DISTRICTS PREVIEW: who's going home, who are the lucky 4 to move on, who is taking the crown

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Seven area schools kick off the post season in district tournaments later this week. The District 7 tournament will be held in New Rockford, while the District 8 tournament will be at the higher seeds.

After a little over a week since Four Winds/Minnewaukan and Langdon/Edmore/Munich were crowned girls district basketball champions, we are back once again for boys district hoops, with an even bigger lineup than the girls' tournament. 

Seven boys squads will be taking the court later this week to kick off the season, many with dreams of making it to Minot for the Class B State Tournament. Four Winds/Minnewaukan, New Rockford-Sheyenne, Dakota Prairie, Benson County, and Lakota will all be heading to New Rockford for a few days, while Langdon/Edmore/Munich and North Star will be playing at whoever is the higher seed's home court. 

This may be the beginning for some. This may be the end for some. Either way, there's a lot of basketball ahead. Let's jump into a preview for the upcoming district tournaments.

Lakota 

Record: 2-15, 1-6 

Opponent: No. 3 Dakota Prairie on Feb. 26 at 5:30 p.m. 

Lakota freshman forward Ross Thompson	goes up for a shot in a game against North Star on Jan. 4 at Lakota Community Center.

The Raiders are currently in a phase where younger talent is coming in and older talent is on its way out. This transition, while may look deceiving when refernce to their record, has put them within striking distance in a handful of games. It's been one quarter that usually throws Lakota it a whirlwind. 

The Raiders have the talent, but the depth is still growing in the program, as numbers off the bench are pretty low. Senior forward Brandt Ferguson has been one of the constants for Lakota this season, leading in scoring most nights. His abilities in the post are matched by senior center Cole Hendrickson, who has used his height all around the paint to capitalize at will. 

The freshman class has been beneficial for the Raiders as well as freshman forward Ross Thompson has proven to be one of Lakota's key scorers throughout the season. Freshman guard Zach Gibson has also aided the scoring effort for the Raiders as a younger member. 

Lakota can piece together some competitive quarters, but their numbers have really gotten the best of them going later into the game. I think if they can find a balance between the starters and the bench, and find a way not to get gassed by teams with more players, they could find a way into regionals. They have Dakota Prairie in the first round, who is young but has their number in both regular-season meetings. 

Benson County 

Record: 10-9, 2-5

Opponent: vs. No. 4 Harvey/Wells County on Feb. 26 at 4 p.m. 

Benson County defeated St. John, 65-58, on Jan. 29 at Leeds High School

The No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchups are always an entertaining one and this one is looking like it's going to keep to that trend. The Wildcats did fall to the Hornets at home this season, but it was only by four points, one of the tighter finishes for Benson County this season. 

As of late, the Wildcats have built up some momentum heading into the postseason, winning three straight and a key matchup over Dakota Prairie late in the season. Besides losses to higher seeds Four Winds/Minnewaukan and New Rockford-Sheyenne, the Wildcats have been in or have won the majority of their district games.

Leading the charge throughout the season is senior Blayne Anderson, who has been clutch for the Wildcats throughout the entire season. He has averaged around 30 points per game, throwing down 40 points against Warwick earlier this season. He's a force all over the court that teams across the district and region have struggled to stop. 

Anderson is also apart of the select few in the area of having drained their 1,000 career points this season, the second one to come out of Benson County. Behind Anderson, senior John Fischer has been a constant producer for the Wildcats, usually following Anderson in scoring and providing needed support when Anderson can't get to the basket. 

Anderson is doing a lot for Benson County and it's begun to attract the attention of opponents. The Wildcats need to boost the scoring effort behind Anderson to jump into regionals. Fischer's effort has been continuous, but if guys like senior Cole Wentz and freshman Charles Bisbee can boost the scoring a little bit more, Benson County can bring an unpredictable style to the court a lot of teams aren't expecting.

Upping the overall scoring against Harvey/Wells County will give the edge to the Wildcats, which in a close game can be huge. The path to regionals is a challenging one in most equations for Benson County. In the worst-case scenario where they lose to HWC, they would get Dakota Praire, Lakota, Warwick, or NR-S. This would also be a team that had won their quarterfinal game. 

