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CHSAA state basketball Final Four scouting report: Favorites, challengers, dark horses and underdogs

A look at each of the teams in the Class 6A, 5A and 4A Final 4 at Denver Coliseum this weekend:


Class 6A

Friday at Denver Coliseum

No. 8 Eaglecrest (20-6) vs. No. 4 ThunderRidge (21-5), 5:45 p.m.

No. 7 Smoky Hill (20-6) vs. No. 6 Valor Christian (24-2), 7:15 p.m.

Favorite — ThunderRidge: Can a four-seed really be considered a favorite? In this topsy-turvy 6A bracket? Yes. Throw in CU commit Andrew Crawford (14.2 ppg, 5.3 apg), senior running mates Charlie Spann (19.4 ppg) and Tommy Wight (14.9 ppg), and the Joe Ortiz mystique (four state titles), and there’s a lot to like about the Grizzlies.

Challenger — Valor Christian: How good are the Eagles? They got a “B” game from microwave scorer Cole Scherer (19 points, 5-of-12 shooting), and still ran third-seeded Chaparral off the Coliseum floor in a 66-46 Great 8 victory. The late-season heater from 6-foot-6 senior Ryan Dixon (16.7 ppg, 67.5% shooting last four games) certainly helps.

Dark horse — Eaglecrest: There is probably no better story in the tournament than LaDavian King (17.3 ppg, 3.8 apg), the junior point guard who collapsed on the floor during a game just two months ago and now has the Raptors two wins away from their first state title since 2017.

Underdog — Smoky Hill: Consider this an “entering uncharted territory” assessment. The Buffaloes have never won a state title, but only a special team pulls off the sort of magic the Buffaloes did in the final 4.7 seconds of their 63-62 win over Mountain Vista in the Great 8. Sophomore Carter Basquez’s buzzer-beater is now the stuff of legend.

Class 5A

Thursday at Denver Coliseum

No. 1 Northfield (24-2) vs. No. 4 Mesa Ridge (24-2), 4 p.m.

No. 2 Vista PEAK Prep (22-4) vs. No. 3 Windsor (22-4), 12:45 p.m.

Favorite — Mesa Ridge: Yup, another four-seed listed as a favorite. With the perimeter trio of senior Tevin Riehl, junior Bryce Riehl and senior Tanner Widic (47.1 points, 13.1 assists, 8.9 steals combined per game) and the swagger that comes with being defending champions, the Grizzlies are the team to beat.

Challenger — Vista PEAK Prep: Good luck to those who dare try to score on Kyree Polk in the paint this weekend. As Ponderosa learned when the 6-foot-10 senior swatted five shots in a 57-41 Great 8 loss to the Bison, either come to the key with a plan or Polk will send your shot into the fifth row.

Dark horse — Northfield: This is the second time the Nighthawks have reached the Final Four, but the first time they’ll actually play in one (thanks, COVID). If Northfield channels the energy it had in the fourth quarter of its come-from-behind win over Mead in the Great 8, watch out. This much we do know: Nobody will have a better student section.

Underdog — Windsor: If this were a ranking of live mascots, the Wizards win hands down. Windsor sophomore Madden Smiley (22 points on 7-of-12 shooting) was a problem for Vista PEAK Prep the one time these two teams met in the regular season. The other problem? The Bison won that game, 65-48.

Class 4A

Friday at Denver Coliseum

No. 1 Kent Denver (24-2) vs. No. 5 Colorado Academy (21-5), 12:45 p.m.

No. 2 Resurrection Christian (24-2) vs. No. 3 Lutheran (23-3), 4 p.m.

Favorite — Lutheran: We’re still trying to adjust our eyes after witnessing the supernova that was the Lions’ 65-31 annihilation of Riverdale Ridge in Saturday night’s Great 8 nightcap. A few numbers: 64.9% from the field, 7 of 9 from 3-point range, 10 for 10 from the free-throw line and, yes, 56-17 going into the fourth quarter. Yikes.

Challenger — Resurrection Christian: Is it possible the 4A championship gets decided in the Final Four? The one time Resurrection Christian and Lutheran met this season, the Lions walked away with a 70-64 win. Of course, the Cougars were the ones who knocked out Lutheran a year ago, and nearly all of the main characters are back.

Dark horse — Kent Denver: The Sun Devils roll players on and off the court like a hockey team, but 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Caleb Fay (21.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.6 apg) is clearly their Nathan MacKinnon. It’s been 11 years since Kent Denver last reached a championship game and 27 since the Sun Devils won one.

