Editor's note: DeseretNews.com will be livestreaming the entire tournament.
Prior to the season, each and every basketball team in the state, whether they’ll admit it or not, had the same dream — to hold aloft the state championship trophy.
There are certainly other goals along the way, such as region titles, playoff berths and wins over rivals, but the ultimate goal is to bring home the championship hardware.
Of course, to get to that point a team must survive the gauntlet that is the state tournament, and the 4A tournament in particular promises to be a doozy this year.
Each of the No. 1 seeds, Dixie (20-3), Orem (17-5), Juan Diego (19-5) and Sky View (16-6), have more than a sporting chance at winning state, with others like Salem Hills (16-7) and Desert Hills (16-6) posing serious threats.
“There are really good teams in 4A,” Dixie head coach Ryan Cuff said. “Bear River (the Flyers opening round opponent) is our number one focus right now, but we know there are some really good teams across the board.”
“I think when you look at Dixie, Juan Diego, Orem and Salem Hills, those are the frontrunners in our (classification),” added Sky View head coach Kirk Hillyard. “I think our region is pretty tough, though. We played most of (Region 9) and there are some good teams there as well. I went and watched Payson (12-9) and they look pretty good.”
If there is a favorite it is the Flyers. After all, the Region 9 champs are the top-ranked team in the classification, per the Deseret News, went undefeated in region play and are currently in the midst of a 13-1 stretch.
“I feel like we are playing pretty good, comparable of course to who we have been playing against,” said Cuff. “We lost eight seniors last year and have a whole new group this year that has been learning the system and coming together.”
“They have just kind of seemed to want to get better and improve all year,” he continued. “They have that desire to win and right now I think we are playing our best basketball.”
Leading the way all year for Dixie has been the dynamic duo of Tanner Cuff and Carson Bottema. Averaging 14.8 and 13.5 points per game, respectively, the pair guided Dixie to wins over every single 4A opponent they faced all year.
That is, save one.
That lone loss came against the Bobcats, in the Martin Luther King Tournament.
Not ranked as one of the classifications top-five teams, Sky View figures to play a decided role in the tournament, first and foremost because they are at long last healthy.
“We are finally healthy,” said Hillyard. “Or as healthy as we are going to be. We were missing our big guy, Andrew Dean, for the first part of the season.”
“We are probably playing the best of all of our season. We have been on a run the past few games,” Hillyard added. “I think (health) is a reason why we have been playing well.
That run, four consecutive wins, followed a particularly devastating home defeat to Logan, a loss Hillyard said changed his team.
“It kind of seems like the turning point was the Logan game, where we lost to (the Grizzlies) at home,” said Hillyard. “We kind of refocused everything. The guys are playing unselfish and sharing the ball and we have been shooting it pretty well the last few games.”
Chief among the Bobcats is Mason Falslev, who is averaging a team-best 20 points per game.
On the other side of the bracket, Juan Diego and Orem both stand as prohibitive favorites to advance, to the semifinals at least.
The Soaring Eagle were dominant in Region 11, led by the trio of Matt Kitzman, Jason Ricketts and Raimoana Tinirauarii. The three combined to average over 35 points a game, and when combined with the efforts of Lawson Roe, give the Soaring Eagle as good a collection of players as any team in the classification.
Looming in the later rounds for Juan Diego should be the Tigers, however, a team that defeated the Soaring Eagle in the season opener.
Other teams to watch are Salem Hills, Logan and Desert Hills, among others.
“I think it is going to be a tough tournament,” said Hillyard. “It should be fun for fans to watch.”