WEST VALLEY CITY — After 501 combined games played and 27,614 total points scored, the regular season of the 5A boys high school basketball season concludes with 16 teams vying for the illustrious state title.
The state's largest classification tournament tips off Tuesday at Maverik Center. at 9:30 a.m. with an opening game between Lone Peak (Region 4, No. 2) and Kearns (Region 2, No. 3).
The Knights and Cougars are followed by: Northridge (Region 1, No. 1) vs. Copper Hills (Region 3, No. 4) at 11:10 a.m., West Jordan (Region 3, No. 1) vs. Fremont (Region 1, No. 4) at 12:50 p.m., Hunter (Region 2, No. 2) vs. Bingham (Region 4, No. 3) at 2:30 p.m., Weber (Region 1, No 2) vs. Brighton (Region 3, No. 3) at 4:10 p.m., American Fork (Region 4, No. 1) vs. West (Region 2, No. 4) at 5:50 p.m., Viewmont (Region 2, No. 1) vs. Riverton (Region 4, No. 4) at 7:30 p.m. and Alta (Region 3, No. 2) vs. Davis (Region 1, No. 3).
West Jordan (19-2), American Fork (18-2) and Lone Peak (18-3) are considered the favorites heading into state week, but with Viewmont (12-9) riding a 10-game win streak, Alta's (16-5) previous postseason experience and Northridge (13-8) winning its first region title since 2002, the 5A classification looks to be deeper than it has in many years.
"With this year's tournament I expect the unexpected a little bit. I think that (it's) just really at a high level this year. I could see some surprises happening from multiple teams, there's just so many good teams," said Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis. "It reminds me a little bit of the second year I coached.
"We had Jackson Emery and we ended up winning it but there was Olympus that had Shaun Green and Payson that had Tyler Newbold, Timpview had (Matt) Mortensen and (Jonathan) Tavernari. I mean, you could just go down the list and there was just a number of really quality teams in state. I think this year resembles that."
Weber (17-4), behind slashing guard Hayden Schenck (19.7 ppg), Copper Hills (12-8), winner of five out the last seven — including taking West Jordan to the wire in a double overtime, 83-79 loss — and Brighton (14-7) with its prolific gunner Brandon Miller (21.8 ppg) only add to the depth of the league.
"There's so many good teams, obviously you're going to have to be playing well. You're going to have to defend and rebound throughout the week because you never know how people are gonna shoot it when you get up there," said West Jordan coach Scott Briggs when asked what the keys were to migrate through the talented field. "It's emotional for people. I think that's what I love especially about that first day. There's so much emotion and passion and sometimes people tend to ride the roller-coaster and go to the extreme in either direction. We're gonna try and avoid that and just stay focused and keep trying to do what we do."
The classification is swarmed with headline individual performers, most notably West Jordan's Jordan Loveridge and Lone Peak's Nick Emery.
Loveridge, a 6-foot-6 senior, ranks fourth in the state and first in 5A in points per game (22.8) and leads the state in rebounds (13.2). The University of Utah commit has eclipsed 30 points twice this season and pulled down 21 rebounds against Cottonwood in January."We're happy that he's on our side when we're going into these contests," said Briggs. "He brings a little bit of the complete package. He's just a monster on the glass. He's such a threat inside at the high school level - being able to post up. Then he does have some range. I'm not sure what more you'd want from a high school kid with the skill level he's got and the experience."
An intriguing matchup on the block will be the focus in the opening round game against Fremont for the Jags. Loveridge and Wolves' Brock Smith will go toe-to-toe.
Smith, 6-foot-5, goes double-dipping with 19.9 points and 10.6 rebounds. In an earlier meeting against West Jordan in December, he dropped 24 points but only managed one board. Loveridge finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the 60-46 win.
"I've had more than one coach from (Region 1) tell me that (Smith) is the best player in their league and it'd be hard to argue with that," Briggs said. "I'm excited to be a part of it actually and just watch those two go at it. We know we have our hands full trying to slow him down."Loveridge and teammate Jordan Pryor were both freshman when the Jaguars upset Lone Peak in 2009 for the state championship. The two still vividly remember the process of the title run and ex-players from that 21-4 team have continued to be involved with the program this season.
"One thing that we definitely will take advantage of is that, I don't know if you'd say expectations, but really just winning mentality that we have adopted from other West Jordan players through the years," Briggs said. "I think our players are still feeding off what those guys brought a couple years ago.
"Rayes (Gallegos) is in Nebraska right now, but we got an email that he wrote to me that had a message for the team," Briggs continued. "To get ready for this week, just telling them to take advantage of it and what a great experiences and memories they're gonna have. Then, Jordan Weirick even came by practice this week and spent the day with the players. I just think their influence does have a big impact on what we're trying to do."
Emery, an early commit to BYU as a junior, leads the defending champs with 22.3 points per game and is the statewide leader at 3-pointers per contest (3.5). He's surpassed 30 points in five games, including 39 against Cottonwood, and connected on five or more treys eight times.
"I think the first thing he brings is somebody whose been there and been able to win a championship," said Lewis." He's a winner."
The Knights will also rely on sophomore, T.J. Haws significantly on the offensive end of the floor while in search of their fifth title since 2005.
American Fork returns after a second-place finish last season as the No. 1 seed from Region 4 behind its four-headed monster. Austin Waddoups (13.2), Quincy Bair (12.8), Zac Hunter (11.25) and Marcel Davis (10.3 ppg) spotlight perhaps the most balanced scoring attack in the state.
"Whichever team wins it they will have got through one pretty close call," stated Lewis. "That's what we've always found in some of the runs that we've had. There always seems to be one game that you have to try and figure out a little bit. I don't think there's any doubt whoever wins it this year will have really earned it."
Class 5A Boys
Tuesday's first round, at Maverick Center
Kearns (9-12) vs. Lone Peak (18-3), 9:30 a.m.
Copper Hills (12-8) vs. Northridge (13-8), 11:10 a.m.
Fremont (12-9) vs. West Jordan (19-2), 12:50 p.m.
Bingham (8-13) vs. Hunter (12-9), 2:30 p.m.
Brighton (14-7) vs. Weber (17-4), 4:10 p.m.
West (5-16) vs. American Fork (18-2), 5:50 p.m.
Riverton (11-10) vs. Viewmont (12-9), 7:30 p.m.
Davis (13-8) vs. Alta (16-5), 9:10 p.m.
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