The Buccaneers’ defense has been outstanding all year. They’ll have their hands full with the Cardinals.

Waterville-Elysian-Morristown wanted the top seed in the section at least in some part because it meant that it would only face one of New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Maple River. The Bucs won’t have to face both, but they’ll get a good challenge when they play No. 4 seed Fairmont at 6 p.m. Thursday at Mankato East High School.

The Cardinals won 16 games in the regular season, earning the No. 4 seed in the section. They certainly won’t be a pushover as they’ve been tested throughout the year in a solid Big South Conference. They beat a ranked Waseca team 80-79 early in February.

The players to watch for the Cardinals are senior big man Walker Tordsen, a 6-foot-7 forward capable of scoring in a variety of ways including in the post, and in ball-screen actions where he can either shoot from the perimeter or roll and score in traffic. Nathan Kallenbach is the Cardinals’ best perimeter scorer and was instrumental in the team’s upset win over the Bluejays.

Throw in Brady Allen and Sa Schwieger and the Cardinals have enough firepower to give the Bucs some problems.

“Against a team like Fairmont we’ll have to defend ball screens,” said assistant coach Ty Kaus. “They have guys who can shoot. Their bigs can shoot it.”

Fairmont certainly has its share of warts too. The Cardinals lost to Belle Plaine and St. Peter, and were blown out by Jackson County Central twice. Good teams haven’t had trouble scoring against them this year.

The key for the Bucs has been and will continue to be their ability to come out and play with intensity from the start. That wasn’t an issue Tuesday in a blowout win over Medford and while the competition undoubtedly takes a drastic step up, the team’s success seems tied to how engaged they are on both ends of the floor.

The Bucs and Cardinals tip at 6 p.m. Thursday at Mankato East High School. The winner advances to play the winner of No. 2 NRHEG/No. 3 Maple River — which play following WEM/Fairmont — Monday at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Matt Bigelow covers sports for the Daily News. You can reach him at 507-333-3129 or online via Twitter @FDNMattBigelow