With the release of the substate pairings by the IHSAA, the 48 teams in Iowa’s largest class — 4A— learned the road they will need to travel to arrive in Des Moines for the state tournament. With still a few weeks remaining in the regular season, much is still determined, but here are my initial thoughts on each of the eight substates:
Substate 1: Council Bluffs Jefferson, Council Bluffs Lincoln, Lewis Central, Sioux City East, Sioux City North, Sioux City West
In no other substate does the likely final have the local meaning as in this one. Save for a massive upset, Sioux City rivals No. 5 East (15-0) and No. 7 North (13-1) will meet for a trip to the state tournament. In the team’s first meeting, East knocked off North on a buzzer-beater at home. The two teams will meet again at the end of the regular season at North. The other four teams in the substate pose little threat to the two juggernauts.
Substate 2: Ames, Des Moines Roosevelt, Fort Dodge, Johnston, Mason City, West Des Moines Valley
Substate 2 is another region where the final seems pre-ordained, as No. 8 Roosevelt (11-3) and No. 10 Valley (11-3) seem to be on a collision course. The two teams do not play in the regular season, sharing multiple common wins and a common loss to Des Moines Hoover. Valley star and Iowa signee Peter Jok is the leading scorer in 4A, and will be the key if the Tigers are to advance. Ames (7-8) and Johnston (7-8) sit behind the top two, and have played tough against top competition — Johnston lost by just four to Roosevelt in December.
Substate 3: Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Cedar Rapids Washington, Waterloo East, Waterloo West, Western Dubuque
This one is the proverbial group of death. Four of the six teams currently sit above .500, and two will win a conference title. Substate 3 plays host to one of the most interesting teams in 4A— Western Dubuque. The Bobcats are 17-0 and ranked #4 in the class. However, due to the school’s smaller enrollment, the team competes in the WaMac Conference, and has played mostly 3A competition. The Bobcats are joined by likely MVC Valley Division champion Cedar Falls (13-3) and Cedar Rapids Kennedy (9-5). The substate final will likely feature a showdown between Cedar Falls and the Western Dubuque-Kennedy winner, while a first-round matchup between archrivals Waterloo East and Waterloo West will determine which Waterloo team gets a crack at Cedar Falls.
Substate 4: Cedar Rapids Xavier, Clinton, Dubuque Hempstead, Dubuque Senior, Linn-Mar, Pleasant Valley
The Key City of Dubuque is buzzing over a possible state tournament showdown between the Western Dubuque Bobcats and the Dubuque Senior Rams. Of the two teams, the No. 3 Rams (13-1) have the friendlier road to Des Moines. Senior, whose sole loss came at Iowa City West, will sit atop Substate 4, with the major challenge coming from one of three teams — Pleasant Valley (10-4), Cedar Rapids Xavier (8-7), and Linn-Mar (7-8). Linn-Mar has the momentum, winning five of their last seven.
Substate 5: Bettendorf, Davenport Central, Davenport West, Davenport North, Muscatine, North Scott
Substate 5, the predominant Quad Cities grouping, is another substate with a showdown final looming. No. 2 Bettendorf (15-0) and North Scott (14-2) are heavy favorites to meet up in Davenport for a trip to the state tournament. Bettendorf clobbered the Lancers in the team’s first meeting, 62-26, but a closer matchup would be anticipated in the final. Three Davenport schools sit in the spoiler position, led by 6-9 Davenport Central.
Substate 6: Burlington, Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Iowa City High, Iowa City West, Ottumwa
Substate 6 is Iowa City West’s world. The other five teams are just living in it. The 15-0 Trojans are ranked as high as #12 nationally, and boast a 41-game winning streak, 16th longest in state history. Led by the D-1 triumvirate of Wyatt Lohaus, Dondre Alexander, and Jeremy Morgan, the Trojans are the heaviest favorite of any team in any substate to advance to Des Moines for the fourth time in five years. Cedar Rapids Jefferson (8-7) poses the most likely final challenge to the Trojans, and the rivalry between West and City (5-10) could be renewed in the semifinal.
Substate 7: Ankeny, Des Moines East, Des Moines Lincoln, Des Moines North, Waukee, West Des Moines Dowling Catholic
Another deep substate features four teams with a winning record, and multiple teams with a legitimate shot at the state tournament. Dowling (12-4) leads the way, followed by No. 6 Ankeny (11-3). Ankeny came into the season as the assumed top challenger to the West throne, but the Hawks have faltered in losses to Urbandale and Dowling. The Polar Bears of Des Moines North sit as a legitimate dark horse. North has been inconsistent, toppling top-ten teams in Roosevelt but losing to sub-500 teams like Johnston and Des Moines Lincoln.
Substate 8: Des Moines Hoover, Indianola, Marshalltown, Newton, Southeast Polk, Urbandale
As in Substates 1, 2, and 5, a showdown final is all but assured in Substate 8. No. 9 Urbandale (12-4) and Des Moines Hoover (11-2) are the overwhelming favorites to meet up for the second time. Urbandale topped Hoover in the team’s first meeting on January 15th. Southeast Polk (6-9) is the main spoiler in this substrate, having played competitive games with Ankeny, Dowling, Urbandale, and Valley.