Big Sandy leads a wide open 9C boys race
Class C basketball typically houses some of the best players in the state. The 9C is no exception to the rule, and the 9C race should still be a tight one.
North Star's Jordy Donoven (right) shoots over a pair of Chinook defenders during a District 9C boys basketball game back in December.
"It is going to be close this year," Box Elder head coach Jeremy McDonald said. "Pretty much every game should be a tight ball game. Turner is down, but the rest of the teams have a shot if they play well. One through five, this conference is very competitive.
"I think it will be fun," North Star head coach Cody Donoven added. "Big Sandy hasn't lost a conference game, but a lot of the games they have played have been close, they beat us on a buzzer beater the first time. Any of the top five teams could take it this year."
Action will start on Wednesday with two first round games.
The Big Sandy Pioneers earned a bye with an unblemished 10-0 conference schedule. And Chinook also earned a bye with a conference record of 7-3 and as the two seed. Hays-Lodge Pole (4-6) North Star (3-7) will get the boys action started at 6 p.m. on and Wednesday, and Box Elder (6-4) and Turner (0-10) will follow at 7:30 p.m.
Looking ahead to Thursday, the Pioneers will face the winner of the Thunderbirds/Knights game at 2:30 p.m., and the Beeters will face the winner of the Bears/Tornados game at 7:30 p.m. Loser-out action will continue play on Friday, while the consolation game will be Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The championship game will also be Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Big Sandy is the heavy favorite after going undefeated in the conference, but nothing is set in stone. They finished the No. 2 seed a year ago, but failed to advance to the Northern C tournament after being upset by the Bears in the challenge game.
Starters Trevor Lackner, Zach Leader, Justin Stevens, Kaden Beck and Jessey Bailey lead the Pioneers this season. This group plays solid defense and offence, and has great balance. Lackner and Leader can hit the outside shot and get to the basket, while Stevens has dominated the paint this year.
Big Sandy should be confident in facing either the Thunderbirds or Knights in the semis.
But the Beeters are also in the hunt, and are in great position to make it back to the Northern C for the third straight year. Last season in the 9C tournament, the Beeters entered as the No. 1 team with a 10-0 record and defeated the Pioneers in the championship game.
This season hasn't been as smooth, but Scott Schmitt and Brandon Riphenberg have stepped up their game, as has Grant Tilleman and Barry Murnion down low.
When the Thunderbirds and Knights tip off, it could truly be anybody's game. Whoever executes the fundamentals the best, and limits their errors should advance and not slip into a tougher, longer consolation road.
During the regular season the Thunderbirds swept the Knights, but behind outstanding senior Jordy Donoven, the Knights showed they can compete, when they took down the Bears on a buzzer beater trey early in the season. Donoven has averaged 22.5 points per game, over 10 rebounds per game and over three assists per game. He is also shooting 49 percent from the field and 83 percent from the free throw line. But giving the Knights at least a few weapons, Karston Donoven, Shelby Sizemore and Cooper Spicher have also scored in double digits off and on this season.
But knowing they have an 2-0 edge over the Knights, the Thunderbirds should be coming in confident. They have been a little inconsistent on offense this season, but Bruce Denny Lex Molina, Nolan Werk and Trent Kirkaldie have stepped up ad continued to improve all season long. Hays has hovered right around the middle of the pack all season, and have suffered a couple of close losses to Box Elder and Chinook this season, but can't be overlooked this week.
Another team that will definitely be hungry to advance to the Northern C and even state will be the Bears. Box Elder upset Big Sandy in the challenge game to finish No. 2 last season, but had a tough outing at the Northern C. And no offense to Turner, but the Bears should cruise into the semifinals after beating Turner twice already this season.
The Bears have the likes of Jesse Ramos, the teams only senior who is averaging 13.4-points and five assists per game this season Skylar Parisian has also been a team leader, averaging 12.5-points and five rebounds per game, as the Bears have averaged a healthy 64-points per game.
"We have some balance," Coach McDonald said. "That has been something that gives teams trouble. But Big Sandy beat us twice and Chinook beat us twice with a zone defense, so if we aren't knocking down shots we can get into some trouble."
Turner will try to be that team that gives the Bears problems, also while the Tornados attempt to win their first conference game of the season, and their first 9C tournament game in a long time.
Last season the Tornadoes 0-2 at the 9C, something that would make this weekend a huge success if they could avoid. And it will have to be on the backs of a very strong defense if Turner wasn't to upset anybody, as their offense has struggled with no real big scorers this season.
Dusty Mohar has led the offense with eight-points per game this season. But Lucas Reed and Levi Humphreys have come on strong as well. Reed contributed 16-points in a game this season and Humphreys can hit 3-pointers if he settles into a groove.
"(Defense) is our philosophy this year," Turner head coach Kevin Vanvalkenburg said. "But it is hard when the other team has multiple kids who can score. For that we need good ball movement on offense as well, and if we can make that one extra pass and get the ball in the key it works to our benefit. Sometimes we don't do that and we force a shot with two guys on us. We have to move the ball around and find the open shot."
The 9C boys tourney gets underway Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in Havre. The tourney runs through Saturday night with the top two teams moving on to the Northern C next week in Great Falls.