib Lake vs. Prentice….two schools that co-op for football. Still, I think the eventual winner comes from the bottom part of the bracket, and I say that’s Blair-Taylor.
In the Onalaska sectional, there’s another #2 seed to watch: Spring Valley. The Cardinals finished strong, winning 10 of their last 13 games, with two of those losses coming to Division 3 Mondovi, and the other at Division 2 Amery. Since the rest of my predictions have been reasonably “safe” picks, I’m going out on a limb to say Spring Valley takes out #1 seeds Gilmanton, Assumption, and Hillsboro on its way to state. Other sectional winners: Randolph, Suring.
Again, these are mere predictions, written on a blog and most definitely, not in stone. Suprising things can and do definitely happen during the “Magic of March.” I have no crystal ball, just some opinions that have formed over another season of covering HS basketball. I look forward to the action, and we at News 18 Sports will do our absolute best to get it all covered through the state tournament.
Sometimes, my predictions are spot on, other times they’re a bit off. Reviewing my hockey picks, I was 1-4 picking the local sectional winners (thank you St. Croix Valley Fusion). In girls hoops, all 8 of my Division 1 picks and all 4 of my Division 3 picks are still playing. In Division 4, I’m down to 3 teams left after Barneveld’s loss, and it’s not looking good in Division 2 with two of my picks (Altoona & Columbus) already out.
Have you heard that these games aren’t played on paper? I figured you had….
Posted under Hometown Sports
This post was written by bbradovich on March 2, 2009