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Boys Basketball Playoff Preview: Monroe looks to put it all together
NG, Darlington primed for possible runs to sectionals; Six Rivers teams face gauntlet
Monroe seniors Kade King (24) and Michael Lange (15) are looking to keep their season going on as long as possible with a deep playoff run in Division 2. - photo by Adam Krebs

MONROE — The Cheesemakers have struggled to find their identity this season. The year has been filled with highs and lows. The team’s potential — given its size and talent — has instilled fear into opponents, while the team’s general youth and lack of experience has at times led to aggressive head scratching and frustration on the bench and in the crowd.

The Jekyll and Hyde Cheesemakers (11-10 as of Feb. 20) stunned then-unbeaten and ninth-ranked Monona Grove on Dec. 11, only to blow a 10-point second half lead to the Silver Eagles (15-5) Feb. 1. On Dec. 7, Monroe led Oregon (9-4) by 20 only to lose by 10. Three days after the MG defeat, the Cheesemakers used a 20-0 run in the second half to beat Oregon 67-50 on the road.

Led by 6-foot-6 senior big man Kade King (14.7 points per game), the Cheesemakers have size other teams can only dream about. Joining King in the starting lineup for the regular season home finale win over Watertown was senior Michael Lange (6-4), sophomore Cade Meyer (6-7) and freshman JT Seagreaves (6-5). Coming off the bench in regular rotation are senior Nick Schumacher (6-1), junior Aaron Ziolkowski (6-3), sophomore Max Golembiewski (6-2) and senior Hunter Huschitt (6-4). In terms of height, only speedy freshman guard Carson Leuzinger — listed at 6-0 — is the odd man out.

Who plays where ...

Regional quarterfinals of the WIAA boys basketball playoffs begins 

Feb. 26. All games at 7 p.m.

■  Division 2: Sauk Prairie (7-14) at Monroe (11-10)

■  Division 4: Montello (5-15) at Brodhead (4-16)

■  Division 4: Luther Prep/Cashton winner at New Glarus (19-2), March 1

■  Division 4: Lancaster/Aquinas winner at Darlington (18-2), March 1

■  Division 5: Central Wis. Christian (12-9) at Monticello (11-10)

■  Division 5: Argyle (6-13) at Fall River (11-9)

■  Division 5: Madison Country Day (6-13) at Pecatonica (15-6)

■  Division 5: Albany (8-12) at Cambria-Friesland (15-5)

■  Division 5: Johnson Creek (9-11) at Black Hawk (10-11) 

■  Division 5: Juda (1-19) at Rio (16-4)

“Every team has one guy that’s big, so they have to put him on Kade. But nobody’s got a Cade Meyer; nobody’s got a Mike Lange or a Seagreaves,” Monroe head coach Brian Bassett said. “We can take turns posting them inside. Kade King is such a good passer, we can pull him out and he can find guys with such good looks.”

Meyer (10.9 ppg) has given the Cheesemakers a boost throughout the year with his offense. His ability to play inside and out often pulls an extra defender away from King, who can also hit shots from anywhere on the floor. Perhaps Meyer’s biggest advantage is his knack to throw down highlight-reel dunks that puts the crowd on their feet.

Schumacher (8.9) is a guard that brings not only experience but 1-on-1 playmaking ability. Oftentimes when needing a spark, the Cheesemaker offense will spread wide and let Schumacher drive to the hoop. If a help-defender drops, “Schu,” as they call him, typically finds the open man with his elite court vision.

When the talent is on display and the machine is rolling, spectators might think this Cheesemakers team is ready for a run to the Kohl Center. But the team also has disappeared for 5-10 minutes at a time, sometimes to the point of forgetting how to pass and dribble, let alone make shots. Opposing teams — and usually veteran teams with high expectations like MG, Oregon and Stoughton (11-10) — take advantage of the lulls mid-game.

“We’re only going to go as far as our seniors take us, it’s that simple,” Bassett said.

