Trying to handicap Idaho’s boys basketball state tournaments remains a task fraught with peril.
Take last year. Madison went wire to wire as 5A’s No. 1-ranked team, then promptly was upset by Centennial in the first round.
Centennial returns again as another spoiler, fresh off upsetting No. 1 Boise at the district tournament two weeks ago. But I’m still taking my shot at picking all six state champions.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN: The Grizzlies (21-3) repeated as district champs last week. Now they’re out for a repeat as state champs.
Rocky Mountain held third billing behind Boise and Borah in the SIC all season. But behind 5A’s top defense (45.4 ppg), it’s the Grizzlies who own a 13-game winning streak and the league’s top spot at state.
Senior Hunter Ranstrom (9.1 ppg, 6.2 assists) stands as one of the top point guards in the state, and the duo of 6-5 senior Tyler O’Donnell (14.9 ppg) and 6-6 sophomore Briggs Ranstrom give the Grizzlies a pair of matchup nightmares.
POST FALLS: The Trojans (18-5) have flown under the radar all year. But that will stop at state.
Post Falls went 2-2 in the top bracket at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas in December, one of the nation’s elite tournaments. The 6-foot-7 Jake Pfennigs (16.1 ppg, 10.4 rebounds) has signed with Oregon State to play baseball, but he drew interest from Pac-12 assistant basketball coaches at the tournament.
After winning state titles in girls basketball and wrestling, Post Falls could become the second school in Idaho history to sweep all three winter sports in a single year. Meridian is the only school ever to win girls basketball, boys basketball and wrestling titles in the same year – back in 1983.
THE DARK HORSE
BOISE: The Braves (22-3) ended the regular season as the state’s No. 1-ranked team, but an upset at district forced Boise to take the back road to state, where it had to win three elimination games to qualify for the second time since 1997.
Boise fields 5A’s top-scoring offense (65.3 points per game), with three options to fill the net: point guard Paul Pennington (15.0 ppg, 7.1 assists) and wings Cole Alton (14.8 ppg, 7.9 rebounds) and Lucas Centeno (11.2 ppg, 7.5 rebounds).
But the back road leads to a first-round matchup with favorite Rocky Mountain.
PRESTON: As the two-time defending champ and Idaho’s only undefeated team, and with a victory over 5A power Rocky Mountain, the Indians (23-0) could carry the favorite status into the 5A tournament as well.
Preston returns four starters from last year’s title team, including reigning 4A All-Idaho Player of the Year Brayden Parker. The 6-7 center is verbally committed to Idaho State and is racking up 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game.
Preston enters state riding a 27-game winning streak. It has won 19 of its 23 games this season by double digits, and nine of its last 13 wins were by more than 20 points.
The Indians already have topped 4A state qualifiers Skyview, Bishop Kelly, Burley and Twin Falls (twice) by 10 or more points this year.
BURLEY: The Bobcats (19-4) are the only 4A team to stay within single digits of Preston, with an eight-point loss in the season opener.
Senior point guard Ryan Bagley (18.3 ppg) remains one of the most potent scorers in the state and one of the most dangerous players with the ball in his hands. But he also has 6-10 senior post Andrew Ferrin (12.9 ppg, 8.1 rebounds) and sophomore guard Jace Whiting (12.9 ppg) to help shoulder the load and keep defenses honest.
THE DARK HORSE
BISHOP KELLY: The Knights (17-6) enter as one of the hottest teams in the state. Bishop Kelly has won 12 straight after a 5-6 start to the season behind the state’s leading scorer, Max Rice. The son of Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice is averaging 24 points a game while adding 8.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals. He’ll walk on with the Broncos next year.
If role players such as Danny Oliver-Connelly (8.2 ppg) or Henry Hunter (7.2 ppg) break free, the Knights can make a deep run.
SNAKE RIVER: The Panthers (20-2) return to state for the 13th time in 14 years and are gunning for a return trip to the Idaho Center after finishing second last year.
The offense revolves around 6-6 senior Clancy Thomas, the reigning 3A All-Idaho Player of the Year. He dominates inside and the Panthers have surrounded him with a bevy of shooters.
The only blemishes on Snake River’s record came with back-to-back road losses to state qualifiers Shelley (three points) and Kimberly (two points).
FRUITLAND: The Grizzlies (19-4) have won 11 straight with a young, long and balanced squad.
Fruitland fields only one senior, 6-2 forward Jacob Richins. Richins (10 ppg), 6-2 junior forward Jake O’Neil (14 ppg, 7 rebounds) and 6-4 junior forward Drake Stampfli (12 ppg, 5 rebounds) are all scoring in double figures.
All that length gives Fruitland plenty of size to throw at Snake River in a potential semifinal matchup.
THE DARK HORSE
KELLOGG: The Wildcats (17-3) return the bulk of a team that finished third last season, including reigning second-team All-Idaho guard Chase Jerome.
After losing three straight in December to out-of-state opponents and 4A Lakeland, Kellogg enters on a 15-game winning streak.
BEAR LAKE: The defending state champs are 21-3, have four returning starters and are 2A’s unanimous No. 1-ranked team.
Defending 2A All-Idaho Player of the Year Avery Carlsen does it all for the Bears, running the point, locking down on defense and doing the dirty work required to defend a title.
RIRIE: The Bulldogs (20-3) return to state trying to avenge last year’s title game loss to Bear Lake. The teams are on opposite sides of the bracket, setting up a potential finals rematch.
Opponents will have to cook up schemes to slow 6-7 junior forward Michael Ure, who burst onto the scene last year to earn first-team All-Idaho honors. He’s averaging 19.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and three blocks this season.
THE DARK HORSE
DECLO: The Hornets went 1-21 two years ago but enter 19-5 built around a lockdown defense.
Declo is holding opponents to 38.3 points per game, the lowest in 2A. And junior forward Keegan Duncan, the 2A All-Idaho Football Player of the Year, remains one of the top athletes in the state on the gridiron and the court.
CLASS 1A DIVISION I
LAPWAI: The defending state champs have built a second home at the Idaho Center, reaching three straight state title games. The Wildcats have shown no signs of slowing down, beating opponents by an average of 21.1 points per game this season.
Its only in-state loss came to Whitepine League rival Prairie. But Lapwai got revenge with a 29-point blowout of Prairie for the district title.
PRAIRIE: The Pirates (20-4) are the only 1A team that has shown it can hang with Lapwai, going 1-2 vs. the Wildcats. And they are no stranger to the Idaho Center, reaching the state finals three times in the past four years, including last year’s runner-up finish to Lapwai.
CLASS 1A DIVISION II
GENESIS PREP: The Jaguars (19-4) bring back four starters from last year’s title team and feature one of the most impressive resumes in the tournament.
Genesis Prep, led by reigning All-Idaho player of the year Jonny Hillman, has crushed its league opponents by 52.8 points per game in 12 contests. The Jaguars also went 2-2 at a San Diego holiday tournament, and their four losses came to teams from Washington and California that are a combined 80-26 in large-school classifications.
DIETRICH: The Blue Devils (22-1) lead Idaho teams in all classifications with 67.8 points per game and have topped 80 points four times this season.
Dietrich fell to Genesis Prep in last year’s state championship game. A potential rematch looms in the semifinals.
Schools with the most boys basketball state titles, according to IHSAA records dating to 1917.