Underdog — Colorado Academy: The Mustangs’ 26-point third quarter against Pagosa Springs in the Great 8 was awfully impressive. So, too, was senior guard Simeon Woldeyohannes’ opening salvo (17 points in first 13 minutes). After splitting a pair with Kent Denver this season, do the Mustangs have another upset in them?


Class 6A

Thursday at Denver Coliseum

No. 1 Cherokee Trail (24-2) vs. No. 4 Valor Christian (21-4), 5:45 p.m.

No. 7 Regis Jesuit (19-7) vs. No. 3 Legend (24-2), 7:15 p.m.

Favorite — Cherokee Trail: As dominant as a team might be during the regular season, things always seem to tighten up inside the Coliseum. That appeared to be the case with the Cougars — unbeaten against Colorado teams this winter — when they trailed No. 8 Mullen at halftime in the Great 8. Another slow start like that could spell doom against Valor Christian.

Challenger — Valor Christian: Why? Because there wasn’t a single girls team that had a better first half than the Eagles last Thursday. A year removed from getting upset by Arapahoe, sophomore Camryn Gunter (16 points, 12 rebounds) and the Eagles jumped all over Rock Canyon to the tune of a 40-17 lead. Jessika Caldwell’s club is on a mission.

Dark horse — Legend: Can the Titans really go from qualifying for their first Final Four one week, to winning their first state championship the next? Given the team’s depth and defensive chops, the answer to that question is yes. They sure didn’t look fazed by the big stage in their 62-35 wire-to-wire win over No. 6 Horizon.

Underdog — Regis Jesuit: The Raiders were impressive in taking down second-seeded Cherry Creek in the Great 8, albeit with Creek’s top scorer Tianna Chambers wearing a knee brace on the bench. Now they have to beat a Legend team that handed them their last loss, 68-53, just three weeks ago.

Class 5A

Thursday at Denver Coliseum

No. 1 Air Academy (25-1) vs. No. 4 Northfield (23-3), 11 a.m.

No. 2 Roosevelt (24-2) vs. No. 3 Mead (22-4), 2:15 p.m.

Favorite — Roosevelt: Did the Rough Riders look a little shaky early on against Montrose last week? Yup. Should that be cause for concern for the defending 5A champions? Maybe. Still, when sophomore Kyla Hollier, junior Ryanne Bahnsen-Price and Co. lock in defensively, there aren’t a whole lot of teams that can hold up for 32 minutes.

Challenger — Air Academy: The Kadets got over the Great 8 hump against No. 8 Frederick last week in a come-from-behind 45-39 win, but it wasn’t easy. CSU commit Caitlin Kramer might be the best player left in the bracket. With Air Academy going roughly seven deep, she might have to be if the Kadets want to lift the trophy on Saturday.

Dark horse — Northfield: The Nighthawks are making their first visit to the Final Four after doing something no other team could over the previous three years: Beat Windsor prior to the championship round. The freshman duo of LaPorsha Allen (22 points) and Madison Bethel (18 points) are too young to know they should be nervous.

Underdog — Mead: The Mavericks needed an overtime miracle from Darby Haley just to make it to the Coliseum. Still, they looked pretty darn good ending Standley Lake’s Cinderella story in the Great 8. Now they’re the ones looking to pull off a shocker against Roosevelt.

Class 4A

Friday at Denver Coliseum

No. 1 Holy Family (24-2) vs. No. 4 Resurrection Christian (23-3), 2:15 p.m.

No. 2 D’Evelyn (23-3) vs. No. 3 Riverdale Ridge (23-3), 11 a.m.

Favorite — Holy Family: Until someone actually takes down the defending champion Tigers, who are unbeaten against 3A competition, they stay right in this spot. Even with Stanford commit Alexandra Eschmeyer in the middle, No. 8 Peak to Peak didn’t stand a chance in a 52-25 loss to the Contreraz sisters and Co.

Challenger — Riverdale Ridge: This could just as easily be D’Evelyn, which actually beat Riverdale Ridge in last year’s Great 8. And maybe it should be. But nobody playing in the Coliseum this weekend, regardless of classification, has a player quite like sophomore forward Brihanna Crittendon. Sometimes, that’s all that matters.

Dark horse — D’Evelyn: The Jaguars have lost a total of three games since the start of the 2022-23 season, with two coming against teams from higher classifications. The other one? An absolute heartbreaker to Holy Family in last year’s 4A title game. Senior Peyton Marvel and the Jaguars are itching for revenge. Getting past Riverdale Ridge might be even harder.

Underdog — Resurrection Christian: The Cougars land here only because this is a loaded bracket and somebody has to. Resurrection Christian put on a defensive clinic in its 53-44 victory over Pagosa Springs. Another one will be required to get past top seed Holy Family.

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