Say this for Minneapolis North boys’ basketball coach Larry McKenzie: He’s doing everything he can to get the Polars ready for the postseason.
As the No. 1-ranked team in Class 1A — which still seems strange to say, considering North’s dominance of all of basketball’s classes during the MSHSL’s brief Sweet 16 experiment in the mid-90s — the Polars have been playing as tough a schedule as they can find.
In addition to its traditional slate of games within the Minneapolis Conference, which is stronger than usual this season, North won two games in a season-opening tournament in Milwaukee, and played in The Breakdown Tip-Off Classic and the Augsburg Holiday Tournament, both against much larger schools. They’ve already defeated Maranatha, a Section 4A foe that was the biggest obstacle toward a state tournament berth, by 29 points on Jan. 17. All three of their losses have come to Class 4A teams.
North has another big test Saturday, when they travel to play at No. 2-ranked Rushford-Peterson for a 3 p.m. afternoon game that could be a Class 1A championship game preview.
Rushford-Peterson coach Tom Vix is widely considered one of Minnesota’s elite coaches with 14 state tournament berths and two state championships to his credit. The Trojans’ (17-1) winning ways are familiar to basketball fans: strong fundamentals, great shot selection and very few mistakes.
Things don’t get much easier for North next week. The Polars host No. 4, 2A Minneapolis Roosevelt (14-3) on Feb. 3 and play at No. 4, 4A Armstrong on Feb. 9.
Some of the other games of note this week:
• Armstrong at DeLaSalle, 5:15 p.m. Saturday: Future Gopher Jarvis Johnson and breakout forward Sacar Anim lead the offensive charge for DeLaSalle (11-2), but what truly makes the Islanders go is their commitment to defense. Coach Dave Thorson is a man-to-man devotee and expects maximum effort from his team and himself. Watching him work up a sweat exhorting his team from the sideline is always an entertaining diversion.
• Park Center at Maple Grove, 7 p.m. Friday: Both teams entered the week undefeated in the Northwest Suburban West division, making this a battle for first place. No. 2, 3A Park Center (12-3) has won six in a row and appears to be rounding into shape for a run at defending its 2014 state championship.
• Hill-Murray at White Bear Lake, 7:15 p.m. Saturday: This is one of those must-see matchups from the rivalry perspective alone. From 1975 through 2013, one of the two teams was the Section 3 (later Section 4) champion, often beating the other in the finals. The fact that both teams are highly ranked — Hill-Murray is No. 3 in Class 2A, White Bear Lake No. 11 — just makes this all the more essential.
• Eden Prairie at Minnetonka, 7 p.m. Tuesday: Eden Prairie, the No. 1 team in Class 2A finally lost Saturday, its 22-game unbeaten streak ended in overtime in a 3-2 loss to Edina. How the Eagles handle the loss is the most intriguing story line here, particularly since they will need bounce back against the 2A, No. 2 Skippers. Eden Prairie has won the first two meetings this season, both by 2-1 scores in OT.