Last night, three local boys basketball teams all advanced to Saturday's sectional final round, putting them in the "Elite Eight" so to speak of teams left in their respective divisions. Onalaska topped Rice Lake in Division 2, Aquinas got past G-E-T in Division 3, and Onalaska Luther beat Fall Creek in Division 4. I've all three of these teams play multiple times this season, so here's my take on what each team has to do to move on to next week's state tournament.
ONALASKA: So much is made of Matt Thomas, and rightfully so, but as long as his Hilltopper teammates fall into their roles, Onalaska will be just fine. If Clint Rihn can run a steady point, Connor Helgeson can knock down a couple of open threes, and Connor Gavin and Dustin Gordon can rebound and make open shots, the Hilltoppers will certainly advance. Whether Thomas has 15 points or 50 points shouldn't matter too greatly, because the rest of the team is so good at filling in the complementary roles and are perfectly happy doing just that. The tenacious zone defense will always be there, so as long as everything else falls into place, Onalaska will find itself in Madison.
AQUINAS: It sounds simple, but what the Blugolds need is to make lay-ups. Bronson Koenig is such a creator at point guard that his teammates find themselves in position for easy buckets. As long as they have their heads on a swivel and catch the ball then put it in the hoop, Aquinas will be in good shape. Mike Conway is a threat inside and outside, Nolan Ritter can knock down 3s with the best of them and Parker Weber gives the Blugolds a presence in the post. Fill in guys like Eldred Jones, Reggie Raab, Carson Schneider and Co. for defensive pressure, energy and rebounding, and Aquinas should be in good shape for a return trip to Madison.
ONALASKA LUTHER: The Knights are as hard-headed a team as they come, but I mean that as a compliment. Luther is going to stick with its pressure defense and fast-break offense come hell or high water. Last night, against a bigger Fall Creek squad, whether or not that style was going to prevail was certainly in doubt. But come fourth quarter, it was the Knights heading to the free throw line with a chance to clinch the game. Luther has a tall task with undefeated Cuba City in Saturday's sectional final, but I have a feeling that Christian Kennedy, Zach Matzke and the rest of the Knights are going to be up for the challenge. If they can force the Cubans into playing a faster style, it could be Luther scoring the upset and making its first trip to state.