High school boys basketball: Lone Peak, Bingham tabbed as slight favorites 5A tourney
There's no single, clear-cut favorite to win the boys 5A state championship this year, although most coaches tend to agree the top teams will once again be coming from the south.
Region 4 consistently houses some of the top teams in-state and this year appears no different with Lone Peak headlining as region champions. Bingham and Copper Hills are the top two teams coming out of Region 3 and both are considered top contenders with the Miners looked at by several as the team to beat entering tournament play.
But what about Regions 1 and 2?
One has to only look back to last year's tournament, when three of the four teams making the semifinal round came from Region 1, to understand it's not all about the south. All three of those teams (Layton, Davis and Viewmont) are now in Region 2, due to offseason realignment and looking to make similar noise in 2016.
"Anything can happen," said Layton coach Kelby Miller, whose team won the 2015 5A championship. "Looking back to last year, we felt just fortunate to get out of the first round, let alone win it all. I guess the popular term now is to 'survive and advance' and that's exactly what you do in this tournament."
Layton enters the tournament as Region 2 champions, having overcome some early hiccups, including an injury to star guard Julian Blackmon, to rebound nicely. The Lancers will square off against West Jordan in the first round. Other tournament qualifiers out of Region 2 include Viewmont, Davis and Syracuse.
Weber came out on top of Region 1 and looks to be in prime form entering the tournament after securing a perfect 12-0 record in region play. Despite that accomplishment, the Warriors aren't generally considered as one of the favorites.
"Hey, that's just fine by me. We're more than happy to fly under the radar," said Weber coach Mark Larsen. "The focus has been down south and on Region 4 and it probably should be. Those teams are very, very good and we're going to have our hands full in the first round taking on Westlake."
The Warriors have thrived this season due to some great team chemistry, according to Larsen, and to get by the Thunder they'll likely need all of that chemistry and then some.
"I haven't even looked past that first round game to see who we'd match up against in the second round," Larsen said. "I really can't think of anything else having to take on a great team like Westlake. The fact that we have to match up with a team like that in the first round is an example of how deep this tournament is."
Sky View, Fremont and Mountain Crest are the other three qualifiers out of Region 1.
Topping Region 4 was Lone Peak, who rebounded from some midseason lulls to once again enter the tournament as region champions. They'll join with American Fork, Pleasant Grove and Westlake in representing what is typically the best basketball region in the state.
"We're feeling really good about how we're playing," said Lone Peak coach David Evans. "But we know we need to focus on just one game at a time because anyone can truly beat anyone else. So we're not overlooking anyone and certaintly not overlooking Mountain Crest, a very good team we have to play against in the first round."
Leading the Knights is McDonald's All-American Frank Jackson, who has managed to improve his game this year and lift the play of those around him.
"He's been a great teammate and has made good improvements, so we're really blessed to have him," Evans said about Jackson.
Another great in-state talent is Bingham big man Yoeli Childs, who led the Miners to a perfect 12-0 record in Region 3. Copper Hills, Brighton and West Jordan were the other three Region 3 qualifiers.
"We feel we worked hard and earned everything we've accomplished this year, but we have a long way to go," said Bingham coach Jake Schroeder. "We've been fortunate to have a player like Yoeli and he's been surrounded by some great teammates. So we're feeling good and well-rested going into the tournament."
"Bingham is certainly one of those teams you think of when thinking of a favorite this year," Miller added. "They have the best big man in the state and that's a very, very good team. But then there's also Copper Hills, that's a team that could beat anyone and cause a lot of problems. There's just so many teams this year, and it's really that way every year. It should be a great tournament and should be a lot of fun.
5A tournament play tips off Tuesday with four games played at the Dee Events Center in Ogden with the other four taking place at the UCCU Center in Orem.