By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
It's a common mistake that happens to teams when they reach this point in the season.
With postseason tournaments come new teams, new players and total unfamiliarity, but often teams get so caught up with what their opponents are doing that they forget to focus on what they should be doing.
But neither Big Sandy boys basketball coach Roy Lackner nor Box Elder coach Gus Bacon are going to let their respective teams make that mistake as they head to today's Northern C Divisional at the Great Falls Four Seasons arena.
The top-ranked Pioneers come into the tournament carrying a perfect 20-0 record and a target the size of a Ford on their back.
But at least it's something that Lackner and the Pioneers are used to. Big Sandy has carried that top-ranking all season and taken opponents' best shots in every game. Yet, the Pioneers are still standing tall thanks to a rigid discipline to stick to what they do best.
Big Sandy simply plays its own game, opponents be damned. The Pioneers don't succumb to opponents' tactics to fluster them or get them out of their game.
"We're not bad," Lackner said with a little sarcasm. "Team's still have to stop us. We're going to stick with what we've done all year, which is take care of the ball, take good shots, work it inside and play defense. If we can do that we'll be tough to beat."
Indeed, even when Big Sandy hasn't done all that, the Pioneers have still been, well, unbeatable. But Lackner will be the first to admit that the competition at the Northern C will be a step up from last week's District 9C tournament. Heart Butte (16-4) and Dutton-Brady (19-2) come out of a very tough 10C tournament, battle tested and ready. They will join Great Falls Central (19-3) and Highwood (16-5) from the 8C and Judith Gap (20-1) and Winnett (18-4) from the 7C.
"The 7C and 8C aren't quite as tough this year," Lackner said. "The 10C has two very good teams, but I think that Box Elder has the ability to make it to the finals."
Indeed, Box Elder finds itself in a favorable side of the bracket with Highwood, Dutton-Brady and Judith Gap. The Bears will meet Highwood this afternoon at 3 p.m.
Box Elder has not faced Highwood this season, but Bacon is fairly familiar with the Mountaineers and their tendencies.
"They are a very patient team on offense," Bacon said. "They really work the ball around to get a good shot, and every once in a while they'll shoot a three-pointer. They have a pair of very good players in Tyler Pasha and Brett Bahnmiller. And they are a lot like us because they aren't very tall."
Pasha, a 5-11 junior guard, is averaging 15 points per game ,while Bahnmiller, a 6-0 junior, is averaging 12 points a game. The Mountaineers also get 10 points per game from sophomore Reid Edwards.
The height comparison might be the only way the Bears and the Mountaineers are similar. Box Elder can play at the slower pace, but the Bears really have no interest in doing so. They would much rather force their fast-paced tempo on the Mountaineers.
To do that, Box Elder must do one thing first and foremost -rebound. The Bears can't start a fast break without the ball.
"We have to rebound," Bacon said. "It's that simple. We have to get rebounds and make good outlets to start our fast break."
For Box Elder to rebound, senior Tim "J.R." Rosette must be on the floor. Rosette is the Bears' best inside presence and rebounder, but he is susceptible to foul trouble.
"J.R. tends to pick up some cheap fouls," Bacon said. "We need to have him on the floor. We're not very big when he's on the floor and we're just little when he's on the bench."
Bacon will look to senior Neal Rosette, Tim's cousin, to steady the Bears' ship. Neal Rosette brings a pass-first mentality while being the team's most consistent three-point shooter.
"Neal plays a big role on our team, not just because he passes so well, but he's also our calming influence out there," Bacon said. "He's their leader and he keeps everyone, especially J.R., calm."
Besides rebounding, Bacon will throw a variety of different defenses including man-to-man, zone, full-court and half-court to try and force Highwood into his team's preferred up-tempo pace.
"It comes down to doing what we do best and that is pushing the basketball," Bacon said. "We need to focus on our strong points and play our type of game."
For Lackner and the Pioneers, there is no certain style or tempo that is their exact game. They have played up-tempo against Box Elder and slow it down against KG. They have faced man-to-man and zone defenses and every kind of pressure that a team can face.
Big Sandy will face a familiar style of basketball tonight against the Great Falls Central Titans.
"Central has a nice well-rounded team," Lackner said. "They are very similar to KG in what they want to do offensively. They have a very good guard, but not much up front."
GFC's Stephen Horras is a solid all-around player and leads the team in scoring while being its unquestioned leader. But the Titans will have to find a way to defend Big Sandy's dominant post presence led by seniors Gage Brumwell and Mason Ophus.
"We're going to establish our inside game immediately," Lackner said. "They like to extend their guards defensively and defend the post one-on-one. I'll take Brumwell matched up with anyone one-on-one in the post."
While he isn't going to overlook GFC, Lackner knows that a first-round win would most likely mean a semifinal matchup with a very talented Heart Butte Warrior squad.
"Heart Butte is a legitimate team," Lackner said. "They have more talent than any other team in the tournament."
Indeed, the Warriors are led by the Aimsback trio. Shooting guard E.J. Aimsback is an explosive scorer, who scored 52 points in one game this season. Joining him is the duo of Carl Aimsback, who recently transferred back to Heart Butte after being in South Dakota, and 6-4 forward Robbie Aimsback.
"They have talent and size," Lackner said. "They do have have some glaring weaknesses, but they are a very tough team to play on Friday night."
Heart Butte defeated Dutton-Brady 78-65 in the 10C championship as the Aimsbacks combined for 43 points. Dutton-Brady got 33 points from senior Colby Bliss in the loss.
The D-Backs will go as far as Bliss can take them. Bliss leads Dutton-Brady in almost every offensive category and has the ability to score 30-plus points per night for veteran head coach Dean Gamradt.
"They rely completely on Bliss," Lackner said. "They don't have much depth. (Gamradt) will run just five players at you and he'll be the first to tell you that."
Even if the 7C and 8C are down as Lackner said, they're representatives have some solid players. Judith Gap brings a 20-1 record into Great Falls with its only loss coming early in the year to Big Sandy. The Tigers are led by high-scoring Cedric Snelling.
"Snelling is tough," Lackner said. "He can get 35 points every night if you let him shoot."
Judith Gap defeated Winnett 35-28 in the 7C final as the Tigers held 6-9 forward Danny Iverson to just five points in the game. Iverson can be dominant inside when he gets touches, but Winnett must have one of his teammates step up and score to have a chance.
All eight teams will be fighting for two precious berths to next week's Class C State tournament in Billings.