Benson County is in a good place right now, and if they continue their upward projection, there could be a place for them in regionals. 

Dakota Prairie 

Record: 9-9, 4-3 

Opponent: vs. No. 6 Lakota on Feb. 26 at 5:30 p.m. 

Dakota Prairie boys basketball and Nelson County girls basketball faced off against Finley-Sharon/Hope-Page in a double header on Jan. 25 at Dakota Prairie Elementary School. The Knights lost 62-58 while the Chargers won 78-24.

The biggest thing the Knights are looking for is consistency heading into the postseason During the regular season the Knights had two winning streaks, two losing streaks, and the rest of the games following a win/loss pattern. Dakota Praire has an opportunity to find some winning stability in districts.

The team is led off by the hot hand of junior guard Cade Stein, who has led the Knights in scoring in just about every game. The guard has posted over 20 points in the majority of matchups this season and has shown that he doesn't just capitalize on the post, but from outside the arc as well. 

Teams have found ways to key into Stein as the game progresses, but he has done a good amount of damage on the scoreboard before the defense begins throwing mutiple guards on him. Supporting Stein with some healthy scoring numbers of his own is junior center Garrett Syverson, who has used his height to his advantage on the post to capitalize in the clean-up game. 

Syverson has been a constant to break into double figures in scoring as well. The three others in the starting five in senior guard Mason Lenz, senior guard Blake Hanson, and junior guard Garrett Haakenson have provided a cushion on offense and even stronger support on defense. 

The starting five has played a major role in the success of the Knight game in and game out. However, the Knights are looking to push their starting effort through all four quarters of the game. Dakota Prairie has the pieces for success and just needs to put them together to possibly be a dark horse in this tournament. 

They face Lakota in quarterfinals, which I don't think should be too hard for the Knights. They have the edge on the Raiders in the regular season, picking up wins in McVille and Lakota. However, in their first meeting, the Knights won by five and in the second they won by 14. With more on the line, Lakota could come with a stronger hit and possibly shock Dakota Prairie. 

The Knights can avoid this, a pullout a bigger win, by just sticking to their guns and playing straight through. Dakota Praire has the weapons to get a regional bid and is heavily favored for one. If they play full games and pump the starting five as they have, they shouldn't have a problem continuing their season.

New Rockford-Sheyenne 

Record: 13-6, 6-7 

Opponent: vs. No. 7 Warwick on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. 

No. 4 Langdon/Edmore/Munich defeated New Rockford-Sheyenne, 55-51, on Jan. 30 at Langdon Area High School.

The Rockets have been banging on the door all season and it's still not too late for them to kick down the door and take over the district. NR-S has been challenged throughout its schedule and has stepped up in big games.

In district play, they have one loss to Four Winds/Minnewaukan, which was the Indians' biggest challenge in district play. The Rockets kept pace with the Indians for three out of four quarters, not letting Four Winds build a lead of more than 10 points. When Dakota Prairie threatened them in the first half, they took off on offense in the second half to win by 20. 

Even in non-conference play, the Rockets went wire to wire with then No. 4 L/E/M, losing by only four points and pulled off a thrilling last-second win over Hatton-Northwood. NR-S has been battle-tested in and out of the district, and now on their home court for regionals, there are big expectations for the NR-S squad.

Height is the name of the game for NR-S and they have a lot of it. They are led off by senior center Evan Ulrich, who has dominated the post at both ends of the court. He has also found some strengths at the line when opponents try to guard him. On the arc, senior guard Johhny Grann has stepped into a role as the Rockets go-to shooter and has cleaned up in the paint as well. Junior guard Nick Burgland and senior forward Hunter Johnson have added an element of strength in the post to NR-S' height, only adding to the Rockets edge under the net.

NR-S is a force in this tournament and could be a possible champion. However, they need to balance out their game in order to keep pace with whomever they play. Against Four Winds, the fourth quarter decided the game, and recently against North Star, the Rockets were victims of an upset due to a 30-10 second quarter from the Bearcats. 

NR-S has kept pace with some of the best competition in the state to decide games within a possession. If the Rockets control quarters, of if they're down, keep pace throughout, they have a window to win the district.

Four Winds/Minnewaukan

Record: 18-1, 7-0 

Opponent: vs. winner of HWC/Benson Co. on Feb. 27 at 5:30 p.m. 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated Warwick, 119-37, on Feb. 16 at Four Winds Community High School

Since falling to Dickinson Trinity almost two months ago, it has been non-stop for Four Winds/Minnewaukan. The Indians have not turned off the gas against anybody have absolutely cruised through district competition. Their largest win was by 82 over Warwick and their smallest was 20 over New Rockford-Sheyenne. 

It's been a continuous effort from the Indians through every game in order to maintain their systems on both offense and defense. Four Winds speed game has made up for their lack of height as they have pressed teams relentlessly before they can make it into the paint. And if they do make it into the paint, they are met by 6-foot-10-inch senior center Bronson Walter.

Walter has added a defensive element to the Indians that is unmatched as teams around the state have struggled to solve Walter press under the net and his conversions off the boards. Teams have put two, even three, players on the center trying to shut his game down. But the Indians don't want to exhaust him, so they key into their other strengths: speed and shooting.  

Junior guard Jayden Yankton has been the Indians go to outside the arc as he's led the point effort on most nights for the Indians. Off the bench, senior forward Caelen Lohnes has been a sharp shooter from deep. On the drive, seniors guard JaeShaun Shaw and forward Jonah Jackson have used a speed boost to convert on the fast break. 

And it goes even deeper for the Indians. Senior guard Jacob LaRock has been a steady hand, senior guard Keldon Keja has been a major playmaker, freshman forward Deng Deng has been an electric boost to the offense, and junior guard Jacolby Pearson has given the Indians a huge boost off the bench. Four Winds has a ton of options that can step in at any time. 

A height and speed combination is something that might limit the Indians. New Rockford-Sheyenne was the biggest threat in that case, but Four Winds cleaned up their game and boosted to a 20 point win. However, the Indians have not shown any bend as of late, against anyone. Odds are high that this tournament could be a repeat of the regular season, except with a title to finish it off. 

North Star 

Record: 10-8, 3-2 

Opponent: vs. Rolette-Wolford on Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at North Star 

North Star boys basketball defeated Saint John, 65-51, on Feb. 9 at North Star High School.

The Bearcats are going to be one of the more entertaining teams to watch in this tournament and are a favorite to pick up a regional bid. The Bearcats have pieced together some big wins towards the end of the season, including a dominating finish over New Rockford-Sheyenne on the road. 

When North Star gets into a rhythm, it can be very hard to stop. One of their constants has been freshman guard Dane Hagler, who has burst onto the high school scene as one of the top scorers in the area. The freshman has broken into double figures almost every game and has thrown down big points in big games. He may be young, but he has been the center of the Bearcats offense this season.

Outside the arc, North Star has leaned on senior guard Thomas Nikolaisen as their shooter, and he has come up big throughout the season. Nikolaisen is another player, when he gets into a groove, he can be hard to stop. Senior forward Hayden Hagler has settled into the foward role well for the Bearcats and has been a steady hand under the net. 

The Bearcats have really capitalized on their depth and have seen a steady effort from a handful of guys. Hagler and Nikolaisen have led the scoring but others in senior forward Ben Wagenman, junior guard Drew Nicholas, senior forward Caleb Svir, and freshman forward Parker Simon have all been right behind them, and in some cases ahead of them. 

North Star has depth in numbers but is still pretty young. They are picking up good momentum going into districts, but they fall into a gray area between the top two and everyone else. I think they could easily roll past Rolette/Wolford and soundly defeat Saint John, but not sure if they can challenge Langdon/Edmore/Munich. The Bearcats did challenge Dunseith, but can they find that edge to beat the Dragons.

