High school boys basketball: Defending champs favored again in most classifications
Just a few days removed from Timpview's dramatic double-overtime victory over Mountain Crest in the final high school football game of the season, it's time to start talking hoops.
Yes, the high school boys basketball season gets underway today with 25 games around the state.
It could be the year of repeat state champions, as four of last year's five title-winners have been voted by the coaches as preseason No. 1s in their respective classifications in overwhelming fashion.
Here's a class-by-class look at the teams to beat during the 2012-2013 season:
While Lone Peak was still cutting down the nets at the E Center following last year's ridiculously easy 30-point title-game victory over Brighton, coach Quincy Lewis was asked if the Knights had the potential to be even better next year.
He didn't allow himself to say anything he might regret, and simply said, "each year is much, much different."
It's hard to imagine Lone Peak not being better, however. With a returning nucleus of Nick Emery, T.J. Haws and Talon Shumway — who combined to averaged 48.8 points per game last season — and the addition of BYU-bound, 6-foot-9 center Eric Mika, the Knights are the obvious front-runner in 5A this season.
Even the national publications are jumping on the Lone Peak bandwagon. MaxPreps has the Knights ranked No. 6 nationally in its preseason rankings.
The Knights will have a chance to prove they're the real deal with a brutal schedule chock-full of nationally ranked programs.
On Dec. 1, Lone Peak faces No. 13 Proviso East, Ill., in Chicago. On Jan. 12, it faces No. 5 Chester, Pa., at the Brandon Jennings Invitational in Milwaukee. On Jan. 21, it faces No. 12 St. Anthony, N.J., in Springville, Mass.
If those tests weren't daunting enough, Lone Peak will be participating in the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla., on Dec. 19-22. The tournament features 10 of the top 25 teams in the MaxPreps preseason Top 25, and Lone Peak opens with No. 23 Callaway, Miss.
When the Knights return home, you can bet in-state teams will be anxious to pull off an upset. Realistically, though, everyone might be playing for second place.
A year ago, Lone Peak had legitimate challengers in West Jordan and American Fork, but both schools graduated all their starters.
Last year's runner-up Brighton, followed by Riverton, Davis and Alta, round out the preseason Top 5 in 5A.
For Brighton and its three returning starters, it won't have to wait long to try to avenge last year's blowout championship loss. The Bengals travel to Lone Peak on Wednesday, Nov. 28.
It took 56 years for Orem to win its first boys basketball title in school history, but the school's second title could come much quicker.
Just like everyone might be playing for second in 5A, the same might be true in 4A. The Tigers return four starters from their 24-1 state championship team, including 4A MVP Zach Hunsaker and BYU-bound junior Dalton Nixon.
Last year's 4A runner-up, Olympus, graduated all five starters, while semifinalist Bountiful graduated three of its five starters.
Despite the lack of experience, Olympus coach Matt Barnes likes his team heading into the final season in the school's itty-bitty gym.
"Not very big again, so we'll have to rely on defense and shooting the ball better from outside than we did last year," Barnes said. Really like my team this year and I am very excited to see how they come together this season."
There's some buzz coming from Cache County this preseason, too. After No. 1 Orem and No. 2 Bountiful, it's Sky View and Mountain Crest that check in at No. 3 and 4, respectively, in the preseason rankings.
For Mountain Crest football players Eddy Hall and Faimafili Laulu-Pututau, who lost a heartbreaking title game last Friday, they won't have to wait long to get the competitive juices flowing again.
Meanwhile, Sky View will lean heavily on senior forward Jalen Moore, who averaged 14.8 ppg last season.
"We have a tough region that will be a dogfight every night. We will have to rely on our senior leadership to help us, and I think they are up to the challenge," said Sky View coach Kirk Hillyard.
Provo and its four returning starters begin the preseason ranked fifth in 4A.
A year after Region 9 capitalized on Dixie State College's home-court advantage and advanced four teams into the state tournament semifinals, there appears to be much more balance this time around.
As one 3A coach said, "The balance of power in 3A seems to be spread evenly throughout the regions."
Despite what seems to be more balance, it's only fitting the preseason No. 1 hails from St. George. Desert Hills, last year's 3A runner-up to Hurricane, narrowly edged Morgan and Judge in the coaches' voting for the top spot.
The Thunder return Josh Anderson and Ty Rutledge, two players who might be a little banged up from a semifinal run in football. After that, though, there's a lot to prove.
"Our coaching staff feels we have talented players, but our success will depend on how well we play together as a team. If all goes well and we can stay healthy, Desert Hills can be in the mix for a region championship," said first-year Desert Hills coach Wade Turley.
Last year's other 3A semifinalists — Dixie, Hurricane and Cedar — were also very senior heavy, so expect some growing pains throughout Region 9.
Morgan begins the season ranked second and will be a tough team to beat with the return of Jake Miles, who averaged 19.4 ppg last year.
Judge, Dixie and Cedar round out the preseason Top 5 in 3A.
In the three years Race Parsons has been starting for South Sevier's basketball team, the Rams have posted an incredible 72-3 record with two state championships.
Now that he's finally a senior, it's scary to think what the SUU commit might be able to accomplish a year after averaging 24.2 ppg and 7.8 rpg.
However, No. 1 South Sevier isn't a one-man team — far from it. Austin Clark had a great junior season, averaging 12.0 ppg and 5.7 rpg, while Patrick Baker averaged 8.0 ppg. That experience should help not only in 2A, but against some larger schools as well.
South Sevier was invited to participate in the Great Western Shootout next month at Orem High School, where it will face West Jordan and Bountiful. Later in December, it faces Fremont and Cedar. The tough schedule will do wonders to prepare South Sevier for everyone's best shot in the 2A ranks.
Wasatch Academy returns three starters and begins the year ranked second. Manti — fresh off its football state championship — checks in at No. 3. After that, there's a huge drop-off and no consensus among the coaches about the rest of 2A.
South Summit and Richfield narrowly edged Emery and Gunnison for the No. 4 and 5 spots.
Defending 1A state champion Layton Christian received the vast majority of first-place votes amongst the coaches despite having just one returning starter.
Coach Bobby Porter likes the quality of his newcomers, and he is hopeful that a tough preseason schedule of upper-classification teams will pay dividends come state tournament time again.
"How good we are will be determined by how quickly we pick up our defensive concepts," said Porter.
Panguitch begins the season ranked second, and justifiably so. With three returning starters, led by junior Tyce Barney, the Bobcats should be a very competitive team in Region 20 and 1A in general.
Bryce Valley, Duchesne and Rich round out the preseason Top 5 in 1A.
Duchesne doesn't have any starters back, but coach Stan Young is counting on the winning mentality from football to carry over.
"These kids have played together for a long time and have good chemistry. They play together very well," said Young.
More preps online
In conjunction with the start of the high school boys basketball season today, the Deseret News published region-by-region capsules for all 21 of the state's region at DeseretNews.com.
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