Just a few days removed from the conclusion of the high school football season, it's time to shift gears to the indoor sports as the boys basketball season officially tips off today with 23 games around the state.
Among them is East's game at Hillcrest. Last Friday, East's football team lost a heartbreaker to Logan in the final minute. On Saturday, basketball coach Skip Lowe held his final tryouts, and yesterday the team handed out jerseys. It's certainly been a hectic week for the Leopards.
With the season set to begin this week, only two of last year's defending state champions begin the year as the preseason No. 1 in their respective classification.
Here's a class-by-class look at the teams to beat during the 2011-2012 season.
With four starters back from last year's 24-1 state championship team, Lone Peak was a near-unanimous No. 1 selection by the state's coaches in the Deseret News preseason rankings.
Nick Emery, TJ Haws and Talon Shumway combined to average 44 points last season, giving the Knights a lethal offensive punch.
"This is the most skilled team I have coached in nine years at Lone Peak," said coach Quincy Lewis. "To win a state title this year, I feel like we must get to a higher level than we were at last season."
The reason for that is American Fork and West Jordan. Like Lone Peak, both programs are loaded with talent and, any other year, they could probably make a legitimate claim to be the preseason No. 1.
American Fork returns three starters from last year's state runner-up team, including USU signees Marcel Davis and Quincy Bair. The Cavemen lost to Lone Peak three times last year, though, and closing that gap has been the focus this offseason.
"Our players have worked hard to become more physically tough and hopefully will be mentally tough to be able to beat teams that we are supposed to and to play together," said coach Doug Meacham. "The challenge will be to continue to be unselfish and share the ball on offense."
Jaden Jackson's transfer from Skyline to West Jordan this summer has transformed 5A from a two-team to a three-team race. Jackson averaged 24.9 points at Skyline, while Jordan Loveridge averaged 23.5 with the Jaguars. Together, they form the best 1-2 punch in the state.
After the big three, teams like Fremont, Davis, Alta and Bingham should all be very good as well.
Unlike the state's largest classification, there's a lot more uncertainty heading into 4A this year.
Even though Sky View was dubbed the preseason No. 1 by the coaches, seven other teams garnered first-place votes.
Defending 4A state champion Highland wasn't among the eight, either, as the Rams try and rebuild after graduating four starters from last year's title team.
Despite the lack of preseason attention, coach Keith West expects his team to be competitive.
"Excellent athleticism and very good shooting team. Not particularly big, but have players who have some length and play hard," said West. "Should contend for region title and have an opportunity to do well in state."
Sky View will lean heavily on 6-foot-8 big man Casey Oliverson, who averaged 14.0 points last year in leading the Bobcats to the quarterfinals.
Along with Sky View, the teams from Bountiful, Orem, Olympus, Provo and Timpview all received a little preseason buzz in the preseason coaches poll. Last year's runner-up Bountiful is starting from scratch with zero returning starters, but coach Mike Maxwell likes the chemistry of his team.
"This group has a very high basketball IQ and genuinely like each other," said Maxwell. "That combination of smarts and cohesiveness, along with their talent, should help them win some games, with the chance of maybe winning a lot of games."
Led by returning starters Tyler Ott (14.6 ppg) and Brandon Simister (11.3), Desert Hills is the preseason No. 1 in Class 3A.
The Thunder lost to Morgan in the semifinals last year, and like its football team looks to take the next step this year by getting to the championship game.
Overall, Region 9 is expected to be very competitive, with Hurricane and Cedar both ranked in the preseason top five.
Mike Pelo is the only returning starter for defending 3A champion Wasatch, which is guided by Lonnie Magnusson, who begins his second head-coaching stint with the Wasps.
Payson, which was a 4A quarterfinalist a year ago, should be a factor in the 3A race as well after dropping down in the latest UHSAA realignment.
This classification features two defending state champions because of realignment.
Defending 2A state champ South Sevier returns three starters from last year's 24-1 team, led by Race Parsons, who averaged 21 points last year.
Wasatch Academy won the 1A state championship last year, but this year the Tigers are making the jump to 2A.
South Sevier was the near-unanimous preseason No. 1 according to the coaches, followed by Manti, Wasatch Academy, Millard and South Summit.
South Sevier and Wasatch Academy square off tonight at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield, a great early season test for both teams.
Not one player from last year's Deseret News first and second teams are back this year, and as a result there's a lot of uncertainty about the top teams in 1A.
A lot of those questions will be answered in preseason games in the coming weeks, but based on the preseason coaches rankings, Bryce Valley and Duchesne are slight early front-runners.
Fresh off its football state title, Duchesne looks to duplicate that success in basketball with four returning starters.
"Our team is very deep and experienced. We have good size and are very athletic. Our guards will be the key," said coach Stan Young. "If they develop, and we learn to play together, we'll have a good season."
Other teams expected to be in the hunt this year are Monticello, Layton Christian, Piute, Panguitch, Rich and Green River.
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