Nick Sabato: Land of the giants? Class AA hoops belonged to the guards in 2021

Nick Sabato, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
·3 min read

Mar. 25—Last week's Class AA state tournament made it clear: South Dakota's biggest class is now run by the little guys.

For so long, the Class AA state championship was determined in the paint by rough and rugged giants such as Chad Nelson, Bart Friedrick and Zach Hanson. This year's state tournament was just as rugged and defensive-minded, but guards were the focus.

By the time the state championship game began, the two teams left standing were perimeter-oriented squads that used its post players in a complementary role on offense. Sioux Falls Roosevelt and O'Gorman also featured the best collection of guards in the tournament.

Third-seeded Roosevelt cruised through the tournament, winning by an average of 22 points per game, including a 60-37 win over O'Gorman in the finals. But the Rough Rider guards accounted for 75% of 193 points in three games, led by Tyler Feldkamp's 20.3 points per game.

Roosevelt used a full-court press and a breakneck transition offense to bludgeon opponents and minimize half-court sets. Even when the Rough Riders had to play in the half-court, its trio of guards — Feldkamp, Tucker Large and Taylen Ashley — were quick and crafty enough to make plays off the dribble that created open shots for themselves or teammates, which made the game less rigid.

Teams intent on walking up the ball up the floor, dumping the ball into the post and relying solely on offensive sets can find success, but it also leaves little margin for error. Not only does such a style slow down the game, but it limits possessions and the number of scoring opportunities. It is also more difficult to come back from a significant deficit.

Mitchell fans saw the highs and lows of a slow-it-down post-oriented offense all season, including the postseason. The Kernels could be efficient and potent, but were also susceptible to dry spells and double-teams to big men Caden Hinker and Zane Alm.

State runner-up O'Gorman found itself down double-digits to Sioux Falls Washington in the fourth quarter of the semifinals, but were able to score a come-from-behind win that started with strong post play by 6-foot-6 Eddie Meylor and finished with a bevy of 3-pointers from guards Matt Eng, Kade Moffitt and Ben Renshaw.

Prior to entering the seventh-place game against Harrisburg, Mitchell went 15-1 when holding teams under 50 points and 0-7 when allowing 50 or more, a trend that held firm in a 50-46 quarterfinal loss to Yankton and a 76-65 consolation semifinal loss to Brandon Valley.

But for the final game of the season, Kernel head coach Todd Neuendorf decided to revert to an offense he used during his run at Aberdeen Roncalli. Mitchell frequently played without a player stationed on the block, which spread the floor and unclogged the lane for drives to the rim and pull-up jumpers off the dribble.

The result saw the Kernels score a season-high 78 points in a six-point win over the Tigers. Hinker, swallowed by double and triple-teams for the last half of the season, played as if unshackled. The 6-6 junior scored 29 points on 8 of 15 shooting after going for 14 points on 4-for-13 shooting in the first two games combined.

Those who enjoy more offense will like the ongoing shift, while others may find it to be an acquired taste. Perimeter-oriented offense provides more open space, more scoring opportunities and it is not going away anytime soon.