Woodbury draws big, bad Hopkins in the first round, and its players are geared up for their supreme challenge.
Woodbury basketball player Connor McKeen gave a response you might expect from his team drawing top-ranked and three-time defending state champion Hopkins in the first round of the Class 4A boys' basketball tournament.
"When you first hear it, it's kind of intimidating, like, 'Oh, we've got to play Hopkins first,'" McKeen said.
A key cog in Woodbury's emergence from a sub-.500 team in recent years to state title contender this year, the gritty McKeen has a mood that sets a tone for the Royals (24-5). He was alone Saturday morning when he heard the news, giving him time to replace his consternation with confidence.
"I'm not intimidated by them," said McKeen, who has signed a letter of intent to play wide receiver at Minnesota State Mankato. "They are a good team, but I think we match up well against them."
Hopkins (28-1) likely will be without leading scorer and rebounder Zach Stahl when the game starts at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Target Center.
Stahl did not play in last week's Class 4A, Section 6 championship game. Two sources familiar with the situation told the Star Tribune last week that the suspension stems from a Minnesota State High School League violation and applied to any future games Hopkins could play this season.
Hopkins activities director Dan Johnson on Monday would not comment on Stahl's status. Woodbury prepared this week as if Stahl would not play, focusing its game plan on stopping standout point guard Siyani Chambers.
Beyond trying to minimize Chambers' impact, McKeen, brothers Rickey and Renard Suggs and Ryan Fritze believe they can pressure the Royals.
Woodbury coach Scott Swansson said Rickey Suggs "is an undersized post player but he can score inside and he can take a big guy outside." He said the Royals also benefit from having "more than one guy who can bring the ball upcourt."
The Suggs brothers, who saw many Hopkins players in summer AAU play, said the keys to success are limiting Hopkins' ability to run the floor and avoiding mistakes caused by their aggressiveness.
Hopkins has won its past nine state tournament games by an average margin of about 19 points. The Royals' stature often gave them a mental lead before the opening tipoff, which Woodbury hopes to neutralize.
Woodbury broke the huddle after Monday's practice by yelling "27," the significance being players have 24 victories and want three more. The first step will be a doozy.
"They know how to win games and they know what it takes," Fritze said. "We can't be afraid of them. We have to go out and play our game, not theirs."