*Breaking Down the Odds*
The high school basketball post-season is finally here! As usual, the hoops season in the Bluegrass State goes by all too fast. Since we live in a Commonwealth known for horse racing, I figured why not put the odds on the chances of the region’s top contenders in the race for Rupp Arena. DISCLAIMER: This, of course, is not for betting purposes but rather my thoughts on the chances of a particular team winning. It’s the call to the post! The teams are in the gate…and they’re off!
13th Region Boys
· *Corbin (2-1) – The Redhounds are the best team in the 13th and have been all year. Tony Pietrowski said earlier this season, “I really like this team. They have a high ceiling and if we do what I think we can…we will have a great year.” Corbin has had a great year and it’s not over. The ‘Hounds have the best all-around player in Madison Johnson, the best true point guard with Isaac Wilson, and a very under-rated center in Aaron Manns. Throw in Matthew Taylor and a deep bench, and Corbin has all the pieces to get back to Rupp Arena for a third straight year.
· *Clay County (5-1) – Will this be the year Clay County finally gets the first round monkey off their back? I believe the answer is YES! When you look at the history of Kevin Spurlock’s coaching career there is a unique pattern. While at Hazard, Spurlock’s teams were bounced in the first round of the 54th district tournament from 2003-2005. Finally, in 2006 Hazard eliminated Perry Central in the district opener and went on to win the region crown. In his first three years in Manchester, Clay County has exited the 13th region tourney in the opening round. Now in his 4th year at Clay County, coach Spurlock has what it takes to do some damage. Reed, Wilson, Roberts, Gay, and England is a healthy lineup to make noise.
· *South Laurel (8-1) – It appears the Cardinals have weathered the late season swoon that saw South lose three straight and four of five. Matt St. John went down for a game or two with an ankle injury, coach Steve Wright was suspended for two games, but now senior Matt Gilbert has strained ligaments in one of his ankles. If Gilbert is unable to go, which he should by the post-season, it puts a lot of pressure on St. John and Matt Watkins to do more scoring.
· *Harlan County (13-1) – The Black Bears have a shining 17-8 record, but have the Black Bears been tested enough? Mike Jones team played only *three* teams that would be considered a contender or potential contender from the 13th or 14th regions. A win against Breathitt County (89-84), a loss to Clay County (63-54), and a loss to Buckhorn (53-43) are the only teams on the schedule worthy of contender status. There is no question Harlan County has the ingredients to make a run, but enough for three days?
· *Bell County (15-1) – Much like Harlan County, Bell County has had their moments but they have been few and far between. The Bobcats do have good wins against Harlan County twice, Henderson County and a strong outing against Clay County. A dangerous team that is gaining confidence down the stretch.
· *Knox Central (15-1) – The Panthers have under-achieved after going 16-9 and 24-8 in the last two seasons. Knox has the offense to win with Cody Miller, Travis Canady and blossoming Tanner Broughton. There is no question the Panthers can score, but can they put it together for three nights? I do wonder about their defense and a lack of a deep bench.
· *Whitley County (35-1) – Coach Chris Baker said the following during the Riverside Prep Showcase, “If we (Whitley County) can beat South Laurel in the district, I think we will be in the region finals.” WOW! That’s a bold statement but Chris Baker has made bold statements before and backed them up. However, when you consider Whitley County has not defeated South Laurel since January 9, 1998, it’s hard to think it could be a reality. From 1999-2007, the Cardinals had the original recipe of destruction for the Colonels, but since Baker became the head Colonel, South’s dominance has been hard to come by. The last six meetings have been decided 8, 6, 3, 6, 11, and 15. We will see come February 23rd.
14th Region Boys
· *Knott Central (2-1) – The folks in Hindman have waited for a team good enough to go to Rupp for a loooong time! The last time KCC went dancing was 1993 when the Patriots went to the Elite 8 before falling to PRP. Since Knott’s last visit to Lexington, the Patriots have gone through more coaches than any other contender in the mountains! Stuart Stamper has solidified himself,(in my opinion, as the best shooter in the region. Tate Cox is very good, Zach Davis has ‘star’ written all over him and Logan Bartrum is a pesky defender. Add in tough minded Braxton Ratliff and Nason Roberts in the post, with Mikey Slone bringing offense off the bench and you have a recipe for winning. Did I mention the Patriots’ coach (Dave Fraley) has won 650+ games and has a state title?!?
