Basketball in Kansas: SIK staff have state boys’ basketball picks for each class: favorite, runner-up and dark horse

Lawrence Free State is the Class 6A state favorite (Photo credit: Jaycee Dale)

By Sports In Kansas staff

SIK has its classification picks for boys’ state basketball: favorite, runner-up and darkhorse from each class. Girls’ picks are already up at

Class 6A:

Bethany Bowman:

Favorite: No. 1 Lawrence Free State – Free State is playing at such a high level and has all season. They’ve made some pretty dang good basketball teams look, well…not so great, and that says a lot.

Runner-up: No. 2 Wichita Heights -Heights always brings a level of toughness and physicality in addition to a lot of skill. The intangibles will help carry them throughout the tournament to the title game.

Darkhorse: No. 5 Shawnee Mission Northwest – The Cougars certainly took their lumps early in the year, but they’ve progressed steadily throughout the season and have an extremely athletic team that could make some noise.

Chet Kuplen:

Favorite: No. 1 Free State is the team to beat here but it very well could be BVNW as the favorite. Overall, Northwest has played the better schedule but there’s something special about this Free State team who has went unbeaten against Kansas. Jordan Brown, a two-time all-state pick out of Basehor Linwood, has been the star. Blue Valley Northwest is led by Grant Stubblefield who is one of the top multi-sport athletes in Kansas. I feel like the championship game may take place in the semis of the 6A top bracket and will be a coin flip matchup.

Runner-up: The other side of the bracket is completely wide open but Wichita Heights is my pick to get to the title game.

Darkhorse: Olathe West has an opportunity to pick up a couple upsets that could find them with a deep run. The schedule that Olathe West played is better than that of their first round opponent Dodge City so their record is a bit deceiving.

Conor Nicholl:

Favorite: No. 1 Lawrence Free State (21-1) – The championship might be in the semifinals when Free State would likely take on No. 4 Blue Valley Northwest (19-3). Free State has Jordan Brown, who has committed to Emporia State and transferred from Basehor-Linwood. Free State has been widely considered Kansas’ best team all season.

Runner-up: No. 2 Wichita Heights (20-2) – Heights won the prestigious Dodge City Tournament of Champions, and coach Joe Auer has five state basketball titles with the Falcons. Heights is historically a strong offensive rebounding team.

Darkhorse: No. 3 Dodge City (19-3) – Dodge City has its unique defense where it forces teams left. Shane Traughber has done well with turning around two programs. DC took third at the TOC and has just two losses to Hays High. Cooper Scheck is one of Kansas’ best shooters with 170 made treys and 38.6 percent from long range in his career.

Class 5A:

Bethany Bowman:

Favorite: No. 2 Topeka West -T-West is hungry for a state title after falling short in the title game last season. Plus, they have a guy named Elijah Brooks that is kind of good at basketball. They’ll have their hands full with Kapaun which I expect could be the best game of the year in the title game.

Runner-up: Kapaun Mt. Carmel made it really tough to pick against. Steve Eck is a phenomenal coach going for his 1,000th career win in the quarterfinals. He has a team full of athletes and again, a title game matchup with Topeka West would be insane to watch!

Darkhorse: No. 7 St. James Academy – I didn’t feel right choosing No. 4 Maize, the defending state champ, as a dark horse so my pick is No. 7 St. James Academy. Just like in football, we see SJA tally losses on their record all season in the tough EKL filled with 4A-6A contender teams, so when tournament time comes, they are ready. It will be tough with Topeka West first-round, but an interesting game to me for sure.

Chet Kuplen:

Favorite: No. 2 Topeka West is playing very good basketball this season led by likely the best player in Kansas this season in Elijah Brooks. West is the defending state runner-up. The Centennial League showed their power this season by qualifying five total teams across three classes. They cant overlook a St. James team that plays a great schedule in round one.

Runner-up: Kapaun has had an incredible year of boys sports and has continued that in basketball under head coach Steve Eck. Although their one loss is to Maize in the first game of the year they’ve won 21 in a row.

