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A team-by-team look at the 2023 Class AA boys basketball tournament field

The eight-team bracket begins play at 1 p.m. Central time on Thursday

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Mitchell's Steele Morgan (44) and Pierre's Benjamin Heisler (22) jump for the opening tipoff during a Class AA boys basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

RAPID CITY — The Class AA state boys basketball tournament begins on Thursday at the Summit Arena in Rapid City.

Here’s a look at the eight state tournament teams in the field:

Teams are listed in the order of seeding. Scoring offense and defense stats are listed on a per game basis, with the ranking among all Class AA teams in parentheses.

No. 1 Sioux Falls Jefferson Cavaliers

Record (against tournament field): 19-2 (8-2)

SoDak 16: Defeated No. 16 Rapid City Stevens, 71-46.

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Scoring offense / scoring defense: 65.9 (third) / 53.4 (seventh)

Previous result against quarterfinal opponent: Defeated Harrisburg, 72-61, on Jan. 20.

Recent state tourney history: Since Jefferson opened for the 2021-22 year, the Cavs have qualified for both state tournaments, taking seventh place last season.

One player to watch: Taylen Ashley. The University of Sioux Falls basketball signee leads the Cavaliers in scoring at 16.9 points and assists at 3.8 per game, with 3.7 rebounds ranking third on the team.

Reason they can win: Top-end athletes. Ashley is likely to be first-team all-state, as is Kaden Year (16.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.0 apg), and Griffin Wilde (11.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Beau Giblin (5.2 ppg) are South Dakota State Division I football signees. Rounding out the starting lineup, 6-foot-10 center Ethan Koltz is a Southwest Minnesota State basketball commit.

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Jefferson's Kaden Year (23) makes a move as Lincoln's Jack Hilgenberg (15) and JT Rock (35) defend during a February high school basketball game at the Lincoln gym in Sioux Falls.
Matt Zimmer/Forum News Service

No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln Patriots

Record (against tournament field): 18-3 (7-3)

SoDak 16: Defeated No. 15 Rapid City Central, 76-49.

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Scoring offense / scoring defense: 69.4 (first) / 56.7 (13th)

Previous result against quarterfinal opponent: Defeated Sioux Falls Roosevelt, 76-59, on Jan. 14; Lost to Roosevelt, 70-56, on Feb. 14.

Recent state tourney history: Lincoln claimed the consolation bracket championship at last year’s state tournament in the program’s first appearance since 2019.

One player to watch: J.T. Rock. There is no one else in Class AA like the 7-foot-1 Iowa State basketball commit. Rock averages just shy of a double-double at 18 points and 9.8 rebounds and a class-best 3.9 blocks per game.

Reason they can win: Space. As teams divert resources to deal with Rock in the middle, that leaves ample room for the Patriots’ bevy of shooters and playmakers to operate. Elliot Whitney (14.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.5 apg) and Tate Schafer (14.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg) are the main beneficiaries, having each tossed in more than 60 3-pointers on the season to round out the top scoring trio in Class AA.

No. 3 Mitchell Kernels

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Mitchell's Gavin Soukup (12) dribbles up the floor while being chased by a Pierre defender during a Class AA boys basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Record (against tournament field): 17-4 (3-4)

SoDak 16: Defeated No. 14 Watertown, 62-44.

Scoring offense / scoring defense: 62.3 (fifth) / 51.6 (fifth)

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Previous result against quarterfinal opponent: Defeated Pierre, 62-55, on Feb. 16.

Recent state tourney history: After an eight-year absence, the Kernels are back in the state tournament for the third-straight season. Mitchell placed seventh in 2021 and sixth in 2022.

One player to watch: Dylan Soulek. A Northern State baseball commit, Soulek paces the Kernels in scoring (13.2 points) and assists (4.4) per game, while also snagging 4.8 rebounds per game.

Reason they can win: Balance. Mitchell is the only team in the tournament with a top-five ranking on both offense and defense. The Kernels have seven players who average at least five points per game, more than any other team in the tournament. Among those are senior Steele Morgan (11.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.2 apg) and freshman Colton Smith (10.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg).

No. 4 Yankton Bucks

Record (against tournament field): 16-5 (3-4)

SoDak 16: Defeated No. 13 Aberdeen Central, 68-52.

Scoring offense / scoring defense: 61.6 (sixth) / 51.1 (third)

Previous result against quarterfinal opponent: Lost to Sioux Falls Washington, 46-41, on Feb. 21.

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Recent state tourney history: Yankton is making its sixth-straight state tournament appearance, the longest active run in Class AA. The Bucks finished in eighth place last season.

One player to watch: Rugby Ryken. A regular triple-double threat, Ryken posts 11.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 2.1 steals per outing. It’s also worth noting that Drew Ryken has knocked in 85 3-pointers (20 more than anyone else in the class) and leads the Bucks at 17 points per game.