· *Perry Central (2-1) – If there is a team that has a psychological advantage over nearly everybody in the region it’s Perry Central. The Commodores are a unit that is tough to handle because they are patient offensively and play stifling defense. Dillon Cornett (6’7, 325) is the missing piece of the puzzle. The football offensive lineman has come out of nowhere down the stretch giving PCC the inside threat they need. Jordan Amis is a very good decision maker on the point and when Chris Noble is ‘on’ from the outside, that is a tough combo in the back court. Corey Martin is hard to handle on the block and when Tyler Mullins is rebounding and driving to the goal, not many can stop him. Like KCC, did I mention the Commodores coach, Allan Hatcher, has won 770 games with a state title?!?
· * Hazard (5-1) – Hazard has all of the tools to win yet another region championship, but to quote coach Al Holland, “I just can’t figure these guys out!” The Bulldogs have a very good point guard in Josh Whitaker, a very much under-rated post game with Alan Fugate and Joey Meehan, and a budding talent in BJ Combs. Factor in Jordan Olinger, who is on pace to be a stud, a potentially deadly shooter in Eric Back, and hard-nosed Jon Combs, the Dogs are dangerous. HOWEVER, Hazard has shown lapses with enthusiasm and desire to play hard. Don’t quote me on that, you can quote coach Holland with that belief. The veteran coach is right. I did not see the game with Breathitt County, a 71-70 win on senior night, but if Hazard plays to its potential, region title #33 is very realistic.
· *Breathitt County (8-1) – After streaking to a 10-1 start, the Bobcats are showing they are struggling as they hit the final turn. Breathitt County is just 8-8 since the start of the 2010 portion of the calendar. The run-and-gun style is very effective on offense, scoring more than 2,000 points, but defensively the Cats are a little loose. Consider this…Breathitt County has allowed more points than any team in our coverage area! Statewide, only Atherton (2-23) from Louisville’s 7th region has given up more points than Breathitt! Now, let’s get to the good. Not many have been able to slow down the Cats’ offensive machine. Dakota Ritchie is, in my opinion, the best shooter who does not get enough recognition. Travis Terry is another threat from outside, Nick Noble is as a good guard in the region, and Justin Taulbee can rival Tyler Mullins as a leaper and rebounder. Let’s not forget Breathitt County will be at home during the regional tournament and home court can mean a lot.
· * Buckhorn (11-1) – The Wildcats are on the verge of doing great things in the post-season if they can get past Perry Central in the district. The ‘Horn has lost to PCC twice by a total of 12 points and you have to wonder if the third time is the charm. John Noble’s team is dangerous with wins over Hazard, South Laurel, and near misses against Breathitt County and Hazard in another meeting. Matt Day and Eric Stidham are a very good 1-2 punch and Dustin Colwell is another key spoke in the wheel. The Wildcats are an emotional team which can be a good or bad aspect depending on the situation. Buckhorn has shown an ability to explode offensive, but this team cannot get so overly emotional where they lose focus. If Buckhorn can beat PCC in the district opener, and get a favorable draw in the region, the Wildcats could be tough to stop.
15th Region Boys
· *Shelby Valley (1-5) – Is there a reason the Wildcats are even on the board? Shelby Valley has not been tested at all this year within the region. Jason Booher’s All “A” state champions are beating 15th region opponents by 39 points a game!!! Are you serious? The Wildcats have talked about leaving a legacy and barring a meltdown, the Robinson Creek faithful will be in Rupp Arena. Shelby Valley is clearly the best 15th region team to grace the court from Pike County since the days of Todd May and the Virgie Eagles.
· *Lawrence County (25-1) – The Bulldogs were thought to be one of the few teams who could give Valley a run for their money. Well, so much for that. Shelby Valley beat the Dogs by 40 on February 16th on the Wildcats’ senior night. Lawrence County has a good record but against the better teams, the Dogs have struggled.
· *Pikeville (25-1) – The Panthers finally got healthy after the Christmas break and since Santa’s visit, Pikeville has not lost to anyone in the region not named Shelby Valley. Pikeville can make it to the region finals, but first must get out of the district. Pikeville has not made it to the region tournament since losing to Valley in the 2007 region championship game.
· *Betsy Layne (30-1) – I like Betsy Layne and they are a team that has quietly come along this season. But, the Bobcats have had spells of inconsistency with losses to Prestonsburg (4-19), South Floyd (4-18), and Johnson Central (10-12) when the Golden Eagles were just 3-9. Betsy Layne played Valley back in December losing by 23, but Junior Newsome’s team didn’t play that bad. I think Betsy Layne plays to their perceived level of competition.
· *Johnson Central (35-1) – The Golden Eagles are finally playing like a team they were thought to be at the onset of the season. Why it has taken this long is a mystery. I still can’t out of my head a 44 point loss in the Mountain Classic, but that was a long time ago. As of February 17th, Johnson Central had won six straight and lost to the Valley dwellers by 20.