Darkhorse: Blue Valley Southwest has played one of the best schedules in Kansas. They get a rematch with De Soto in round one, a game they won by 13 earlier this season. The real question for them is can they get by Topeka West in the semis. They’ve beat St. James Academy this season, who faces T-West in round one. Maize or Highland Park are also more than capable of getting to a title game. Keep in mind, Maize, last years champion, did give Kapaun their only loss.

Conor Nicholl:

Favorite: No. 1 Kapaun Mt. Carmel (21-1) – Per long time Hutchinson Community College sports information director Steve Carpenter, Coach Steve Eck is at 999 career wins across all levels of basketball. Eck won six high school championships at Wichita South and led four junior college teams to No. 1 in the country. Will Anciaux (Power 5 Football offers) and Henry Thengvall, who are both at least 6-5, are key players.

Runner-up: No. 2 Topeka West (21-1) – The runner-up last season, TW has the state’s second-leading scorer in Elijah Brooks, the top scorer among all state qualifying teams. West has not lost since December.

Darkhorse: No. 8 Topeka Seaman (15-7) – The Vikings have won eight in a row and have tremendous height, experience and scoring ability. Seaman returned four starters. Three Centennial League teams are in the 5A field. Seaman is the lone squad to beat Topeka West and went 0-2 against Highland Park. However, Seaman was healthier down the stretch and rolled over one-loss Hays High last Friday.

Class 4A:

Bethany Bowman:

Favorite: No. 5 Bishop Miege – When you hear Miege basketball, you think powerhouse, and that doesn’t change this season. Miege gets the edge for my favorite pick until someone proves otherwise!

Runner-up: No. 2 Buhler – Buhler has made a great case all season for why they belong at state and are primed for a big run. Jack Voth has been great for the Crusaders.

Darkhorse: No. 4 Abilene – The Cowboys have an athletic team that has competed well with good teams this season. Senior Kaleb Becker, who went over 1,000 points this season, told me at about the midway point of the year he liked where his team was headed.

Chet Kuplen:

Favorite: Bishop Miege is the five seed but they are my favorite. The Stags have by far, played the toughest schedule in this class. However, this is the most wide open year we’ve seen in 4A basketball in several years. Christian Bowen-Webb leads the Stags and cleared over 1,000 points. McDonalds All-American Mark Mitchell is now at Sunrise Christian or can you imagine what they’d be like?

Runner-up: Buhler is the team to beat on the bottom bracket but have a tough matchup in round one with league foe, McPherson. Buhler has beat Mac twice this year, once by one, and the other in OT. It won’t be easy to get past round one but if they do they should be favored against Andale, who they already beat, or Paola. Jackson Voth has been an outstanding player this season for Buhler.

Darkhorse: If you’re looking for a team with some losses that can hang with anyone in here, look at No. 8 seed Topeka Hayden. They play in one of the best leagues in the state this season in the Centennial League, who qualified five teams. They may not be favored, but don’t be surprised to see a close matchup in the opener against Eudora. Hayden has played a better schedule than any team in this class, outside of Miege.

Conor Nicholl:

Favorite: No. 5 Bishop Miege (16-6) – This is a relatively-open field after Miege dominated 4A last season en route to several state records, including margin of victory in a state title game. Rivals Buhler/McPherson match up in the first round. Miege, though, has not lost a state game since 2015. Miege won titles in ’16, ’17, and ’18, missed a rare state berth in ’19, were a Forever Four team in ’20 and won last season. Miege lost only to a Missouri school, rival St. James twice and Blue Valley schools. Senior Christian Bowen-Webb headlines another strong Miege team.

Runner-up: No. 2 Buhler (18-4) – Buhler has delivered an impressive resume, including two wins against McPherosn. Junior Jack Voth (6-5, 185) is one of Kansas’ best players.

Darkhorse: No. 7 McPherson (13-9) – McPherson gets the highly anticipated quarterfinal game against Buhler. The Bullpups lost to Buhler by one and seven points during the season. The Bullpups had a five-game losing streak, its longest in decades, though have won five straight since.

