Coaches getting ready for this week's 3A prep basketball state tournament are using words like balance and parity. So, there may not be one or two clear-cut favorites, with the strong 16-team field of contenders making for a wide-open competition.
"It's not unbelievable that any one of the 16 teams can win the thing - there's no one dominating team," said Ogden Coach Mitch Wilcox, noting last year's standout, title-taking Emery County team and strong contenders in Payson, Ogden and Judge Memorial."One team could get hot this year and win the tournament."
And so, with the help of the coaches who have participated weekly in compiling the Deseret News Coaches Poll, here's a hoops horoscope of sorts - a brief rundown of each of the 16 teams participating in the 3A tournament, which starts Thursday at Weber State University's Dee Events Center.
Sky View (17-3): The top-ranked Bobcats don't boast bountiful height, speed or quickness, but Sky View has been able to get the most of its eight-player rotation. The key will be in holding off the inside attack of taller teams and overcoming a recent lack of tournament success. With losses to Ogden and Ben Lomond following a 13-1 start, the 'Cats finished up the regular season with three consecutive triumphs.
Box Elder (10-10): The Bees combine two standout players in Bill Bergeson and Ryan Shaw with four or five role-type players in a team that combines good defense, physical play and a slow-down attack. Box Elder may have to keep tempo in its favor, as the Bees may not be able to match an up-and-down, faster-paced squads. After a slow preseason, the Bees finished the year by winning five of their last six games.
Ben Lomond (11-9): The Scots boast several multi-year starters, but their experience is limited to the regular season - Ben Lomond hasn't made the tournament since the Kurt Miller glory days (a 3A title in 1986 and a runners-up trophy in 1987). Ending the season with three straight triumphs and wins in six of their last seven games, the Scots are seen by some as having all the necessary components for success - height, speed, passing and shooting.
Ogden (14-6): Here's another team with the tools, starting with the talented inside tandem of Tramyne Watson and Brandon Parker - both back from last year's finals. Ogden tries to blend its offense with a strong, albeit tournament-inexperienced, perimeter attack, having averaged 10 treys a game. Winning seven of its first eight games and six of its last eight games of the season, the Tigers like to play on emotion - and a hometown crowd won't hurt.
Mountain Crest (10-10): The Mustangs may have finished fifth in Region 5, but some still consider them a viable darkhorse. Mountain Crest is strong in shooting, ball-handling and tournament experience - and then there's the 6-7 frontline of Jeff Howell, Aaron Thatcher and Brandt Wilcox. The Mustangs will need to overcome any questions of confidence from an average-type season, which ended with .500 ball over the last three weeks.
Jordan (11-9): The Beetdiggers are disciplined on offense and defense, featuring successful outside shooting and a hounding defensive pressure. A weakness may be Jordan's lack of a strong, physical physical play inside. The 'Diggers followed a tough 1-5 preseason with a 4-4 start in league play before ending the year with a six-game winning streak.
Woods Cross (13-7): The Wildcats are described as Region 6's most versatile team - Jon Wickizer leads a tall, talented attack inside while Mike Gurr is one of several perimeter players who work well outside. Besides state-tournament inexperience, Woods Cross will need to push aside inconsistency - evident in a streaky season that went with two wins, four losses, six wins, two losses and then five wins.
Murray (10-11): One coach called the Spartans a Jeckyl-and-Hyde group - playing well for five or six minutes and then finding themselves in a funk for a similar stretch. Wins and losses subsequently came in bunches for Murray, too, with a .500 average over the final 31/2 weeks of the season. The the Spartans can couple the long-range shooting of Kevin Carlston with physical play inside.
Bountiful (9-11): The Braves are best going underneath to a rather beefy bunch or letting Aaron Roderick push the team in a run-and-score-quickly attack. Outside shooting could be shored up - the press hasn't inflicted much damage yet - and Bountiful had some slumps at the both ends of the season - a 2-6 start and a three-loss finish. However, a seven-wins-in-nine-games midseason stretch shows Bountiful's potential.
Emery County (9-12): Long since gone is 7-foot-6, two-time MVP Shawn Bradley and a host of graduated stalwarts from the defending champion Spartans. While the talent pool is admittedly thinner, Emery has 6-6 Jared Butler plus postseason experience as an intangible aid. Of the Spartans' 9-12 record, all but two victories came in Region 7 play.
Wasatch (12-8): The word on the Wasps - "guarded" optimism. With the likes of seniors Craig Kohler, Brandon Lindsay and Will Summerhays, the guardline is Wasatch's strength - and the key to success, according to some onlookers. The Wasps finished with the Region 7's best overall record.
Uintah (8-12): Winter-sports postseasons usually means wrestling in Vernal - Utes are making their first tournament appearance in a decade's time. Uintah has a good core of dunk-happy leapers, but the Utes will need to quickly acquaint themselves to the tournament. Of Uintah's eight wins, only one came against a tournament team and two were outside of Region 7.
Spanish Fork (16-4): The Dons' key comes in the perimeter pair of Kent Cook and Robbie Reid, and Spanish Fork likes to play tough defense and create open-court and quick-offense opportunities for the twosome. After following a 15-2 start by dropping two of their last three games, the Dons would do good to recover some of their early season magic.
Pine View (12-8): The Panthers are back applying the "P" word - pressure. The fast-paced, in-your-face Pine View attack worked well for wins in three of the Panthers' final four games, but four straight days of ultra-tempo tournament effort could wear down the players.
Springville (12-8): The Red Devils are described as the league's most physical team, with Paul Daybell a strong shooter and Andy Crowshaw an unsung hero of Region 8. Springville can be strong at the line, which becomes crucial in tight, pressure-filled games. The once-ranked Red Devils had amassed a five-win streak before losing their regular-season finale.
Payson (11-9): The Lions lost a lot in the departed Jimmy DeGraffenried, but the cupboard isn't bare since Payson can play sharpshooters at all five positions. The result is a difficulty for a defense to isolate on just two or three individuals. The Lions concluded with five victories in their final six games, including a current three-win string.
First-round matchups: Here's how the first-round pairings shape up - Jordan vs. Mountain Crest, 10 a.m.; Box Elder vs. Springville, 11:30 a.m.; Wasatch vs. Murray, 1 p.m.; Spanish Fork vs. Ogden, 2:30 p.m.; Sky View vs. Payson, 4:30 p.m.; Woods Cross vs. Uintah, 6 p.m.; Pine View vs. Ben Lomond, 7:30 p.m.; Emery County vs.
Bountiful, 9 p.m.