People are ready for the boys’ basketball postseason, but we just aren’t there yet. That’s what happens when there’s games every single night for three-and-a-half months.
But get this: with the release of the Class 3A and 4A substate groupings — more on those later — as well as the calendar turning to February, we’re inching that much closer to the fun part. As of this writing, we’re only 32 days from the start of the state quarterfinal games.
We’re in the home stretch, in other words. Before long, teams will start getting picked off in their district and substate matchups. We’ll go from more than 300 schools to just 32 in a matter of a few weeks.
As always, we do our best to keep an eye on everything. Here, we offer 10 midweek thoughts that recap the early-week action and look ahead to the weekend.
1. Appreciating the Little Hawkeye Conference
We spend a lot of time talking about the CIML and other big schools, but let’s take a moment to appreciate the Little Hawkeye Conference.
Currently, six of the league’s eight teams are above .500, and four of them have won 10 games or more. Three teams were ranked in the latest AP polls — Pella, No. 2 in 3A; Dallas Center-Grimes, No. 8 in 3A; and Pella Christian, No. 5 in 2A. Oskaloosa is also receiving votes in 3A.
“We’re in the toughest conference in the state, in Class 3A, in my opinion,” DCG coach Joel Rankin said last week. “No disrespect to the other conferences, but every night is a battle.”
The Little Hawkeye is also full of great players, like Pella’s Ryan Van Wyk, Grinnell’s Cade McKnight and Norwalk’s Luke Vaske, all of whom are among the top 12 in scoring in 3A. There’s also Connor Gholson and Garrett Sturtz, both from Newton who both average 20 points a game.
There are countless other good players, too, like Cole Henry and Xavier Foster for Oskaloosa, Levi Jungling from Pella Christian, Donovan Holterhaus from Pella and Sam Allen from Grinnell.
The Little Hawkeye has long been competitive — at least one team from the league has been to the 3A state tournament each year since 2009. Part of that, of course, is the scheduling of the substate pairings. (It’s also worth noting that Pella Christian has reached state six times since 2008, but in 2A.)
But it takes some serious skill and parity to both start and maintain a run like that. It’s been fun watching these teams battle this season, and it’ll be fun watching them in the postseason, when they’ll need to be at their best to advance to the Well.
2. Oskaloosa’s Henry versatile, consistent
Speaking of the Little Hawkeye — DCG beat Oskaloosa last Friday night, 52-50. It was a fun game that featured a lot of back-and-forth play. The Indians’ Cole Henry led all scorers that night with 18 points.
Henry, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, has been a steady presence for a young Oskaloosa team. He’s averaging 12.9 points per game this year, on 51.1 percent shooting, all while corralling 137 boards and dishing out 45 assists. In 15 games this season, he’s scored at least 10 points in all but four.
“He can play inside and out,” Oskaloosa coach Ryan Parker said. “He’s a tough matchup because if you put a guard on him, he’ll post on you, and if you put a big on him, he can knock down shots.”
Henry figures to be part of Oskaloosa’s plan for the future. If the season ended today, the Indians would return seven of their top-eight scorers. They, along with Henry, will be a team to watch both down the stretch and into next season.
3. No. 1 vs. No. 2 clash on Friday
So, the top two teams in Class 4A play this Friday. No. 1 Iowa City West travels to No. 2 Dubuque Senior. They are a combined 27-3 and are carrying eight- and seven-game winning streaks into this matchup. (Oddly enough, Cedar Rapids Prairie has beaten both.)
It’ll be a good one. The Trojans are playing like the state’s best team and the Rams have dismantled their opposition just as handily over the last month. Get to the doors early on Friday, as it should be a hoot.
Behind Iowa City West and Dubuque Senior, the rest of the 4A AP poll goes: 3. Sioux City East, T4. Waukee, T4. Council Bluffs Lincoln, 6. Bettendorf, 7. Valley, 8. Dubuque, Hempstead, 9. Dowling Catholic, 10. North Scott.
4. Early-week sharpshooters
We appreciate good offenses here, so let’s take a moment to recognize some stellar 3-point shooting performances from earlier this week.
— North Linn’s Ryan Miller went 4 of 7 from deep en route to 24 points in a 79-36 win over Maquoketa Valley on Tuesday.
— Siouxland Christian’s Christian Kyles went 4 of 6 from three and scored 28 points in a 49-43 win over Kingsley-Pierson on Monday.
— Keota’s Cole Stout took every single shot on Tuesday night from behind the arc, finishing 10 of 16 for 30 points in a 91-24 win over English Valleys (yes, he singlehandedly outscored the opposition).
— Webster City’s Connor Shannon hit four of his five 3-point shots on his way to 24 points in last Saturday’s 64-62 win over Gilbert.
5. Let’s talk about North Linn’s Jake Hilmer
There’s some historical significance to what Hilmer is doing, and will seemingly continue to do. The North Linn sophomore is on track to etch his name not just into the record books, but at the top, too.
Hilmer has dished out 183 assists so far this season, helping the Lynx to a 17-0 start this season. He’s good for an average of 10.8 assists per game. Should he keep that pace up, he’ll hit 226 assists by the end of the regular season, and will probably record even more through the postseason.