Reason they can win: Outstanding guards. Led by a trio of Rykens — Rugby, Drew and Mac — the Bucks’ backcourt causes issues for teams at both ends of the floor. The Bucks are among the most experienced squads in the tournament, with the top eight of their rotation featuring seven seniors and a junior.

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Mitchell's Charlie McCardle (35) attempts to keep the ball away from Sioux Falls Washington's Mandalla Mohamed (4) and Gage Gasca (34) during a Class AA boys basketball game on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

No. 5 Sioux Falls Washington Warriors

Record (against tournament field): 15-6 (5-5)

SoDak 16: Defeated No. 12 Huron, 71-43.

Scoring offense / scoring defense: 59.0 (seventh) / 49.6 (first)

Previous result against quarterfinal opponent: Defeated Yankton, 46-41, on Feb. 21.

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Recent state tourney history: This marks four-straight years the Warriors are among the final eight, as Washington claimed a third-place finish last season.

One player to watch: Mandalla Mohamed (11.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.6 steals)

Reason they can win: Defense. As the best defensive team in the class, the Warriors have clamped down over the past month to surge up the standings. Since Feb. 7, Washington has reeled off nine wins in a row — four against fellow tournament qualifiers — allowing 50 points or fewer in eight of them for an average of 44.1.

No. 6 Pierre Governors

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Pierre's Lincoln Kienholz goes up for a layup against Mitchell's Markus Talley during a high school boys basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Record (against tournament field): 14-7 (3-4)

SoDak 16: Defeated No. 11 O’Gorman, 64-49.

Scoring offense / scoring defense: 66.2 (second) / 54.7 (10th)

Previous result against quarterfinal opponent: Lost to Mitchell, 62-55, on Feb. 16.

Recent state tourney history: Prior to this season, Pierre had not qualified for the state tournament since 2017.

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One player to watch: Lincoln Kienholz. The Ohio State quarterback signee pours in 18.5 points per game, the most among the Class AA field, to go with 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game.

Reason they can win: Athletes. Like Jefferson, the Governors pose problems up and down the roster. Kienholz, alongside 6-foot-7 Black Hills State signee Jackson Edman (13.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.3 apg) and Benjamin Heisler (14 ppg, 6 rpg), form the second-highest scoring trio in the class at more than 46 points per game.

In this edition of the Full Court Press, we take a look at Pierre standout guard Lincoln Kienholz, who's enjoying the time he has left on the hardwood before a college football future at Ohio State.

No. 7 Sioux Falls Roosevelt Rough Riders

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Mitchell's Markus Talley (4) handles the ball under pressure from Sioux Falls Roosevelt's Garang Kuol (11) during a Class AA boys basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Record (against tournament field): 13-8 (2-8)

SoDak 16: Defeated No. 10 Sturgis, 54-40.

Scoring offense / scoring defense: 56.1 (11th) / 55.1 (11th)

Previous results against quarterfinal opponent: Lost to Sioux Falls Lincoln, 76-59, on Jan. 14; Defeated Lincoln, 70-56, on Feb. 14.

Recent state tourney history: The two-time defending state champions have qualified for five consecutive state tournaments and enter Thursday having won eight-straight tournament games.

One player to watch: Jackson Brouwer. The 6-foot-3 junior forward ranks third in scoring for the Rough Riders at 10.6 points per game (Abraham Kamara and Jack Radel both average 11.1), but Brouwer’s efficiency could prove to be invaluable in the tournament. For the season, Brouwer is shooting 54.8% from the field and 54.2% from 3-point range, making 58 triples, a top-five total in the class.

Reason they can win: Tradition. This year’s Roosevelt team is largely a brand new collection of Rough Riders compared to the past two championship teams. However, this crew learned from the best Class AA had to offer and is well-coached under the guidance of Mitch Begeman.

No. 9 Harrisburg Tigers

Record (against tournament field): 14-7 (3-4)

SoDak 16: Defeated No. 8 Brandon Valley, 54-52.

Scoring offense / scoring defense: 62.4 (fourth) / 52.8 (sixth)

Previous result against quarterfinal opponent: Lost to Jefferson, 72-61, on Jan. 20.

Recent state tourney history: Harrisburg is back in the state tournament for the third-straight season. The Tigers took fourth place last year.

One player to watch: Ethan Determan. A second-team all-state selection a season ago, the 6-foot-3 senior guard contributes 18 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for the Tigers.

Reason they can win: Top-end scorers. Determan and lefty Jacoby Mehrman (15 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4 apg) can keep up with any scoring duo in the class, averaging a combined 33 points per game. The duo combined for 51 points in the Tigers’ triple-overtime quarterfinal win last season, and Mehrman hit the game-winner in the SoDak 16 to push Harrisburg into the tournament.

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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