March 11, 2022 | SPORTS | By Jackson Tanner | Photo by Daniel de Koning
This year’s Colorado State Championship has the best collection of talent in its history, and the Final Four is this weekend on March 11 and 12 at 7 p.m. If you miss the hype of high school fans roaring after a successful alley-oop, love studying basketball X’s and O’s, or just appreciate fashionable basketball jerseys (Denver East has very cool angel wings on their shorts), then it might be time to take the trip up I-25 to the Denver Coliseum for some playoff basketball.
If you do decide to make that trek up to Denver, here are a few teams that you are likely to see play.
Starting with the No. 1 ranked ThunderRidge Grizzlies, Zach Keller may be the best thing to ever happen to Colorado basketball since De’Ron Davis. This 4-star Wake Forest signee can score with ease, and won’t say anything more creative than “LET’S GO” repeatedly – one just doesn’t need any great one-liners when you are that size.
Listing off the heights of the Grizzlies’ starting lineup, 6-foot-10, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-5, 6-foot-4, and 6-foot-1, it sounds more like an NBA team from the early 2000s than a high school basketball team. This ThunderRidge team is both physically and figuratively head-and-shoulders above the rest of the teams in the state.
Almost every player on the team can shoot, attack from the perimeter, and switch 1-5, a rarity in Colorado High School Activities Association basketball. The team is a clear favorite to win it all, but their toughest test will come on Friday, March 11.
As the legendary head coach of their opponent, No. 4 Denver East, Rudy Carey has constructed another dangerous team. They are disciplined, physical, and their best players are solid at both ends of the floor.
The team finds its energy on defense with long guards like D’aundre Samuels, Quis Davis, and Corey Shively, who can pressure guards into turning the ball over and make a highlight play on the other end of the court. If East ever does allow a straight-line drive, it leads right to Aguir Dawam to swat it into the third row of the audience.
If the state championship were held in Denver East’s Panek Gymnasium, there would not be a question of who would come out on top. The energy in that building is top tier, even for Colorado standards – the “EAST SIDE” chants that rumble throughout that gym in a standing-room-only rivalry game is a much easier atmosphere for a Denver East Angel to play in than the scattered Denver Coliseum.
In the matchup, do not be shocked if ThunderRidge uses the zone that they used in the second half of the Elite 8 game again against Denver East.
This game will mainly come down to the matchup between Keller and Dawam: 4-star vs. a no-star. Keller has not faced a player like Dawam in the entire playoffs, and Dawam is bringing the same physical defense that he has brought all year to the big stage. Dawam and the entire East side need to have the games of their lives in order to keep Zach Keller’s hands full, but they are definitely capable of rising to the challenge.
On the other side of the bracket, the No. 2 Fossil Ridge Sabercats made the tournament the normal Colorado way: running. They push the ball in transition, they shoot, and it seems as if the shooter has already started running to grab a rebound before the ball has left his hands.
The only thing that makes this Fossil Ridge team different from other successful Colorado teams in years past is their size and athleticism.
With skilled guard Brock Mishak shifting defenses and Nick Randall catching lobs from half-court, they are a team that is not afraid to put up numbers by any means necessary.
It seemed as if during the regular season, the Fossil Ridge fan section was carried by the entire football team in attendance. Football players count for two regular fans on a rowdiness scale, but their fan section was still underwhelming. If the Fossil Ridge fan section is not up to par, then the audience in the Coliseum is going to feel awfully in favor of their opponent: The No. 3 Chaparral Wolverines.
The “Chap” Wolverines are the only team in the Final Four that has managed to beat ThunderRidge, a monumental feat that should cement the legitimacy of any team. The one-two punch of Luke Williams and Joel Speckman has caused problems for defenses, but Williams is going to need to maintain his production offensively for Chap to have a chance.
It is clear why Speckman is receiving D-1 looks. He has a sound post-game that will put up 15 points easily, but it is unclear if he can produce much more than that. Williams is going to need to have another stellar 30-point night for the Wolverines to win.
Fans of the Wolverines are so used to the Final Four, many of the Chap faithful did not even bother make the drive up to the Elite 8. Despite the lack of numbers, the fans surely made up for it in their rowdiness.
The focal point of the matchup will be whether Chaparral can handle the physicality that Fossil Ridge employs on the court. If they can make Fossil Ridge settle for jump shots and can rebound the basketball, they will win. However, this is unlikely to happen as Fossil Ridge has too much length and will expose mismatches. Chaparral lost to Fossil Ridge at home in December, with some of the loss due to Speckman being unable to guard Nick Randall, who dropped 29 points.
The Final Four will take place this weekend, March 11 and 12, at the Denver Coliseum. Both games will begin at 7 p.m.