3A boys basketball: Southern Utah teams stand tall in state-title picture
It's way too early to be making 3A championship predictions with so many teams potentially in the mix this year, but you'd certainly have to give the early nod to the teams from Southern Utah.
This year's state tournament will be held in St. George, and the last two times the tournament was held at Dixie State College, there was an all-Region 9 championship finale, with Pine View beating Dixie in 2007 and Snow Canyon beating Pine View in 2002.
Region 9 teams certainly weren't the favorites in 2002 and 2007, but the comforts of home made a huge difference.
This year, Region 9 teams like Desert Hills, Hurricane and Cedar are among the best in 3A, and nobody would be surprised if two months from now either of them were lifting a championship trophy.
"I'm going out on a limb and predicting there are going to be Region 9 teams in the championship. No offense to teams up north, it's just really hard to go on the road. Come down to a motel for a couple days is pretty tough," said Desert Hills coach Steve Melessa, who was Pine View's coach when they won the title in 2007.
Melessa is quick to acknowledge, however, that teams like Judge, Payson, Park City and a few others are definitely talented enough to buck the trend.
Overall, the landscape in 3A is much different than it was a year ago. It was almost a forgone conclusion that Wasatch would repeat as state champions last year, which it did rather easily.
This year, 3A lacks a dominant team like Wasatch, and with teams like Payson, Spanish Fork and Ogden dropping into 3A this year because of realignment, there are 10-plus teams that have a legitimate shot at winning a state championship this year.
Deseret Hills, a semifinalist a year ago, is at the forefront of the conversation with returning starters Tyler Ott and Brandon Simister. Despite a 9-1 record, Melessa says his team has struggled for continuity thus far.
"Four of our eight guys are football kids who didn't do a whole lot in the spring and summer, I think as they come together we'll be alright," said Melessa.
The Thunder better gets things figured out soon, because from top to bottom Region 9 is the toughest league in 3A. Heading into the new year, six of the seven Region 9 teams have winning records.
While Desert Hills holds the No. 1 ranking, many believe Hurricane is the team to beat behind 6-foot-9 center Boston Gubler and 6-foot-7 forward Colton Marshall. They average a combined 30 points and 22 rebounds.
"Our region is just going to be super tough," said Melessa.
It may not look like it on paper now, but Region 10 is nearly as tough. Judge (5-5) and Wasatch (2-7) have been playing a lot of 4A and 5A teams this preseason and more than holding their own, while Park City (6-4) has won five of six after a slow start.
Over the past two weeks, Judge took Davis and Bountiful to overtime before losing both. Park City, meanwhile, returns four starters and is as talented as any team in 3A.
"This year's group is very talented. We have a chance to be really good and we can definitely compete with those (elite) teams when we play together and defend for four quarters," said Park City coach Caleb Fine.
Nobody is discounting defending champion Wasatch despite its disappointing record. Matt Pelo is the only returning starter and he's averaging 20.2 ppg, and coach Lonnie Magnusson believes there's plenty of talent around him.
"We're still trying to figure some things out, and hopefully we can get that done soon. We've played some tough teams, and we've had our moments, but we keep spotting a lot of these teams a big lead and then we try and make a frantic comeback in the fourth quarter," said Magnusson.
Region 11 appears to be a bit down this year, but many believe Morgan is the favorite. The Trojans (6-3) have been very unpredictable this preseason. They lost to Park City by 20 points last week, but then in early December they beat Hurricane.
Payson and Spanish Fork are the obvious front-runners in Region 12 in their first year in 3A.
Despite the drop down in classification, Payson coach Dan Lunt doesn't expect things to get any easier.
"The top teams in 3A are just as good as any other classification. The big difference is there's not as many of them," said Lunt. "We want to be one of the better teams in the state and it doesn't matter what classification it is. That's what our goal is and that's what we strive to do."
Behind 3A's leading scorer Clay Banks, Spanish Fork will be a dangerous team in 3A as well.
Note: Projections were picked by Deseret News staff, with input from coaches.
1. Desert Hills
4. Snow Canyon
6. Canyon View
7. Pine View
2. Park City
4. Juan Diego
3. Ben Lomond
5. Bear River
2. Spanish Fork
4. North Sanpete