I think North Star is the dark horse in District 8. Not a lot of teams are thinking about them and I think they could surprise Dunseith in the second round to get to the championship game. I don't really know where they would match up against L/E/M, but if they continue to stick to their guns and capitalize on hot streaks, they'll be a force up north. 

Langdon/Edmore/Munich 

Record: 16-3, 5-0

Opponent: vs. winner of Saint John/Rolla on Feb. 27 at Langdon Area 

No. 2 Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated No. 4 Langdon/Edmore/Munich, 64-39, on Jan. 26 at Langdon Area High School.

After seeing what happened against Grafton Monday, the Cardinals are in a really good place. Yes, they lost, but they showed huge improvement since the last time they faced Grafton, who is in the top five. L/E/M has struggled with competition above them, but Monday they showed some big growth.

Their offense is still based around its big three in seniors guard Simon Romfo, guard Grant Romfo, and forward Jagger Worley. The trio has been stopped only a few times this season, but they are dominant. The Romfo's break into double figures in just about every game, seeing Grant dominate the paint and Simon run the shooting. Worley has been key on the rebounding effort and isn't afraid to let it go from deep. 

They have been one of the hottest combinations in North Dakota, but now we're seeing the roster help out, which will help take this L/E/M squad to another level. Sophomore guards Marcus Kingzett and Gage Goodman have stepped up within the starting five and begun to offer the support needed when the Cardinals' big three is challenged. Junior guard Tucker Welsh has come into giving the Cardinals some solid numbers as well. 

Adding that support to the lethality of the Romfo's and Worley puts L/E/M in a great situation heading into the postseason. They have only been challenged once within district play against Dunseith and the Cardinals came out with the win. The Dragons may be a problem if they [Dunseith] get to the title game, but I don't really see anyone getting in L/E/M's way if they continue this upward trajectory

The one thing that can slow this squad down is if a team finds a way to breakdown its big 3. Four Winds was really the only team that was able to do that this season and it took a strong combination to do that. However, if the ball continues to move, L/E/M can go far.

To add icing to this cake, this team knows how to win. Not from just basketball, but from three straight football state titles. They know what it takes and don't be surprised if the Cardinals can transition that winning culture to the hardwood. 

Predictions 

Championship game 

District 7 champion: Four Winds/Minnewaukan - This team is playing at a crazy good level and I don't think anyone can beat them in the district. There's one squad I think that can offer a challenge, but Four Winds is driving too fast to be stopped in districts 

District 8 champion: Langdon/Edmore/Munich - In my predictions, the Cardinals have an easy road to a district title. They're playing well and I don't think anyone can really tap into that big three. Dunseith could offer something interesting, but keep reading.

District 7 runner-up: New Rockford-Sheyenne - This is the only squad that has challenged Four Winds and I think could do it again. It'll take a lot for them to pull out a title win, but I do believe they will be a threat on their home court. 

District 8 runner-up: North Star - This is a bold pick, but I think the depth on the Bearcats and the heat they are putting on as of late will allow them to upset Dunseith to get to the title game. It'll be tight, but if the offense is clicking for North Star, they're in for the final. 

Regional bids 

Dakota Prairie (via win over HWC in consolation) - The Knights should beat Lakota. They could shock NR-S, but I'm leaning towards the Rockets on that one. Dakota Prairie blasted the Hornets earlier this year and HWC is 3-5 heading into this tournament. I'll take the Knights for region bid No. 3.

Benson County (via win over Lakota in consolation) - Edge goes to Wildcats in round one because they've been playing up and HWC has been down. Don't think they can hang with Four Winds, but I do believe they should get a win over the Raiders for the final regional bid. 

Non-area teams regional bids 

Saint John (via win over Rolette/Wolford in consolation) - This team shoots way too well from 3-point range to not be within District 8's final four. Woodchucks an easy pick for a consolation regional berth. 

Dunseith (via win over Rolla in consolation) - I'm still standing by my prediction that North Star will grind out a win over the Dragons, but defeating Rolla for the final spot in regionals should be a breeze for Dunseith. 

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.