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The 2011/12 basketball season played out just as many had imagined it would from the onset, with the favorite Rowan County Vikings, who returned all of that state runner-up experience. Many figured their toughest competition would come from the Tomcats of Ashland, and that's exactly how it unfolded. This year, however, it's not that easy to prognosticate with any assurance of accuracy. Most basketball folk can agree on a top five or six, but nearly all of them disagree on the favorite, or how each team should be ranked. The top two players in this region were once teammates and, of course, it would be a much easier selection if that was still the case. But as it is, there would be no surprise if one of the old staples won it or a newcomer made a trip to Rupp. Without further ado, here's how we see the 16th region.

Preseason 16th Region Rankings

1. Russell Coach Merle Kidwell returns a talented lineup with tons of varsity experience. They will undoubtedly be led by senior (finally, as he has started since 7th grade) Kyle Skaggs. He may be the most skilled scorer from both the field and the free throw line in the region. Senior Googie Hayes will run the point, while 3-point threat Jacob Porter, also a senior, will be a combo guard who can provide scoring punch as well. Inside, they will rely on junior Johnny McGuire and transfer big man (and football QB), senior Lance Evans. The Devils have the most experience and perhaps the fewest weaknesses of the teams in the region and should be there with a real shot at a trip to Lexington as the region champs.

2. Fleming Some major changes at Fleming this season begin and end with the departure of last year's head coach Brian Kelly and the insertion of new head coach Mark Starns. Starns should be happy with all of that talent that was left at his disposal. Junior Darion Burns is a transition demon who can push the tempo better than anyone in the region. He's a gifted scorer, but won't be by himself. Another junior, Troy Steward, is long, and a threat from inside and out. He's a streaky shooter, but has the length to finish at the rim. Add transfer Austin Crisp from Montgomery County and Brady Saunders to that mix and Fleming may be the team that has the scissors in hand as the final horn sounds in Morehead.

3. Boyd Expectations are high in Summit this season, as Coach Randy Anderson feels like he has his best group since he's been at Boyd. And he may be right, as they'll be led by senior wing Austin Hunt, who recently signed with Lincoln Memorial University. Hunt can score from anywhere on the floor and is strong on the glass. Senior Brandon Lowe has been a stalwart at Boyd for several seasons. He is a threat from the block and can step out to make shots. However, Boyd's depth may be its biggest asset. Seven seniors, along with juniors like sharpshooter Tristan Burgess will be key factors in the Lions hopes for a regional crown.

4. Ashland One might think that Coach Buddy Biggs has to be lamenting the departure of the four seniors who dominated most of the minutes, scoring, and rebounding for his Tomcats. Perhaps that's partially true, but the Tomcats will return some experience in his seniors: guard Logan Salow and wing Zach Hart, who saw significant minutes last season. Junior point guard Ross Thompson and junior Steven Friley will be asked to contribute, along with sophomore Nick Miller in the post. Also, highly touted newcomer from Huntington High (WV), sophomore Dikembe Dixson will add athleticism for the high pressure that Ashland brings.

5. Rowan It's tough to repeat as regional champs, yet that's exactly what Shawn Thacker and his Vikings did last year. Can they pull an Elliott County-type trifecta out of their hats this season? For that to happen, they'll have to rely heavily on junior Tyler Thacker, who has had the benefit of the state tournament experience and should command a much more prominent role in the scoring column. Also, look for Josh Barnard to be a significant presence in the post, along with seven-footer, Matt Brown. Trevor Newsome will provide some outside threat for the Vikings.

6. West Carter Reigning COY Jeremy Webb will have his mainstay, Kyle Brown back for his senior season. The smooth sharpshooter will shoulder the scoring load and provide floor leadership. The key for the Comets will be finding someone to fill the big shoes of the departed Derek Lawson, who was the premier windex man in the region. Look for them to be the team to beat in the 62nd district.

7. East Carter Brandon Baker will have another shot at a district title, as he counts on the athletic swing man Kyle Stewart. Stewart brings athleticism and size for the Raiders. He’ll get some help from Quinn Huddle and Bradley Marsh in the backcourt. They’ll battle West for the crown in the 62nd and will go as far as Stewart can carry them.

8. Morgan County Perhaps this ranking is too low. Perhaps it's too high. Strange but true, because we don’t really know what Morgan will bring under Matthew Perry. Of course, his son, frosh Jordan Perry will run the point, but what will roll out at tip off with him? A couple of foreign exchange students have found their way to West Liberty; so I suppose this ranking is the most up in the air of them all. Samuel Lozada, a 6'0" guard from Puerto Rico and 6'6" Aleksander Malinic from Serbia could make the 62nd a different ballgame this season.

