TWIR9: With mostly new faces, 3A tourney looking for new favorites

COMMENTARY — The ball goes live Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the Maverik Center in West Valley City. So who’s ready?

The 3A Boys State Basketball Tournament hits its stride Thursday morning with the Region 12 champ Richfield playing Ben Lomond, followed by Pine View and Uintah at 11:10, Desert Hills and Juan Diego at 12:50 and Dixie vs. Bear River at 2:30.p.m, all quarterfinal games.

It’s a quadruple-header that features the best 3A has to offer in 2014-15. Neither of last season’s finalists are involved as defending-champ Morgan didn’t even make the playoffs and last year’s runner-up, Cedar, never had a chance at Richfield in the first round.

state1In fact, Morgan won the last two titles. Before that, the Boston Gubler-led Hurricane Tigers won it (2012). But the Tigers are also absent from the quarterfinals. Before that? Well, Wasatch took the 3A title in 2010 and 2011, but the Wasps are in the 4A classification now, and they missed those playoffs anyway.

How about 2009? Bear River went 23-1 and won it all that year with coach Van Park at the helm. Now we’re getting somewhere. Bear River is in the quarterfinals and Van Park is the basketball coach. The problem is, Park is the girls basketball coach for the Bears now.

What about 2008? Judge Memorial won it that year. They’re 2A now, plus coach Jim Yerkovich retired a couple of years ago. Maybe 2007? Pine View took that title, with the father-son combo of coach Steve Melessa and guard Jace Melessa bringing home the trophy. Steve is now an assistant at Desert Hills and Jace is a married father seeking his fortune in life.

In 2006, Judge won it, while 2005 saw Tooele capture the title. The Buffaloes, who have been up and down from 3A to 4A, were 9-16 this season and lost by 15 in the opening round of the 3A playoffs to Uintah.

Anyway, get the idea? There’s going to be a new champion this year. There will be new blood at the top. The field, as they say, is ready to harvest.

So who’s going to drive the reaper?

A quick glance at the overall records of the remaining teams would give the logical conclusion that Pine View and Juan Diego are the teams to beat. They are the only two teams with 20 wins, they’re both region champions and they both rolled to 20-plus point victories in the first round of the playoffs.

But before we pencil the Panthers and Soaring Eagle all the way through the 3A Bracket, let’s take a closer look. Pine View certainly has the pieces in place, with an all-state big man in Kody Wilstead and (as Cody Ruesch proved last Friday), talented role players who can step up and make plays. But we also know that the difference between Pine View and its two region rivals, Desert Hills and Dixie, is razor thin. The good news for the Panthers is that if they’re going to face Dixie or Desert Hills (or Juan Diego, for that matter), it won’t be until the state championship Saturday afternoon. All three of those teams (as well as Bear River) are in the other half of the bracket.

And that’s the problem for the 20-4 Juan Diego Soaring Eagle. JD has one of the top players in the state in Gabe Colosimo and has won 10 straight games. But if they are to take home the state title, the Soaring Eagle would have to beat (consecutively) Desert Hills, Dixie or Bear River and then Pine View or Richfield. Hey, good luck with that.

The Thunder, who have another of the state’s best players in Quincy Mathews, face the same scenario. Dixie, which will have to try and get the job done with a gimpy RJ Wilgar, faces a Bear River team that has lost one game since Dec. 19. The Flyers can get hot at a moment’s notice, but so can the Bears, who are the only 3A team to beat Juan Diego this year. I guess what I’m saying is this: the bottom half of the bracket is BRUTAL.

The upper half, except for Pine View, seems much lighter in the wallet. The Ben Lomond Scots have won 8 of 9. But it’s hard to take them too seriously when they’ve been such a doormat in nearly every sport for so long. Uintah has 10 losses, including one to Region 9 cellar-dweller Canyon View. Richfield seems to be peaking right now. The Wildcats have won seven straight, but they played all seven Region 9 teams in the preseason and went 3-4, including a 17-point loss to Pine View.

One note about the state tournament: In the past, the state championship games were on Saturday night. Due to an evening event, the Maverik Center has dictated the title games this year are Saturday at 11 a.m. (girls) and 1 p.m. (boys). That means one of the finalists on the boys side will play until about 10 p.m. Friday, then turn around and play again at 1 p.m. the next day. Fitness may be this year’s winner.

Girls basketball

The defending champs are still alive on the girls side of the 3A State Tournament Bracket. Desert Hills won’t exactly be favorites as this year’s tourney hits high gear, but the Lady Thunder are playing well and have given themselves a chance to defend their crown. The biggest problem lies in their quarterfinal opponent, who happens to be the No.1-ranked team in the state.

Juan Diego, 22-0, hasn’t lost this season and hasn’t even had a close game since a 63-59 season-opening win over eventual 5A champ Brighton. However, the Soaring Eagle played in a weak region that had just one other competitive team, Morgan. JD beat the Lady Trojans by 20 in January and 10 in February.

Still, with Ashley Beckstrand, Kenzie Done and a good supporting cast, no one is counting out the Thunder, who have won six straight. D-Hills and Juan Diego are in the lower bracket of the Girls 3A State tournament.

The girls take the evening games on Thursday. The quarterfinal match-ups are Stansbury-Carbon at 4:10 p.m., Cedar-Morgan at 5:50 p.m., Desert Hills-Juan Diego at 7:30 p.m. and the late game with Bear River and Juab at 9:10 p.m.

Carbon and Cedar are the region champs and are slight favorites in the upper bracket. But both teams struggled to get past No. 4-seeds in the first round. The Dinos trailed by as many as eight points late in their game against Pine View before pulling out a two-point win. Cedar struggled to score against Richfield, with Courtney Morley saving the day late in a 40-38 win over the Wildcats. Cedar will have its hands full with a Morgan team that runs and presses all game and averages more than 60 points a contest.

Whoever emerges from the Desert Hills-Juan Diego game will likely face a defensive-minded Bear River team that allowed just over 28 points a game in Region 11 play this season. It seems, like the boys tournament, that the lower bracket is loaded.

Oh, and it’s worth noting that both finalist teams from a year ago, Desert Hills and Morgan, have different coaches than they did in that championship game.

St. George News will be at the boys and girls tournament this week and will bring you the compelling stories, photos and video.

For a closer look at the tournament teams, keep it licked on STGNews Sports.

“This Week in Region 9″ is a weekly column written by Andy Griffin exploring the happenings in Region 9 at all sports venues. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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