In what appeared almost a foregone conclusion, the Hopkins boys basketball team became the first team to notch a state tournament berth in 4A—beating the Trojans of Wayzata 85-65 in the section 6AAAA final Tuesday in Osseo.
Led by senior captains Joe Coleman and Marvin Singleton—18 and 27 points, respectively—the Royals pushed the pace in the second half, cruising to another state tournament, hoping to win its third state title in three years.
Now the No. 1-seed Royals wait for the remaining section tournaments and future opposition.
But do any of the remaining teams stand a chance against the Royal dynasty?
Section1AAAA Friday, Rochester Civic Center
Owatonna Huskies (24-4) vs. Rochester Century Panthers (18-8)
A truly exiting section finals matchup, as both squads are aptly versed with the other, splitting the season series 1-1. The rubber-match will be for the rights to a berth in state, but gauging the level of competition both teams are accustomed, that could be as far as either goes.
Section 2AAAA Friday, Hopkins
Eden Prairie Eagles (24-4) vs. Chaska Hawks (24-4)
What will surely be an ultra-competitive, style-clashing showdown, the Eagles will look to seal a berth to state for a chance at the unthinkable—beating Hopkins twice.
The only team to best the Royals, Eden Prairie is a capable, talented unit led by a strong frontcourt presence with seniors Dylan Stewart and Connor Nord.
But standing in the way is a Chaska team that boasts one of the state’s elite scorers in Jake White. The Hawks will go as far as their senior will take them, which means White will likely have to improve on his 12-point effort in their last meeting, a 68-63 win.
The teams split their regular season matchup and will play Friday, fittingly at Hopkins, where the Eagles have done some of their best work.
If Hopkins were to fall, these are two potential usurpers.
Eden Prairie has a win against Hopkins but forfeited any mental edge by getting dominated late against the Royals in their rematch. And despite their depth at forward, the Eagles are mismatched in the backcourt against Hopkins’ junior point guard Siyani Chambers.
Chaska has a legit scorer in White and an athlete in senior forward Ross Travis, but getting into a shootout with Hopkins plays to their greatest strengths.
Section 3AAAA Friday, St. Olaf
Lakeville South Cougars (20-8) vs. Apple Valley Eagles (19-9)
South coach John Sheehan began the year coaching a state top-ten with high expectations only to see his Cougars struggle early during a brutal stretch of schedule, losing to 3A power St. Paul Johnson and dropping a close game to the Royals.
Now a fourth-seed, the Cougars are taking on an Apple Valley team that has also failed to live up to expectations (both teams hold a win over each other).
A week ago, it didn’t seem like either team was poised to make a section run, let alone a chance to win in the state tourney. But with a statement win against Eastview—the fifth-ranked team in state—perhaps the Cougars are finally hitting their stride.
As for a date with Hopkins, even though the Cougars played Hopkins tight, that game seems like ages ago and Hopkins has continued playing at a high-level, while both Apple Valley and Lakeville South have struggled with consistency.
Section 4AAAA Friday, East Ridge
Tartan Titans (24-3) vs. Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders (20-7)
For a team with only three losses, it seems like the Titans are still underestimated. It may have something to do with dropping two games to bitter rival Hill-Murray and a less than imposing schedule overall.
If Tartan wants its respect, it can get it by beating Cretin-Derham Hall, a consistently competitive school that trounced Hill-Murray by thirty earlier in the year.
Both these teams straddle the line between legit contenders and big school pretenders. It will be interesting to see who takes the next step forward.
Hopkins will certainly have every perceivable edge in personnel if a matchup occurs between either team, but combine the fact that both teams are flying under the radar and possess thoroughly chipped shoulders—the 4AAAA section winner is a team to watch.
Section 5AAAA Friday, Rogers
Osseo Orioles (26-2) vs. Robbinsdale-Cooper Hawks (18-9)
The Osseo Orioles have spent a good part of the season playing second fiddle to Hopkins in the state rankings. The Orioles certainly want to change that, boasting a strong balance on both sides of the ball and the size that helps them grind out wins in the half-court—arguably, the recipe for success against a team like Hopkins that aims to run you to death.
One problem: The Orioles have faced the Royals twice already in highly anticipated matchups, losing both times by the same identical, comfortable margin of 86-68. So Hopkins won’t be lacking any confidence in a third match.
If the Orioles are serious about a title run, they’re going to need greater leadership from DJ Hebert (a nice corner shooter with good baseline moves) and team captain Joey Sonnenfeld (a versatile forward who has been sporting a new-look Mohawk in the section playoffs.)
Certainly, more things need to change then just hairstyles.
Section 6AAAA – Hopkins Royals
Same story, different year.
Section 7AAAA Friday, Elk River
Duluth East Greyhounds (20-6) (1) vs Blaine Bengals (18-9)
Duluth East leads section 7AAAA as the No. 1 seed with Blaine the last obstacle to a state berth. The Greyhounds are a well-traveled team—venturing south for more challenging opposition. But that hasn’t always gone well. Andover edged Duluth East in their matchup before being pummeled by Blaine 61-45 the very next game
The Bengals have waltzed into the section final with an average margin of victory of 26.5 points, disposing of Cambridge-Isanti and Forest Lake. Given Blaine’s propensity for knocking off schools with conjunct titles, I’d say Duluth East is in trouble.
Section 8AAAA Thursday, St. Cloud
Maple Grove Crimson (16-10) vs. Buffalo Bison (21-7)
Due to the random draw system customary to the high school tournament bracket, the winner of this showdown could potentially get the first crack at the Royals, which is a lot like the University of Texas-San Antonio facing Ohio State in the first-round: Sure, it could happen. UTSA could win. Ohio State could lose. It has never happened before and little reason to think it will start now. But it could happen.
Hopkins must wait until March, 23 before its next game—a nine day layover. Expect the Royals to be as prepared and focused as they’ve been all year, and that’s not even counting their superior skill and athleticism.
WHY HOPKINS WILL WIN
This team has been almost untouchable apart from a hiccup against Eden Prairie, which they emphatically avenged. Since then, the Royals have seared the competition, beating the toughest teams in state. Hopkins has a dynamic group of starters led by potential Mr. Basketball winner Joe Coleman. Most would admit that the only obstacle in Hopkins’ way is Hopkins. On a good night, no team in state can hang with the Royals.
WHY HOPKINS WON’T WIN
One bad night. The beauty of one-and-done tournaments is how fleeting success can be. If Hopkins can’t hit from the perimeter, gets in early foul trouble or (heaven forbid) suffers an injury, then it could be curtains for Hopkins’ season. All a team needs to do is force Hopkins into a less-than-stellar evening and capitalize. No easy task, but it’s already been done once this year. As Hopkins proves—seeking a third straight state title-—and competitors hope, history often repeats itself.