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SBLive Nebraska Top 25 boys basketball rankings (Feb. 27)

State tournament berths up for grabs

By Nathan Charles 

When we return to the ratings next week, half of the teams on the list could be done with the season. Class A offers some intriguing matchups for the district finals but it appears there is one favorite for the championship. The remaining other classes seem to have about three to four teams that will decide championships when state begins March 8 in Lincoln.

Feature photo: Millard West's Jordan Gassen attempts a free throw at Lincoln Southwest during a Dec. 17 game the Silver Hawks won 72-65. The two teams met again in the district semifinal last week. Southwest came through with another victory, 68-62. Photo Credit: MWHSactivities Twitter. 

1. Bellevue West (24-0, Last Week #1)

Last Week: Won 80-53 vs. Grand Island

The Thunderbirds will be on to the state tournament no matter what happens Monday night. Even a loss wouldn’t prevent Bellevue West from earning the top seed for the state tournament. All that’s left to determine is who will be standing in the way to try and rain on what seems certain to be a T-Bird parade on March 11 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

This Week: Monday vs. Lincoln Northeast (15-9)

2. Millard North (20-3, Last Week #2)

Last Week: Won 86-55 vs Omaha Northwest

Millard North can extend a school record by making state for a fourth consecutive season with a win Monday over Kearney. Before the current era of Mustang basketball, Millard North had made eight trips to state between 1985 and 2012. Those eight trips included just one win. In the past three seasons the Mustangs are 8-1 in Lincoln and seeking a third straight state title. If Millard North can use its speed and athleticism, Kearney shouldn’t be a problem.

This Week: Monday vs. Kearney (17-7)

3. Gretna (19-3, Last Week #3)

Last Week: Won 75-38 vs. Fremont

The Dragons will be on full alert for North Star after the Navigators hung around all night and led through much of the first three quarters in a Feb. 4 game in Gretna. Fifteen free throws and 24 attempts at the line compared to just seven attempts for North Star made the difference in the first meeting. Gretna is seeking back-to-back trips to state after losing in last year’s semifinals.

This Week: Monday vs. North Star (16-8)

4. Creighton Prep (19-6, Last Week #4)

Last Week: Won 71-34 vs. Bellevue East

Prep is on its second five-game winning streak of the season as Southwest awaits in Monday’s district championship. The two previously met on Feb. 4, and Prep came out with a 58-53 win thanks to a 14-5 advantage at the free throw line and better playmaking down the stretch. That game was the last time the Junior Jays faced an opponent over .500.

This Week: Monday vs. Southeast (15-9)

5. Lincoln East (18-5, Last Week #5)

Last Week: Won 81-63 vs. Westview

East faces Southwest for the second time this year, this time with a state tournament berth on the line. The Spartans went into the Silver Hawks home gym on Jan. 27, shot 43% from three-point range and pulled away in the third quarter. East missed out on state last year when Westside clobbered the Spartans 90-61 in the district final. There hasn’t been a win at state for the program in 22 years.

This Week: Monday vs. Southwest (15-9)

6. Elkhorn South (16-6, Last Week #6)

Last Week: Won 80-69 vs. Papillion- La Vista

Elkhorn South tied its win total from last season with a district semifinal win and is looking to make it two years in a row at state for the first tie since three in a row from 2013-2015. Yet, despite a strong season and a six-game winning streak, the Storm will have to win to get in. A schedule with opponents that have combined for a 46% winning percentage means Elkhorn South is only 12th in the points standings. Adding to the difficulty is a district final against a Papio South team that owns wins over Lincoln High and Lincoln East in the past month.

This Week: Monday vs. Papio South (16-6)

7. Omaha Westside (15-7, Last Week #7)

Last Week: Won 85-58 vs. Burke

Westside has gone 1-5 against quadrant one (winning percentage of 75% or greater) this season and lost three of those by 16 or more points. It’s been sort of a weird year with an eight-game winning streak early on followed by a 5-5 stretch in the five weeks that followed. But however the Warriors have arrived at this point, a win Monday will make it a successful season and send Westside to state for the fourth time in five years.

This Week: Tuesday vs. Lincoln High (17-7)

8. Lincoln Southwest (15-9, Last Week #8)

Last Week: Won 68-62 vs. Millard West

How much have the Silver Hawks gained since losing to East by 16 on Jan. 27? That’s the question they’ll have to answer Monday night when a trip to state is on the line. Southwest has been well prepared with one of the toughest schedules in the state. The Silver Hawks were down eight to start the fourth in the matchup with East and faded in the final eight minutes.

