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WIAA boys basketball preview

River Falls senior Jaxon Knotek is averaging 20.6 points per game for the Wildcats heading into the postseason. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

WIAA boys basketball regional tournament action begins around the state on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

Prescott was the lone area team that reached the WIAA boys state championships last winter, with the Cardinals losing in the Division 3 state championship game. There are a number of western Wisconsin teams with the capabilities of making a strong charge to the state tournament.

Here are previews of the area regional tournament bracket in each division.

Division 1

Hudson and Superior are the two area teams competing in the Division 1 bracket. Hudson and Superior are both young teams looking to pull off an upset in the talented Division 1 regional bracket.

Hudson (8-14)

Hudson enters the postseason with a seven-game losing streak after finishing fifth in the Big Rivers Conference standings with a record of 4-8. The Raiders, who start all underclassmen, have scored 75 points or more seven times this season. Six-foot-two-inch junior Keyser Helterbrand leads the team in scoring and rebounding and is one of the team's top defenders while juniors Landen Bilse, Jacob Daulton and Paul Sparstad are all capable of scoring in double digits. If the 12th seeded Raiders can get past No. 5 Appleton West in the first round, they will likely face fourth-seeded Eau Claire North for the third time this season. The Raiders dropped a two-point game to the Huskies in the closing seconds in their last matchup.

Superior (8-14)

The Spartans' top three scorers are all juniors—Xavier Patterson (14.4 ppg), Mason Ackley (13.9) and Ben Rhodes (11.1). The Spartans took third place in the Lake Superior Conference with a 4-3 record.

Superior, the 13th seed in the Division 1 regional bracket, opens at No. 4 Eau Claire North Huskies on Friday, March 2. Eau Claire North defeated the Spartans 70-50 in Superior on Jan. 23.

Division 2

River Falls and New Richmond are the two area teams competing in the Division 2 bracket. Both area teams have the opinion that they deserved to be seeded higher in the regional bracket. So they'll be out to prove their claim when regional tournament action begins on Tuesday.

River Falls (14-8)

Despite their 14-8 record, second place finish in the Division 1-dominated Big Rivers Conference and six-game winning streak to end the season, the Wildcats drew the No. 5 seed due to a pair of losses to sectional foes Tomah and Holmen in the middle of the season and will travel to No. 4 seed Tomah to open the playoffs. River Falls is led by North Dakota State University recruit Jaxon Knotek, who is averaging 20.6 points per game. Freshman Zac Johnson has grown into the Cats' biggest outside threat and is averaging 12.7 points while point guard Adam Feyereisen distributes the ball well and is the team's top defender. If River Falls can get past Tomah in the first round they'll face top seed and fourth-ranked La Crosse Central in the second round.

New Richmond (9-13)

The Tigers received the ninth seed in the region and will open action at eighth-seeded Sparta. New Richmond has a substantially better record than Sparta, but was still given the lower seed.

The Tigers are 7-5 in their past 12 games and, at times, the Tigers have been a formidable offensive team. Sophomore point guard Joey Kidder has developed into one of the Middle Border Conference's most diverse players. He leads the Tigers in points, rebounds and assists and he's considered one of the team's top defenders. Senior Blake Getschel is the Tigers' top post player. He ranks second to Kidder in scoring, rebounds and assists. Getschel is the only senior in the varsity rotation. Cole Effertz leads a deep junior class, where Ryan Kling has emerged as the team's main three-point threat.

Division 3

Area teams competing in Sectional 1 in Division 3 include St. Croix Central, Prescott, Somerset and Ellsworth.

Prescott represented Sectional 1 at state in 2015 and 2017 and the Cards are poised as the favorite for a return trip to Madison. This is a high quality regional bracket, with four teams owning 15 wins or more. Wisconsin Dells (20-1) is the top seed in the other half of the section, which also fields strong teams in Black River Falls and Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau.

Prescott (20-2)

Last year the Cardinals finished their season with a second-place finish at the Kohl Center, and although they're missing 7'0" Owen Hamilton, it's likely that this year's Prescott team will also wrap up their season in Madison at the Division 2 state tournament. The Cardinals are currently the No. 6-ranked Division 2 team in the state, and are led by senior point guard Peter Brookshaw who's averaging 30.1 points per game as Wisconsin's fifth leading scorer. But Brookshaw hasn't brought the Cardinals to 20 regular season wins on his own. Sophomore Parker Nielsen is averaging 16 points per game in his first varsity season, and any team would be lucky to have senior Joe Roosen leading their defense. The Cards won their fifth-consecutive Middle Border Conference title this year, and haven't lost a conference game since the 2013-14 season, but they've got heftier goals yet to cross off on their 2017-18 to-do list. As the No. 1 seed in the Division 3 Sectional 1 bracket, they'll host the winner of Barron (No. 8) vs. Somerset (No. 9) on Friday, March 2 to kick-start their playoff run.

