DES MOINES — With all-state guard and Top 100 recruit A.J. Green gone and playing down the road at the University of Northern Iowa, there was some skepticism coming into the season about the Cedar Falls boys’ basketball team.
“I think the big elephant in the room was, what was this team going to be like without A.J., and I think this team is just as good, maybe even better than last year,” Cedar Falls senior Jack Campbell said.
Second-ranked North Scott will get a crack at dethroning the Class 4A state champions in a 6:30 p.m. semifinal Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.
Cedar Falls (19-3) might not have Green, but it has three Division I athletes among its starting five — Logan Wolf (signed to play football and basketball at UNI), Campbell (Iowa football signee) and Jackson Frericks (Iowa football preferred walk-on).
The Tigers possess size (all five starters between 6-foot-2 and 6-7), length and athleticism. They have balance with six players averaging at least six points per game. And they can lock teams down, holding Sioux City East to more than 30 points below its season average in the quarterfinals.
“Until somebody beats them, they’re the state champs,” North Scott coach Shamus Budde said. “We have been watching film on them and know they’re very well-coached, long and probably the most athletic team down here.
“They’re physical at all five positions, big and strong. They’ve got Division I football players who are good at basketball. We’re good, they’re good. We’ll see what happens.”
North Scott (23-1) outscored Ames by 19 points in the second half Tuesday night to reach the semifinals. The Lancers haven’t yielded 50 points in a game since early February.
Budde’s team will need a similar defensive effort to reach the title game.
The 6-4 Wolf, who had more than 1,200 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns for the state runner-up Tigers in football, is the team’s leading scorer at 15.5 points per game.
Campbell, the state’s best linebacker with 123.5 tackles, averages 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. Josh Ollendieck gives them a perimeter threat with his 46-percent accuracy from the 3-point line.
“Our team has forged an identity this year of defense, toughness and balance,” Cedar Falls coach Ryan Schultz said.
North Scott is similar.
Besides its defense, North Scott has five starters averaging at least eight points per game.
“We’ve got to guard and finish plays like we did against Ames,” point guard Cortaviaus Seales said. “We’ve got to match them punch-for-punch, not just in the paint, but 50-50 balls and boxing out. When we’re aggressive, we can be a pretty good team.”
Cedar Falls’ three setbacks came to Waterloo West (69-63), Cedar Rapids Prairie (73-65) and Linn-Mar (66-62), but the Tigers haven’t lost since early February.
“We’re going to go at them,” North Scott junior Ty Anderson said. “We’re going to keep the same mentality we have this season of playing together for all 32 minutes.”
Even in the postgame chatter late Tuesday night, North Scott already was eager for its next challenge.
“It feels good to get one win, but our guys feel they can win this thing,” Budde said. “We have more business to take care of this week.”