The 5A boys basketball state tournament gets under way today at the Dee Events Center, followed by the 4A tournament on Tuesday. Over the next six days there will 30 games at the Purple Palace, culminating in the 5A and 4A championships on Saturday. Here are 10 of the top stories to pay attention to throughout the week.
1. Pursuit of perfection
It's not often a team in 5A or 4A basketball arrives at the state tournament with an undefeated record. With more and more teams heading out of state to play in holiday tournaments, as well as elite teams playing tough in-state preseason slates to prepare for the postseason, running the tables has become virtually impossible.
Despite the long odds, the Davis Darts have arrived at championship week with a glossy 20-0 record. They went 6-0 in the preseason, 14-0 in Region 1, and now they're trying to follow it up with four more wins at the Dee Events Center to cap a 24-win season.
Ironically enough, the second-ranked Darts aren't even considered the team to beat with talent-laden Lone Peak in the picture. Considering what happened last year, however, Davis would be wise not to look past today. A year ago the Darts rolled into the Dee Events sporting an 18-3 record, but they shot 26 percent and lost by 16 to Jordan in the first round.
2. Lone Peak dominance
Since the UHSAA expanded to five classifications 15 years ago, the Mountain View Bruins of 1998 and 1999 are still the only Class 5A team to hoist back-to-back state championships.
No. 1 Lone Peak, and its well-documented starting five of future collegians, are four wins away from joining that list and many people believe it's an inevitability.
At 19-2, the Knights' average margin of victory this year is 21.9, an increase of five points from last year's regular season differential. Their winning margin in region play jumped to 27.2 this season, but an even closer look reveals in the second half of league play Lone Peak won by an average of 31 points.
This includes a 34-point waxing of Pleasant Grove.
It's easy to see why Lone Peak is a big, big favorite, even with an undefeated team in the mix.
3. Eight isn't enough
A year after Provo's surprising run to the 4A title, in which coach Craig Drury claimed his record seventh state championship, the Bulldogs are the clear-cut favorite in this year's tournament as Drury goes after No. 8.
After starting the year with a 1-2 record, which ironically enough included a win over Lone Peak in the season-opener, Provo is heading into the playoffs winners of 17 of its last 18. It's a stark contrast to 2007 in which Provo entered the postseason with a 10-10 record thanks to a slew of injuries.
4. Floundering Region 6
A year ago Region 6 posted a 1-5 record in the opening round of the state tournament, with fifth-seeded Granger picking up the only win. A year later, many believe the league is in worse shape and wonder if anyone will win a first-round game.
With five playoff berths this year, it's hard to imagine the Salt Lake City league going 0-5, but even region champion Olympus owned a 3-7 record at one point this year and it has already lost to first-round opponent Woods Cross.
Based on the regular season, on paper it would seem that four of the five Region 6 teams are underdogs, with Murray seemingly having the best shot at first round survival.
5. Lucky bottom bracket
As the 5A landscape came into focus about mid-January, basketball fans were getting pumped up for the potential state championship showdown between Davis and Lone Peak.
Oops. Make that a semifinal matchup. With the UHSAA's rotating bracket setup, the Region 1 and Region 4 champions are both in the upper bracket this year great news for the lower bracket teams knowing they won't have to face Davis or Lone Peak until the championship.
So who will emerge from the bottom bracket pack? Brighton and Pleasant Grove appear to be the obvious choices, but Spanish Fork, Viewmont and Bingham all have the potential to get at the right time as well. Regardless of how things pan out, there should be plenty of drama.
6. St. George impact
Provo isn't the only defending state champ in the 4A field this year. Pine View claimed the 3A state title last year, and along with fellow Region 9 tourney participant Snow Canyon, made the jump to 4A this year.
So what type of impact might Snow Canyon and Pine View have on the 4A tournament? If the football season was any indicator they shouldn't be taken lightly. In its first season in 4A, Pine View's football team advanced to the championship game before falling to Timpview.
Snow Canyon and Pine View both seem to have favorable first round matchups, but it gets much tougher after that with Pine View likely to face Provo and Snow Canyon to face the winner of Roy and Timpview.
7. Riverton's Cinderella run
The 5A runner-up each of the past two years has been Riverton, with both runs to the championship game coming rather unexpectedly as Region 3's No. 2 seed.
In 2006, Riverton won a pair of overtime games and then knocked off 21-win Hillcrest in the semis before a championship heartbreaker against rival Bingham. Last year Riverton avoided a No. 1 seed until the championship game thanks to some upper bracket upsets but was then crushed by Lone Peak in the final. The one unifying factor of those teams was Morgan Grim, who's now playing for the U.
Having been placed on the same side of the bracket as Davis and Lone Peak, it's hard to imagine a three-peat for Riverton.
8. Pull your head out
With three officials working the 5A boys basketball tournament this year, in theory it means we'll hear less annoying chants from the crowd like, "pull your head out" and "call it boys ways."
Somehow that doesn't seem likely.
With that said, every state tournament there are one or two questionable calls that impact games pretty significantly just ask Northridge coach CK Hansen. With an extra set of eyes running up and down the court, it definitely increases the odds the referees get it right, even though the annoying chants are inevitable.
9. Who's this year's Granger?
Numerous first round upsets in 4A last year enabled two No. 4 seeds, two No. 5 seeds and a No. 3 seed to advance to the quarterfinals. Granger was one of those No. 5 seeds and it nearly followed up its first upset with another, narrowly losing to eventual champion Provo in the quarterfinals in overtime.
Fourth-seed Timpview ended up advancing to the semifinals as did third-seed Roy.
So which underdog 4A teams could make a similar run this year? Perhaps it's third-seeded Springville. After all, Red Devils point guard Michael Salazar knows what it takes to win in late February; he was Timpview's starting point guard last year. Perhaps fourth-seeded Granger has another run in them, and fourth-seeded Woods Cross as well.
10. Worth price of admission
Over the next six days there will be 30 games played at the Dee Events Center. There will inevitably be some great games, as well as some great individual performances.
For even unaffiliated basketball fans, it might be worth taking a sick day just to see some of the individual talent on display. Players like Lone Peak's Tyler Haws, Pleasant Grove's C.J. Wilcox and Woods Cross' Holton Hunsaker are budding college stars worth the price of admission.Then there's guys like Davis' Jackson Stevenett, Murray's Markus Duran and Granger's Ray Tapusoa, entertaining players to watch who have you talking about them as you leave the arena.