9. Fairview – Much like Morgan County, it’s tough to rank the Eagles, who will have some new faces. Huntington High transfer Elijah King was just ruled eligible to playoverturning an ineligible ruling by the KHSAA. With that said, King will provide athleticism and scoring that is sorely needed, now that Mike Terry has graduated. Arguably, coach Cooksey will have as solid a backcourt as anyone in the region with King alongside speedster Devon Turner. If that duo can get any help, Fairview may be ranked too low here.

10. Lewis County – The hopes in Vanceburg lie on the square shoulders of junior Brett Ruckel this season. He’s got great range behind the arc, and will be accompanied by junior Wade Adams. Coach Joe Hampton always has his teams playing their best basketball when March rolls around. They’ll likely battle for the runner-up spot in the district and a spot in the regional tourney.

11. Raceland– The new man in the first seat this season, Bob Trimble, will try to bring his young squad along as the season progresses. Lots of athleticism in the sophomore class has the Ram faithful anxious for better days in the near future.

12. Bath County – New coach, Larry Tiller will have some rebuilding to do in Owingsville, but his cupboard isn’t exactly bare. Returners for the Wildcats include Keegan Sammons, who will be relied upon heavily to shoulder the scoring load after leading them in that category last season.

13. Greenup County– Taking over the helm of the revolving coaching seat in Lloyd this fall is Harold Tackett. The task at hand will be to bring some continuity to the Greenup County program. The Musketeers will have to rely on the underclassmen growing up quickly to have any success in the district.

14. Elliott County– The Lions will count on some twins to lead them for the next couple of years. Sound familiar? Well these twins aren’t the Faulkners, but the Griffith twins. They will have to grow up quickly in their freshman season to make any noise in the 62nd this season. They’ll be alongside junior guard Logan Nickell. Coach Adkins knows what it takes to compete in this district.

15. Menifee County Coach Swartz will have his son, Drew to lead the way at the point this season. Their hopes to contend will be largely dependent upon his leadership and scoring. They’ll need to find some help to sneak up and get a district tournament win and get into the region.

16. Rose HillFirst year head coach Justin Maynard, a former Rose Hill standout, takes over the reigns as the Royals are now in rebuild mode. They do return some size in 6’6” senior Chris Dudley and experience in senior PG Travis Dudding.

Top 10 Players in the 16th Region

1a. Kyle Skaggs, Sr. (Russell) – Kyle is a very gifted scorer who should be among not only the region's but the state’s scoring leaders.

1b. Austin Hunt, Sr. (Boyd County) – Austin is a strong, tough wing who can score in a variety of ways. He has the ability to get to the rim as well as score out on the floor.

2. Darion Burns, Jr. (Fleming County) – Darion is solid in transition and can finish at the rim. He will challenge as the top scorer in the region for the Panthers.

3. Kyle Brown, Sr. (West Carter) – Kyle is a silky smooth shooter. Perhaps the best freethrow shooter in the region as well.

4. Troy Steward, Jr. (Fleming County) – Troy is a long, lean wing player. He has the length to finish at the rim and can be deadly from beyond the arc.

5. Brandon Lowe, Sr. (Boyd County) – Brandon has a solid frame for post play and a terrific shooting touch for a big man. He's also great at the free throw line.

6. Kyle Stewart, Sr. (East Carter) – Kyle is a fantastic athlete who can get off the floor. He has a solid midrange game and is a hard worker on the glass.

7. Tyler Thacker,
Jr. (Rowan County) – Tyler is a high motor lefty, who gets after it on the defensive end and can get to the basket off the bounce.

8. Jacob Porter, Sr. (Russell) – Jacob is a very solid shooter. He sees the floor well in transition, and is not afraid to take a big shot.

9. Brett Ruckel, Jr. (Lewis Co.) Brett has great range. He’s open when his feet get on his side of the half court stripe.

10. Logan Salow, Sr. (Ashland)
Logan is just a terrific athlete. He's very cerebral and seems to always be in control. He's also an underrated shooter.

Other Top Players in the 16th Region
Devon Turner (Fairview)
Josh Barnard (Rowan)
Zach Hart (Ashland)
Googie Hayes (Russell)
Austin Crisp (Fleming)