By SPORTS IN KANSAS
Favorite: Wichita Heights
When looking at 6A, there are 8 solid teams in this field, but I think the top 3 seeds are about as even as you can get. Wichita Heights is an extremely balanced squad under HC Joe Auer, last season’s 6A Coach of the Year after leading the Falcons to another state title. That balance proved to be just a little too much for Blue Valley Northwest last season in the title game as Heights won 61-54. The defending state champions get my vote to win until they’re knocked off. Three are averaging in double figures this season, led by junior TJ Williams (16.2 ppg), senior Marcus Ziegler (12.7 ppg), and Amalachi Wilkins (10.2 ppg).
Runner-up: Blue Valley Northwest
6A Player of the Year/Top 5 All-Classes player and Nebraska-Omaha signee Grant Stubblefield and company are just as good if not better than last year, and they’ll want the title more than ever. Junior Joey Matteoni has stepped up big this season, averaging a double-double at 17.4 ppg and 11.1 rebounds.
A rematch with Heights should be one of the better games of the entire tournament. That’s if the Huskies can get past…..
Dark Horse: Blue Valley North
Blue Valley North. The Mustangs lost a heart-breaker in the regular season to BVNW, falling 53-52. A well coached group with no real star player, this team is full of athletes though with several heading to play collegiate sports. Jaxon Goldberg -UCF baseball. Adam Parks – New Mexico State football, Blake Garrett – Pitt State baseball, Alonzo Morgan – Northern Iowa football, just to name a few. Solid group of competitors and BVN won the state title in 2021. Team to watch!
Favorite: Blue Valley Northwest although I feel a coin-flip style matchup with Heights. Grant Stubblefield was last seasons 6A POY from SIK and leads the team in scoring at 17.4 ppg this season. Joey Matteoni has also had a big time junior year with 17.4 ppg and 11.1 rpg. All of BVNW losses have been to out of state opponents.
Runner-up: Wichita Heights. Heights may just have too much balance across the board for their side of the bracket in T.J. Williams (16.2 ppg), Marcus Zeigler (12.7 ppg) and Amalachi Wilkins (10.2 ppg) as they will look to repeat. Heights losses have been to Washburn Rural and Kapaun this season.
Dark Horse: BV North. North has lost just three games this season. Miege, the 4A favorite, BV West, and state power BV Northwest by one. They are battle tested in a good league with a good schedule that they’ll be able to compete with the bracket.
Favorite: Wichita Heights. Coach Joe Auer has plenty of experience winning state titles. He has multiple key players back from last season’s state title squad. Heights averages 1.12 points per possession and collects 37 percent of available offensive rebounds. Heights is a complete team – and wouldn’t see an Eastern Kansas League team until the final.
Runner-Up: Blue Valley North is loaded with multi-sport athletes and should battle Blue Valley Northwest in the semifinals.
Darkhorse: Derby. No one is talking about the Panthers – except for its wild 74-72 four-overtime win at Washburn Rural in the sub-state title game. Yes, the Panthers lost to Junction City and Maize South three times, but Derby is a strong shooting team that puts up a lot of 3s. Derby has made 184 treys for 8.4 per game. The Panthers have an outside shot to challenge Kansas all-time team made 3s record if they reach the state game. Forty-one percent of Derby’s points come from beyond the arc, including the buzzer-beating trey to beat Washburn Rural.
I got to see and talk to Andover’s boys in person this season and their starting lineup is huge! All 6’1+. Four guys average 9.0 ppg or more. Sharp shooter Eli Shetlar, an Indiana State signee leads the way at 17.2 ppg, BJ Redic, a Missouri Southern football commit is adding 10.8 ppg, junior Blake Rucker (10.7 ppg) is picking up steam this post-season, and future Emporia State forward Chris Harris (9.0 ppg) will be playing right here in the Hornets’ home arena. I don’t like picking against an undefeated Highland Park team with some of the best athletes in the state like Bo Aldridge, a guy I think should play Power 5 basketball and Tre Richardson, one of the most explosive athletes in the state- but Andover’s tougher regular season schedule gives them the edge in the semifinal game – which has all the makings of a state title game unfortunately!
Runner-up: Kapaun Mt. Carmel
After Kapaun’s early exit in last year’s state tournament, they’ve impressed this season, losing only to 6A #1 seed Wichita Heights. Future K-State footballer Will Anciaux leads the Crusaders at 15.1 ppg. Kapaun also gets large contributions from Will Thengvall and Corbin Johnson, who were both averaging in double figures in my last check-in around mid-january. The potential Hutch Kapaun semifinal is one I’m looking forward to as Hutch is a very, very solid team as well.