Class 3A:

Bethany Bowman:

Favorite: Hesston – No. 2 Hesston, the 3A defending state champs, are extremely athletic and skilled. I expect a title game with Royal Valley to be one of the best games this season. They get the edge for my number one pick due to their big game experience.

Runner-up: No. 1 Royal Valley – If anyone has the athleticism and pace of play to match Hesston, It’s Royal Valley. Wahwassuck is one of the more dynamic players in the state of Kansas. Excited for this matchup!

Darkhorse: No. 7 Hugoton is the perfect example of a dark horse. Two losses to 6A state qualifier Olathe West this season, one to a good Lakin team, and a one point loss to Scott City. They’ll have a tough first-round matchup with Hesston, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hugoton stay in it.

Chet Kuplen:

Favorite: This is a very tough pick and comes down to Royal Valley or Hesston to me. Both teams share the basketball extremely well and have the ability to get to the rim with everyone. Royal Valley length has also been a major problem for many teams. Hesston is the pick to repeat as champion. Brayden Schilling (6’6”), Jake Proctor (6’2” and Cason Richardson (6’2”) make it very hard for teams to key on one player. Galena is also a team that has all the pieces back for a chance to get back to a title game but would have to likely knock off Hesston in the semi.

Runner-up: Royal Valley has all the tools to be the champion, led by 6-foot-5 senior guard Nachs Wahwassuck, an Emporia State signee. Brady Klotz has great size and the ability to get to the rim at 6’5” as does 6’5” Mason Thomas. The length of the Panthers will be a probably for many teams. The Panthers have been perfect this year outside of a slip up loss against Holton.

Darkhorse: Galena may not be the darkhorse as they are in familiar territory, making their third trip to the state tournament in a row after taking runner up in 2021 and Forever Four in 2020. Bulldogs are led by one of the best players in Kansas in Brett Sarwinski, least years 3A player of the year. Tyler Little, a 6-foot-5, junior, is also one of 3A’s best mutli-sport athletes with multiple Division I football offers.

Conor Nicholl:

Favorite: No. 2 Hesston (22-1) – The relatively clear favorite in this field. Hesston is the reigning 3A champion and is the only team to beat Hillsboro and Cheney this season. Hesston will have a challenging quarterfinal matchup against Hugoton (19-4), which has overachieved under first-year coach Trey O’Neil. Hesston beat TMP and Galena in the semifinals and finals last season. Cason Richardson and Jake Proctor pace the Swathers.

Runner-up: No. 1 Royal Valley (22-1) – Nachs Wahwassuck returning to RV in midseason was a huge boost. Plus, RV is on the opposite side of Hesston, Galena, and TMP which might be three of the four best teams in the field.

Darkhorse: No. 6 Thomas More Prep-Marian (19-4) – TMP has not lost to a 3A team this season and only has one defeat (4A state qualifier Abilene) to a KSHSAA school since the season’s third game. In 2019, the Monarchs went to the Final Four as a No. 8 seed and upset a  top seed. TMP has 6-foot-6 Dylan Werth, plenty of athleticism and depth. Plus, TMP can shoot the 3 well with Gavin Unrein and Kenton Ginther.

Class 2A:

Bethany Bowman:

Favorite: No. 2 Hillsboro – I think it would be silly to pick against a Hillsboro team with all their key pieces back. They stay on top until knocked off!

Runner-up: St. Mary’s- With St. Marys at the 4 seed, this gives them a great chance to be in the title game. I got to see the Bears, led by former K-Stater Will Spradling, play in the Topeka Invitational. They got a hard-fought win over 6A Topeka High, and faced 5A state qualifiers Topeka West and Highland Park. While those were tough losses for St. Marys, the stacked schedule has them ready for tournament time.

Darkhorse: No. 3 Lyndon is my 2A dark horse. The Tigers two losses this season have come from 1A Olpe and 3A Osage City, both state qualifiers in their classes. Lyndon potentially gets Hillsboro in the second round, can they shock the state?

