Editor's note: 4A basketball preview will be in Wednesday's Deseret News.
When analyzing the 3A boys basketball landscape, few things are as important as location when trying to determine state title contenders.
Talent and coaching are significant too, but the X-factor the past decade has been the state tournament site.
When the tournament has been down South, a Southern Utah team has won. When it's been along the Wasatch Front, a Northern team has won.
"It's a huge factor in 3A, no doubt," said Judge coach Dan Del Porto.
Fortunately for Judge and the rest of the Northern teams, this year's tourney is close to home. A year after Region 9 placed four teams in the 3A semifinals at Dixie State College — with Hurricane ultimately claiming the title — this year's state tournament will be held at Weber State.
That's bad news for the Southern teams.
In the six years the 3A state tournament has been held up North, no Southern Utah team has ever advanced to a championship game. In fact, of the 24 semifinal berths in those six years, only six have belonged to Region 9 teams.
Basically, history says it's nearly impossible to win a state tournament staying in a motel.
Before teams start concerning themselves with state titles, though, there's four region championships to hand out, and a lot of teams are in the mix to claim them.
Even though Desert Hills, Judge, Morgan and Spanish Fork have emerged as slight favorites in their respective regions this preseason, the wins don't start to count until region play ramps up this week across the state.
No. 1 Judge opens region play Friday at Uintah, but not before hosting undefeated Davis on Monday and then Murray on Wednesday. Facing similar competition all season, the Bulldogs have put together a tremendous 8-3 record, with quality wins over teams like Bingham, East, Highland and Wasatch Academy.
"I'm pretty happy with where we're at right now. Considering our schedule, I think we've done very well," said Del Porto. "I think we have four or five guys who can really shoot it, and that's been big for us this preseason. We've probably been using the 3 ball more than we have in the past."
Returning starters Joe Cremer and Patrick Neville have combined for 38 3-pointers this preseason, with Cremer leading the team with 11.3 ppg. Newcomers Ryan Pauley and Terrell Young have also made great contributors for the Region 10 favorites.
Juan Diego is the only other team in Region 10 with a winning record, and the Soaring Eagle is a definite threat to Judge with Gabe Colosimo leading the way at 17.7 ppg.
Even though Region 9 appears to be a bit down this season and doesn't have the luxury of home-court advantage in the playoffs, it's still the toughest region in 3A from top to bottom.
Desert Hills and Cedar are the front-runners. Both were semifinalists a year ago, and both are 8-3 this season. Cedar has a slight edge in the region race after beating Desert Hills 61-48 in the Region 9 opener back on Dec. 12.
Cedar doesn't have a single starter back from last season, but Ryan Armstrong, Dason Coronado and Dustin Staggs have stepped in and picked up the slack with each averaging in double figures.
Cedar isn't the only Region 9 team with numerous fresh faces this season . Of the 35 starters in Region 9 last season, 29 graduated, which means there's a lot of unproven talent heading into the league grind.
Region 11 is shaping up to be the highest-scoring league in 3A.
Morgan's Jake Miles leads 3A with 25.0 ppg, while Bear River's Wade Miller is second with 22.7 ppg. Not surprisingly, their respective teams are the front-runners in the region race. Ben Lomond and Grantsville should factor in, as well.
"I think our region will be more competitive that way and the teams that come out on top will be better prepared for the state tournament," said Morgan coach Jim Wiscombe.
The Region 12 race is arguably the most unpredictable heading into league play.
Spanish Fork won seven straight to open the season, including a win over Cedar, but it has since lost three straight — including a 55-48 loss to Desert Hills.
Carbon (7-4) and its three returning starters are riding a six-game winning streak heading into the new year. The Dinos were tabbed by the Region 12 coaches as the team to beat as well.
Delta and Payson can't de discounted as contenders either.
Deseret News 3A region projections
Note: Projections were picked by the Deseret News staff based on observations from the first month of the season.
2. Desert Hills
3. Snow Canyon
5. Pine View
6. Canyon View
2. Juan Diego
4. Park City
2. Bear River
3. Ben Lomond
1. Spanish Fork
5. North Sanpete
6. JuabRegion projections
REGION 91. Cedar2. Desert Hills3. Snow Canyon4. Dixie5. Pine View6. Canyon View7. Hurricane
REGION 101. Judge2. Juan Diego3. Wasatch4. Park City5. Union6. Uintah
REGION 111. Morgan2. Bear River3. Ben Lomond4. Grantsville5. Stansbury6. Ogden7. Tooele
REGION 121. Spanish Fork2. Carbon3. Delta4. Payson5. North Sanpete6. Juab
NOTE: As chosen by the Deseret News staff, based on early-season results.