Every team has one guy that’s big, so they have to put him on Kade. But nobody’s got a Cade Meyer; nobody’s got a Mike Lange or a Seagreaves.
Monroe coach Brian Bassett

In the opening round of the WIAA Division 2 playoffs, the Cheesemakers will host Sauk Prairie (7-14) Feb. 26. A win would pit Monroe against ninth-ranked and top-seeded Mount Horeb (18-3), which would arguably be the toughest task this season.

“We’re really trying to get everything clicking here before playoffs,” King said.

Sauk Prairie has three players averaging double-figures — Jack Henderson (13.0), Trevor Spray (12.3) and Spencer Breunig (11.5). All three are 6-4 and taller, and all three are upperclassmen.

Mount Horeb features its own triple threat of skilled seniors. Bryce Farnsworth (6-5) plays on the wing and is averaging 9.9 points per game and has a knack for pulling up from deep, hitting 46 of 106 attempts (43.4 percent) from beyond the arc. Jason Larson (6-5) is averaging 16.9 points per game and while he can hit shots from the perimeter, he tends to spend a lot of time driving to the hoop. Gunnar Nortman (6-2) is averaging 17 points per game at guard, while rarely feeling the need to pull up from deep.

The Vikings were the conference champions in the Badger North and feel they have unfinished business after getting bumped by then-one-loss MG in the regional final in 2018.

kreklow basketball
New Glarus senior Jaden Kreklow is averaging more than 21 points per game for the Glarner Knights, which have lost just two games and have spent the entire season ranked in the top 10 in the state. - photo by Marissa Weiher
Division 4

Darlington and New Glarus have spent the better part of the boys basketball season ranked in the top 10 in Division 4 in various polls. The Knights lost just one game during the 2017-18 season, and are 19-2 with a game left in the regular season this year.Senior all-state guard Jaden Kreklow (21.7 ppg) is the engine that drives the Knights on the court. He is the school’s all-time leader in both points and assists, and frustrates opposing teams with his quick hands on defense and his ability to drive to the rim seemingly at will. Senior Zach Feller (12.5) has range from the outside, as well as quickness that also gives opposing teams trouble at both ends of the court. Trevor Gassman (11.7 ppg) who plays bigger in the post than his size (6-1) would lead spectators’ eyes to believe. Mason Martinson (10.4 ppg) is the closest thing the Knights have to a true-big man (6-2), and junior Connor Siegenthaler (6.2) has the ability to hit shots from around the court when called upon.

What New Glarus brings to the table in each game is a fast-paced, up-and-down game that generally sees the Knights scoring 70 or more points. New Glarus is averaging 76.1 points per game, but has reached 90 or more five times, including a 100-point performance against Waterloo Jan. 24.

In Darlington, defense is the name of the game, while a half-court, controlled offense — much akin to the Wisconsin Badgers-style of play — scores the points, unlike the up-and-down play of the Knights.

Senior forward Stryker Fitzsimons (16.3 ppg) is the leading scorer for the Redbirds. A true leader on the court, Fitzsimons takes the blame when things go awry or praises his teammates when good fortunes prevail. Sophomore Carter Lancaster (15.3 ppg) is another big man that can make shots from anywhere on the floor. From there, Darlington banks much of the rest of its scoring evenly on the other six remaining rotational players. 

We’re really trying to get everything clicking here before playoffs.
Monroe senior Kade King

New Glarus opened the year as the state’s top-ranked team — one spot ahead of defending champion Roncalli. While Roncalli is unbeaten and now the No. 1 team, New Glarus has lost just two games — both to ranked teams — Mineral Point (15-5) and … Darlington.

The Redbirds (18-2) weren’t ranked in the first polls of the year, but after knocking down titan after titan — including Mineral Point — Darlington jumped into the rankings at No. 6 in Week 2. The ‘Birds climbed as high as No. 2 after topping the Knights Dec. 20, but recent losses to Wisconsin Heights (14-6) and Mineral Point have dropped Darlington to fourth. New Glarus remains seventh, while Mineral Point is 10th.

What does this mean for Division 4? It means the top half of Sectional No. 3 is going to be very competitive — arguably the most competitive of any half sectional in the state.

