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Five things to watch in local high school boys hoops

 

December 4, 2019

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Fort Benton's Garrett Diekhans, middle, splits the Chinook defense during last year's District 9C championship game. As a new season begins, the Longhorns and Sugarbeeters just might be battling it out in the postseason again.

The high school basketball season becomes official this weekend. And, the start of a new season is exciting for all boys basketball teams, but especially those on the Hi-Line.

Just like in girls hoops, the Hi-Line always produces some of the best high school basketball in the state, and the 2018-19 season was no different as Chinook, Hays-Lodge Pole and Rocky Boy all played on the final weekend of the season.

Of course, a new year means new teams may rise up, and this winter will be exciting and intriguing inside gyms up and down the Hi-Line, and all over north-central Montana.

So, with a new season set to begin at the Native American Classic this weekend in Great Falls, here are five things to watch for in local high school boys basketball.

1. Havre and the new Northeast A

When the Blue Ponies travel to Miles City and Glendive during the second week of the season, the trip will mark the start of a new era. Gone is the old Central A, and Belgrade to Class AA. In its place, the new Northeast A will be composed of Havre, Lewistown, Miles City, Glendive and Sidney. And given what Havre returns, and the rest of the programs in the new league, the Ponies should be an instant contender in the conference. Of course, the Ponies will still have to finish in the top four of the Eastern A Divisional tournament if they want to go to their first state tourney since 2016. And the Eastern A, at the Billings Metra, will still be one of the toughest tournaments in Montana, as the new Southeast A is composed of defending state champion Billings Central, Laurel, Class A favorite Hardin, and Livingston, which were the four teams that went to state a year ago. So, while Havre should be a much-improved club in Walynn Burgess' second season - and the Ponies could definitely rule the Northeast A with how good basketball is on the eastern side of the state - it will be fun to watch just how high the Ponies climb this winter.

2. Who owns the 9C?

Chinook has been the dominant force in the District 9C in recent years, and the Sugarbeeters will be very good again, even in spite of graduating a host of seniors who won the 9C and Northern C crowns last year. Also, a rematch of last year's 9C championship game is likely with the Fort Benton Longhorns bringing back all five starters from last year's team. Fort Benton is going to be a big favorite in the 9C this season, but after not getting out of the Northern C a year ago, Fort Benton is on a mission that goes well beyond the first week of the postseason. The 9C should also be an intriguing race for third place as well, with North Star, Hays-Lodge Pole and possibly a much-improved Big Sandy team in that hunt.

3. Northern C supremacy?

The District 9C has been the masters of the Northern C for a while now with runs by Box Elder and Chinook most recently. And with HLP making it an all 9C Northern C finale last year, there could be more of the same in store at the Four Seasons Arena in February ,. That's because, at least on paper, Chinook and Fort Benton could be the top two teams in the Northern C this winter. Obviously, the likes of Heart Butte, Belt and Roy-Winifred will want something to say about that come tourney time, but if the recent trend at the Northern C holds, don't be surprised if the 9C is dominating Saturday night once again.

4. Jeremy Mac is back

Coaching changes were a big story at Box Elder last spring, and it includes the boys program, where LaVon Myers took a job in Las Vegas. So that ended up meaning, longtime Box Elder head coach Jeremy MacDonald decided to take back the helm in Box Elder. Before stepping away from coaching for a bit, MacDonald led the Bears to a pair of Class C state titles, as well as five straight 9C championships. Now though, MacDonald inherits a young Box Elder squad that has struggled the past two seasons. So, it will be fun to watch the rise of the Bears with MacDonald back on the sidelines.

5. Combined State C

Last year it was Class A, now it's Class C's turn. When March rolls around, the Class C state tournament will be combined for the first time in history. The first-ever combined State C tourney will be played March 11-14 at the Adams Center in Missoula. The tournament will feature eight boys and eight girls teams and will be a massive draw given the popularity of Class C basketball. Now, the only question is how many local teams will be there? And with how good girls basketball is on the Hi-Line, some area fans may want to book hotel rooms for Missoula now because, there's no doubt, the Hi-Line is going to be repped well at the historic tournament.

 

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