There's no question that the place to be on Friday will be the Skoglund Center on the campus of St. Olaf College. That will be the site of the premiere game of the week – the annual showdown in Northfield…
There's no question that the place to be on Friday will be the Skoglund Center on the campus of St. Olaf College. That will be the site of the premiere game of the week – the annual showdown in Northfield between 9-0 Hopkins (#1 in 4A) and 7-0 Eastview (#3). Any time these two teams meet, there is significant buzz surrounding the game, and this year is no different. During last year's St. Olaf tournament, the contest marked the return of Paige Bueckers from an ankle injury. She was also battling the flu and struggling with her shot but, as is often the case, she still found a way to get her team the W. If memory serves me well (that's always a question mark!), then-7th grader Amaya Battle of Hopkins played just four minutes but dropped a three-point bomb from the corner that was a difference-maker in a 65-60 overtime win.
Marc and I have split this week's tournament duty and he drew the lucky straw on this game. He will no doubt provide blow-by-blow coverage in his St. Olaf report. The official Game of the Week may or may not even take place. That's because it is a potential second-round matchup at the Roseville holiday tournament. I'm going out on a very short limb, however, in assuming that 6-1 Robbinsdale Cooper, the top-rated team in 3A, will get by Eden Prairie (5-4) in round one, while 5-2 Centennial (4A #7) will dispatch Apple Valley (3-5) in its opener.
That will set the stage for a Cooper-Centennial encounter Friday at 6:15 p.m. Cooper's only defeat is to Hopkins. Centennial also has a Hopkins' loss on its record, as well as a four-point decision to Champlin Park last week. This is a matchup of speed and skill vs Division 1 pedigree.
Players to watch
Cooper boasts a ton of speed and a lot of skill. Run down the roster and it's not difficult to see why the Hawks are on top of the 3A rankings. The leaders include:
- Top 50 senior wing Jada Bufford
- Speedy senior guards Ju Gaston (11 ppg) and TT Longs (9 ppg)
- Highly-skilled junior guard Aja Wheeler (14 ppg), the 19th-ranked player among 2019s
- 6-foot junior forward Alexis Nance (top 70 in the class)
- Sizeable and skilled freshman center Kierra Wheeler (16 ppg), #16 among the 2021s
- Quick and crafty freshmen Andrea Tribble (#20) and Jayla Reliford (#23)
Centennial's lineup is loaded with D1-bound veterans, skilled and sizeable players guaranteed to make life difficult for Cooper. The roster includes:
- Top 30 senior guard Clare Orth is headed for D1 North Dakota
- Top 20 senior forward Sydney Stapleton has committed to D1 South Dakota State
- 6'2″ junior forward Sara Stapleton, #5 in the Class of 2019, is committed to D1 Wisconsin
- Junior Taylor McAulay (#17) has verballed with D1 Drake
- A strong supporting cast includes junior post Sarah Lavell and senior forward Lexi Mathews
Assuming all goes according to form, we'll report back on Cooper vs Centennial later in the week. If not, we'll dine on the Upset Special which will be a story in itself.
Other great games to watch
It's tournament central this week, and there is holiday hoops in every corner of the state. We'll be making the rounds, providing a little coverage here, there and everywhere. Here are a few games you might want to check out.
- 7-2 Cromwell vs 7-0 Bigfork – A big Class A encounter at the Mountain Iron-Buhl tournament
- Holy Family vs Stewartville – 2021 talent Erin Lamb vs long and longer Holy Family at the Howard Lake-Waverley-Winsted tournament
- There's a Cretin-Derham Hall double this week and both games could be special. The #5 Raiders face #9 Park Center on Thursday at the Park Center tournament. On Friday, CDH will be back in Brooklyn Park to play #11 Champlin Park.
- 7-0 Eastview vs 7-0 Northfield at the St. Olaf tournament
- 4A #12 Farmington is a perfect 7-0 and coming off its first significant win over Edina. The Tigers face a tough Grand Rapids squad (5th in 3A) at the St. Olaf tournament.
- #1 Hopkins vs #3 Eastview at St. Olaf. Need we say more?