Bears begin Class C state tourney march with Drummond Thursday afternoon in Butte
Right now, there is no reason for anybody to doubt that the No. 1-ranked Box Elder Bears have what it takes to win a Class C state championship.
The Bears have been ranked No. 1 nearly all season long and cruised through the regular season, District 9C tournament in Havre, and even the Northern C Divisional tournament in Great Falls last weekend. Now, with a flawless 23-0 record heading into the Class C state tournament at the Butte Civic Center, the Bears continue to be the team to beat.
Drummond is the first roadblock lying in the Bears’ way. Box Elder and Drummond, the No. 2 team out of the West, will tipoff at 2 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the state tournament. Wibaux and Fairview will get the tournament rolling at 12:30 p.m. But Westby-Grenora, last year’s runner up, and Denton-Geyser-Stanford will faceoff at 6:30 p.m., followed by Superior and Broadus facing off at 8 p.m.
Box Elder hasn’t been to the state tournament since 1990, also marking the last time the Bears won a state title. With that said, plenty of people are looking forward to seeing the Bears make a run this weekend.
“There is a sense of excitement around the whole program right now,” Box Elder head coach Jeremy MacDonald said. “I didn’t really expect those wins by double digits at the divisional tournament, but we are peaking at the right time and playing really good basketball. If we can keep this going for three more days then we will be really hard to beat.”
But Drummond (17-5) will do its best to put up a good fight.
Drummond battled through a challenge game to get to state, and brings a solid team to Butte. Kevin Oberweiser, Danny Mannix, Gregory Schindler, Johnathan Brown and Joseph Parke can all hit double digits and can all lead the scoring efforts. But what most teams don’t have at this level, the Bears excluded, is depth beyond the starters. Box Elder will look to take away teams, top scorers this weekend, forcing the hand of less qualified shooters and ball handlers.
“At this level any team playing can win this tournament, it is pretty wide open,” MacDonald said. “I think whoever gets hot at the right time and makes shots has a really good chance. But I think with our offensive efficiency and defensive intensity, we can limit other teams abilities to make shots. If we are executing in the half-court, or our defense is creating offense for us, then we can compete with anyone.
“Teams can’t key on one, or even two of our scorers.” MacDonald added. “We put five guys on the court that can put the ball in the hoop, and we don’t rely on one, two, or even just three guys to win. We know whoever is in the game can score so a team has to be prepared for different attacks.”
With an offense that houses scorers like Randall Gardipee, Clayton Morsette Jr., Brandon The Boy, Jerrod Four Colors, Lonnie Plain Bull Jr., Thomas Parisian and Jacob Jones, it will be hard for teams to figure out whom to stop. The Bears can run an efficient man or zone offense, and can also go with a small and fast lineup, or a big and fast lineup. The Bears can also use their athleticism to penetrate and score at the basket, or settle in and knock down jump shots and 3-pointers. The defensive pressure and turnovers can also create offense as the Bears can sub three and four kids at a time to keep the tempo at a very high level on both sides of the ball.
And when the offense is rolling, typically, so is the defense. And when the defense gets going, the Bears don’t let up or slow down enough to let teams breath. The extended full court defense is strange to the opposing team, as the Bears can press, but then get back into a half court man-to-man instead of a half court zone. Using their speed and athleticism, an aggressive Bears’ defense can force turnovers, limit production and wear a team out.
“Not too many other schools play defense the way we play defense,” MacDonald said. “That is tough on teams, and we just try to keep teams out of their offensive looks and take away what they want to do offensively. Our defense does that a lot.”
Heading into this weekend, the Bears are looking to keep playing at a high level. The regular season was a breeze, while the Bears even earned some double-digit wins at the Northern C, which in many years, is tougher than the state tournament itself.
The production has only gotten better as the season marched on, and a scary thought for the opposition, coach MacDonald knows it can get even better in the final weekend of the season. MacDonald was more than happy with the Northern C title, but his Bears aren’t hitting full production just yet. After scoring 25, 11 and 14 points in the first quarters of their three games at the Northern C tournament, Box Elder is still waiting for what they would consider a hot start.
“I would like to see us improve on that the most this weekend,” MacDonald said. “I would like to see us get off to a better offensive start in the first eight minutes, and I don’t think we have a had a first quarter where we were really hot yet. We have had decent first quarters, but if we stay out of foul trouble and get better starts then I think our depth will be an even greater strength.”
As for the rest of the field, Superior (21-0) is considered the team most likely to give the Bears a run for their money. But Box Elder will have to play either Wibaux (23-1) or Fairview (20-2) in the semifinals should the Bears beat Drummond Thursday. Both the Longhorns and Warriors are perennial state tourney teams, and Fairview won a state championship as recently as 2012. So even the semifinal game won’t be a given for Box Elder. On the other side, Westby-Grenora (20-4) returns to state after losing to Roy-Winifred in the title game a year ago. The Thunder are another team that could certainly challenge Box Elder and Superior this weekend, but to do so, they would have to get by a pesky D-G-S squad that was very impressive at last week’s Northern C.
The Bears begin their first state tournament in 24 years when they square off against Drummond at 2 p.m. Thursday. If the Bears win, they’ll play at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The Class C state tourney runs through Saturday night’s state championship game, which is slated for 8 p.m. at the Butte Civic Center.