The top-ranked Bingham Miners just completed a 20-1 regular season, won 14 of their games by double digits and are a solid favorite to win the 5A state championship this week.
So why isn't Bingham coach Mark Dubach doing cartwheels right now?
"I've got my hands full on day one," Dubach said. "We have the worst draw in the tournament."
No, the Miners didn't get much of a reward for being 5A's most dominant team during the regular season. Bingham opens the state tournament with a second-round game tonight against Lone Peak, the team that eliminated it from the postseason the last three seasons.
Obviously, this isn't the same loaded Lone Peak team that won two of the last three 5A championships, but with quality scorers such as freshman phenom Nick Emery and senior Tannon Pedersen, the Knights are dangerous in any one-game scenario. Ask Alta and Brighton, teams that finished ahead of Lone Peak in the Region 4 standings that were upended by the Knights during league play.
"They have good offensive players," Dubach said. "They're a good club that's beat all the top teams in their league."
Bingham-Lone Peak is one of eight second-round games being played at home sites tonight. The tournament started with four first-round games on Saturday. It moves to Weber State with quarterfinals on Wednesday and the semifinals on Friday. The state championship is Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
While Bingham had the best season of any team in 5A and is the team to beat, this week's tournament appears to be wide open. A few teams appear capable of stringing four wins together to win the state title, including league champions Davis and Fremont (co-winners in Region 1), West (Region 2) and Alta (Region 4).
Davis and Fremont finished with identical 19-2 overall records. It was the fifth straight season the Darts won at least 18 games, while Fremont enjoyed a huge turnaround under new coach Corey Melaney. The Silver Wolves improved by 12 wins from last year, and the only blemishes on their record are road losses at Bingham and Davis.
The Silver Wolves can make a run in the state tourney because they are built for postseason basketball.
"It's funny when people say, 'I knew you guys were going to be good,'" Melaney said. "I say, 'Really?' Because I didn't really know. I think we're a dangerous team (now) because we play defense, we rebound, and we don't rely on the outside shot."
West is one of two reigning state champions in this week's state tournament. The Panthers won it in 4A last year, while 5A champion West Jordan is also in the playoffs. West coach Bob Lyman understands that others are skeptical of his team's chances this week because Region 2 is considered 5A's weakest league.
Still, the Panthers won 17 straight games during the regular season and feature one of the state's most exciting players in Tyrell Corbin. They also remember that Region 6 was considered 4A's weakest league last year, but West won the state title and Olympus advanced to the semifinals.
"I think the reason we haven't done well in the rankings is we haven't had this 'marquee victory,'" Lyman said. "There's logic to it and maybe not. That's why you play the state tournament — to figure this all out."
Alta won Region 4, which is considered to be 5A's toughest league. That says a lot about the Hawks, who returned just one player that was a regular contributor last season in point guard Jordan Brown. Alta worked new players into its system such as move-in Kyle Davis and Juan Diego transfer Cody Johnson and gradually became a cohesive unit as the season progressed.
The lower half of the 5A bracket looks to be slightly stronger than the upper portion as it includes Bingham, Fremont and Alta.
"I think the bottom half is brutal," Melaney said. "But what are you going to do? You got to play who you got to play."
The upper half isn't exactly a slouch either, with teams such as Davis, West, Jordan, Brighton and Pleasant Grove in it. All of today's eight games look to be competitive. There is no guaranteed winner in any of the contests, not even 20-1 Bingham.
"I think there are a lot of teams that can win it," said Alta coach Jim Barker. "There's good balance this year. I think there are a lot of things that can happen."
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