Varsity Kansas

Class 5A boys tournament preview

At Kansas Expocentre, Topeka

Wednesday’s Quarterfinals

3 p.m.: St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Lansing

No. 8 St. Thomas Aquinas (11-11) — The Saints are back in Topeka for the fourth time in the last six years, entering with at least nine losses each time. Neither team Aquinas beat in sub-state finished with a winning record. The Saints have a deliberate offensive attack, but senior John Kohnle and 6-foot-5 junior Adam Kutney are the ones to watch. The best shot at an upset is a half-court game, as Aquinas is 6-2 when holding teams to under 50 points.

No. 1 Lansing (22-1) — This marks the fifth time in the last six seasons the Lions are at state. Lansing enters unblemished with a 21.8 average margin of victory with only three games decided by single points. Senior Joe Schneider (16 points) leads a high-octane offense, which includes Zach Jackson and Khalil Bailey. But Lansing has to prove this team is reminiscent of last year’s team, which played in the title game, and not the four previous teams, all of which failed to medal.

4:45: Wichita Heights vs. Eisenhower

No. 5 Wichita Heights (18-4) — This isn’t the same squad that dominated Kansas for four years with Perry Ellis, but it is a program that has found its identity in the post-Ellis era. Ealy Bell is the leader, Semaj Hervey is the scorer, Davon Gill is the glue guy, and Tre King is the spark. The Falcons rely heavily on their defensive pressure to generate their offense, and if the game is played in the half-court, they will have something to prove.

No. 4 Eisenhower (21-1) — Eisenhower’s gym has been a highlight-reel factory with dynamic athletes such as Trevon Evans (21 points) and Tyler Buchanan (14 points). There’s no questioning the Tigers have an explosive offense (seven games of 80-plus) and they are equipped with five seniors playing critical roles. The presence of Evans alone makes Eisenhower, in search of its first postseason win, a favorite.

6:30: Salina Central vs. Hays

No. 7 Salina Central (13-9) — After three straight years of losing on a buzzer-beater in a sub-state final, Salina Central finally had its luck reversed last week when Rashun Allen banked in a three-pointer in overtime to qualify for the first time since 2009. The Mustangs recovered from a mid-season swoon, when they lost five of seven games in February. Treyton Hines (17 points) and Jordan McNelly (17 points, 10 rebounds) give Central hope.

No. 2 Hays (22-0) — The Indians are undefeated against a mostly downtrodden schedule, but they were validated in their midseason tournament when they defeated Wichita East in the Dodge City title game. Six solid seniors and 6-foot-7 junior Brady Werth, a skilled post, give Hays the flexibility to win every type of game and make it a legitimate threat to win its first state title since 1944.

8:15: KC Washington vs. Highland Park

No. 6 Kansas City Washington (17-5) — The Wildcats feasted off a favorable schedule, not defeating a winning team the entire season and losing the three times they did play one. But Washington is dangerous, brimming with confidence due to an eight-game winning streak and possessing tremendous players in guards Jeremee Bennett (22 points), James McNeal (16 points) and 6-foot-7 post William Jefferson (9 points, 7 rebounds).

No. 3 Highland Park (21-1) — The defending Class 4A champions were bumped back up to 5A after one season away, but the success stayed the same. The Scots won by an average of 19 points and only played three games decided by single digits. Even though Highland Park may have to go through two undefeated teams to win a title, seniors Shaffee Carr and Jahmal McMurray have the scoring power to do it.

Friday’s semifinals

Lansing-Aquinas winner vs. Eisenhower-Wichita Heights winner, 4:45 p.m.

Hays-Salina Central winner vs. Highland Park-KC Washington winner, 8:15

Saturday’s finals

Third-place game, 2 p.m.

Championship game, 6:15

Joanna Chadwick’s picks

Highland Park over Eisenhower

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