But let’s take that 226 and add it to the 204 assists Hilmer had a year ago. That gives him 430 for his career with his junior and senior years to go. Simple math tells us he’s on pace to break 800 career assists, which is something no Iowa high school basketball player has done.
Hilmer is also averaging 22.2 points per game on 59.6 percent shooting, leading North Linn to the No. 1 spot in the latest Class 1A AP poll. His assist count will be one to watch both at the end of the season and the next two that follow.
6. Six good stat lines
— Linn-Mar’s Trey Hutcheson went for 42 points on 15 of 23 shooting and 14 rebounds in a 73-61 win over Waterloo East on Tuesday.
— Gladbrook-Reinbeck’s Joe Smoldt scored 29 points in Tuesday’s 58-55 win over AGWSR (Ackley). In doing so, he surpassed 2,000 career points, becoming just the 35th player in Iowa to achieve the feat.
— Grand View Christian’s Arturo Montes scored 15 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the Thunder’s 78-50 win over Colo-NESCO on Monday.
— Waverly-Shell Rock’s Austin Phyfe scored 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting and grabbed 19 boards in a 59-42 win over Center Point-Urbana last Saturday.
— Lone Tree’s Jovonte Squiers nearly had a triple-double on Tuesday, scoring 19 points, dishing out 12 assists and grabbing nine rebounds in a 73-65 win over Highland (Riverside).
— Kuemper Catholic’s Matt Dentlinger scored 22 points on 9 of 12 shooting and also grabbed 13 rebounds in an 81-65 win over Fremont-Mills (Tabor) on Monday.
7. A look at the 3A, 4A substates
The Class 3A and 4A substate groupings were released last week. Here’s a look at where some local schools ended up:
— Substates 2 and 7 both contain all local teams. In Substate 2: Ballard, Boone, DCG, Gilbert, Greene County, Humboldt, Perry and Webster City. In Substate 7: Bondurant-Farrar, Carlisle, Grinnell, Nevada, North Polk, Norwalk, Pella and Saydel.
— Oskaloosa landed in Substate 6, along with Mount Pleasant.
— Substate 8 features ADM (Adel), Carroll, Creston and Winterset.
— Des Moines North and Waukee landed in Substate 2, along with Ankeny, Des Moines East, Fort Dodge and Southeast Polk.
— Ames, Dowling and Johnston were drawn into Substate 7, along with Des Moines Lincoln, Newton and Urbandale.
— Des Moines Hoover and Valley headline Substate 8, along with Ankeny Centennial, Des Moines Roosevelt, Indianola and Ottumwa.
8. Three CIML games to watch
Des Moines North (11-5) at Des Moines Roosevelt (9-7), 7:45 p.m. Roosevelt needs a win and some help to catch North in the Metro Conference, but the Roughriders can help Hoover inch closer to a conference title with just a win.
Johnston (11-5) at Urbandale (6-10), 7:45 p.m. Johnston is trying to keep pace with Dowling at the top of the Iowa Conference. Urbandale’s lost seven of its last nine.
Dowling Catholic (12-4) at Fort Dodge (10-4), 7:45 p.m. The Dodgers are seeking revenge at home after getting walloped by the Maroons earlier this season.
9. Three other matchups to watch
Iowa City West (13-1) at Dubuque Senior (14-2), 7:30 p.m. Battle between Class 4A’s top two teams.
Newton (12-4) at Pella (16-1), 7:30 p.m. A rematch between Little Hawkeye foes. The Dutch won the first meeting by one point. This game should be just as fun.
PCM, Monroe (9-8) at Nevada (12-6), 7:30 p.m. Nevada’s won 10 of 12 after starting the season 2-4, and carries its hot play against a reeling Mustang team on Friday night.
10. Parting shot
It’s time to consider Waukee a state contender in Class 4A.
The Warriors are 14-3 overall this season, and have won four straight games and 10 of their last 11. They’ve steadily climbed the Class 4A rankings, reaching the No. 4 spot this week. Waukee last reached state in 2015, but appears to be one of the favorites to reach the Well this season.
But it shouldn’t shock anybody if Waukee does more than just qualify.
The Warriors are as balanced as any team in central Iowa. They have a consistent post presence in Jacob Rau. They have two guys who can knock down shots from seemingly anywhere on the floor in Drew Johnson and Nathan Johnson. Cade Longnecker, Waukee’s primary distributor, is among the best in 4A at what he does, totaling 94 assists so far this season.
Even more, the Warriors have a stout resume. They’ve beaten Linn-Mar, Dowling and Valley all on the road, and beat an explosive Des Moines North team to start the season. They’ve lost to Mason City on the road and to Ames twice, but has beaten the rest of a schedule that is among the state’s toughest with a defense that ranks inside the state’s top 10.
Waukee still has to get through Des Moines North and Fort Dodge in Substate 2, but it has proven each week to be one of the state’s toughest teams. It’s time we start including the Warriors in the conversation of 4A state contenders come March.
Cody Goodwin covers high school sports, college basketball recruiting and Drake athletics for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at (816) 582-0633, email him at email@example.com, or send him a tweet at @codygoodwin