Chet Kuplen:

Favorite: Hillsboro is the favorite to repeat in 2A and split with 3A defending champion Hesston this season, their only loss. Brekyn Ratzlaff averages over 17 ppg, while Matthew Potucek chips in 12 and Grayson Ratzlaff w/ 11 ppg. Frank Wichert also adds 7 ppg on a squad that is very hard to key on just one player.

Runner-up: St. Mary’s made a deep run two years ago in 3A out of nowhere but that’s not the case here as they are expected to be in his position. Keller Hurla averages 20 points per game and Fred Criqui adds great size inside at 6’7”. They’ve played a very solid schedule under HC Will Spradling, a former KSU player.  

Darkhorse: Colgan is always a factor in the 2A tournament. Has it been a while since they’ve been a title contender? Yes, but the Panthers are no stranger to the state tournament under Wayne Cichon, who has 650+ wins. This is a very scary matchup in round one for unbeaten Valley Falls. Colgan does not play the typical 2A schedule and plays some very good competition out of the CNC league.  

Conor Nicholl:

Favorite: No. 2 Hillsboro (22-1) – Possibly the biggest favorite of any boys class, Hillsboro returned all its key players from last season’s state team. Hillsboro split with Hesston and by and large have rolled through its schedule.

Runner-up: No. 4 St. Marys (20-3) – There’s a lot of intrigue in the top half of the bracket, and former K-State standout Will Spradling has done great work with St. Marys. Keller Hurla has enjoyed a huge season.

Darkhorse: No. 5 WaKeeney-Trego (18-4)/No. 8 Colgan(14-8) – Both of these teams could pull slight upsets in the state quarterfinals. Trego features a highly experienced team with senior point guard Cole Feldt and Charlie Russell, the second-best scorer in Trego history in at least the last 15 years. Colgan runs its patient style under legendary coach Wayne Cichon. Trego will have a great test against No. 4 St. Marys (20-3), which is the lone squad to beat Olpe. Colgan might even be a slight favorite against undefeated Valley Falls (23-0). It’s very possible that one of these teams could reach a final.

Class 1A-I:

Bethany Bowman:

Favorite: Olpe – There’s just no way I’m picking against a team that not only won a state title last season, but has won back-to-back football state titles under the same head coach and with a lot of the same players. That winning culture is a huge advantage and will carry the Eagles.

Runner-up: No. 3 South Gray- South Gray holds just two losses, South Central and Hodgeman County. They will be hungry to get back to the finals and try to de-thrown Olpe.

Darkhorse: No. 8 Troy – Troy has some quality losses on their record, two being to 1A-DII reigning champ Hanover. I’m not sure they can take down Olpe in the first round, but this is one of the better 8-seed teams you’ll find.

Chet Kuplen:

Favorite: Olpe repeats as the 1A-I champion and adds its fourth boys title in two years in football/basketball combined, all by the same coach in Chris Schmidt, who is on his way to becoming a Kansas coaching legend.

Runner-up: South Gray is a team that always reloads, never rebuilds. Mark Applegate has more wins than you can imagine at the school and has led the team to a solid 21-2 record. Brady Deges is one of the best shooters in the state, if he’s on fire, its going to be hard to take out SG.  

Darkhorse: Macksville is a scary team with the length of 6’5” junior Ryan Kuckelman, who is one of the top 1A multiple sport athletes in the state. They have two losses this season, one which came to a solid 2A team in Ellinwood.

Conor Nicholl:

Favorite: No. 1 Olpe (22-1) – This is a deep field with at least five contenders, but it’s hard to pick against Olpe, which won back-to-back titles in football and captured basketball last season. Coach Chris Schmidt leads both teams.

