SALT LAKE CITY — The 5A state basketball tournament has been uneventful and boringly predictable with Lone Peak’s supremacy.
The Knights are chasing a fourth straight state championship after embarrassing the classification for three years with an average 22.9-point margin of victory in their last 12 playoff games. However, unlike previous seasons, competition has drastically risen, with several programs challenging with title aspirations.
Lone Peak (19-3) will face Syracuse (9-13) in the first round at 11:10 a.m. Tuesday at the Huntsman Center on the campus of the University of Utah. The matchup is the second of eight games that begin at 9:30 a.m. with Bingham (11-9) squaring off against West (8-14) and culminating with the nightcap matchup of Pleasant Grove (20-3) and Layton (16-7) at 9:10 p.m.
Alta (20-2) is the deepest and most experienced of the 16 qualifying programs. After falling to Lone Peak in the state championship last season, the Hawks sported the No. 1-ranked defensive per game average (50 ppg) behind the leadership of five seniors: Zach Rollins, Landon Albrecht, Trevor Hill, Elijah Glissmeyer and Carter Heslop. The ability to consistently deliver defensive stops might ultimately be the determining factor of dethroning the Knights, who are led by their brilliant backcourt comprised of T.J. Haws (24.1 ppg), Frank Jackson (17.9 ppg) and Zach Frampton (10.6 ppg).
Nonetheless, the only in-state program to defeat Lone Peak in the last 40 attempts is Pleasant Grove, which ended the Knights’ 36-game Utah win streak with a 78-72 victory on its home floor in mid-February. The Vikings have enjoyed perhaps the biggest surprise season in the entire state behind Matt Conway (22.6 ppg), Riley Court (15.1 ppg) and Forrest Pincock (10.9 ppg). With a 71-point offensive per game average, which is tied for the highest in the classification, Pleasant Grove has its best opportunity to win a state title for the first time since 1961.
Assuming Alta and Pleasant Grove manage to get past Hillcrest and Layton in the first round, unfortunately, the two will face one another in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Davis (19-2) has steadily strung together its best record since the 2007-08 season when the Darts ultimately lost to Lone Peak in a double overtime thriller in the semifinals after starting the season 22-0. Similar to that year, which featured Jackson Stevenett, Conner Van Brocklin and Chase Flint in brown and gold, Davis is balanced across the board. Guards Jesse Wade, Abel Porter and Matt Morrell are three of the best all-around contributors in the state along with Elijah Kletzli (16.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg), who is a dominant force on the interior block.
The Darts, however, arguably have the most difficult route to the state championship in the bracket. First, at 12:50 p.m. on Tuesday, Davis’ opening round opponent, Herriman (12-10), features one of the elite scorers in the state in David Maynard (23.6 ppg), who is capable of keeping any game within reach. In losses against Bingham (65-61 OT), Lone Peak (82-75) and twice against Pleasant Grove (89-83 and 75-67) along with the Mustangs’ 63-47 win against American Fork, Maynard averaged 30.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Taylorsville (18-5) is likely Region 2’s best opportunity to escape the first round against Brighton (11-13) at 5:50 p.m.
The Warriors finished region play unscathed with the assistance of hiccup-quick guard Sidney Freeman (20.1 ppg). Hunter (10-12), which finished second in Region 2 despite finishing below .500 overall, drew a difficult matchup against upstart Copper Hills (13-8) at 2:30 p.m., which features seven sophomores, including its leading scorer, Preston Sanchez (14.4 ppg).