Kentucky’s basketball postseason got underway on Monday and in the 13th Region top seeds Harlan County, Barbourville and Corbin took care of business in their district tournament openers.
Tonight promises to be one of the most exciting of the entire postseason for the boys’ teams around the region. All four districts have the number two seed meeting the number three. The winners advance not only to the district championship round, but punch their ticket to the regional tournament, while the losers will see their season come to an end.
Entering the postseason, Clay County (21-6) looks like the team to beat in the 13th Region as they’ve closed the regular season with 10 straight wins. Harlan County (21-7) held that distinction entering the year and will still be a team to be reckoned with playing the region on their home court. While Corbin lacks the “star power” of their past regional championship teams, the Redhounds have found a way to put together the best record in the region at 22-6. Barbourville has been one of the biggest surprises around. The Tigers are 18-10 and are going to be a tough out for anyone as they boast the most consistent player in the region in Devon Mills. This after losing several players to graduation from last year.
With their body of work, those four teams have all earned the right to be called contenders in the region. But you only have to look back at last season to see that thing don’t always go according to plan once the tournament starts. North Laurel played their way in as a number two seed and the Jaguars weren’t anyone’s pick to win the region, but that’s just what they did.
Tonight’s games feature several eight teams that are capable of going on a similar surprise run.
— In the 51st District, Pineville (18-10) takes on Knox Central (15-13) in an elimination game between two teams that reached the 13th Region semifinals a year ago. The Mountain Lions have everyone back from that team and, after battling through some injuries and inconsistencies, won six of their final seven games to again look like a team that no one wants to face.
Knox probably dealt with more key injuries during the season than anyone in the region. But the Panthers are slowly getting back to full strength. Matthew Barger looked to healthy in scoring 21 points against Middlesboro last week and Chad Marsee was expected to return on Friday. If the Panthers can get all their parts moving in the same direction, they could certainly make some noise in the region.
— In the 52nd District, Bell County (13-13) and Middlesboro (14-12) may not have the best records going but the Bobcats have rounded into form while mixing in three new starters and they won nine of their last 13 games. The Jackets have been a bit up and down after winning the 13th Region All ‘A’ Tournament, but their brand of in-your-face pressure defense mixed with seven experienced players has proven to be a recipe for tournament success in the past.
The keys in this game will be whether Middlesboro can contain Bell shooters Tyler Potter, Jake Patterson and Josh Asher while the Bobcats will have to be able to take care of the basketball and force the Jackets to play a half-court game.
— The 49th District also has a pair of dangerous teams facing off tonight. Host Jackson County (18-10) features the only player in the region with a Division I scholarship offer in junior guard Jordan Fox (Miami of Ohio). But the Generals have dropped two of their last three while senior center Steven Wagers was out with a knee injury. They’ll need him to match up with North Laurel’s Jake Allen. The Jags (14-14) are always dangerous and that’s especially true with five players back that all played key roles in their run to a regional title last year.
— Don’t overlook the 50th District match-up either. South Laurel (12-15) and Whitley County (8-21) may have losing records, but they’ve both shown they are capable of playing just about anyone close. Either team could pull an upset along the way with a hot-shooting night from long range.
The girls side will also have a couple of teams punching their regional tournament tickets this evening. In the 49th it’s North Laurel (5-24) taking on Jackson County (4-24) and in the 50th South Laurel (13-13) goes up against Whitley County (18-9). The Lady Colonels and Lady Cardinals are both capable of making a regional tournament run, especially if Whitley can get over the injuries that have plagued them over the past month.
While four-time defending champion Clay County (24-5) still has to be considered the team to beat, the region is more competitive at the top than it has been in years. Harlan County (24-5) and Corbin (22-8) both have regular season wins over the Lady Tigers. The Lady Bears have the size to match-up with Clay County and will have the advantage of playing the tournament on their home floor — if they can get past a pesky, young Middlesboro team that took them into overtime just a couple of weeks ago in Wednesday’s 52nd District semifinal.
The Bell County Lady Cats (23-5) have also put themselves in the regional contender discussion by winning 13 of their last 15 games, including a win over Harlan County. They’ll have to get past host Harlan in their district opener on Wednesday first, but if the Lady Cats are hitting from the outside they can beat anyone in the region.
As far as competitiveness, it just doesn’t get better than this year’s 51st District girls. Barbourville (19-10) won the top seed and will host the tournament. The Lady Tigers will meet Pineville (15-14) in the first round on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Lady Lions proved their tournament mettle by winning the 13th Region All ‘A’ but will have their work cut out in containing Barbourville’s Erlsan sisters both in the paint and outside.
Wednesday’s other first round game in the 51st had Knox Central (13-16) going up against Lynn Camp (22-8). The two teams split during the regular season with both winning at home. This time they’ll meet on neutral court and again it should come down to the wire.
Enjoy the games.