Ellsworth (18-4)

The Panthers were poised for a long playoff run until Thursday, Feb. 22 when starting point guard Erik Lange came off the court with a season-ending tibia injury in Ellsworth's final regular season game. Losing Lange will make getting to the sectional finals more difficult for the Panthers, but with Drake Flom, Logan Benson and Alex Motley on the team's roster, winning two playoff games is certainly plausible for the Ellsworth team. Motley, Ellsworth's leading scorer, averaged 20.6 points and 3.8 assists per game in the regular season. Co-captain Flom averages 18.2 points and 7.2 rebounds, and forward facilitator Benson adds averages of 15.5 points, 12.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists to his team's resume. Ellsworth's Big Three trio is one of the best in the Middle Border Conference, but the team's depth will be cause for concern come tournament time. The playoff performances of first-year varsity role players such as junior Cole Woodland, sophomore Logan Richards and freshman Mason Anderson will make or break Ellsworth's postseason. The Panthers earned a No. 3 seed in the Division 3 Sectional 1 bracket, and will host the winner of Hayward (No. 6) vs. Amery (No. 11) on Friday, March 2.

St. Croix Central (15-7)

Four of the Panthers' seven losses this season have come at the hands of Prescott and Ellsworth. The Panthers finished 9-5 in the MBC. The Panthers received the fourth seed in the bracket and a bye in Tuesday's opening round. They will play Friday, hosting the winner of Tuesday's game between Osceola (5) and Spooner (12). The Panthers are led by junior Peyton Nogal, who averages 17 points per game. The Panthers have endless depth, with 10 or more players often used in the base rotation. Juniors Will Soderberg and Austin Kopacz and seniors Brett Mousel and Collin Nelson play key roles at both ends of the court for the Panthers.

Northwestern (11-11)

The seventh-seeded Tigers will host No. 10 Baldwin-Woodville at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The winner of Tuesday's game will play at second-seeded Bloomer this Friday.

The Tigers are led by seniors Kade Bartelt and Anthony Lupa. Northwestern finished in fourth place in the Heart O'North Conference this winter with a 9-5 record.

Somerset (6-14)

The Spartans are one of the younger teams in the area, with swingman Bennett Baillargeon being the only senior in the varsity rotation. The Spartans are the ninth seed in the region and will open Tuesday at eighth-seeded Barron. Sophomore Ty Madden has stepped up to be the backbone of the Somerset attack, scoring 17 or more points in each of the past seven games. The Spartans' strength is around the perimeter, where Madden, Brennan Sheridan, Trae Kreibich and Will Piletich give the team depth at guard. Baillargeon is the team's best defender, a bigger body who can play inside or outside.

Division 4

Spring Valley is the only local team competing in the Division 4 Sectional 1 bracket. The Cardinals were given a No. 7 seed and will host No. 10-seeded Chetek-Weyerhaeuser on Tuesday, Feb. 27 in their first playoff game.

No.1-seeded Clear Lake (21-0) is currently the No. 4-ranked Division 4 team in the state, and is the heavy favorite to come out of Sectional 1.

Spring Valley (12-10)

The Cardinals graduated six of their 13 varsity players after their 18-6 2016-17 season, leaving the Spring Valley team with a bit of inconsistency this year. Yet, the Cardinals jumped to the top of the Dunn-St. Croix Conference rankings in February with a late-season run that could very well carry on into the postseason. Sophomore Aaron Borgerding, whose consistency has never been questioned this year, is averaging 12.6 points per game in his second varsity season as the Cardinals' leading scorer. Seniors Tyson Kado and Zack Williams combine for averages of 18.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, and have been crucial assets in SV's journey to the top of their conference. Junior Dylan Bosshart, the team's top defender, adds averages of 12.1 points and 3.1 assists for the Cardinals, but fought illness the final two weeks of the regular season. With Bosshart out, the Cardinals dropped their final regular season game to the 6-15 Boyceville Bulldogs. Needless to say, SV is hoping for a Bosshart recovery before they take a shot at the playoffs on Feb. 27.

Division 5

Elmwood-Plum City is the lone Division 5 area team, and they'll host No. 10 New Lisbon on Feb. 27 as a Division 5 Sectional 3 seven seed.

Sectional 3 includes two of the top-three Division 5 teams: The No. 1-ranked Bangor Cardinals (19-1) and the Seneca Indians (18-2), the third-best team in the state. Both teams are No. 1 seeds in the sectional bracket, and are expected to see each other in the highly-anticipated sectional finals game.

Elmwood-Plum City (7-14)

It's been a tough season for the EPC Wolves team that won its first three games of the season but has failed to win back-to-back games since. The Wolves are led by senior Luke Baier who averages 15.8 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game. Junior Tyler Maxwell leads EPC's guards with averages of 9.1 points and 2.4 assists per game. Taking care of the ball has been a season-long struggle for the Wolves team that averaged 15.9 turnovers per game in the regular season.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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