RICHFIELD — On paper — for what precious little that's actually worth — Rich and Piute enter this week's 1A boys basketball tournament as arguably the two teams to beat.
Rich, with a terrific senior class in tote, has lost just once to instate competition this season — the lone defeat being an overtime loss at Tabiona — en route to a Region 16 championship and a No. 1 ranking.
Piute, meanwhile, has won 10 games in a row to ultimately battle past Panguitch in traditionally tough Region 20, claiming that league's championship and a No. 2 ranking.
But what should make the 1A tournament so fun to watch this week is the fact that there figures to be a ton of depth beneath those leading two schools.
Precisely how deep the field of 1A contenders really is will start to be determined today when the 1A tournament gets underway with eight first-round contests at the Sevier Valley Center.
Heading into today's opening round, which traditionally always features exciting matchups and memorable games, Rich coach Ashley Brown believes there could be as many as eight teams capable of walking away with the 1A championship trophy at the end of the week.
"I think there's a lot of equal teams this year," said Brown. "I think there's eight teams — if they get on a roll here in the next four days — that could win a state championship. I don't think there's any one dominant team. I think there's eight teams or so — if they get playin' just right — that any of the eight could win it."
So, besides Rich and Piute, who exactly has a chance this week to win it all?
When you start to break down Class 1A region-by-region, Brown's point about strength in numbers comes through pretty clearly.
In Region 20, Panguitch is certainly established as a solid team just beneath Piute, and there are others in the league capable of making noise. In Region 16, Tabiona and Duchesne will be tough for anyone to handle. In Region 18, Monticello has been pieced together a solid season and Whitehorse always shows up to play in the postseason.
And 1A's other two leagues, Region 17 and Region 18, shouldn't be discounted, either.
Add it all up, and it seems pretty obvious that challenges for the 1A title could come from all angles this week.
Of course, that doesn't mean that it doesn't start with Rich and Piute.
While Brown says he doesn't feel like his team is the favorite, there's no question that his team is one of them.
With superstar Caden Andersen leading the way for a talented supporting cast to follow behind, the Rebels have the horses to complete a football-basketball sweep of 1A championships.
From top to bottom, the strength of Rich's squad is its balance.
"We've played together all year long, and I think that's what makes this team so good," said Brown. "We've got big kids, we've got good guards. We're just a pretty solid all-around team, both from the perimeter and inside."
"Balance" is also a word that aptly describes Piute. Veteran guard Tyson Westwood (13.80 ppg), Heath Payton (11.15 ppg) and Kelton Price (10.30 ppg) all average double-figures, and Jaylen Christensen (8.45 ppg) isn't far behind.
1A State Tournament
Today's first round
At Sevier Valley Center
Valley (11-10) vs. Tabiona (15-6), 10 a.m.
Bryce Valley (15-7) vs. Wasatch Academy (18-1), 11:30 a.m.
Duchesne (14-8) vs. Monticello (19-2), 1 p.m.
Panguitch (14-7) vs. ICS (13-7), 2:30 p.m.
Manila (9-10) vs. Piute (17-3), 4 p.m.
Green River (12-10) vs. W. Ridge (15-5), 5:30
Milford (13-9) vs. Rich (18-3), 7 p.m.
Liahona (12-10) vs. Whitehorse (16-6), 8:30 p.m.
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