By Tiffany L. Rehbein
The title could go to anyone.
The Havre Blue Ponies will meet the Browning Indians in the opening round of the Central A divisional boys' basketball tournament at 2 p.m. at the Belgrade Sports Complex on Thursday. The tournament runs through Saturday, Feb. 19.
The Ponies defeated the Indians 60-49 at Havre just two weeks ago. In their first matchup at Browning on Jan. 7, the Ponies also won a 77-64 decision.
"Playing Browning is a positive because we played them just two weeks ago," Havre head coach Dennis Murphy said."There aren't a whole lot of unknowns there."
However, Browning knocked off previously undefeated Class B Cut Bank 53-49 last weekend.
The Indians then traveled to Lewistown and defeated the Golden Eagles, 48-47. It was only the second home loss for Lewistown, who enters the tournament in fifth place with an 8-10 record.
"Browning is playing really well right now," Murphy said. "Other than the first quarter of both games with us, they were very competitive and played very well."
When Havre hosted Browning, the Ponies jumped out to a 24-9 lead during the first eight minutes. However, during the next three quarters Browning outscored the Ponies, 40-36.
"I believe this is going to be a very competitive tournament," Murphy said. "I don't think there is really a dominant team."
The Beaverhead County Beavers (Dillon) enters the tournament in first place with a 13-5 record and 44 seeding points.
They will face the eighth place Park High Rangers (Livingston) to open the evening session at 6:30 p.m.
Dillon, the defending State Class A champion, could easily be the favorite.
The Beavers, who were dominant in the early season, suffered just one loss during the month of December.
Entering the tournament, the Beavers score the most points offensively, averaging 69.2 points per game.
Livingston is 1-17 with 12 seeding points.
But tournament experience is shallow throughout the Central A.
Havre's Ricky Brown, Nate Baltrusch, and Landen Grant are the only three Ponies with any tournament experience.
Dillon lost some key players to graduation, and, throughout the season, has lost some bench personnel. But a strong winning tradition is always a positive at tournament time.
The Butte Central Maroons have the same record and seeding points as Dillon at 13-5 and 44 seeding points.
In head-to-head action, Dillon defeated Butte Central first by a 78-48 thumping, and second by a less dominating 57-49.
The Maroons, who play tough on both ends of the floor, will play the Anaconda Copperheads to open the tournament at 12:30 p.m.
Anaconda, who boasts a fine player in Michael Estes, is the seventh seed with a 4-14 record and 18 seeding points.
The Belgrade Panthers mimic the Blue Ponies with a 10-8 record and 35 seeding points.
The Panthers, who have a somewhat sophomore-laden team, will face the Golden Eagles of Lewistown at 8 p.m.
The two teams split during the season with Belgrade winning the first matchup, 80-63.
However, in the Eagles' lair on Feb. 4, the Panthers fell in a 43-39 decision to Lewistown.
The Panthers could become dangerous on the 3-point line if they are allowed to get going.
Lewistown is a talented team who has struggled of late.
Since losing to Havre on Jan. 27, the Golden Eagles have gone just 1-5, defeating only Belgrade.
Lewistown has lost to, most recently, Browning, Billings Central, Laurel, Billings Skyview, and Havre.