Panthers will defend title; Eastview seeks return to state

With four teams ranked in the top 20 in Class 4A and others on the verge, tough, competitive games are likely to be the norm in South Suburban Conference boys basketball.

Three SSC teams – Prior Lake (fourth), Shakopee (seventh) and Eastview (eighth) – were ranked in the top eight, with Lakeville South checking in at 14th. The league features at least two future Division I college players in Eastview forward Steven Crowl, who signed with Wisconsin, and Prior Lake forward Dawson Garcia, who’s going to Marquette. There’s also a future Big Ten Conference football player in the league – Lakeville South’s Riley Mahlman, who committed to Wisconsin as a future offensive tackle. He also has a touch around the basket, averaging 12 points a game for the Cougars last season.

At least one streak is guaranteed to end this season: Lakeville North’s run of eight consecutive Class 4A, Section 1 championships. The Panthers are assigned to Section 3 through at least 2020-21, which could make Lakeville South the new team to beat in Section 1.

Here’s a preview of the eight South Suburban Conference boys basketball teams in the Dakota County Tribune and Sun Thisweek coverage area:

Apple Valley

Coach: Zach Goring.

Last season: 6-21 overall, 2-16 conference, lost in first round of Class 4A, Section 3 playoffs.

2019-20 so far: 1-1; defeated Northfield 90-64, lost to Robbinsdale Armstrong 73-68 (2OT).

Next game: at Edina, 7 p.m. Thursday.

Outlook: Losing three of last year’s top five scorers to graduation or transfer didn’t slow down the Eagles in their season opener as they put up 90 points against Northfield. They’ll lean on bruising forward Noah Friedt, who averaged 7.3 points last season, and guard Davy Hosea, who averaged 6.8. Players such as Bilhal Kone, Mason Klett, Elliot Ewald, Nick Deluca and Bobby Jackson also likely will have expanded roles.

Burnsville

Coach: Rob Mestas.

Last season: 12-17 overall, 7-11 conference, reached Class 4A, Section 3 final.

2019-20 so far: 1-1; defeated St. Louis Park 65-58, lost to Eden Prairie 89-54.

Next game: vs. Minneapolis Southwest at Hiawatha Collegiate High School, 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Outlook: One name on the Blaze roster should ring a bell – ninth-grade guard Ibrahim El-Amin is the son of Blaze assistant coach (and University of Connecticut national champion) Khalid El-Amin. He scored 19 points in his Burnsville varsity debut against St. Louis Park. Senior guard Daniel Rosenber and sophomore guard Yarin Alexander are varsity returnees; Alexander scored 18 in the St. Louis Park game. The Blaze will play with heavy hearts in memory of teammate Mohamed Hassan, who was killed in a shooting in Minneapolis in August.

Eagan

Coach: Kevin McKenzie (first season).

Last season: 11-17 overall, 5-13 conference, reached Class 4A, Section 3 semifinals.

2019-20 so far: 1-1; lost to Woodbury 64-55, defeated White Bear Lake 72-45.

Next game: vs. Shakopee at home, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18.

Outlook: McKenzie, formerly a head coach at St. Paul Academy and Roseville, takes over for Josh Peltier, who’s now head coach at East Ridge. The Wildcats were a young team last season and as a result return five of their top six scorers, including senior guard Kurt Ohlhues, who averaged about 12 points a game. Ohlhues scored 23 in this year’s season opener against Woodbury. Guards Finn O’Malley, Cameron House, Jack Carlson and Sam Davis are other top returnees. Ninth-grade guard Emmanuel Schmitter could emerge as another scoring threat.

Eastview

Coach: Paul Goetz.

Last season: 19-13 overall, 10-8 conference, Class 4A, Section 3 champion, sixth in state tournament.

2019-20 so far: 3-0; defeated Champlin Park 82-50, Chaska 86-72 and Wayzata 98-82.

Next game: vs. Eden Prairie at home, 7 p.m. Thursday.

Outlook: The Lightning, ranked eighth in Class 4A, return a strong core group from a team that qualified for the state tournament. Forwards Steven Crowl and Tate Machacek and guards Ryan Thissen, Jaylen James and Caden Scales all averaged at least 6.7 points last season. Crowl, a 6-foot-11 forward who signed with the University of Wisconsin last month, scored 34 points in the Lightning’s victory over Chaska. James is expected to take over at point guard.

Farmington

Coach: Tharen Johnson.

Last season: 12-15 overall, 9-9 conference, lost in first round of Class 4A, Section 1 playoffs.

2019-20 so far: 1-1; lost to Woodbury 60-59, defeated Chanhassen 66-58.

Next game: vs. Minnetonka at home, 7 p.m. Friday.

Outlook: The Tigers have athletes but not a lot of experience. Junior guard Isaac Ask is the only returnee from last year’s top eight scorers. Although Farmington lost to Woodbury in its season opener, the upside was the Tigers weren’t overly dependent on one player for offense. Ask, Max Darrington, Gabe Bassett, Carter Huschka, Kyle Hrncir and Jake Cochnauer all had at least seven points.

Lakeville North

Coach: John Oxton.

Last season: 27-5 overall, 17-1 conference, Class 4A, Section 1 champion, state runner-up.

2019-20 so far: 2-0; defeated Rochester Century 81-72 and Totino-Grace 59-56.

Next game: vs. Chaska at home, 7 p.m. Thursday.

Outlook: The 2018-19 Panthers took the South Suburban championship, won a section title for the eighth consecutive year and reached the state final for the third time in eight years. This year there’s a different cast. Six players who averaged between five and 19 points have graduated. Returning guards Josh Kamara and Carter Patterson lead this year’s team. Senior guard Nelson Koshiol, who saw limited playing time last season, scored 20 points in the opener against Rochester Century. Junior forwards Cooper Laufenburger and Will Blascziek also are expected to be key parts of the rotation.

Lakeville South

Coach: Joe Janquart.

Last season: 14-14 overall, 9-9 conference, reached Class 4A, Section 1 semifinals.

2019-20 so far: 2-0; defeated New Prague 49-47 (OT) and Buffalo 70-58.

Next game: at Woodbury, 7 p.m. Thursday.

Outlook: The Cougars return starting guards Reid Patterson and Joe Bachinski, and forward Riley Mahlman. The three combined to average about 37 points a game last season. They also engineered a regular-season upset of Lakeville North, becoming the only team to beat the Panthers in conference play. Senior Jack Leland and sophomore Avery Mast saw playing time off the bench last season and are in line for more time this season. With Lakeville North’s moving to Section 3, the Cougars now might be the favorite to win the Section 1 championship.

Rosemount

Coach: Lance Walsten.

Last season: 4-23 overall, 1-17 conference, lost in first round of Class 4A, Section 3 playoffs.

2019-20 so far: 1-0; defeated Bloomington Jefferson 58-50 and Minneapolis South 80-58.

Next game: at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, 7 p.m. Thursday.

Outlook: Making headway will be tough when the South Suburban Conference is loaded with competitive teams, but the Irish got a good start with their victories over non-conference opponents Bloomington Jefferson and Minneapolis South. Jared Gerke, a senior forward, had 17 points in the opener and junior guard Sean Sullivan had 13. Senior guard Dylan Princl and sophomore guard Caleb Siwek figure to be contributors, and juniors Zach Wenthe and Koye Leenderts add size to the lineup.

Mike Shaughnessy can be reached at mike.shaughnessy@ecm-inc.com.

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