Dark Horse: Maize South
Want to give a shoutout to the 5 seed Mavericks who are 19-3 on the season and all three losses have come to that good Hutch team we just talked about! Maize South has a tough first-round draw with Andover, my pick to win it, but they’ll be hungry! Can they pull off the upset?
Favorite: Highland Park. Bo Aldridge has been one of the best in Kansas with constant production all season. Tre Richardson is also one of the states top multiple sport athletes. Maybe the most exciting team to watch in Kansas and have been unbeaten on the year.
Runner-up: Kapaun has all of the right things to win a state title this year. Will Anciaux is one of the best multiple sport athletes in the state, signing to play football at Kansas State. Kapaun only loss this season came in a split with Heights, one of the 6As heavy contenders.
Dark Horse: It’s hard for a 21-1 team to be called a dark horse but I don’t really feel like enough people are talking about the solid season of the Hutchinson boys. The Salthawks have dominated through most of their schedule and have held opponents under 40 on different occasions. Their only loss to 6A qualifier Derby who they split with this season. They will need their defense in round one as Mason English averages closes to 30 points per game for Pittsburg HS.
Favorite: Andover. The Trojans are a superb shooting team with Eli Shetlar leading the way and have played a much harder schedule than Highland Park. HP has generally struggled getting out of the first round in recent tournaments.
Runner-Up: Kapaun. Last season, coach Steve Eck and the Crusaders fell to No. 8 seed Topeka Seaman, the eventual titlist. Will Anciaux is back for his last season and is a matchup problem at 6-foot-6.
Darkhorse: Hutchinson has possibly the state’s best turnaround and won the Dodge City Tournament of Champions over Maize South. Winning the TOC generally bodes well for a deep state run.
Favorite: Bishop Miege
Miege’s regular-season schedule is just insane. The Stags seed is never indicative of their talent level after facing a tough EKL/out of state competition all season. They are the 4A favorite until proven otherwise.
Seniors Rylē Riddlesperger (18+ ppg) and Carson Bennett (16+ ppg) are leading the way for an extremely tough and synced Eagles team. Only losses on the season come to 5A Hays and 6A Olathe West. Former Scott City High standout and Fort Hays State Tiger Trey O’Neil has done awesome things at Hugoton. Eagles get Clay Center in the first round who deserve a shoutout after coming out of their sub-state as the 12 seed.
Dark Horse: Eudora
I’ve liked Eudora’s ability to take care of business in the games they should win this season, and win big.. At 18-4, they’ve only lost to 5A Highland Park, KC-Piper, fellow 4A state qualifier Atchison, and an out of state game. No easy task for the Cardinals in the first round with a scrappy Baldwin team, but if they can get past that, a Hugoton-Eudora matchup is one you won’t want to miss!
Favorite: Bishop Miege. Miege six losses are all to 5A/6A, so immediately throw records out here as they play in one of the best leagues in Kansas. They’ve played only three schools 4A and below all year and nearly doubled up two of them.
Runner-up: Hugoton. Trey O’Neil has Hugoton as one of the hottest teams in the state. Usually in class 3A, they are one of the smallest schools in this class and would likely be the favorite in 3A. That doesn’t change much here because we still feel like they are one of the best in 4A. Their two losses were in two highly competitive games with Olathe West (6A) and Hays (5A). While their overall schedule may not be what some of the bigger schools in this class is, Hugoton is legit.
Dark Horse: Atchison has quitely had a 19-3 year and have the athletes to hang around with anyone in the class. They unfortunately have a very tough draw in round one. If they can get out of round one against Miege, lookout, because they should be the favorite to win it after that. Don’t overlook Eudora in the top bracket either as this is a team that could very easily get to a title game.
Favorite: Hugoton. I’ve said it since I saw them play in its season opener in December: Hugoton is legitimate state title contender. This team played with great competition with a close loss to Olathe West. Hugoton has great players with Ryle Riddlesperger and Carson Bennett and quality with Dasean Lewis, Emmitt Gaskill and Izeyah Harris. This team defeated Southeast of Saline by eight to win the Sterling tournament.
Runner-Up: Bishop Miege. It’s always hard to go against the Stags, who should have a great matchup with McPherson in the semifinals. Aidan Wing has averaged 20 points per game.
