Basketball at the break: Storylines, surprises and looking ahead

Denver East Cherokee Trail boys basketball

(Kevin Keyser/KeyserImages.com)

As the 2013-14 basketball season emerges from its annual winter break on Thursday, we take a look at where things stand:

Boys

Fossil Ridge started the preseason ranked No. 6 in 5A, so it's not as though the SaberCats weren't on anyone's radar. Still, at the break, Fossil Ridge (8-0) has perhaps the most impressive resume of any big-school basketball team.

Among the wins? Defending champion Eaglecrest, at the time ranked No. 3; Grandview, which has since won five in a row and is now ranked No. 8; then-No. 5 Highlands Ranch; and Thompson Valley, at the time 4A's No. 2 team.

The start has been so impressive that the SaberCats got eight of 19 first-place votes in the most recent CHSAANow.com poll. They still sit No. 2, behind everyone's presumptive favorite, Denver East, but are at this point a serious contender.

The SaberCats have three players averaging double figures, all seniors: Brandon Bodnar (13.4 points), Evan Smith (12.8) and Alex Semadeni (11.3). As a team, their 69.8 points per game rank sixth in 5A.

Surprise team: Mountain Vista.

The Golden Eagles are unbeaten (8-0) and opened at No. 8 in the preseason, but not many people are talking about them. Here's the surprise: The No. 5 Golden Eagles lead the state in scoring (85.1 points) and assists (22.1), and also lead 5A in rebounding (36.1) and steals (15.4), and rank third in blocks (5.8) and free-throws made (129). This is a complete team which should also be counted as a serious contender in 5A.

Jake Pemberton (19.1 points, 7.1 assists) is a dynamic player who led Mountain Vista to the final four for the first time in school history a season ago.

Denver East Cherokee Trail boys basketball

Denver East's Dominique Collier. (Kevin Keyser/KeyserImages.com)

Looking ahead: Denver East remains the favorite in 5A, and the early-season performance against a tough schedule has reinforced the talent the Angels have.

Already, East has been to two out-of-state tournaments and played national-caliber competition. They are 7-2, but both losses came in Florida just prior to the winter break. (The Angels are 3-0 in Colorado, with wins over Cherokee Trail, Cherry Creek and Eaglecrest.)

CU recruit Dominique Collier again looks like a player of the year candidate (21.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 3.3 steals per game) and his supporting cast is among the best with seniors Ronnie Harrell and Jevon Griffin and junior Brian Carey.

It's early, but there seem to be clear-cut favorites in the other classes, as well. None of the No. 1 teams have changed since the preseason.

Valor Christian, in search of its first boys basketball championship in 4A, already owns six wins over 5A teams.

Holy Family, 7-0 in 3A, is outscoring its opponents by an average of 34 points per game this season.

Stat leaders:

Points: 
1. Dylan Clark (Sand Creek, Sr.): 26.7
2. Marcus Asmus (Standley Lake, Sr.): 26.0
T3. Brandon Book (Swink, Sr.): 25.8
T3. Nathan Hagemeyer (Ridgway, Sr.): 25.8
T5. Brady Baer (Akron, Sr.): 25.2
T5. Jack Buckmelter (Colorado Academy, So.): 25.2

Rebounds: 
1. Ibrahim Sylla (Denver South, Sr.): 13.1
2. Marcus Asmus (Standley Lake, Sr.): 12.9
3. Tim Rutter (Eagle Ridge Academy, Sr.): 12.5
4. Zach Braxton (Highlands Ranch, Sr.): 12.4
5. Blake Warren (La Veta, Sr.): 12.2

Assists:
1. Connor Fiscus (Merino, Jr.): 7.8
2. Nathan Akers (Front Range Baptist, Sr.): 7.2
3. Jake Pemberton (Mountain Vista, Sr.): 7.1
T4. Mikail Lowney (Frederick, Jr.): 6.3
T4. Grant Witherspoon (D'Evelyn, Jr.): 6.3

Girls

(Jack Eberhard/JacksActionShots.com)

(Jack Eberhard/JacksActionShots.com)

The 5A girls field is extremely deep this year. Everyone knows about top-ranked Regis Jesuit and its impressive college-bound talent, but Highlands Ranch, ThunderRidge and others should make this a fun stretch run.

Consider that at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix just prior to the break Highlands Ranch, Castle View and Cherry Creek all won their divisions. Grandview and Rock Canyon played in the title games. That tournament draws top teams from around the country.

Defending champion Regis Jesuit remains the favorite. But the list of challengers seems to grow by the day. Among them are teams like Fossil Ridge and Lakewood -- both off to surprising 8-0 starts -- or Ralston Valley, which joined the most recent CHSAANow.com ranking at No. 10.

Chaparral Lakewood girls basketball

(Kevin Keyser/KeyserImages.com)

Surprise team: Lakewood.

The Tigers did get 18 votes in the preseason poll, but ultimately went unranked until Dec. 13. Now No. 6 with wins over Mountain Vista and Chaparral under its belt, Lakewood has a real opportunity to show it belongs in the top-5. It plays Ralston Valley on Jan. 4, and also has a looming date with Castle View.

Sophomore Mackenzie Forrest has been a star thus far, averaging 20.9 points, 5.4 steals and 3.3 assists per game. Along with senior Jessica Brooks' 12.1 points per game, Forrest paces a Tigers attack which is averaging a state-best 75.1 points per game this season.

Lakewood also leads 5A in steals (25.0), is second in assists (15.9) and fourth in rebounding (37.6).

Looking ahead: Regis Jesuit has six seniors bound for Division I basketball: Diani Akigbogun (Texas), Justin Hall (Purdue), Kelsi Lidge (Drexel), Neffie Lockley (Howard), Jordan Molyneaux (Seton Hall) and Anna Ptasinski (Lafayette).

The Raiders won last season's championship. They are ranked No. 6 in the most recent national rankings put out by MaxPreps. They've beat in-state opponents by an average of 40 points thus far, going 4-0.

(Pam Wagner)

Broomfield is the favorite in 4A. (Pam Wagner)

So, yes, Regis is the team to beat.

Things look pretty clear-cut so far in 4A, too. Broomfield (6-0) has handled everything in its path thus far, and has a average margin of victory of 31.7 points per game.

The Eagles own wins over Sand Creek, at the time ranked No. 6 in 4A, as well as 5A teams Legacy, Ralston Valley and Fairview. They've also topped rival Holy Family, which occupies 3A's top spot.

Stat leaders:

Points:
1. Shannon Patterson (Pueblo South, Sr.): 24.7
2. Amber Corbett (Aurora West College Prep, Sr.): 24.4
3. Savannah Smith (Fossil Ridge, Sr.): 21.0
4. Mackenzie Forrest (Lakewood, So.): 20.9
5. Taryn Frazier (Coronado, Sr.): 20.8

Rebounds:
1. Kendra Cullison (Weldon Valley, Sr.): 15.3
2. Keturah Tatum (Limon, Sr.): 13.8
3. Elijah Daughtry (Englewood, Sr.): 13.7
4. Maya Love (Kent Denver, So.): 13.3
5. Sarah McGinley (Heritage Christian, Fr.): 13.2

Assists:
1. Katie Chavez (Holy Family, So.): 8.1
2. Molly Gillis (Liberty Common, Jr.): 6.7
3. Katie O'Brien (Cherry Creek, Sr.): 6.3
4. Chelsea Vallejos (Lamar, Sr.): 6.2
5. Delaney Gaddis (Glenwood Springs, Sr.): 6.0