OGDEN — This year’s 4A state boys basketball tournament has a strong favorite, but most coaches agree that any number of teams could take down the title.
The favorite? Well, it’s an Orem team that won it all last season while returning almost all of its starters from a year ago.
“I don’t know how you wouldn’t consider Orem as the favorite,” said Mountain Crest coach Graydon Buchmiller. “You obviously always look at the returning champions as the team to beat, but with how Orem has done this year with all the players they have back — they’re definitely the favorite.”
The Tigers finished the season with a 20-3 record and just one region loss. Orem coach Golden Holt understands that everyone is looking at his team as the favorite and is fine with that role.
“Last year none of us had been there before, but now we’re all back and we know what it takes to get there and win it,” Holt said. “It’s obviously tough having everyone gunning for you, but to be that team — you have to earn it and we’re all glad that we’ve earned that, but it makes it tough.”
Holt made sure his team participated in a number of regular season tournaments — most notably its own Great Western Shootout and the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina — to prepare for its ultimate goal.
“Everything we’ve done this year was to prepare us for the 4A state tournament,” he said. “We played in those tournaments primarily to get used to a good tournament structure and I feel those tournaments helped prepare us and we’ll find out for sure soon enough.”
The Tigers are led by a fearsome starting five led by forward Dalton Nixon and point guard Zac Hunsaker. One of their top players, Jordan Darger, is questionable entering the tournament, but Holt is hopeful to get something out of him starting Tuesday against Logan.
Other top teams include region champions Mountain Crest, Olympus and Bountiful.
Olympus made it all the way to the finals last season and is confident in making a similar run this year with a relatively inexperienced group.
“This was one of the most satisfying years I’ve had as a coach with how we had so many younger players step up and we really came together as a team,” said Olympus coach Matt Barnes. “We made it to the very end last year and hopefully we can get there again and maybe even win it this time, but it’s going to be very difficult.”
The Titans went undefeated in Region 7 and enters the tournament on a 10 game winning streak.
Bountiful is certainly a team everyone has their eyes on entering Tuesday’s play. The Braves went 10-0 in region play and enter the tournament on an 18-game winning streak.
“When you look at teams you have to watch out for, you definitely have to start with Bountiful, I feel,” Holt said. “They’re very well coached, they certainly have enough to beat anybody, including us on any given night.”
Mountain Crest finished out strong after struggling through the first part of the season. The Mustangs went 9-1 in Region 5 and will poise an experienced team intent on making a deep run.
“I like how we’re playing going in and I like our experience and our leaders,” Buchmiller said. “I feel that we need to just keep playing like we have and make sure we focus on each game and, if we do that, we could do some good things.”
The 4A tournament certainly doesn’t end with the four region champions, but will include many teams that could wreak havoc among the favorites.
“When you look at the teams around the state, I feel the competition is deeper and probably tougher this year than it was last year,” Holt said. “You really have a lot of teams — especially teams up north such as Skyview and Roy — who have some really good talent and have shown the ability to compete with anyone, and those are just two of the teams. We’re going to have to be at our best to repeat as champions.”
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