When the first games of the high school basketball season officially tip off Thursday night across Nebraska, the race is on to see if two boys teams can repeat as state champions.
But in their path are a few other teams worthy of earning the gold when tournament time rolls around in March.
Creighton Prep, who got a triple overtime challenge in the quarterfinals from Lincoln Pius X in Class A last March, will have a target on their back. Bellevue West, Omaha Central, Omaha Westside and Omaha Burke are just a few of the many metro teams that could give them problems. Each of them could very well be worthy of the top spot.
Prep is our preseason No. 1 team in the Union Bank Class A boys basketball top ten. The Junior Jays will heavily be leaning toward Akol Arop, the Nebraska basketball commit, as the focus of their offense.
Bellevue West is our No. 2 team and the Thunderbirds, who have won in Lincoln in the past five years, are another team from the Metro Conference that could hold the top spot should Prep fall early in the season.
The rest of the top ten has Central at No. 3, Westside at No. 4 and Millard North rounding out the top five. Burke, with loads of talent with Xavier Watts leading the way, comes in at No. 6, then Lincoln North Star at No. 7. The Navigators are expected to have a much better campaign this season, with another Husker basketball commit in Donovan Williams expected to have another great season.
Lincoln Southwest is No. 8 because of their athleticism and experience. Cam Frederick, a Creighton baseball recruit, is a three-year letterman and starting guard that will have a good supporting cast to help out. This may be Coach Alex Bahe's best squad since he's been at Southwest.
Kearney comes in at No. 9, with senior post player and Liberty commit Shiloh Robinson expected to have a great senior campaign, after missing all of his junior year with a wrist injury. The Bearcats will also adjust without Kanon Koster, who is gone due to graduation.
Finally, Lincoln East is at No. 10.
The Spartans, who finished 24-2 and an early exit from the State Tournament, may surprise a few teams. Connor Riekenberg is the only returning starter, but the Nebraska Wesleyan basketball commit will get some help out front from Changkouth Deng, Peyton Stoppel and Danny Witherby.
East lost some size on the perimeter and inside, but 6-6 senior Wes Dreamer will help fill the void. The transfer from Elmwood-Murdock could be tough to handle close to the basket. The Spartans are hoping to gel at the right time.
Dropping down from Class A to Class B will be Lincoln Pius X.
The Thunderbolts, with experience back from Charlie Easley, Kolbe Rada and Austin Jablonski among others, may be the juggernaut no one in Class B was expecting. Based on what Pius X had last season for talent that's returning and how they pressured Prep in the Class A quarterfinal, the 'Bolts are our No. 2 team in the Union Bank Class B rankings.
Defending Class B champ York is No. 1. Garrett Snodgrass and Brady Danielson are the two guys the Dukes will rely on for another possible return trip to State. York will not be easy to handle for a lot of teams. Although, seeing a Pius X/York match up later in the year (likely in the post season) would be worth the price of admission.
Even No. 3 Omaha Skutt could be part of that equation. The SkyHawks are fresh off an undefeated state championship run in football and would like to do what York did a year ago and add a state basketball title to the trophy case in the same school year.
The rest of Class B shakes out with Bennington at No. 4, followed by Seward, Omaha Roncalli, Blair, Elkhorn Mount Michael, Scottsbluff and Aurora. SOUTHWEST, SOUTH SIOUX CITY ARE TOP PICKS IN GIRLS HOOPS RATINGS
Two seasons removed from winning their first state title, the Lincoln Southwest girls basketball team comes in as No. 1 in our Union Bank Girls Class A Top Ten rankings.
Athleticism, experience and some depth are what put the Silver Hawks in the top spot. Hannah Kelle, who just signed to play basketball at Illinois State, and Jaden Ferguson (a Northwest Missouri State volleyball recruit) join Emerson Barada, Emma Kauf (Georgia Tech softball recruit) and Raegen Wells as leftovers from that 2017 championship squad.
Millard South is No. 2, after finishing the past two seasons as state runner-up, could make a big push for the top spot during the year. The Patriots will be led by senior and South Dakota commit Maddie Krull, who would like to finish her high school career with a state championship.
Millard North comes in at No. 3, followed by Papillion-LaVista, Lincoln East, Omaha Marian, Lincoln Pius X, defending state champ Omaha Westside, then Lincoln Northeast and Lincoln High rounds out the top ten.
In Lincoln, the race between Southwest, East, Pius X, Lincoln High and Northeast could get interesting. This may be one of the best seasons for girls basketball in a long time.
Speaking of Northeast, the Rockets get junior guard McKenna Minter back after missing most of her sophomore season with a knee injury. Minter may continue to draw more Division I interest this season.
Lincoln High's talent with Nyayongah Gony and Natayah Wilson from last year's state tournament team, plus the addition of Kaysia Woods from Northeast will make the Links a team to be reckoned with by the time districts start. First year head coach Dominque Kelley-Johnson is eager to see what her team can do and continue to develop the program.
Should be no surprise to see South Sioux City as our Class B preseason No. 1.
The Cardinals, who won State in 2017 and finished runner-up last season, have McKenna Sims back. Like Kelle at Southwest, Sims signed to play college basketball at Illinois State.
Seward is our No. 2 team, followed by Elkhorn South, Sidney and defending state champ Elkhorn rounds out the top five. Hastings, Omaha Gross, Omaha Skutt, York and Beatrice make up the rest of the top ten. Class B could be just as interesting as Class A.
To see a more in-depth look at our area boys and girls basketball teams, check out the article links on our main page.PUTTING A WRAP ON FOOTBALL
Class A's championship with Omaha Burke and Grand Island definitely was worth seeing. The Bulldogs captured their first state football title in the playoff system, after two previous attempts (1980 and 2011) fell short.
Burke will be back in the fold next season for sure, as well as Grand Island. There was hope with the recent passing of former Islander head coach Ken Fischer that the squad could bring home their first state football title in 40 years. Fischer coached Grand Island's only state title team in the playoff system, a 31-7 victory over Creighton Prep in 1978.
Other first time winners include Centennial in Class C2, Creighton in Class D1 and Johnson-Brock in Class D2. Aurora won the C1 title, while Skutt ran away with the Class B championship.