A strange thing happened this year in 4A basketball — Bountiful never figured things out.
After four straight undefeated region championships — which featured a staggering 48 straight wins — the Braves struggled in Region 5 this season, finishing fifth and failing to qualify for this week’s 16-team 4A state tournament.
Bountiful is the first defending 4A state champion not to qualify for the following year’s state tournament dating back to at least 1994, when the UHSAA introduced a fifth classification.
Without one of the traditional tourney favorites in the bracket, this year’s playoffs have a much different feel to them — and parity is the primary talking point.
For the first time since 2009, there isn’t an undefeated region champ in this year’s tourney field.
Region 5 champion Woods Cross and Region 8 champion Maple Mountain both lost two region games while Region 6 champion Olympus and Region 7 champion Timpview both lost once.
“There’s a lot of parity out there and I think that makes for an exciting tournament,” said Olympus coach Matt Barnes. “Even your three and four seeds believe they’ve got a chance because there’s no dominant team you have to fear and worry about it.”
Timpview has been the Deseret News' No. 1 team in 4A most of the season and heads into the tourney as the slight favorite ahead of teams like Olympus, Murray, Woods Cross and Corner Canyon.
Timpview coach Kevin Santiago said it’s an honor to be viewed as the favorite, but said it really doesn’t mean anything. That being said, he’s confident with how his team is playing since a late-season loss to Corner Canyon in region play.
“That kind of refocused us for a monster game against Orem and then a great game against Alta, so I think the kids are playing some of their best basketball right now,” said Santiago.
The first round of this year’s 4A state tournament on Monday is being split between two sites — Weber State and UVU — before shifting to the University of Utah for the last three rounds Wednesday through Saturday.
UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff said the change in state tournament format for 5A and 4A’s first round revolves around trying not to conflict the state-legislature-funded free ACT testing on the first Tuesday in March for juniors.
Instead of eight games at one site, four games will be played at Weber State and four more at UVU beginning at 2:30 p.m.
The No. 2 vs. No. 3 seeded games are usually the most competitive on the opening day of the state tournament, and those games are the 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. games at both sites.
That doesn’t mean the games involving top seeds aren’t worth watching.
In four of the past six 4A state tournaments, a region champion has bowed out of the state tournament in the first round. The four No. 1 seeds avoided the upset last year, but history says Woods Cross, Olympus, Timpview and Maple Mountain can’t get caught looking ahead.
Timpview was one of those top seeds to fall in 2014, and last year it bowed out in the quarterfinals after a monster 30-point win over Sky View in the first round.
All five Timpview starters this year played 20-plus minutes in both playoff games last year — including two who played in the 2014 tourney loss — and Santiago hopes those experiences put the T-Birds in the right frame of mind for the state tournament.
“They’ve felt it before and felt the high of playing their best and not playing their best," said Santiago, "and I think experience is the greatest teacher of all.”
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org