This Week: Monday at Lincoln East (18-5)

9. Lincoln North Star (16-8, Last Week #9)

Last Week: Won 59-48 vs. Omaha Bryan

A win over Pius then a two-point loss to Gretna earlier in February made North Star an interesting team to watch as the season came to a close. But the Navigators then lost two in a row and didn’t pull away from Bryan in the district semifinal until the third quarter. North Star has some quality wins this year over foes such as Lincoln High, Northeast and Pius and doesn’t have any bad losses.

This Week: Monday at Gretna (19-3)

10. Lincoln High (17-7, Last Week #10)

Last Week: Won 51-49 vs. Millard South

The Links have their most wins in 10 years and have had a magical season overall. But a lack of quadrant one wins and a 6-7 overall record against teams above .500 mean they’ll have to win a road game to get to state for the first in 13 years. It almost all went by the wayside when Lincoln High had to survive Millard South and a final shot from the Patriots at the buzzer in the district semifinals

This Week: Tuesday at Westside (15-7)

11. Papillion-La Vista South (15-8, Last Week #11)

Last Week: Won 54-47 vs. Omaha North

Papio South was on a three-year streak of making state when Pius denied a fourth in last year’s district final. This season, the Titans were 6-6 after back-to-back losses to Northeast and Southwest then went 8-2 headed into the playoffs. During that time, Papio South defeated Westside, Lincoln High and Lincoln East. Papio South overcame 33% shooting and 3 of 17 from the perimeter in the district win over Omaha North.

This Week: Monday vs. Elkhorn South (16-6)

12. Lincoln Southeast (15-9, Last Week #12)

Last Week: Won 63-49 vs. North Platte

Three straight losses then seven straight wins made it seem like Southeast had turned a corner. But the Knights have been an anomaly all year and went on to lose three straight. They’re 1-5 against quadrant one teams but have played a schedule with a 58% winning percentage and are in position to get to state even with a loss on Monday. Southeast led by six after the first quarter in the first matchup against Prep but didn’t capitalize enough on 14 offensive rebounds.

This Week: Monday at Creighton Prep (19-6)

13. Lincoln Northeast (15-9, Last Week #13)

Last Week: Won 58-52 vs. Omaha Central

Northeast hasn’t been to state in seven years. Ending that drought would mean doing something no one has been able to do this season – beat Bell West. The Rockets lost to the T-Birds by 23 in December and are 0-4 against quad one opponents. Northeast won in the district semifinals thanks to allowing Central just 10 total points in the second and third quarters.

This Week: Monday at Bellevue West (24-0)

14. Kearney (17-7, Last Week #15)

Last Week: Won 42-40 vs. Pius X

Kearney lost to Pius 62-54 on Jan. 31 despite hitting 11 three-pointers because the Thunderbolts controlled the glass 32-22 and had 11 offensive rebounds. The Bearcats only allowed six offensive boards in last week’s rematch, held Pius to 0 for 11 from three-point range and limited the Bolts to 14 first-half points. Kearney will need something similar to earn its 40th trip to state in program history.

This Week: Monday at Millard North (20-3)

15. Lincoln Pius X (14-11, Last Week #14)

Last Week: Lost 42-40 vs. Kearney

There were all kinds of warning lights going off for the Thunderbolts late when they limped into the postseason on five losses in six games. Still, the final stretch included four teams listed in the top 10. That kind of a gauntlet isn’t great, but facing an opponent like Kearney in the district semifinal made it even harder. The Bearcats barely allow 50 points per game and force a grind-it-out style that can wear on opponents, especially ones coming out of a tough stretch.

16. Skutt Catholic (21-3, Last Week #16)

Last Week: Won 57-34 vs. Elkhorn North, Lost 48-47 vs. Elkhorn

Are there reasons to be concerned about the SkyHawks? Skutt had only suffered losses to Class A teams until Elkhorn earned 21 trips to the line, made 17 free throws and handed the SkyHawks a one-point home loss in the subdistrict final. It did nothing to knock Skutt off track on a likely easy run to the state tournament. But has Class B opened up a little bit because of that result?

