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Hoops madness gets underway Up North as Duluth area separates its contenders from its pretenders

The hysteria that is the four-class Minnesota prep basketball playoff has begun across the state as each school hopes to put it all together for a run at one of the 32 Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament bids.

The hysteria that is the four-class Minnesota prep basketball playoff has begun across the state as each school hopes to put it all together for a run at one of the 32 Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament bids.
The Duluth area has a number of entrants with shots at a state tournament birth including Duluth East, the only 4A team in the area, Cloquet, Denfeld, Central (all 3A teams) and Proctor, the area's lone 2A representative left in the race.
The Greyhounds are led into the playoffs by arguably the state's top player, Rick Rickert, who is averaging 29.7 points per game. Another Greyhound big man, Colin Ellefson, has been streaky for East this season, but can be counted on to support Rickert in the playoffs as his 15.1 points per game average attests to.
East, the state's No. 10 team according to Varsity Online, begins its quest for a state tourney appearance Thursday night when it hosts Section 8AAAA's No. 6 seed, the Bemidji Lumberjacks, at 7 p.m.
Awaiting the winner is second-seeded Moorhead, 18-4, which will host the semifinal game on Saturday. Barring a massive upset, No. 1 seed St. Cloud Apollo, 19-3, will be waiting in the championship game, to be played at a neutral site next Thursday, March 16.
Cloquet has cooled off recently and finished second in the Lake Superior Conference. The Lumberjacks, however, are still the Section 7AAA favorite and draw eighth-seeded Virginia in Saturday's first round. The Lumberjacks are led by the LSC's leading scorer, Mike Johnson, and his 24.2 points per game average.
The dark horse of the section may be third-seeded Duluth Denfeld, 12-10, which boasts the conference's No. 2 scorer, Sean Seaman. The Hunters host No. 6 Hibbing on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Duluth Central, led by the balanced attack of Pete Singler (13.3 ppg), Brian Gray (11.6 ppg) and Louis Knox (9.5 ppg), earned the section's No. 4 seed and hosts a Grand Rapids team that won the Iron Range Conference with a 6-1 record, but finished 6-16 overall.
Proctor, fresh off an 82-50 drubbing of Eveleth-Gilbert in the first round of the 16-team Section 7AA playoffs, takes on a Scrappy Mesabi East team, Saturday at UMD's Romano Gymnasium, with the tip-off set for 7:45 p.m. The Rails are led by calm and collected big man Chris Rauschenfels, who breached the school's 1,000 point club this season.
Rauschenfels is averaging 17.3 points per game, good for fifth in the LSC, and draws support from his teammate Eric Yamry, who can be counted on for 14.3 points per game, his season average.
Rory Johnson's Rails are 18-5 and have a legitimate shot at state if they can get by Moose Lake/Willow River, 20-1, and Pine River-Backus, 18-3.

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