Now we have a third team from the past five years to include in debates about the all-time bests in Nebraska boys basketball.
Omaha South, its sole loss to last year’s Colorado champions, completed a 28-1 season Saturday with its 59-50 win over Fremont for the Packers’ first Class A title since 1990.
So how do the Packers compare to Omaha Central’s championship teams from 2012 (30-0) and 2013 (26-4)?
Either Eagle team has a case for being considered better than the other — a deeper bench in 2012 vs. a formidable six-man rotation in 2013; an undefeated record in 2012 vs. two losses at a national tournament and two more when current UNO standout Tra-Deon Hollins was hurt in 2013; a record waltz of 25 points a game per win through the state tournament in 2013 vs. a first-round scare in 2012?
Then look at South: A six-man rotation also full of college potential; not undefeated, but its loss was to an out-of-state power; and a three-game run through the state tournament by an average of 17 points with the closest game a nine-pointer in the finals.
A couple of longtime observers, former Lincoln Northeast and Millard North coach Chip Bahe and Bellevue West’s Doug Woodard, were asked for their take on the Packers.
Bahe said, “I told a lot of people, in my opinion, South resembles Central when you used to say to your teams, ‘Hey, you have this one-time shot,’ but it was a lie because you knew they’d win 10 of 10 times. South had the ability to find another gear and I felt it was with its defense.
“They’re as good as anybody in the past 15, 20 years. Just their athleticism alone beat a lot of teams. This crew is in the discussion for how they did it, how businesslike they were.”
A missing piece in the Packers, Bahe said, was not having a consistent 3-point shooter.
Woodard, whose 2005 one-loss team would be in the broader discussion of all-time bests, agreed South should be included.
“If the top eight or so were put on a bracket, they’d acquit themselves pretty well,” he said.
South’s short bench would be a factor, he said, as it would be for 2013 Central, in a three-game tournament.
“I think those Central teams were better, although others will have a different perspective,” Woodard said. “I don’t think basketball in the state was as strong as 2012 or 2013 or like 2005.
“I’m probably splitting hairs. South didn’t have one player as dominant as Akoy Agau. He controlled the defensive end and it was hard to get to the rim. Especially in big games he was such a difference maker. And look what Tra-Deon is doing at the D-I level. They had a couple difference makers, and how often do you see one inside and another on the perimeter on the same team?”
You can bet the next time there is a re-rate of the all-time best, the Packers will be in the mix.
A peek at 2017?
If Class A’s rosters were frozen as of now, in other words no player transfers (yeah, right), what teams should contend next season?
Omaha Central, with Roman Behrens, Jordan Flowers and Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler. Papillion-La Vista, with Ed Chang and Ayo Akinwole plus two more starters. Norfolk, with Logan Strom and three other starters. Millard West, with Shae Wyatt and two other starters. Lincoln Northeast, with Tyson Shadegg, Trace Tupper and Malcolm Whitlow among an intact lineup. Lincoln East, which loses only three seniors.
Kearney returns Jake Teichmeier and Kanon Koster. Omaha Burke’s Shereef Mitchell and Junub Char were sophomores.
Fremont will be starting over. Omaha Creighton Prep will be, too, though there’s always talent coming up in the Junior Jays’ pipeline.
And South returns only Aguek Arop, who said after the final, “I think the future looks promising. I feel we’ll be back here next year.”
Big year for Fremont
It was a memorable run to the finals for final Top 10 No. 2 Fremont, which hadn’t been there since 1961. A win over Norfolk for the first time in 14 games dating to the 2002-03 season, followed by an overtime win over Omaha Creighton Prep in the semifinals.
“It was so great for our community and our school,” coach Mark Williams said. “I’m proud to be from Fremont High School. We haven’t been in a state championship in one of the bigger sports in a long time, and 55 years is a heckuva long time.
“To beat Norfolk and to beat Prep and maybe silence some of the doubters out there about how good a basketball team that we are, because if (South) is No. 1 then I think we’re No. 2. I thought we played outstanding during the season. The two other losses we had, we avenged. I couldn’t be prouder of what we did. It was sure fun. We knew it was going to end today. We just wanted to end it a little different.”
Doubters? I certainly was one. Because of the schedule assigned to them, the Tigers were 2-1 in the regular season against tournament teams — a very small sample size, and none of the games were against the powers of the Metro Conference — and they had played the weakest aggregate schedule (its opponents were .431; Omaha Central was next at .466) of the eight at state.
But the Tigers went to state and made a statement.
Fremont’s final ranking is its highest since 1957. Wait, didn’t the Tigers win the Class A tournament in 1961?
They did, but our Gregg McBride ranked Omaha Benson — upset by Boys Town in districts — ahead of the Tigers. Just as happened in 1957, when all three schools were involved. Fremont was ranked No. 1 at the end though upset by Benson in districts, and state tournament winner Boys Town — with three more losses than Fremont — was second.
Champs in final Top 10
The final Top 10 includes three lower-class champions — Gretna from Class B at No. 6, Wahoo Neumann from C-1 at No. 7 and Hastings St. Cecilia from Class C-2 at No. 8.
Gretna, winning for the first time since 1982, finished 27-1. Neumann (26-2) lost only to St. Cecilia, splitting games with the Bluehawks, and to Class B semifinalist Aurora in overtime.
St. Cecilia (24-4), a state champion for the fifth time in nine years, also lost two close games to C-1 No. 3 Columbus Scotus. Its other loss was to a 20-win Beatrice squad from Class B.
» Class A: South went wire-to-wire at No. 1. The Packers also finished atop the Top 10 in their 1960 and 1990 title seasons.
» Class B: Gretna was the preseason favorite. The Dragons are No. 1 for the first time since 1982.
» Class C-1: Neumann was the preseason favorite. The Cavs are ratings champions for the fifth time. They also were No. 7 in the Top 10 in 2003.
» Class C-2: St. Cecilia was the preseason favorite. The Bluehawks are ratings champions for the seventh time, and their final Top 10 ranking follows last year’s No. 10 inclusion.
» Class D-1: Nebraska City Lourdes, a first-time champion, was fourth in the preseason. Preseason favorite High Plains finished fourth.
» Class D-2: Humphrey St. Francis started at No. 2 in the preseason. The early favorite, Riverside, finished third.
St. Francis is the sixth D-2 champion and second in a row, after Exeter-Milligan, to win state titles in football and basketball in the same season.
Back on top
With four preseason favorites fulfilling their prediction with state titles, it was an easy win over colleague Mike Patterson in the seasonal battle of tourney picks. Poor Mike only went 1 of 6. Better luck next fall.
All-state forms needed
Coaches are reminded that all-state nominations are due Tuesday, along with final stats for Class A, Class B and Omaha-area schools.
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