The top-seeded team in the Class 4A boys’ basketball tournament is not what you might expect.
The Osseo Orioles are not big, eye-catching or filled with elite-level recruits.
What the Orioles are is fast, deep and ferocious. Six players average at least nine points. The seventh and eighth men average almost eight. They play a havoc-wreaking full-court press, and they can sub out without missing a beat.
Despite their atypical style, no one has been able to beat them. But the Orioles are a curious case for another reason.
In what is considered a wide-open state tournament, no one is declaring the 29-0 Orioles odds-on favorites — not even their coach.
“There are so many teams, three teams that were probably deserving of the No. 1 seed, Hopkins and Apple Valley and us,” Osseo coach Tim Theisen said. “Maybe our perfect season so far has earned us that, but that does not mean we are the clear favorite. Not at all.”
Coaches are calling this year’s 4A bracket more stacked than any in recent memory, and the common thought is as many as six teams have a legitimate chance to become champions.
Osseo is unbeaten. Apple Valley is 27-1, led by Division-I caliber stars in Gary Trent Jr. and Tre Jones. Hopkins is 28-1 behind Amir Coffey, the state’s top player in the 2016 class. Fifth-seeded Lakeville North, making its fifth consecutive state tournament appearance, is consistent as any team out there. No. 4 seed Maple Grove and Eden Prairie are far from pushovers.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a state tournament where the top five teams have the record that these teams have,” Lakeville North coach John Oxton said. “There’s more than one or two teams that have the capability of winning it, which is exciting. Some years, it’s like there are one or two teams that have a chance and everybody else is hoping to get lucky. I think this year it’s a little different.”
The quarterfinal round on Wednesday begins at 10 a.m. with Osseo facing unseeded Eden Prairie (13-13) in what is far from a stereotypical high vs. low-seed match-up. In December, Eden Prairie lost to Osseo by only four points. Eden Prairie played one of the toughest schedules in the state and battled its share of injuries and illness. In the section playoffs, Eden Prairie played possibly its best basketball of the year, defeating Minnetonka, section top-seed Shakopee and Edina.
The Osseo-Eden Prairie winner faces the winner of Lakeville North and Maple Grove, two teams that can hold their own with any team in the tournament. Eden Prairie coach David Flom said anything could happen in the top half of the bracket.
“If you were going to fill it out like you would March Madness, I think there’s probably pretty good arguments for any one of the four teams to make it all the way to the state championship,” Flom said.
In the other bracket, Hopkins faces North St. Paul and Apple Valley faces Blaine. Pending upsets, that could set up a star-studded state semifinal between Hopkins and Apple Valley. The state final could be anyone’s guess.
If there’s any advantage for Osseo, it’s that the team’s mentality has been similar all season. In this 4A food chain, there is no apex predator.
“For us the whole year, it was, ‘Nobody respects you,’ ” Theisen said. “Well, now we’re the No. 1 seed, we’re undefeated, people respect us. But we have to continue to use this philosophy of be the hunter, not the hunted.”