Darkhorse: McPherson. Coach Kurt Kinnamon has a balanced group who has defeated Andover and Andale, among others. Gabe and Owen Pyle, Cory Muehler and Kyden Thompson form a solid core.
The Spartans only three losses come to 4A/5A competition. Keep in mind too that this team only has one senior and two juniors. For three freshman starters – Sebastian Hines-Turner, A.J. Batiste, and Jaden Willis-Parker- this is their first year of high school basketball.
Possibly Mitch Fiegel’s youngest team in 30 years, but they haven’t missed a beat.
Senior star Jake Proctor has set a scoring record this season and led the Swathers to a nearly perfect record at 22-1. Their one loss, SE of Saline to open the season, took place on December 2nd. That game could come again in the state semifinal. The Trojans have a lot of weapons, but Hesston has certainly progressed since that season-opening loss.
Dark Horse: While Marysville doesn’t play the toughest schedule you’ll see, they do make the most of it by beating a lot of their opponents pretty handedly. A single digit loss to 4A state qualifier Atchison and several dominating wins over other 4A schools, this is a team to keep an eye on. I think they could make that opening-round with Collegiate a little closer than people think!
Favorite: Wichita Collegiate. This may have the most parity of any other class because there are a hand full of teams I could see winning it here. Really feel like Collegiate vs Galena will be the semifinal and could be a state championship like game.
Runner-up: SE Saline. This was tough for me as I feel like SE Saline has a very tough path to the championship game but has continued to prove itself all year long. Hesston very well could be in the conversation here as well.
Dark Horse: Galena. While a top ranked team shouldn’t likely be the darkhorse, I don’t think realistically many are giving them a shot to win it all but they need to be. Galena has been to final fours in 2020 and 2021, taking second in 2021. Their best player, Tyler Little, a Division I football signee for Arkansas State, was part of all of those. Defensively Galena has been a juggernaut this season holding opponents to under 40 points on 10 different occasions in the regular season.
Favorite: Southeast of Saline. The Trojans have an extremely low turnover percentage at 15 percent and plenty of elite talent with Eli Sawyers and Nakari Morrical-Palmer. For Morrical-Palmer, he has 99 assists and just 32 turnovers, a phenomenal rate. SES has few empty possessions and that could be the difference in a wide-open classification.
Runner-Up: Galena. The Bulldogs have played a solid schedule, are a fantastic defensive team and Tyler Little is a matchup problem.
Darkhorse: Perry-Lecompton. P-L has two buzzer-beater wins, plus an overtime win in the sub-state title game. Kam Kaniper and Gunnar Bell have the ability to combine for 45-plus points in a game.
Moundridge was tested in one of the toughest 2A sub-states and came out with the ticket to state. Legendary coach Vance Unrau retires after this season and his guys are surely playing for more than themselves right now, besides the fact they have a very talented group. Maybe I like a good story, but they are my favorite to win it – however, a potential state semifinal matchup with a special TMP-Marian team is going to be tough!
Runner-up: Wichita – The Independent
This is a team definitely flying under the radar a little bit. While they weren’t tested too much in the regular season, the Panthers did showcase their scoring ability in several of their wins. Conor Harris is an athlete to watch for this state tournament.
Dark Horse: Bennington
Juniors Eli Lawson and Mister Smith (Great name, by the way) lead the way for the Bulldogs at 18.8 and 15.1 ppg, respectively. Of their four losses, two come to Moundridge (one in OT), a loss to Kingman, and a one point loss to Inman. Bennington did need a game-winner to get past Salina-Sacred Heart in the sub-state championship, but maybe they’ll carry that momentum with them to the state tournament.
Favorite: TMP. TMP has two losses both coming to 6A Free State and Manhattan, so you can throw out those losses. Dylan Werth has cleared 1,000 points this season. Kade Harris is also one of the top multiple sport athletes in the class and is a FHSU football signee.
Runner up: Wichita Independent isn’t getting a lot of talk but they need to be. One of their losses to a non-KSHSAA member and a surprise loss to Garden Plain are the only times they’ve been beaten this year.
Dark Horse: St. Marys. The Bears knocked out Lyndon who may have been the favorite to win all of 2A this season in the sub-state championship. Keller Hurla is one of the best multi-sport athletes in Kansas and is capable of going off for 30, 40 plus at any time, he even scored 51 in a game last season. Bears are also the champions in 1A football led by 90 plus yard scoring drive at the end of the game, they’ve been in high pressure situations.
