The Teams Durant (8-13, 7-13): The Wildcats showed what they could be capable of last year when they upset Cascade, but this is a team that was fairly inconsistent and now must replace their best scorer. The good news is…
Durant (8-13, 7-13): The Wildcats showed what they could be capable of last year when they upset Cascade, but this is a team that was fairly inconsistent and now must replace their best scorer. The good news is that they have a really solid big man to build around in Joe Lilienthal (9.9), a mountain of a young man with good hands and great feet. He shot 57.7% from the floor last year, blocked 28 shots and even showed some playmaking ability by averaging over an assist a game. Drew DeLong (4.9) returns on the perimeter. He made 24 3s last year, good for second on the team. Marcus Engstler (4.5) and Brendan Paper (2.6) are also back. Both are perimeter-oriented players who can handle the ball a bit. The key for this group will be improving on that 3-point shooting. DeLong, Engstler and Paper combined to shoot 39-142 (27.5%) from 3 last year. If they can get that up into the low-to-mid 30s, this group will be competitive.
Mid-Prairie (10-11, 8-10): The Golden Hawks lose a lot of production off of last year’s 10-win team, but bring back a solid lead guard in Brad Tornow (6.3), who dished out 110 assists (75 turnovers) last year, giving them a solid player on the perimeter to build around. Ethan Trimpe (7.9) is the leading returning scorer, an efficient forward who does all of his damage inside the arc. They’ll need him to become a dominant rebounder for this group following the graduation of Tom Butters, who pulled down 256 rebounds last year, which was 41.5% of the team’s rebounds last year. Outside of Tornow and Trimpe, not much experience returns, so there will be a number of new faces filling into key roles. Still, with Tornow leading the way, this group should win a fair number of games.
Regina Catholic (20-3, 17-2): Only North Linn was hotter than Regina in the post-holiday break portion of last season’s schedule, as the Regals ran off 14 straight post-break wins (15 straight overall) before a narrow loss to a very good Boyden-Hull team in the first round at State. And while only two starters return to that team, those two returnees were the top two scorers from last year’s team, and one of them is on the short list for best players in 2A. Masen Miller (20.4) led the team in every major category except blocks, and led the state in made 3-pointers (99), making them at a 43% clip. He recently committed to play Division II ball for former Iowa great Jeff Horner at Truman State and is the best shooter in the state. In addition to his scoring prowess, he’s an excellent passer. Also returning is junior wing Ashton Cook (13.4), a long, athletic wing who does a majority of his damage inside the arc, but is a talented playmaker and defender. They’ll get a big boost from the return of junior big man Nick Wagner, who wasn’t ready to play last year until State, when he came off the bench to give them eight points and three rebounds. He’s a big body with great touch around the rim, and he’ll provide some size, toughness, rebounding and scoring ability in the paint. Alec Wick (2.4) dished out 40 assists off the bench last year and could be a solid secondary ball handler, allowing them to move Miller off the ball occasionally, freeing him up to come off screens and knock down shots. The Regals always have great athletes, and the Miller-Cook-Wagner trio is going to be among the best in 2A, which will make them a threat to make it to State again.
Tipton (12-10, 11-10): The Tigers pretty much did what was expected of them last year – beating the bad teams on the schedule, losing to the good ones. They only posted one win over a .500+ team last season, a postseason win over Monticello. Still, there is plenty of reason to expect this to be the team to challenge Regina at the top of the division. They bring back a pair of double-figure scorers in Frank Bierman (13.4) and Trent Pelzer (10.2), and five of their top eight from last year’s rotation. Bierman, a 6-5 forward with broad shoulders, is a dominant force on the glass, averaging 12.6 rebounds a game last year and shooting 57.7% from the floor. Pelzer is a solid lead guard who will handle the ball a majority of the time. Look for Payton Elijah (4.1) to step up and become a solid tertiary scorer for this team, while Colby Kleppe (2.8) and Blake Wilkins (1.3) each saw solid time last year. Bierman should put up huge numbers for the Tigers, and someone who can control the paint on both ends of the floor like that should be feared. But this group is going to need to find some shooting, as the graduations of Andrew Stewart and Luke Becker took 86 of the team’s 121 made 3s.
West Branch (16-5, 15-4): The Bears were incredibly close to putting together a really special season last year, with four of their five losses coming by single digits, including a one-point loss to Camanche in the district final. Unfortunately, they lose their top three scorers, and four of the top five. 6-2 sophomore forward Thomas Gould (7.2) will lead this group, coming off a productive freshman season in which he shot 55.4% from the floor. Trey Eagle (5.0) and Jeff Bowie (4.1) are the other key returnees. Bowie is a highly coveted prospect on the football field, and should provide this team with some toughness in the paint, while Eagle will likely handle the ball a fair amount. West Branch always has some solid athletes, and they should still be pretty good, but it’ll be tough for them to replicate last year’s success following the graduation of three double-figure scorers.
West Liberty (2-20, 0-19): Few teams in the state were as reliant on a pair of players last year as the Comets were, with Seth Feldman and Gavin Chown combining to score 76.5% of the team’s points last season. Chown (15.2) returns, giving them a solid scorer to build around, and they bring back two other starters in Brodie Kilburn (3.1) and Austin McMichael (1.6), as well as Caleb Wulf (2.5), giving them some experience. With the heavy personnel losses some of the other teams on their schedule suffered, perhaps they can grab a few more wins this year with Chown leading the way.
Wilton (5-18, 2-18): It’s going to be a really long winter for the Beavers, who bring back just three players from a 5-win roster – Jackson Hull (2.0), Buddy Darting (0.2) and Zach Hein (0.3). That trio combined to score 44 points last year, so this is going to be an entirely new group.
Projected Order of Finish
3. West Branch
6. West Liberty
Analysis: The Regals are a heavy, heavy favorite in this division, as they have far and away the best player, and an argument could be made that they have the top two players. If anyone is going to push them, look at Tipton, with Frank Bierman leading the charge.
Preseason Player of the Year
2020 Masen Miller, Regina: 20.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 steals, 99 3P, 43.0 3P%
Miller, a D2 commit to Truman State, is far and away the league’s leading returning scorer, and his 99 made 3-pointers were tops in the state last year. One of the most talented shooters we’ve seen in our time at Prep Hoops, he should have a huge senior year for the Regals, the class of the division.
2021 Alec Wick, Regina: The 6-1 junior guard may allow Miller to move off the ball a bit this year after dishing out 40 assists off the bench. He also chipped in 38 steals, which tied for second on the team last season. Following the graduation of secondary ball handlers Scotty Arendt and Bryce Barnett, it’ll be Wick who is handling the ball when Miller isn’t.
Players to Watch
2020 Masen Miller, Regina
2021 Ashton Cook, Regina
2021 Nick Wagner, Regina
2020 Frank Bierman, Tipton
2020 Trent Pelzer, Tipton
2021 Payten Elijah, Tipton
2020 Gavin Chown, West Liberty
2020 Joe Lilenthal, Durant
2020 Drew DeLong, Durant
2020 Marcus Engstler, Durant
2021 Ethan Trimpe, Mid-Prairie
2020 Brad Tornow, Mid-Prairie
2022 Thomas Gould, West Branch
2020 Trey Eagle, West Branch
2021 Jeff Bowie, West Branch
2022 Jackson Hull, Wilton