This Week: Monday vs. Blair (10-12)

17. Ogallala (25-0, Last Week #19)

Last Week: Won 69-43 vs. Valentine, Won 65-43 vs. Sidney

An 11-point win over Holdrege in the Southwest Conference semifinals remains the closest any team has come to knocking off Ogallala this season. There’s always some suspicion about teams out in Western Nebraska due to quality of opponents, but the Indians look like they can score against anybody. A win over Adams Central sends Ogallala back to Lincoln for the fifth time in six years.

This Week: Monday vs. Adams Central (12-11) at Gothenburg

18. Wahoo (23-1, Last Week #20)

Last Week: Won 71-28 vs. Neumann, Won 54-32 vs. AG

Wahoo perhaps sent the biggest message of any team in Nebraska last week when it ran out to a 31-14 halftime lead on Ashland-Greenwood in the subdistrict final. The Bluejays owned a 52-49 win over the Warriors on Dec. 20, lost three weeks later to Platteview but then won 13 in a row until this past week. Wahoo won 19 in a row after that one and clearly came in focused and ready. Only two opponents played the Warriors to single digits during that span.

This Week: Tuesday vs. St. Paul (10-11)

19. Omaha Central (14-10, Last Week #17)

Last Week: Lost 58-52 vs. Northeast

Central blew a 30-22 lead against Northeast two weeks ago then came out and put up 21 first-quarter points in Saturday’s district semifinal. But the Eagles went cold and only managed 10 total points over the next 16 minutes. Central leaves the season with its lowest win total since 2014 but with glances of what could be ahead in wins over Lincoln High and Skutt.

20. Omaha Bryan (13-10, Last Week #18)

Last Week: Lost 59-48 vs. North Star

Bryan ends the season with back-to-back losses but finishes with its highest win total in four years and put together just the third winning season out of the last 10. The Bears were down by five at half to North Star in the district semifinals then gave up 22 in the third quarter. Bryan also turned it over 16 times and shot just 35%. The Bears will bring back their two leading scorers next season but graduate the next three closest contributors.

21. Platteview (21-4, Last Week #23)

Last Week: Won 83-65 vs. Ralston, Won 58-35 vs. Gross

Platteview has just seven trips to state in school history and has only won two games in Lincoln. Seward stands in the way of a third straight appearance in the capital city. The Trojans have looked less invincible over the second half of the season but still have one of the all-time greats in Connor Millikan. He scored 60 points combined in the two subdistrict wins.

This Week: Tuesday vs. Seward (14-11)

22. Omaha North (11-12, Last Week #22)

Last Week: Lost 54-47 vs. Papio

The Vikings end the year with a losing record but also back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins. Neither side shot great in the district semifinal against Papio, but North committed 22 turnovers and lost the battle at the line 17-9. The Vikings will look to take another step next year after failing to beat any teams above .500 this winter.

23. Ashland-Greenwood (23-2)

Last Week: Won 54-41 (OT) vs. DC West, Lost 54-32 vs. Wahoo

The Bluejays did enough during the regular season to offset a surprising blowout loss to Wahoo, but needing overtime to get past DC West the game before might raise questions for some. But a two-game sample size is rarely a fair barometer. Teams are rarely as good or as bad as they look in any one or two games.

This Week: Monday vs. Winnebago (15-10)

24. Elkhorn (17-7, Last Week Unrated)

The Antlers make the ratings for the first time this year thanks to a win over Skutt – the first non-Class A team to hand the SkyHawks a defeat this season. And while it might sound like a fluke, Elkhorn looks to have found some late-season momentum at the right time. After starting 3-6, the Antlers are 14-1 and in search of a third trip to state in the last four years.

This Week: Tuesday vs. Gering (13-12)

25. Freeman (25-1, Last Week: #25)

Last Week: Won 66-40 vs. Johnson County Central, Won 39-35 vs. Tri County

The win over Tri County is revenge for the lone loss of the season back on Jan. 12 when the Trojans downed the Falcons 43-35 in the MUDECAS tournament. It’s been 13 wins in a row since then and the top seed for Class C-2 in the playoffs. The Falcons are in search of a third straight trip to Lincoln.

This Week: Monday vs. Oakland-Craig (10-12) 

Next 5: North Platte (14-9), Omaha Concordia (22-3), Pierce (22-3), Amherst (23-1), Doniphan-Trumbull (23-2)