Welcome to the first installment of a new Bring Me The News sports feature called "Run to March," where we take a look at the teams to beat in boys and girls sports leading up to the always highly anticipated March state tournaments.
In part one, we're looking for the teams to beat in boys' basketball, specifically in Class 4A.
These are the biggest schools in Minnesota and we're breaking down all eight sections, which are loaded with big-time teams and players. Check it out.
Easily one of the most difficult sections to get out of as it's filled with top talent, including the top recruit in Minnesota's senior class, five-star forward Matthew Hurt of Rochester John Marshall, who leads the state in scoring at 36.1 points per game.
But John Marshall hasn't been dominant this season. At 8-5 entering play Thursday night, they own the third-best record in the section. Rochester Mayo (9-5) and Lakeville North (12-3) are the top two teams.
North is led by Wisconsin commit Tyler Wahl, who averages 18.7 points and is usually in double figures rebounding.
Rochester Mayo has a dynamic duo in Gabe and Mason Madson, a pair of juniors who average 26.1 and 21.2 points per game, respectively.
Neither John Marshall and Mayo meet on Feb. 9 and again Mar. 1, but neither team will play Lakeville North during the regular season.
Picking a team to beat in this loaded section is nearly impossible. Prior Lake (12-2), Shakopee (13-3), Eden Prairie (10-5), Edina (10-5) and Chaska (10-4) all have double-digit wins, and Minnetonka and Chanhassen are close with nine victories.
In fact, this section boasts five of the top 10 teams in the latest rankings. Prior Lake (#2), Shakopee (#6), Edina (#8), Eden Prairie (#9) and Chaska (#10).
"Section 2 is, well, brutal. We are loaded with talented teams and honestly, the difference between 1-8 in very minimal," Prior Lake head coach Bob Schweim told Bring Me The News."
"It's frustrating for us coaches for sure because 3 or 4 state-caliber teams won't be able to enjoy the tournament year after year but it is what it is. On the other hand, we can be very proud that we have great programs and can compete with the best in the state. Competition is a good thing and only makes us all work harder."
Prior Lake, led twin towers, junior Dawson Garcia (27.5 PPG) and senior, Robert Jones (University of Denver commit), has wins over Shakopee, Chaska, Minnetonka and Chanhassen. Their only losses are to Park Center and Lakeville North, the third- and fifth-ranked teams in 4A, respectively.
Edina has a game-changer in guard Jack Middleton (26.8 PPG), but they're 0-2 in the section with losses to Shakopee and Chaska. They'll be a tough out in the section tourney.
Eden Prairie's last four losses are by a combined seven points, so they've proved able and willing to compete with any team in the state.
Section leader Eastview (8-7) has been on a downswing after earning impressive early season wins over Chaska and Minneapolis North. Downswing might not be the best word, actually, because four of their seven losses are to state powers Lakeville North, Prior Lake, Eden Prairie and Shakopee, and all of them were close.
The Lightning are led by 6-foot-10 center Steven Crowl, who can light up the scoreboard as he did with 36 points earlier this season against Lakeville South, and 6-foot-5 junior guard Ryan Thissen, who averages more than 16 points per game.
Eagan (8-7), Park of Cottage Grove (7-8), Burnsville (6-9) and Apple Valley (5-9) appear to be a little bit behind Eastview, but Eagan (4-1 in the section) can make a statement when they host Eastview Friday night (Jan. 25).
Hastings (5-10) only lost to Eastview by 10 in their only meeting this season, so they could be sneaky opponent in the section tournament.
Another completely loaded section with six teams with at least nine victories: East Ridge (13-2), White Bear Lake (13-2), Tartan (13-2), Cretin-Derham Hall (11-4), St. Paul Central (10-5) and North St. Paul (9-6).
Based on rankings, East Ridge, ranked No. 4 in 4A, is the on-paper favorite. Four-star recruit, Ben Carlson, a 6-foot-8 power forward, is actually third on the team in scoring, which is crazy.
Carlson averages 15.8 points while Kendall Brown (17.8 PPG) and Courtney Brown (15.9 PPG) give the Raptors one of the most potent trios in the state. Courtney Brown is a senior headed to UW-Milwaukee while Kendall Brown is a 6-foot-7 sophomore rated as a five-star recruit by 247 Sports, making him one of the top 25 recruits in the country in the Class of 2021.
But with all that talent, it's still not an easy task getting out of this section.
White Bear Lake has a triple-threat with 6-foot-8 Jeremy Beckler (21.7 PPG), 6-foot-4 senior guard Sam Schwartz (19.9 PPG and a Southwest MN State University recruit) and senior guard Isaac Tessier (16.4 PPG).
East Ridge just beat White Bear Lake by 11 points on Tuesday, and Centennial owns a win over White Bear Lake.
Then there's Tartan, the top defensive team in Class 4A, and Cretin-Derham Hall, a team that took down a terrific John Marshall team earlier this season but has losses to East Ridge and White Bear Lake.
And don't forget about St. Paul Central, the top team in the St. Paul City Conference.
North St. Paul was blown out by East Ridge in their season opener but then battled in close losses to Cretin and White Bear Lake.
Champlin Park, Osseo, Spring Lake Park and Centennial are all having good seasons, but the team to beat in this section is Park Center (14-1). The Pirates have a ton of high-quality wins against the likes of Prior Lake, Eden Prairie, Edina, St. Paul Central and Wayzata.
And they've blown out section foes Spring Lake Park, Centennial and Osseo.
Park Center doesn't score a ton (59.6 PPG), but they can defend and are extremely athletic, led by 6-foot-8 2020 recruit Dain Dainja, who has offers from Baylor, Clemson, Georgetown, Tennessee, Minnesota an Marquette, among many others.
Champlin Park and Park Center could set the tone for the rest of the season when they meet next Thursday, Jan. 31.
This looks like a three-team fight for a trip to state, with perennial section powers Hopkins (15-2) and Wayzata (12-4) at the top with Robbinsdale Armstrong (10-4) right behind them.
Armstrong handed Park Center its only loss this season, but Hopkins is the No. 1 team in the state and has Arizona-bound forward Zeke Nnaji leading the way.
Hopkins and Wayzata meet for the first of two regular season tilts on Friday, Feb. 1.
Wayzata has four players scoring in double figures, led by 5-foot-10 senior guard Jacob Beeninga, who is one of the toughest players in the state.
Another tough section to see a clear-cut leader because Duluth East (13-5) doesn't play a lot of the teams in the section, and won't play Blaine (9-5) or Cambridge-Isanti (9-5) until next month.
Blaine defeated Cambridge-Isanti by four points early in the season, but that's their only contact until a potential section tourney meeting. Cambridge also boasts one of the state's top scorers in 5-foot-11 junior guard Henry Abraham (24.6 PPG). He can light it up from deep, as evidenced by his 10 3-pointers in a win over Coon Rapids this season.
Anoka (7-6) and Coon Rapids (6-8) won't be easy tourney outs, either.
Another wide open section with Maple Grove (11-4), Buffalo (11-5), St. Michael-Albertville (10-4) and Moorhead (12-3).
Maple Grove beat Moorhead but lost to St. Michael-Albertville and Buffalo.
Buffalo lost to Moorhead but has wins over St. Michael and Maple Grove.
St. Michael beat Maple Grove, lost to Buffalo and doesn't face Moorhead until Feb. 2
Brainerd also has nine wins and can compete with the top teams in the section.