There’s a first time for everything.
With the boys state basketball tournament, games have been played in Lincoln, Omaha and Hastings through the years. They’ve been in as many as 22 classes and as few as one.
They’ve started Thursday. And Wednesday a couple of times. One year, boys games alternated with girls games as the tournament was split over two weeks by class.
With the pandemic, last year’s tournament walked on eggshells for three days but made it to the finish line when most other states never started or ended abruptly. The Nebraska School Activities Association still deserves kudos for completing the tournament safely.
Now with lessons learned and the pandemic still an unwanted visitor, here we are in a five-day state tournament that starts on a Tuesday and guarantees days off — two for Class A — during advancement to the finals.
There’s a first time for everything.
To set the stage for my fearless predictions (and level of confidence in them), here’s the annual tournament breakdown by the numbers:
.500: Winning percentages for Millard South (A) and Blair (B), both 11-11, and the lowest in the field.
2: Schools seeking football-basketball title sweeps: Elkhorn (B) and Pierce (C-1). Schools seeking girls-boys basketball sweeps: Lincoln Pius X (A), Humphrey St. Francis (D-2). Schools seeking third consecutive titles: Auburn (C-1), BRLD (C-2).
3: First-time qualifier: Omaha Concordia (C-1), Central Valley (D-1) and Ansley-Litchfield (D-1). Unbeaten teams: Auburn (C-1), Milford (C-1), Burwell (D-1).
5: Returning state champions: Bellevue West (A), Omaha Skutt (B), Auburn (C-1), BRLD (C-2), Falls City Sacred Heart (D-2).
7: Consecutive state tournament appearances by Omaha Creighton Prep (A), the most of any qualifier.
10: Championships for Falls City Sacred Heart (D-2) under Doug Goltz, the most by one coach.
13: State titles won by Prep, the most of any school in the field. Lincoln High has the most overall, with 15.
15: Schools with teams in the girls and boys basketball tournaments, same as last year.
18: Finals appearances for Prep, most in the field.
25: Teams that also qualified in 2020. D-2 has the most returning, with six.
26.7: Scoring average for sophomore Connor Millikan of Platteview (B), the highest in the field.
32.7: Points allowed per game by Auburn (B), best in the field.
33: Years between state tournament appearances for Tri County (C-2).
60: State tournament appearances by Prep, the most all time.
81.5: Scoring average for Millard North, best in the field.
645: Points for Quinn Johnson of Loomis (D-2), best in the field.
One final number: .001. That’s the probability that all six of these predicted champions hoist the newly designed trophies on Championship Saturday. Girls predictor Mike Patterson batted .500 last weekend. So many classes lack a clear favorite that I’d gladly take a push with him.
Class A: After The Night of the Upset in the district finals, there could be a carryover to Pinnacle Bank Arena, but realistically, only Bellevue West, Millard North or Prep can go the distance. As much as many in the basketball community would like to see good-guy Tim Cannon at Millard North finally coach a championship team, Bellevue West is the team with more moxie, better defense and Chucky Hepburn’s determination. If the defending champion can beat Prep a third time — that semifinal would be can’t-miss watching — the rematch of last year’s state final would be most delectable.
First round: Millard North over Millard South, Pius over Millard West, Bellevue West over Lincoln East, Prep over Papillion-La Vista South. Semifinals: Millard North over Pius, Bellevue West over Prep. Final: Bellevue West over Millard North. Sleeper: Prep.
Class B: Like football’s final eight, it’s hard to rule out title runs for most of the qualifiers. I see Skutt beating Norris in the final, but that should require the defending champ beating Elkhorn Mount Michael’s five four-year regulars in the semifinal.
First round: Norris over Blair, Elkhorn over Platteview, Skutt over Waverly, Elkhorn Mount Michael over Beatrice. Semifinals: Norris over Elkhorn, Skutt over Mount Michael. Final: Skutt over Norris. Sleeper: Platteview.
Class C-1: The way the season played out, I saw every qualifier in person save for Pierce and Wayne. With Cam Binder and the coaching of Jim Weeks, the pick here is that Auburn extends its winning streak (No. 3 all time) to 62 games.
First round: Auburn over Pierce, Milford over Concordia, Kearney Catholic over Wayne, Adams Central over St. Paul. Semifinals: Auburn over Milford, Adams Central over Kearney Catholic. Final: Auburn over Adams Central. Sleeper: Concordia.
Class C-2: A final between Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur and Grand Island Central Catholic would be a rematch from last year, when the Wolverines repeated as champions. Look for a reversal of that, especially if BRLD can’t handle the GICC brother tandem of Dei and Gil Jengmer in the post.
First round: GICC over Tri County, Hartington Cedar Catholic over Freeman, Yutan over Chase County, BRLD over Bridgeport. Semifinals: GICC over Cedar Catholic, BRLD over Yutan. Final: GICC over BRLD. Sleeper: Freeman.
Class D-1: Burwell had an agonizing overtime loss in the Eight Man-1 football final and took sixth in state wrestling. With the Longhorns undefeated, this may be the year they capture the school’s first basketball title.
First round: Burwell over Central Valley, Howells-Dodge over Walthill, Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family over Southern Valley, North Platte St. Patrick’s over Ansley-Litchfield. Semifinals: Burwell over Howells-Dodge, HLHF over St. Patrick’s. Final: Burwell over HLHF. Sleeper: Walthill.
Class D-2: Like Class B, contenders to go the distance abound. Seldom are Falls City Sacred Heart and Humphrey St. Francis possible one-and-dones. Lincoln Parkview took third last year and is favored to emerge from this deeper-than-usual pool.
First round: O’Neill St. Mary’s over Osceola, Lincoln Parkview over Loomis, Mullen over Falls City Sacred Heart, Wynot over Humphrey St. Francis. Semifinals: Parkview over St. Mary’s, Mullen over Wynot. Final: Parkview over Mullen. Sleeper: Loomis.
Saturday was the best day for attendance at the girls basketball state tournament, with 9,492 for seven games. At Pinnacle Bank Arena, 2,397 watched the finals in D-1 and C-1, 3,325 for B and D-2 and 3,383 for A and C-2. There were 387 at Lincoln Northeast for the C-1 third-place game.
The NSAA said the five-day attendance total was 43,554.