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It's time to find out if Region 9 is really as good as advertised.
Throughout the entire boys basketball season, the teams in Southern Utah got rave reviews for their quality. Many believe that with the final three rounds of the 3A state tournament taking place at Dixie State College next week, it's an inevitability that a Region 9 team will win the championship.
Before Region 9 teams can take advantage of what's historically been a big home-court advantage, first they need to get through this weekend.
The opening round of the state tournament begins this Saturday night with eight games taking place at home sites.
Region 9's top two seeds — Desert Hills and Hurricane — host first round games that most expect they'll win comfortably. However, No. 3 Cedar and No. 4 Dixie both must hit the road against strong teams that are very comfortable at home. If one or both win, it will validate just how good Region 9 really was. If neither prevails, it might be a shot in the arm to the rest of the classification.
Region 10 champion Judge (15-6) hosts Dixie (11-10) at 6 p.m. this Saturday, and coach Dan Del Porto knows his team is in for a dog fight.
"I'm extremely worried about this Dixie game. They're not a traditional fourth-place team. From first to fourth in that league, I don't know that there's a whole lot of difference," said Del Porto.
No one knows that better than the Region 9 teams, who beat up on each other all year.
Cedar (16-5), which tied Hurricane for second in Region 9 but lost a coin flip, might be one of the best No. 3 seeds in tournament history. It will be a slight favorite at Wasatch (11-10) this Saturday at 6 p.m., but you can bet the two-time defending state champion Wasps aren't about to go quietly.
Through the years, the first round of the 3A state tournament has often been littered with blowouts. Because of realignment and an injection of quality teams into the classification, that's very unlikely this year.
In fact, Juan Diego (10-12) at Desert Hills (18-3) looks like the only obvious mismatch.
Carbon (12-8) at Ben Lomond (15-6) is a rematch of a double-overtime game earlier this year.
Bear River (7-14) at Delta (9-10) is a battle of teams with losing records, and two of the worst statistical defenses in 3A. Conversely, Spanish Fork (10-11) at Morgan (17-3) which is being played Friday night at 7:30 p.m. is a showdown of two of the highest scoring teams in 3A.
The last two first round games, Ogden (10-10) at Payson (17-4) and Park City (11-10) at Hurricane (15-5), seem like mismatches on paper, but the underdog road teams have quality wins under their belts this season and should keep the games close.