Runner-up: No. 2 Norwich (22-1) – Norwich boys have been probably Kansas’ most underrated team all winter. The Eagles were unranked in the preseason (non top-10) and have rose to No. 2 in the coaches’ poll. Norwich is at state for the first time since 1994. Last season, the Eagle girls pulled off two state wins and took second to Olpe. Norwich has plenty of size and experience, paced by standout junior Jace Gosch, along with Chance Hilger, Tray Schroeder and Dax Rosenhagen. Several key players had fathers/uncles on the Norwich teams that reached state from ’92-94. Norwich has plenty of height with Gosch and Hilger and has allowed just 34.4 points a game. Norwich will be the favorite against Solomon in the quarterfinals and has a strong chance to reach the championship game. They have two wins against 1A-II state qualifier Caldwell (61-42, 48-33), split with Attica, and beat Burrton, 73-39. Burrton has the state’s leading scorer in Cam Schmidt, who averages 30.9 points per game.

Darkhorse: No. 6 Ness City (18-5) – Ness lost to South Gray in the semifinals last season and is loaded with senior talent, especially posts Taylor Cable and Corbin Ross. NC has been incredibly explosive at times this year and could definitely win the championship. Ness City gets South Gray (21-2) in the quarterfinals. Legendary coach Mark Applegate and Hill City coach Keith Riley both passed John Locke for most wins by a primarily boys’ basketball coach in Kansas history this season. SG lost to Olpe in the finals last season. Applegate has went through a highly emotional year after his wife passed in November. SG had to beat Meade four times this season. SG is known for great offense, is used to playing at United Wireless Arena and has Brady Deges, who has cleared 1,000 career points.

Class 1A-II:

Bethany Bowman:

Favorite: No. 1 Hanover We’ve all seen the viral video of seven Hanover players dunking the basketball last season. You wouldn’t get that at a lot of 4-6A schools. This type of athleticism and at this level is so hard to beat.

Runner-up: Northern Valley – The balance of this team is where the danger lies. With three players averaging in double figures and two more over 9 ppg, you can’t shut down one player and expect to win. Their depth will carry them to the title game.

Darkhorse: No. 7 Pawnee Heights – I think a 12-10 record is very misleading for a team like Pawnee Heights. Led by Alec Carlson, PH has several other key pieces that make them a scary team

Chet Kuplen:

Favorite: No. 1 Hanover may be on a whole different level than anyone in this class once again as they return Emmitt Jueneman, one of the top players in the state.  Keagan Dimler and Josh Zarynnicky also average in double figures while Phillip Doebele pulls down near nine rebounds per game and Braelen Stallbaumer with over seven. This is one of the most complete teams in the state for 2A and down. Total team basketball here led by HC Cory Jensen.

Runner-up: Northern Valley. Bailey Sides is one of the best in 1A-II while three total players on NV average in double figures including Sides, Eric Loya and Kenton Thalheim. Jeremiah Hansen and Foster Brands also average over nine ppg.

Darkhorse: The more and more you look at Tribune-Greeley County you think they may have a chance to go deep into the state tournament. Led by standout junior Jackson Brandl, one of the lengthiest players in the class that has averaged at least 20 points per game in each of the last three seasons. They play a lot of out of state competition due to their location in the Mountain Time Zone but the Jackrabbits have a shot to be a force in the tournament. However, they can’t overlook another darkhorse in Pawnee Heights led by Alec Carlson and Braden Colglazier, a semifinalist last year. Bucklin has also been a hot team this season led by Scott Price and Caldwell caught fire in the sub-state tournament with just six total players. 

Conor Nicholl:

Favorite: No. 1 Hanover (22-1) – Hanover cruised to the title last year and has been highly dominant again this winter. Hanover has been the No. 1 team all winter. Emmitt Jueneman is the reigning Player of the Year and averages 15.3 points a game. Four players are in double figures.

Runner-up: No. 3 Northern Valley (21-2) – The Huskies have averaged 68 points a game, including 14.4 from senior Bailey Sides. NV has significant depth and experience.

Darkhorse: No. 4 Bucklin (18-5) – Hanover, Northern Valley and Bucklin have been the top-three contenders this season. Bucklin is at state for the first time since the mid-90s. The Red Aces average around 30 treys attempted a game, own a win against South Gray, and feature Scott Price (20 points/game). Bucklin will have a challenging test against Caldwell in the quarterfinals and then likely Hanover in the semifinals. The Red Aces might have the highest ceiling of anyone to beat Hanover.

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