Favorite: TMP. The Monarchs have won 20 straight games and defeated several 4A/5A squads. Post Dylan Werth has posted 1,000 points/500 rebounds in a great career, Kade Harris is a tremendous guard and Luke Rome has averaged nearly a double-double. It’s hard to slow TMP’s transition game.
Runner-Up: Wichita Independent has scored at a high rate and is the significant favorite in the top half of the bracket.
Darkhorse: Moundridge. This is legendary coach Vance Unrau’s last season. The Wildcats are playing really well – and could definitely win a state title Saturday.
Defending state champion Olpe is the pick for me. A program that knows how to win with multiple state championships in football and basketball as of late. Eagles are a slightly different team than last year but still extremely talented. They have size inside with Blake Skalsky and solid guard play. I think they go back-to-back.
Runner-up: Clifton-Clyde has impressed this season under HC Justin Steinbrock. The Eagles won the TVL for the first time since 2001. Fell to 2A Salina-Sacred Heart to open the season and fell to 1A DI state qualifier Axtell in the middle of the year – both games within 7 points. A potential semifinal matchup with Macksville is going to be a dog-fight, I think.
Dark Horse: Classical School of Wichita
Just two losses for Classical – a 3 point loss to Ell-Saline and a loss to Bennington – my 2A dark horse. They’ll get Olpe in the semifinal if they get past the first round, but wouldn’t be surprised to see them make that one a game!
Favorite: Olpe. It is hard for me to go against a Chris Schmidt coached team in a title game scenario as the Eagles have won four recent state titles under him in football (2020, 2021) and basketball (2021, 2022).
Runner-up: Macksville. They have depth and length with Ryan Kuckelman. That combined with state experience last year this could be a year we could see Macksville get into the title game and compete to win the whole thing.
Dark Horse: Clifton Clyde and Wichita Classical are both flying under the radar and feel like they have the teams to hang around with anyone in this classification. South Gray is also in the field and you can never count out a SG team. This should be an outstanding state tournament with many contenders.
Favorite: Macksville. I have said it for quite awhile now – the Mustangs were third last season and brought nearly everyone back. Macksville is the 1A-I state favorite. The Mustangs have excellent depth, veteran experience and turnover creation. Macksville averages 63 possessions a game, a rate that’s hard to match.
Runner-Up: Olpe. Coach Chris Schmidt has done another great job after he had to replace four starters. Olpe had the state’s longest winning streak for a chunk of the winter.
Darkhorse: South Gray. The Rebels have quietly flown under the radar, but coach Mark Applegate’s group is used to playing at Dodge City and shoots the ball extremely well. SG won the SPIAA tournament championship on the same floor as the state tournament.
Favorite: Tribune-Greeley Co.
HC Josh Gooch and star player Jaxson Brandl were both honored as the SIK Coach and Player of the Year last season after winning the title in thrilling fashion. Now this year, they act like they belong. Just one loss in January but the Jackrabbits have played like defending state champions all season.
Runner-up: Axtell wants a chance to prove they belong at the top, too. Axtell-Greeley Co in the title is a game I would want to see. So many good athletes for the Eagles – too many for a school that small! All four of their losses have been to quality teams this season. I think we see Axtell in the state championship.
Dark Horse: Bucklin
The Aces have to face Axtell first round, but don’t count them out! Stimpert, Lindsay, and Bowman all average in double-figures for the Aces who have won 8 out of their last 9 games, the loss coming to 1A DI state qualifier Macksville.
Favorite: Tribune-Greeley Co. Led by Jackson Brandl, last seasons 1A-II POY from SIK, this is a season we could see a repeat. Brandl cleared 2,000 points earlier this season.
Runner-up: Axtell. Axtell has a great group of athletes that has what it takes to get to a title game. They are the back to back 8M-II state football champion and many of the same faces highlight the basketball team.
Dark Horse: Stafford. Stafford is its first state basketball tournament since 1947. While they’ll have a tough bracket they could surprise some people at the state tournament.
Favorite: Greeley County. Jaxson Brandl is one of the state’s all-time great scorers, and he has an excellent supporting cast. GC is the favorite to repeat.
Runner-Up: Axtell. I picked the Eagles as a Potential Breakout Team in December, and they beat Hanover twice. Axtell has great athletes.
Darkhorse: While it will be somewhat of a surprise if it’s not Greeley County/Axtell, Bucklin has changed its approach from a 3-point heavy team of last season. The Red Aces have a great coach in Derek Bevan and a strong inside game. They nearly made a huge comeback in the state semifinals against Hanover last year.