Darlington earned its No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. The Redbirds will host the winner of Lancaster (6-14) and Aquinas (8-12) in the regional semifinal March 1, and the winner will play the following night for the regional title against either Wisconsin Heights, Brookwood (6-14) or fourth-seeded Fennimore (17-4). Darlington swept Fennimore in the regular season this year on their way to a conference title.

New Glarus scored the No. 2 seed and a bye as well. The Knights will host either Cashton (12-9) or Watertown Luther Prep (13-8) March 1. A potential re-match against third-seeded Mineral Point could await the Knights in the regional final. Cuba City (15-6) and Boscobel (5-14) will battle in Round 1 for the chance to knock off the Pointers.

Stryker 1
Darlington senior Stryker Fitzsimons is averaging 16.3 points per game this season and is the only player in his sectional that has played in a state championship before (2017). - photo by Adam Krebs

That means a potential Darlington-New Glarus rematch could be in place in the sectional semifinal March 7 at Reedsburg. The winner would then play March 9 in Middleton for the rights to go to play at the Kohl Center. Only Fitzsimons (as a sophomore) has played at state of any player in the sectional.

On the other side of the Sectional No. 3 bracket is Brodhead (4-16), a seven-seed. The Cardinals open play at home against Montello (5-15) Feb. 26 in the first round. The winner would head to Belleville (9-9) for the regional semifinal March 1. Markesan (10-10), Pardeeville (7-13) and Parkview (14-6) are the other top seeds in the bottom half of the bracket. Pardeeville beat New Glarus a season ago with a senior-laden team in sectionals and advanced to state.

Division 5

The only team with a first-round bye in Division 5 is top-ranked Randolph (21-0), which will host the winner of Central Wisconsin Christian (12-9) at Monticello (11-10). The Ponies are led in scoring by sophomore Peter Gustafson (17.1 ppg), junior Reece Rufer (12.9 ppg) and senior Jeffrey Ace (10.0 ppg).

After finishing second in the Six Rivers East, Pecatonica (15-6) earned a No. 4 seed and will host Madison Country Day (6-13) in the first round of the playoffs Feb. 26. The Vikings have senior guards Colton Schraepfer (16.7 ppg) and Jaden Hendrickson (17.0) pacing the offense, while a slew of solid role players to round out the lineup.

Connor Meyer
Black Hawk, led by senior Conner Meyer (23), is looking to make a splash in the WIAA Division 5 boys basketball tournament. On the other side of the sectional, Pecatonica, led by seniors Colton Schraepfer (1) and Zack Eaton, will have to get through the state’s No. 1-ranked team in unbeaten Randolph in order to win the regional title. - photo by Adam Krebs

With a victory, Pecatonica would then face the winner of fifth-seeded Fall River (11-9) and rival Argyle (6-13), which lost by a single point to the Vikings in mid-February. The Orioles have struggled this year, but have found a way to stay in games when Gavin Johnson and Clay Ritschard can consistently put the ball in the hoop.

Further down the Division 5 Sectional 4 bracket, No. 11 Albany (8-12) travels to Cambria-Friesland (15-5) with the winner playing the winner of Madison Abundant Life-St. Ambrose (1-21) and Six Rivers East champion Barneveld (12-7). The Comets rely on senior guard Josh Dahl to steer the offense, while Corbin Kelley has an outside shot that keeps opposing teams honest. Barneveld struggled early on in the year, losing 5 of 7 to open the year, but found its groove in late December. The Eagles are 10-2 in their past 12 games.

Black Hawk (10-11) is the seventh-seed and hosts Johnson Creek (9-11), while Juda (1-19) travels to face No. 2 Rio (16-4). The winners would meet in the regional semifinal matchup March 1. The Warriors have three players (all seniors) averaging double figures — sharpshooter Kyle Lovelace (10.6), slashing guard Colby Argall (15.5) and the school’s all-time scoring leader Conner Meyer (18.4). 

Juda has struggled all season, but picked up its first win of the season Feb. 16 against Argyle and lost to Albany by a point two days later. The Panthers live-and-die by the 3-pointer, which makes up over half of all their shots taken. But a 24.8 percent success rate on shots from deep leaves opponents less then worried about defending the perimeter.