Teams are returning to conference play, starting the march toward tournament time.
Fresh off holiday tournaments, Minnesota’s high school basketball and hockey teams shift into high gear this week. Here are some noteworthy developments to know before the seasons race by and it’s playoff time:
Climb to the top: Vernon Simmons has turned St. Paul Johnson’s program into a perennial power, but this season’s team even has exceeded his expectations through its first dozen games. The Class 3A, No. 1 Governors enter St. Paul City Conference play with a 10-2 record. Their only setback to a Minnesota school was 78-69 to Class 4A, No. 2 Hopkins.
“I thought it would take us about half the season to get up to speed,” said Simmons, who has guided the program to eight state tournament trips since 2004. “I was wrong. The kids came out playing well right at the start of the season.”
Four players are averaging double figures in scoring, led by senior forward Peirre Conwell (16.9 points per game) and junior guard Jalen Mobley (15.5 points per game).
“They have done a good job of getting our other players involved,” Simmons said.
Scoring machine: Lakeville North senior forward J.P. Macura has taken his game to en even higher level in 2013-14. The Xavier recruit is averaging 35 points per game through the Panthers’ first 10 games. Lakeville North is 9-1 and ranked No. 3 in Class 4A. Macura scored a career-high 55 in a 104-99 victory at Farmington. He has scored at least 30 points in six games.
Mending before defending: Two-time defending Class 3A state champion DeLaSalle (5-3) continues to be without senior forward Reid Travis. The Stanford recruit has been sidelined because of a stress fracture in his left foot since August. He hopes to resume playing in the next couple of weeks.
Getting healthy: Hopkins, the three-time Class 4A defending state champion, already has as many losses (two) this season as any of the previous three years. The Royals lost two games in 2010-11, and only once each of the past two years.
The Royals (10-2) lost back-to-back games to Eastview and Lakeville North in mid-December, but were missing junior guard T’Aire Starks, their top player. She has been gradually working her way back from surgery on her left shoulder. She scored 10 points in her most recent outing despite limited playing time.
“She has an incredibly high basketball IQ,” coach Brian Cosgriff said. “She is a relentless worker, and a winner.”
Freshman forward Jazmyn Martin missed two games early in the season while sophomore guard Nia Hollie (knee bursitis) and junior guard Viria Livingston (ACL surgery last season) are trying to return to 100 percent.
“We’ve been pretty banged up,” Cosgriff said. “We’re just starting to get healthy.”
Plenty of offense, no defense: Waconia is on pace to become the highest-scoring team (92.4 points per game) in state history. The Wildcats (5-6) have eclipsed 100 points three times, while their opponents have reached the century mark on four occasions. St. Paul Central averaged 85.4 points per game during the 2006-07 season. Waconia is giving up 89.9 points per game, which also would be a state record.
Return is near: Tartan has been playing without senior guard Tia Elbert, who is averaging 33.2 points per game. She opened the season playing with a high ankle sprain, then took time off to try to let the injury heal. Elbert, who has missed the past three games, is expected to be back in the lineup next week for the Titans (2-7).