Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Bear River plays Morgan in the 3A boys basketball state championship game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Dixie won.
There’s not a super dominant team. —Desert Hills coach Wade Turley

For the first time in quite a while, there’s an unpredictability element to the 3A boys basketball state tournament that gets underway Saturday.

Since 2008, the No. 1-ranked team in the Deseret News went on to win the 3A title every year but 2012 — and even that year everyone assumed a Region 9 team would win anyway with the state tournament taking place at Dixie State College.

This season, however, six to eight teams can legitimately call themselves state title contenders, which should make for a fantastic tourney.

“There’s not a super dominant team,” said Desert Hills coach Wade Turley.

The eight first-round games will be played at the higher seed this Saturday, with the final three rounds shifting to Southern Utah University next Thursday through Saturday.

If there’s a slight favorite heading into the tournament, it’s No. 1 Morgan.

Since starting the year 0-5 as starters Bridger Streadbeck and Matt Murdock recovered from injuries — a stretch that included losses to Desert Hills and Cedar — defending state champion Morgan has gone 17-1.

The Trojans, who host North Sanpete (4-15) in the first round Saturday, have gotten the job done with tremendous balance. MVP Jake Miles was Morgan’s only player who averaged in double figures last year at 24.7 ppg, but this year Garren Miles, Ben Saunders and Hunter Stanford all average in double figures.

Unlike last year though, when Morgan benefitted from the 3A state tournament being held at nearby Weber State, this year’s tourney is 300 miles away.

That fact gives Region 9 teams Snow Canyon (14-7), Cedar (13-8), Desert Hills (13-8) and Pine View (16-5) all hope of marching through the tournament.

“I honestly think any of the four teams from our region have the ability to get hot and make a run at it,” said Turley. “I don’t think any of us are dominant, but I do feel that constant competitiveness game in and game out where you're tight down the stretch every game, I just think that prepares you for those state games that are going to be tight.”

Before SUU can become a potential advantage for Region 9 teams, they need to escape the opening round, and Cedar and Desert Hills both have tough draws against Region 11 co-champs Grantsville (18-3) and Bear River (12-10) respectively. The other two face much easier opponents as Pine View hosts Tooele (10-12) and Snow Canyon welcomes Ben Lomond (4-18).

The other three first-round games involve crossover games between Regions 10 and 12: Park City (7-15) at Richfield (13-5), Juab (13-7) at Juan Diego (18-5) and Uintah (7-13) at Payson (16-6).

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Payson has never won a state championship, but this year’s team could finally end that hex. The Lions are good at both ends of the court, balanced offensively, and know what to expect being away from home after playing three games in a tournament in St. George in December.

Juan Diego is another northern team that had realistic title ambitions most of the year, but those hopes likely came to an end when 3A leading scorer Gabe Colosimo (20.8 ppg) broke his leg in the final game of the regular season last week.