State Basketball: Setting Up the AAAA Semis

Photo Credit: Sam Ekstrom

No. 1 Park Center (29-1) vs No. 5 Lakeville North (26-4), 6 p.m.

No. 2 Hopkins (25-4) vs. No. 3 East Ridge (28-2), 8 p.m.

The semifinals of the Minnesota boys basketball tournament feature four teams that have combined records of 108 wins and just 11 losses. Local fans are hoping for more competitive games after the quarterfinal games featured no result closer than a 21-point margin, and the four winning teams beating their opponents by a combined 116 points (29 points per game average).

Park Center, the top seed, suffered just one loss this season, losing to Armstrong before rattling off 20 straight wins. The Pirates are led by Dain Dainja, who is averaging 15.2 points per game. The junior big man has scholarship offers from most of the top programs in the Midwest, including Minnesota, where his father, Dana Jackson, played. Dainja was named third team All-Metro by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Fifth seed Lakeville North is making its eighth consecutive Class AAAA Tournament after defeating Rochester John Marshall in the Section 1AAAA finals for the seventh straight time. The Panthers, who have won 14 straight games, are led by Wisconsin signee Tyler Wahl, who was named to the Star Tribune All-Metro Team earlier this week. Wahl is one of four players who averaged double figures as he paced the team with 17.9 points per contest. Fellow seniors Jack Rusch and Tommy Jensen will play at Division III St. Thomas and St. John’s, respectively, next season. Jensen helped lead the Panthers to the Minnesota 6A football title last fall.

Perennial power Hopkins makes its way back to the state tournament after a two-year absence. The second seed defeated Wayzata 82-71 in the Section 6AAAA title game after being upset by the Trojans two consecutive seasons in the title tilt. The Royals are led by senior Zeke Nnaji, who was named the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year. The Arizona commit averaged 24.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Junior Kerwin Walton is an outstanding outside threat. He has a scholarship offer from Minnesota, among others.

Third seed East Ridge is making its first ever state tournament appearance, finally getting past defending state champion Cretin-Derham Hall, who knocked them put in the section finals two straight years. The Raptors have won 24 straight games. They are led by three future Division I players. Junior Ben Carlson was named second team All-Metro by the Star Tribune after averaging 16.6 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Brothers Courtney and Kendall Brown were both named third team. Courtney signed with Wisconsin-Milwaukee, while Kendall is considered the top sophomore in the state. East Ridge defeated Hopkins in the season opener, but the Royals were without their second leading scorer Walton in that game.

Check back at all week for the latest on the boys basketball state tournament action.

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