MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s now January, one of the most fun times of year in high school sports.

The holidays are over, the Christmas tournaments are in the books and now it’s time for conference play to get into full swing around the state. That means that every night, teams are in for a battle.

There are few easy games left on anyone’s schedule, and sometimes that makes it important to schedule good teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule. No team knows that better and has succeeded in that philosophy better this year than Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

The Red Knights, who exited early from last year’s playoffs despite a 23-5 overall record, are arguably one of the best teams in the state this year, at least night row. They are definitely the hottest team in the state.

Benilde, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, is 7-1 on the season and three of those wins are over teams ranked in the top 10 in Class 4A. The team’s only loss came to Eastview, ranked No. 2 in Class 4A at the time, in the Breakdown Tipoff Classic.

In the span of about two weeks, the Red Knights knocked off No. 1-ranked Hopkins 76-71, topped No. 9-ranked Minnetonka 71-68 and pounded No. 5-ranked Eden Prairie 80-68 in a game that they led by more than 20 points for much of the second half.

The Red Knights have just the right combination of players to be the best team in the state, regardless of what class they’re in. They have at least two Division I players in Isaiah Zierden (19.1 points per game), Sanjay Lumpkin (18.9 points per game) and have two others who average double figures in Will Dunn and Isaiah Gray.

Benilde gets it done by being disciplined and unselfish on offense and aggressive on defense. If the state rankings hold, the Red Knights have gotten through the toughest part of their schedule already with flying colors. They face just two ranked opponents, both in early February, the rest of the season.

Things are always subject to change, but based on their first eight games Benilde should be the favorite to win the Class 3A title this year.

Other teams to keep an eye on:

Apple Valley: The Eagles are 6-1, ranked No. 6 in Class 4A and have the most talked about player in the state in Tyus Jones. He can score (he’s averaging nearly 28 points per game), pass, lead and even play defense, everything you would want in a point guard. Jones and the Eagles will be tested nightly in the South Suburban Conference.

Perham: After winning the Class 2A state championship last year, the Yellowjackets are ranked No. 1 currently and are 8-1 on the season. They just suffered their first loss to Ellsworth, the No. 3-ranked team in Class A.

Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa: The No. 1 team in Class A, a state runner-up last year, is currently 6-0 and has only been tested once. What’s most impressive? They’re doing it with just two seniors.


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