By Kim Staudinger
The Havre High boys basketball team will have at least two more home games this weekend. Well, a home of sorts.
Havre High was awarded the right to host the Central A divisional basketball tournament, but due to space limitations at the Blue Pony Corral and other reasons, Havre is hosting the tournament at CMR High School's gym in Great Falls.
The Blue Ponies finished the season in seventh place in the Central A Division with a 4-14 record.
While a seventh-place finish is not where most teams would like to enter a tournament in which only three teams advance, Havre coach Mark West said he's not unhappy with his team's situation.
"We're real pleased with what side of the bracket we're on," he said. "We feel if we play well and get some breaks, we can win."
Havre will face second-ranked Belgrade (13-5) in the first round tonight at 7. On the same side of the bracket are Dillon and Anaconda. Dillon (12-6) is seeded third and Anaconda (5-13) is seeded sixth.
On the other side of the bracket, Browning finished the season in first place with 17 wins and one loss. The loss came Jan. 12 to Lewistown, 94-92, in overtime.
The other teams on that side of the bracket are Livingston (4-14), Lewistown (10-8) and Butte Central (9-9).
West noted that Browning is the heavy favorite.
"After that, the next two spots are open for any team to get themselves to the next tournament. That's what we're doing, trying to get to the next tournament," he said.
Havre hopes to use its low seed as a way to sneak up and surprise some people.
"For us to beat Belgrade would definitely be an upset," West said. "I think we've got to have a few breaks and have to play well. It might be an advantage (coming in seventh). The kids will be excited to play and will be more relaxed. The expectations aren't on their backs. We just hope to come in and play well and upset some teams."
But the challenge of defeating Belgrade won't be an easy one.
"Belgrade has one of the best players in the tournament in (Ken) Herbst," West said. "Containing him is the key to defeating Belgrade. (Brandon) Steadman is a real nice player, too." Steadman is a 5-foot-11 guard, while Herbst is a 6-foot-5 post player.
Although the records of the Ponies and the Panthers are worlds apart, statistically the teams are very similar.
Havre sits third in the conference in overall team field goal percentage at 44 percent, while Belgrade is sixth at 42.9 percent. Havre is fifth at 31.5 percent in team three-point field-goal percentage, with Belgrade close behind in sixth at 30.9 percent.
Neither team shoots free throws well compared to other teams in the conference, with Belgrade sitting seventh at 61 percent and Havre eighth at 57.6 percent.
Offensively, Belgrade averages 65.9 points per game compared with Havre's 58.1. Defensively, the Panthers top the conference, allowing only 52.3 points per game. Havre is last, giving up 71.3 points per game.
West said the Ponies have an advantage over Belgrade with depth coming off the bench.
"You are really going to have to have your bench play to do well in the tournament," he said. "You are going to have to have some depth. Those that don't are really going to struggle. Belgrade doesn't seem to have that depth."
No matter what the outcome of tonight's game, the Ponies will face Dillon or Anaconda next. West said he does not know too much about Anaconda, but thinks the Copperheads have a good chance to beat Dillon, especially with the Beavers missing a few players.
"Dillon's going to be interesting because they have some kids that have been hurt," he said. "I'm not sure what team will show up. They're a nice team. They shoot the ball well. We lost to them by 16 early in the year, but they're beatable. They are probably better themselves, but we're a lot better."