While all the area teams were eliminated in the district round, the show must go on as eight teams from the region advanced to the tournament with an opportunity to move on to the Sweet Sixteen.
The truth is the boys 13th Region Tournament is as wide open as it has been in years. With the exception of Lynn Camp, each of the top teams have knocked off another top team during the regular or postseason.
Knox Central enters the tournament as the only ranked team in the Dave Cantrall rankings — where they moved to No. 16 in the state. They are also recognized as the top team in the 13th Region.
Corbin and North Laurel enter the tournament as the No.2 and No. 3 teams in the region with South Laurel and Harlan County rounding out the top five. Clay County, who knocked off North Laurel in the 49th District Championship, finished sixth in the region based on the Cantrall rankings.
Below is a quick analysis of each game in the regional tournament as well as predictions for each one:
Knox Central (26-5) vs. North Laurel (24-7)
Both teams entered the year as leaders in the 13th Region. As the year progressed, Knox Central began being the odds on favorite to top the region with North Laurel hanging its hat on Peyton Broughton leading the team to the promised lands.
In the lead up to the game, the Panthers have not lost since a 67-63 defeat to Harlan County on Jan. 17. One of those victories during Knox Central’s 14-game winning streak came against North Laurel (105-84).
Since the loss to the Panthers, the Jaguars defeated Red Bird before dropping a two-point loss to Clay County in the district championship.
Knox Central is easily one of the most well-rounded teams in the region with Markelle Turner (18.7 PPG) and Wade Liford (16.3 PPG) leading the way. The emergence of sophomore Nick Martin (10.3 PPG) has given the team another weapon to utilize.
For North Laurel to have a chance at defeating the Panthers, they will need a second or possibly third option to assist team-leader and Mr. Kentucky candidate Broughton (31.0 PPG).
That help could come from either Brian Gray (13.7 PPG) or Bryson Asher (8.9 PPG). In the end, it’s likely that Knox Central rolls past the Jags and into the second round.
Prediction: Knox Central defeats North Laurel.
Corbin (25-5) vs. Harlan (14-14)
The road to the regional tournament was not paved with gold for either team in this matchup. Corbin was able to claim slim six-point victories over both Whitley County and South Laurel to win the 50th District Championship.
Many believed that Harlan’s regional drought would continue, but the Green Dragons proved everyone wrong. In a game that came down to the wire, Harlan escaped with a 49-47 victory over Bell County to clinch its spot. They were handed an 18-point loss in the championship game by crosstown rival Harlan County.
Corbin is led by junior standout Andrew Taylor (28.7 PPG) and sophomore Chase Sanders (13.0 PPG). During the regular season, the team holds signature victories over three of the top six teams in the region — Knox Central, Clay County and Harlan County (twice).
Harlan uses more of a team approach when it comes to defeating opposition with the scoring leaders being Killian Ledford (14.6 PPG) and Noah Busroe (10.9 PPG). Cade Barnes and Jacob Wilson have also been successful on the offensive side as well.
Outside of their victory over Bell County, the Dragons signature wins in the regular season came in the 13th Region All A Classic — where the team defeated Barbourville and Lynn Camp to advance to the championship game.
While the team’s 3-point shooting ability gives them a puncher’s chance of advancing, it’s doubtful that Harlan will have answers for Taylor’s offensive and defensive prowess.
Prediction: Corbin defeats Harlan.
Clay County (17-12) vs. South Laurel (22-10)
This game should prove to be the best of the bunch in the first round of the regional tournament. Both teams seem to be on par with each other.
The Cardinals hold an eight-point regular season victory over the Tigers, but that was back in mid-January. Clay County is on a roll after avenging an earlier season loss to North Laurel in the 49th District Championship.
The Tigers are led by Will Sexton, who is averaging 18.2 points and 8.8 rebounds. Trevor Sams (12.5 PPG) and Logan Gabbard (10.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG) are also skilled players. The trio gives Clay County a little flexibility on the offensive end and a strong defensive presence.
South Laurel has three players on its team that are proven leaders as well. Jared Grubb leads the trio with 19.5 points while shooting 36.2 percent from 3-point range. JJ Ramey (13.9 PPG) and Ryan Anders (10.7 PPG) rounds out the bunch for the Cardinals.
Mathematically, this game is a toss up. It all depends on if Sexton is hot during the game. In Clay County’s last five losses — which were all to 13th Region opponents — Sexton has scored below his season average at 13.2 points per game.
Prediction: South Laurel defeats Clay County
Harlan County (28-3) vs. Lynn Camp (18-12)
If there was an upset alert, it would potentially be this game. Looking strictly at the records, Harlan County sits alone at the top of the 13th Region sporting an impressive 28-3 record. Lynn Camp needed an impressive victory over Pineville to lock in their spot.
The Black Bears have an outstanding lineup that starts with Cameron Carmical (19.2 PPG) and Treyce Spurlock (15.4 PPG). Tyrese Simmons adds more athleticism to the floor for Harlan County and adds 10.2 points per game.
The Black Bears only three losses came between two team — Perry County Central and Corbin. The Commodores defeated Harlan County 68-52 in the WYMT Mountain Classic. The Redhounds have been a thorn in the Bears side all year with Corbin walking away with 72-54 and 73-61 victories.
A seven-point win over Pineville stands as Lynn Camp’s defining moment of the season. Tanner Boggs (21.4 PPG), Bruce Hopkins (15.9 PPG) and Jacob Bundy (15.4 PPG) creates a trio that could match any team on any given night.
If the Wildcats can slow down either Carmical or Spurlock, they have a chance to pull off the upset. That task may prove more difficult than realistic.
Prediction: Harlan County defeats Lynn Camp
Knox Central vs. Corbin
The Panthers and Redhounds split the regular season series with one win apiece.On Dec. 30, Corbin defeated Knox 76-71 in a game that saw Taylor go for 38 points.
Knox Central handed Corbin a 13-point loss in January. Turner put together a 32-point performance while shooting at a 58 percent clip from the field.
In addition to that, four other Panthers reached double figures including Troy Brierman (16 points), Jaylen Adams (12 points), Wade Liford (11 points) and Dan Imel (10 points).
The game will be decided in spite of Taylor and Turner’s performances. Both standout players will likely reach the 20-point total. It will be up to their teammates to decide the game.
With that said, the more well-rounded team will pick up the victory in the end.
Prediction: Knox Central defeats Corbin, advances to the championship.
South Laurel vs. Harlan County
While the two teams have mixed it up with numerous top teams in the region, they have yet to square off against each other. Should they both advance past the first round, they will have that opportunity.
Harlan County would seem to have the size advantage heading into the contest, but South Laurel has the shooters to even the matchup. It will be an interesting clash between two great guards in Carmical and Grubb.
The question remains, do the Cardinals have the personnel to slow down Spurlock?
Prediction: South Laurel defeats Harlan County, advances to the championship.
Knox Central vs. South Laurel
This matchup will be another first of the year. These two teams matchup well against either. Both teams possess shooters and players that can drive to the basket.
Grubb vs. Turner will allow fans to see two of the more athletic guards in the region go up against each other. Each team has a trio of players capable of putting points on the board.
The one advantage the Panthers possess over the Cardinals is rebounding ability. Knox Central is averaging 33.4 rebounds per game, while South Laurel has averaged 25.2 rebounds in the same amount of games. That advantage will be the difference in the outcome.
Prediction: Knox Central defeats South Laurel, wins 13th Region Championship.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN