2012 KY Sweet 16 Boys Basketball Preview
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2012 KY Sweet 16 Boys Basketball Preview
Apollo prepped for the postseason by losing seven of its nine games after the middle of January.
Then came a squeaker past a 20-loss Owensboro team in the district semifinals and a crunching defeat at the hands of crosstown rival Daviess County.
So how did Apollo make it to the Sweet 16?
"We're a little bit of a surprise, even to ourselves," deadpanned coach Steve Sergeant. "We didn't go in the postseason with a lot of momentum."
Yet, somehow the Eagles are Lexington-bound, having beaten the two Third Region favorites, Ohio County and Muhlenberg County, in a pair of dramatic games in the regional tournament. Having come into the regional tournament with a .500 record, Apollo takes a 17-14 mark into its first-round game with Clark County.
"We looked at it as that we were a worse matchup for (Ohio) than they were for us," said Sergeant, who came to Apollo two years ago after coaching stops at Spalding University and Seneca. "We got by them and beat (Muhlenberg) on a tip-in with one second left, and here we are."
The tip-in was courtesy of 6-6, 224-pound forward Michael Berry, one-half of the reason the Eagles can cause so many matchup problems. The bigger (much bigger) half of the equation is 6-6 strongman Hunter Bivin, who is better known as one of the state's top college football prospects.
Bivin's recruitment has blown up in recent weeks, with him getting scholarship offers from a slew of BCS programs. He started the season at around 290 pounds, then shed 30 and is "back around 270 right now," according to Sergeant.
"He's really improved his game, learned how to use his body and shoulder and hips," Sergeant said. "He's skilled, not just a big body. He can put the ball on the floor a little and doesn't have a bad touch on his shot. He doesn't just take up space, but he knows how to use it."
Between them, Berry and Bivin average 24 points and 15 rebounds per game and lead a team that's been outrebounded in just two games since Christmas.
"Berry is a good athlete that can hit the mid-range jumper and his passing skills have improved. He's really gotten better in the last month, and those two have developed their game of playing with each other and feeding off each other.
"We call it 'playing two-on-two in the driveway,' which is what we call the lane. We're confident that if they get catch the ball in the lane, they're going to be able to score 65 percent of the time."
Sophomore Hunter Shelton, a 6-3 forward, averages 14 points per game and shoots nearly 50 percent from 3-point range.
"We don't force a lot of turnovers and we're not real quick," Sergeant said. "Most of our opportunities come off the rim with the rebound. We need to be efficient on offense."
Greg McQueary's 20-year career as a head coach has taken him to Bardstown, Caldwell County and Boone County, and it's the latter where he's done some of his best work.
Boone has been knocking on the door in the 9th Region over the last few years, but finally found a way to earn a Sweet 16 spot with a senior-laden lineup heavy on guards and shooters.
Forward Zane McQueary, the coach's son, is listed at 6-6 and 200 pounds and shoots 38 percent from 3-point range. He leads the Rebels (27-7) with a 17.5 scoring average and came up especially big in the regional tournament.
Cooper Downs runs the point with Jakeith Pitts and Chase Stanley on the wings — they're all small guards, between 5-8 and 5-10, but take care of the ball and shoot in the mid-30s, percentage-wise, from the perimeter.
Free throw shooting was a big factor in the Rebels' postseason run, and the four aforementioned starters shoot in the 70s or better. McQueary hits them at an 84 percent rate.
Keenan Palmer (6-0, 175) is an undersized inside player.
A midseason change in tempo served the Rebels well — they're 11-1 when holding their opponent under 50 points, most of it coming in the latter two months of the season. That presents a real contrast in style when they take on a Knott Central club that likes to get up and down the court.
There is life after losing a superstar. Ask Bowling Green, which finally broke a lengthy Sweet 16 drought the year after losing Chane Behanan to the University of Louisville.
"We had a nice team, but so did Warren Central, and we just couldn't get over the hump," said Purples coach D.G. Sherrill. "We had a nice group of kids, too, but they didn't get as much notoriety as they deserved because we had a McDonald's All-American on the team."
That is no longer the case. The Purples (29-6) are back on the state's biggest stage with a balanced club led by 5-10 sophomore guard Nacarius Fant, who averages close to 15 points per game and shoots nearly 75 percent from the free throw line. Fant, an all-state wide receiver for Bowling Green's Class 5A state championship team, was the MVP of the 4th Region tournament.
"Nacarius has great range, he can really pull the three and he's our best player off the bounce," Sherrill said. "He's great in the open floor and in transition and he can score in bunches. He's a little undersized, but he has the complete game on the offensive end.
"Whatever you ask of a guard, he can do. He could be our point guard but we need him to score, so we run him at the two to set him up for shots and get him some looks."
Guard Dareon Simmons, a 5-10 senior, averages about 11 points per game, and the Purples have several players in the 6-8 point range in guards Scooter Hollis and Blue Tisdale, 6-5 swingman Clay Stivers and 6-3, 210-pound strongman Jalen Hunter, who has had 10 double-doubles this season.
Simmons "is an old-school guard," Sherill said. "He's real crafty with his offensive game, finding seams and gaps, and he may be our best finisher in transition."
Hollis was the Purples' quarterback in the fall and will play football in Columbia.
Another interesting piece is Joseph Ayers, a rail-thin (6-8, 153) sophomore that is related to former Ohio State head coach Randy Ayers.
"Hunter has paid his dues, playing behind (Behanan) the last two years," Sherril said. "Stivers has some size and Joseph is going to be a nice player. He is just now getting his coordination and into his body."
The Purples primarily go with four guards to take advantage of their quickness and athleticism, and Sherrill hopes they don't have a case of stagefright for their first-round game with an Oldham County club that has state tournament experience.
"Most of my kids, this is their first time at Rupp," Sherrill said. "I think we'll know in the first 3-4 minutes whether we're contenders or pretenders."
A final four team last season, Bullitt East suffered a big midseason setback when 6-7 junior Elliott Young, who was scoring 15 points a game and shooting 55 percent from the field, was sidelined by a stress fracture in his back.
"He tried to play through it but he couldn't," said coach Troy Barr, "and it really changed a lot of what we do offensively. He was our best 3-point shooter, a shot blocker and rebounder, and we had to retool everything.
"Of course, we started from scratch with a kid that's committed to Kentucky and another that's one of the best guards in the state, so we had it better than a lot of people. We figured everything out and we're playing well."
And how. Bullitt East navigated its way through a tough 6th Region field, beating Jeffersontown, Butler and Pleasure Ridge Park in the postseason en route to its second straight regional title.
And with 6-8 forward Derek Willis, a junior who pulled back on his initial commitment to Purdue to cast his lot with the Wildcats, and guards Rusty Troutman and Trey Rakes, the Chargers still pack plenty of punch with one of the state's best junior classes.
"We've got guys with high basketball IQs," Barr said. "Rakes and Troutman are three-year starters, and they've been on the floor for 79 wins. They're winners."
Rakes, who drained a 35-footer at the buzzer to beat Pleasure Ridge Park in the regional final, averaged 8.5 points a game, while Willis and Troutman score at 18- and 17-point clips.
"Trey is as solid a point guard as can he had, schooled by his dad who played at Kentucky Wesleyan," Barr said. "Rusty and Derek both had their average go up when (Young) went out.
"Willis has learned that he needs more strength because the way teams have responded ti having to guard him is to beat him to death," Barr said. "He's so big, so skilled and shoots the ball so well and he's crafty in the lane, so teams just get physical with him.
"Early in the year, he didn't handle it that well, but he's fought through it and grew up a lot. In the regional final, anyone that saw it knows how brutal it was, but he handled it."
In most circumstances, the Chargers (27-4) would have the resume of a team capable of making a long Sweet 16 run — Bullitt East beat Ballard to finish third in the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic, then fell to Ballard in the Louisville Inviational Tournament after losing Young.
But Bullitt East has the toughest of first-round assignments, this one with top-ranked Trinity.
"They're the most athletic team in the state, quicker and stronger than anyone," Barr said. "We beat them in a preseason scrimmage, but we had Young and they didn't have James Quick, so it's a little different look for them and us."
In some ways, Clark County is a Cinderella story.
The Cardinals return just one starter from a team that made it to the Sweet 16 quarter finals a year ago, losing to top-ranked Eastern. Among the losses were three Division I athletes, two of them basketball players.
In a sense, the return is even less than that.
"We only returned one point we scored in the state tournament, and that was from Charlie (Rogers)," said Clark coach Scott Humphrey. "Bopper (Stenzel) started but didn't score."
Yet the Cardinals, back to a guard-oriented team after the loss of Vinny Zollo, Cory Rogers and Co., responded with a season better than anyone expected. Clark is 30-5 and, after an early-season loss at Montgomery County, won every game within the 10th Region by double digits.
"It was a big surprise for our community and for all of our fans, but I don't think it was a surprise in our locker room," Humphrey said. "We felt like we had a legitimate chance to win the 10th Region.
"But winning 30 games, with the win streaks that we've been on and winning the region like we did ... it would be foolish to think we would've put something like that together."
Stenzel, a 6-1 senior, has emerged out of the long shadow cast by his brother Robbie (now at Eastern Kentucky) and become one of the Cardinals' go-to guys, scoring 17 points per game and shooting 35 percent from 3-point range.
Adam Fatkin, a 6-6 senior, leads Clark in scoring and rebounding, averaging just shy of a double-double at 19.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
The Cardinals' forte, however, is defense.
"This team just embraces defense," Humphrey said. "There are times we look pretty ugly on the offensive end, we're inconsistent and we've had some long stretches where we haven't scored. But from tip to end, we're pretty good defensively.
Apollo, Clark's first-round foe, doesn't look to be a good match on paper, but the Eagles' regional tournament win over Ohio County was enough to convince Humphrey that they will be a tough out.
"We watched Ohio play over Christmas, and I had a lot of respect for them," Humphrey said. "Any team that can beat them is worthy of a state tournament appearance."
Even with a young squad, Hopkinsville was still projected as the 2nd Region preseason favorite. But coach Tim Haworth still sees this as a pie-in-the-sky season.
"Coming into the year, I never thought we would be 32-2, as young as we are," Haworth said. "We have a sophomore point guard, but we've handled everything well. We're just five points away from being 34-0 I never dreamed of a season like this. They don't come along too often."
The Tigers haven't been to the Sweet 16 since a semifinal appearance and a loss to eventual champion Mason County in 2003, but the Tigers have one player who's seen the big floor and bright lights of Rupp Arena.
Keyon Wheeler, who was a starter earlier in the season, was a role player for state champion Christian County last year before transferring across town to Hopkinsville last fall. And the Tigers practiced a couple of times at nearby Austin Peay to get the feel of a college-size court.
Hopkinsville features a young, athletic squad that starts just one senior, 6-6 center Laurence Smith, and a talented group of underclassmen led by 6-4 freshman forward Jaqualis Matlock, who averages 12 points and eight rebounds per game.
"He's been an unbelievable player for us," Haworth said of Matlock. "He has a 6-10 wingspan, so he plays bigger and he can block shots and rebound. And his effort every day in practice has been really pleasing. He's a freshman with the maturity of a senior and he's been our most consistent player and worker. I can count the bad practices he's had on one hand."
Sophomore Trey Edwards (6-2) runs the point and 6-2 junior guard Jordan Majors is a dangerous long-range shooter (35 percent from 3-point range) and the Tigers' leading scorer with a 16-point average.
T.J. Elam, a 6-2 junior, missed much of the first half of the season with a stress fracture in his back and provides another perimeter threat.
"He might be our best athlete and he's a kid that can take the ball to the basket," Haworth said. "He gives us an extra shooter and ballhandler."
Hopkinsville has plenty of depth. Haworth said 13 different players have scored in double figures at least once this season. Sophomore Javonte Davis (6-4) had 30 points and 16 rebounds in one game this season and 6-2 junior Robert Bell chipped in with 14 points as the Tigers beat Henderson County in the regional semifinals.
"We can't be satisfied with just getting there," Haworth said. "I want to get to Saturday, and we'll see what happens if we get there."
This is why you can't judge a team on what you see in December.
John Hardin ended the 2011 part of the schedule with a 4-5 record, but there plenty of reasons to think the Bulldogs were going to show significant improvement within a couple of months.
"Jeremy Harness missed three games because of football visits, our three man broke his collarbone in the last football game, then broke it again the week he came back," said coach Mark Wells. "Then we had a 6-8 kid decide not to play after signing a football scholarship."
Nevertheless, John Hardin managed to put things together in the latter part of the season and takes a 10-game winning streak into its first-round state tournament game with Johnson Central.
"We finally got into (basketball) shape," Wells said. "At the start, we had five kids coming off the football field, we had two new kids in (Daveon) Greene and (Keon) Williams. All that was intertwined, and it took the guys until the end of December to jell. Once we got the pieces into place, we figured out who could do what."
Greene (6-2, 240) blossomed in his junior year, averaging 17 points and nine rebounds after moving in from Ohio. Williams, who came from Tennessee, is a 6-4 sophomore who shoots 35 percent from 3-point range and averages eight points per game.
Point guard Jeremy Price leads the Bulldogs (22-8) with a 18-point average, and two-guard Harness — a star running back on John Hardin's powerful football team who signed to play wide receiver at Murray State — averages 11 points per game and is the team's top perimeter threat.
Lonnie Gaskins, a 6-5 senior who was a tight end on the football team, provides some sie off the bench.
"We're not extremely big but we have pretty good athletic ability," Wells said. "Greene is a stronger kid than most we see and we're an up-tempo team. We'll use the fullcourt press and we'll try to get after you halfcourt, too. We're an inside-outside team, and we can use Greene to post up and create off of that."
Better known for its football program, Johnson Central arrives at Rupp Arena this week with a curiosity in Shane Hall, fast developing a reputation as one of the state's top sophomores.
Hall is a thin (listed at 6-7, 145) face-the-basket type that is sure to cause a slew of matchup problems. His development was the reason Indiana coach Tom Crean made the trip to the mountains last week to check out Hall in the 15th Region finals.
With averages of 17 points and 11 rebounds per game, Hall is clearly the go-to guy for the Golden Eagles (25-10), who shook off a 14-point loss to Sheldon Clark in the district final and avenged a late-season loss to East Ridge in the regional championship game.
None of his teammates average in double figures, although the Eagles do have some balance beyond Hall, with Braxton Blair and Dalton Adkins, both freshman, leading the backcourt and giving Johnson Central three underclassmen as its top scorers.
Two other freshman, 6-3 forward Kyle Gullett and 6-6 center Truman Salyer, are in the regular player rotation, and neither is afraid to launch a shot from the perimeter.
Coach Tommy McKenzie led Johnson Central to the state tournament a decade ago.
To paraphrase a line from "Hoosiers," they play them young in the 14th Region.
Last season, seventh-grade point guard Braxton Beverly took the Sweet 16 by storm tossing in 24 points in Perry Central's first-round loss to Wayne County.
Next on the kiddie assembly line is Knott Central's Camron Justice, a 6-1 freshman who shoots 47 percent from 3-point range and leads the Patriots (28-5) with a 21-point scoring average.
He isn't alone, either. Knott starts three freshman and has a freshman sixth man.
"I'm 51 years old, and this is the best group of freshmen to come out of the mountains in a long time," said Knott coach B.B. King. "(Evan Hall) is my fourth cousin and his grandfather played with King Kelly Coleman at Wayland, so he's got some bloodlines."
Justice, the son of assistant coach Raymond Justice, transferred from East Ridge to Knott over the summer. King was the elder Justice's assistant at Letcher Central for a few years, hence the connection, and Justice led Belfry to a first-round win in the state tournament 20 years ago.
King also gives a great deal of credit for Knott's success to senior guard Zack Davis, who averages 14.6 points per game and has had to battle a series of knee injuries to get back on the court.
"He holds us together. He's a smart kid — he made a 32 on his ACT — and he is very unselfish," King said. "This team doesn't care who scores, and a lot of it has to do with Davis. You won't find a lot of seniors giving up shots to freshmen, especially one as good as he is.
"Davis has had two surgeries on each knee, but since he went to Chicago and saw the surgeon for the Bulls, he's done well. He still has to ice everything down after games."
King says Knott "is a better team when we run. That's basically our game — get it out and go. And getting here is a good foundation for this team in the future."
Knott raised some eyebrows in December, beating well-regarded teams Muhlenberg County, Montgomery County and Henry Clay in the Fayette County Invitational. Knott lost a late-season game to Perry Central but caught a break when the Commodores were beaten by Buckhorn in the district semifinals.
The Patriots had split a pair of games with a senior-laden Buckhorn club during the regular season, but won the rubber match in the regional final.
For the second time this season, Marshall County's quest for statewide respect takes its senior-oriented ballclub to central Kentucky.
Marshall established itself early on as far western Kentucky's best team, led by a fleet of strong, physical defensive-minded guards, and will face its toughest test in Scott County.
"Defense has been the most consistent part of this team," said coach Gus Gillespie, who has taken Marshall to back-to-back Sweet 16s and had some state tournament experience as a coach in Illinois before coming south in 2004. "These guys have had that mindset, and we're pretty balanced. If we're shooting the ball well, we can be pretty good. In our two losses, we shot the ball really poorly."
The Marshals (32-2) advanced to the quarterfinals a year ago, handling Bell County before falling to Bullitt East on Friday night. And while they start just one player — point guard Cole Nelson — that started in the Sweet 16 from that squad, several of his teammates played key reserve roles.
Nelson, a 6-3 senior, averages 13.4 points and four assists per game and has been the team's best 3-point shooter this season. Chase Clark (6-2 junior) and Chase York (6-1 senior) also average in double figures, with Clark at 14 points per game and York sporting an 11-point average.
Austin Rentfrow, a 6-6 sophomore, is the only post player and averages 9 points and 6 boards per game. Senior Chase Buchanan, a good defender and passer, surprised some with a 13-point outburst against Paducah Tilghman in the regional final.
The key could be reserve guard Peter Northcutt, who started last year and entered the season with the reputation as the Marshals' best shooter. He has struggled with his shot, and a return to form could give Marshall a chance to pull a surprise.
Marshall played in Montgomery County's Gateway Holiday Classic in late December, sandwiching comfortable wins over Harrison County and Bryan Station around a loss to the host school in which it went 5-for-33 from 3-point range. In a late-season loss to Graves County, they were 1-for-21 from beyond the arc but still had a chance to tie the score with a three in the final seconds.
Don't look for fancy, run-and-gun from basketball from first-time state tournament entry North Laurel.
"Our biggest strengths are defense and rebounding," said coach Brad Sizemore, who also earned his first Sweet 16 appearance in his first season with the Jaguars after coming over from Garrard County. "That's what has carried us to this point.
"Offensively, we've gotten better. Our decision-making has gotten better and we cut down the turnovers for our three wins in the regional tournament, but the biggest reason we're here is that we've been guarding and rebonding as well as anyone in the area."
The Jaguars (21-14) start out big, with 6-6, 240-pound center Jake Allen joined by 6-4 forward Austin Rush on the front line. Allen averages 14 points and 11 rebounds per game, with 6-1 Ryan Shears providing a rugged rebounder.
Point guard Marcus Carson averages 14 points per game and "is really quick and has a good first step," Sizemore said. "Jake is able to score on the inside. It's been those guys for most of the year, but some other guys have stepped up later on in the season."
Resevre guard Kendrick Henson filled that role in the regional final, coming off the bech to score 15 points as the Jaguars knocked off Clay County. Guard Austin Thompson went down with a knee injury in February, but recently returned to practice and could see some time at Rupp.
"We didn't use him in the regional, but he's practicing with us and might be able to help us," Sizemore said.
Everything about North Laurel's state tournament appearance is new, with everyone enjoying the new experience. That isn't the case for the Jaguars' first-round opponent, Rowan County, which was beaten in the state championship game last season.
Rowan coach Shawn Thacker was on the South Laurel coaching staff for part of Sizemore's playing career there, and the two talk often about their coaching careers, exchanging advice and encouragement.
"We called each othef the next day, after we had won our regionals," Sizemore said. "It will be neat to play somebody I played for at one time."
Defense. It's the staple of Oldham County's game, one that has taken the Colonels to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.
"We're first in the state at 45 (points allowed) a game," said coach Jason Holland. "We like to mix it up defensively and take way the things our opponent likes to do.
"It works for us. We're 25-1 when we score 50 points. The only loss was to a team in Florida (in a Christmas tournament)."
Any assessment of the Colonel starts with 6-4 senior forward Tyler Wesley, who leads the team with averages of 11 points and nine rebounds. Wesley and guard Kerry Smith "have been all-region since they were sophomores and we put shooters around them so you really can't focus on them on the offensive end.
"We run a lot of motion stuff, and if you take those guys away, the other ones can step up."
Wesley also averages close to six blocked shots per game and Holland "likes our chances if we can keep him on the floor. (Bowling Green) can be exploited in the post, and he can help us relieve their pressure because it's hard to trap him because of his size. Defensively, he can change a lot of shots."
Holland says the emergence of juniors Sam Gruber, Jacob Kopp and Garrett Masters have "pushed us from a very good team to a great team. Masters plays the point of our 1-3-1, and when we do that we can put some (length) on the floor. And Masters can score in transition when he gets the steal — he had eight straight in the regional final."
Gruber is an outstanding perimeter shooter, hitting 50 percent from 3-point range for a big chunk of his 11-point average. He is also an 88 percent shooter from the foul line.
"I think we have one of the best first-round games," Holland said, referring to his team's battle with Bowling Green. "For us, it's about controlling the tempo and handling their pressure. We'd like to be able to turn them over and give them some problems."
The Vikings were almost state champions last season, falling to Christian County on a last-second shot in overtime in the state finals.
Hot-shooting Adam Wing was almost the talk of Rupp Arena, draining 10 consecutive 3-pointers in a three-game span, overshadowed in the end only by the spectacular play of Sweet 16 MVP and eventual Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey, who led Christian to its first state title.
What can Rowan do for an encore?
"We've got four guys with some (state tournament) experience," said Rowan coach Shawn Thacker, "and we've played out fair share of top-10 teams around the state. These kids are confident that they can play with anybody.
"There is no question that the experience factor is big. These kids knew what we were playing for and what it would take to get there. As we got closer to tournament time, you could see they wanted it."
Indeed, the Vikings (25-7) have been battled-tested this season, competing in the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic and playing eight games against teams ranked in the BGP Top 20 at one point or another this season.
And Wing, a 6-5 wing player and star quarterback who turned down some Division I football offers to sign with Evansville, is still bombing away as part of Rowan's three-pronged perimeter attack. Wing averages just under 15 points per game and is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, as is guard Jason Egan as part of his 14-poitn average.
Point guard D.J. Townsend, who Thacker said is attracting some interest by Indiana State and Western Kentucky as a walk-on, is shooting 37 percent from long range and carries the ignition switch.
"He got overshadowed a little last year, but if we don't have him getting in the lane and setting things up for everyone else, we're not very good," Thacker said of Townsend, who leads the team in scoring at an 18-point clip.
Matt Brown, a 6-11, 240-pound junior and classmate Josh Barnard (6-5, 230) rotate inside, and guards Trevor Newsome and Tyler Thacker, the coach's son, give the Vikings the versatility to go smaller and more perimeter-oriented.
North Laurel, their first-round opponent, brings a friendly face. Jaguars coach Brad Sizemore was playing at South Laurel when Thacker was an assistant coach there in the 1990s. Thacker later became the head coach at Somerset, leading the Briar Jumpers to to three runner-up finishes in the All A Classic state tournament.
"Brad played for me when I was working for (Southwestern coach) Steve Wright, so we'll have a lot of familiar faces running around the back hallways at Rupp," Thacker said. "I don't mind facing him, as long as he doesn't beat me."
Billy Hicks' tenure at Scott County has produced a pair of state championships and a couple of Mr. Basketball award winners.
A third occurrence of each isn't out of the question for the Cardinals, the consensus favorite in the lower bracket of this year's state tournament.
If 6-5 senior Tamron Manning, a Marshall signee, can lead Scott to the state title, he will merit plenty of consideration for the award. Manning started for the Cardinals during the run to the semifinals two years ago, often deferring to older, more high-profile teammates.
This season, however, Manning is driving the bus. He averages 16 points and seven rebounds per game, leading the Cardinals (31-4) in the latter category, and shoots 38 percent from 3-point range.
Manning and Gardner-Webb signee Isaiah Ivey lead Scott's high-octane style, which relies as much on fullcourt-pressure defense and transition baskets as it does its plentiful scoring punch. Ivey, a 6-3 senior, averages close to 17 points per game and gives the Cardinals two bonafide scorers.
Both veterans can take the ball to the basket and turn opposition mistakes into points, and sweet-shooting Trent Gilbert feeds off of them. One of the state's most prolific 3-point shooters, Gilbert knocks down the long-range shot at a remarkable rate of 48 percent and averages 14.5 points per game.
Quinn Richardson is the Cardinals' primary playmaker, and 6-4, 190-pound senior Josh Harris is the closest thing Scott has to a post player in the starting lineup. Guards Jalen Haddix and Zach Bryant provide quality minutes off the bench, and Hicks can go with a bigger lineup on occasion with 6-8, 230-pound senior Matt Peterson and 6-7, 250-pound junior Andrew Short.
Few teams play tougher schedules than the Cardinals, who went 3-1 at the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina and navigated the tough 11th Region waters, winning their five postseason games by an average of 27.4 points.
Two of Scott's three in-state defeats were to Trinity and Ballard, who spent much of the season in the #1 and #2 spots in the BGP rankings. A rematch with Trinity, which beat the Cardinals 90-77 at Georgetown on Dec. 8, could be in the cards.
First-year Southwestern coach Steve Wright has been to Rupp Arena before. He led South Laurel to the state title in 2005, but none of his current players know what it's like to play on the big stage of the Sweet 16.
How will his players handle the experience?
"It's nice to have that question asked, because it means you've been there before," Wright said. "The first time I was there as a coach, it was overwhelming for me, and I was 33 years old.
"These kids have played so many games, in a lot of different places, tournaments in the summer and stuff. Boys on our teams have played in middle school state championship games and AAU tournaments. Our football kids were one game away from the state finals. The experience is not the same, but it will help, and I hope I can give them some insight."
Southwestern (27-8) has been buoyed by several newcomers, including 5-9 sophomore guard David Kapinga, who grew up in Canada and leads the team with a 15-point scoring average.
"He plays the point and the two, and he's pretty versatile," Wright said. "He's fairly quick, not explosive, but he's steady and changes directions really well.
"When I got here, I hired Mike Collier from North Laurel as an assistant when I came over here, and his son is a freshman and starts for us, too. That was a 2-for-1 deal that really helped us. We added those two to what was already here."
Southwestern changed course during the season and went with a smaller lineup, with 6-4, 272-pound center Robby Lewis (an all-state offensive lineman who will play at Morehead State) and forward Justin Epperson exchanged for wing players.
"A lot of it depends on who we play," Wright said. "In the regional, against West Jessamine, we went with a smaller lineup."
The Warriors can go up to 10-deep, and several in the rotation are underclassmen. Sophomore Justin Edwards, a 6-5 sophomore, averages 13 points per game and leads the team in rebounds. Also, freshmen Dylan Gaskin and Adam Isaacs will see time off the bench.
Hopkinsville's athletic club probably ensures that Wright goes with a smaller, quicker lineup in the opening-round game.
No longer is Trinity just a "football school."
The Shamrocks have made a steady incline since Mike Szabo came from Texas to turn the school's basketball program into a state powerhouse, and have managed to break through a couple of times from what is arguably the state's toughest region.
This Trinity club looks like it's ready to break down the door and enter the Sweet 16 throne room.
With a deep and talented ballclub led by a trio of Division I signees and prospects, the Shamrocks have been the consensus #1 team in Kentucky for virtually the entire season. Even after a midseason slipup at the hands of Madison Central, a game decided on free throws after a controversial foul in the final second, Trinity remained the top-ranked team in the BGP rankings, and it lived up to that billing by knocking off #2 Ballard in the 7th Region semifinals.
Trinity is 31-3 with just one in-state loss, the other coming to Catholic-school powers St. Raymond's (New York) and Salesian (Calif.) at a Christmas tournament in Florida. That preceded tournament titles at Lexington Catholic and the Louisville Invitational Tournament.
Ask any informed observer about Trinity, and they're likely to tell you they're big, fast and athletic. "They look like a college team, really," said one informed observer.
Several of them will extend their careers on the Division I level. Nathan Dieudonne, a rangy 6-5, 190-pound senior, has signed with Boston University. Charles Foster, a 6-1 guard, will play at Morehead State.
Sweet-shooting guard Troy Saxton, whose older brothers played key roles on Trinity's 2004 state tournament team, has signed with Division II Alabama-Huntsville. James Quick, a 6-1 junior, would draw some Division I interest next year, but he will take the football route to stardom.
And then there is junior guard Daryl Hicks, a 6-4 junior who made a splash in the Sweet 16, when he scored 30 points for Shelby County as a freshman against a very athletic and talented squad. The next summer, he ensured he would bedevil Ballard for a couple of seasons by transferring to regional rival Trinity.
Hicks has been stellar even after sitting out a high school season, averaging 12.5 points per game as part of a balanced attack and shooting 35 percent from 3-point range.
They're modest numbers for a player being courted by the likes of Indiana, Arizona, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Dayton and Butler (among others), but it's also testament to how many weapons the Shamrocks have at their disposal.
Hicks, Foster and Dieudonne each average between 11 and 14 points per game, and Quick and Saxton can break out at any time. Throw in a deep bench (10 players are in the regular rotation) that includes athletic guard Miles Rice, 6-3 sophomore Craig Owens and 6-2 Andrew Perito, and the Shamrocks have the distinct look of the tournament favorite.
Trinity is the favorite in the upper bracket and owns a 13-point win in early December over a Scott County club that is expected to emerge from the lower bracket.