12th Region Tournament Preview
It’s Region Tournament week, time for prognostications sure to go wrong. The only predictable thing with this Region Tournament, much like the regular season and District play, is the unpredictability of the outcome. Below is a ranking and preview of the teams in the tournament along with some likely inaccurate predictions.
1. Danville (27-5): Despite dropping the District Championship game to Lincoln County, the Admirals went 17-2 in the Region this year and should be considered the tournament favorite. The Admirals are prone to occasional scoring droughts which are often self-inflicted by questionable shot selection. When they need buckets in crunch time, however, they have been successful in relying upon their strength and athleticism in the paint; many of their key baskets come off of penetrate-and-dump off or offensive rebounds, and there is no team in the Region who can match their physicality when it comes to battling for a game-winning rebound or hard-fought bucket inside. Danville leverages their athleticism even better on the defensive end of the floor. They are the best trapping team in the Region, particularly in the second half of games, and if the Admirals are getting easy scores off of this they are tough to beat. With referees coming from outside the Region (8th Region), physical play is likely to be more tolerated and this favors Danville. If the Admirals can survive a difficult first-round matchup against a surging West Jessamine team, look for them to cut down the nets on Saturday night.
2. Lincoln County (20-12): The Patriots have endured an up-and-down season, but the 45th District Tournament was definitely on the ‘up’ side. Can they sustain the momentum from winning one of the most difficult District Tournaments in the state? District Champions have gone 2-2 in the opening round of the 12th Region Tournament in each of the past four years, so recent history indicates otherwise. Matchups drawn are the better indicator of success, however, and Lincoln County has comfortably defeated their first-round opponent Mercer County twice this season. Freshman Guard Jaxon Smith has elevated his game to new heights in recent weeks, Junior Forward Riley Bodner had his best game of the season in the District semifinals against Boyle County, and Senior Guard Blake Smith hit the game-winner in the District finals and has provided consistency in the backcourt all season long, so Lincoln appears to be peaking at the right time. The Patriots may have the best perimeter defense in the Region, whether playing man or zone they are adept at breaking up an opponent’s rhythm and coercing them into hurrying, poor decision-making, and forced shots. If the ‘good’ Patriots show up this week, look for a rematch with the Admirals in the finals.
3. Wayne County (23-8): The Cardinals survived a 52-50 nail-biter against McCreary Central in the District finals and may not be playing their best basketball of the season as they enter Regional play. Wayne County has the offensive firepower to beat anyone, on any given night either Weaver, Gehring or Spencer is going to have the hot hand; and when all three are clicking, Wayne is very difficult to defend. Physical play, whether in the paint or on the perimeter, has given the Cardinals some trouble this season, and McCreary was almost able to pull off the upset by patiently and physically attacking the rim and making Wayne’s less physical players have to defend in the paint. The Cardinals went 15-2 in the Region, undefeated against the teams on their side of the Regional bracket, and while they should get past a young Somerset team in the opening round they may struggle with a Lincoln County team that is much stronger than when Wayne defeated them back on December 4. The Cardinals do not have a lot of depth, so even if they survive Somerset and the Lincoln-Mercer winner it would be a tough task to win on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday.
4. West Jessamine (16-12): Much like the Southwestern Warriors towards the end of last season, the Colts seem to have come out of a deep season slump at just the right time. The 46th District championship was impressive, particularly their domination of a solid Mercer County team who had just defeated them a few weeks earlier. In a game featuring 50+ fouls, West jumped out to a huge early lead, but Mercer came storming back in the 2nd quarter and cut a 20-point deficit down to four; the entire starting five for the Colts each picked up their second foul during the Mercer run, putting the Colts in danger of entering halftime with a difficult deficit to overcome. The Colts are one of the deepest overall team in the Region, however, they go nine or ten deep and don’t really lose anything when they rotate players, and this is not only what enabled them to maintain the lead over Mercer through halftime despite the furious Titans rally, it is a differentiating strength in a Region where most teams drop off quite a bit after their top six or seven. This advantage shows up best in high-scoring, fast-paced games, the Colts thrive when play gets a bit sloppy and frenetic and their opponents try to keep up. First-round opponent Danville is obviously a formidable challenge, and can put forward similar depth, but if the Colts can drive chaos and freneticism into the game and avoid a trap-induced Danville run, they have a chance to upset the Admirals, and as possibly the hottest team coming into the tournament they would have a good chance of cutting down the nets Saturday. If the Colts encounter a low-scoring, half-court physical game, however, West will have a hard time winning.
5. Mercer County (18-11): The Titans drew into a very difficult matchup, they lost twice this season to Lincoln County and both times by comfortable margins. The Patriots have run hot and cold this season, and Mercer County is absolutely capable of winning the game, particularly if they can cut down on the turnovers that have plagued them in previous matchups against Lincoln and they can get a balanced scoring attack to take some burden off of Senior Guard Carter Baughman. West Jessamine essentially face-guarded Baughman in the second half of the District Championship, and other teams may follow suit. Mercer County doesn’t really have a signature win on the season, they have yet to defeat a higher-ranked team, but catching Lincoln County off an emotional District Championship may be the perfect opportunity to get one. The formula they will need to follow is not complex, the Titans will need to take care of the ball and knock down open shots (including free throws, Mercer gets to the FT line a lot but have multiple scorers with percentages in the 50’s and 60’s). With Baughman on the floor as a perpetual threat, open shots and opportunities to get to the FT line will be there, the Titans will need to convert the opportunities efficiently if they are to beat Lincoln County.
6. Pulaski County (19-11): Pulaski County comes in as District Champion, but they almost were a one-and-done casualty as Rockcastle County took them to overtime in the opening round before falling 72-70. The Maroons have shown the ability to take down the Region’s top teams this season as they own victories over both Wayne County and Lincoln County, and if they can repeat those performances they should be considered a dark horse candidate to win this week’s tournament. The opening round game against McCreary Central shouldn’t be considered a bye, as the Raiders played very well in the District tournament, but Pulaski should be able to advance to meet the winner of the Danville-West Jessamine game. The Maroons could catch the winner of that game looking ahead, or in a hangover from what should be a hard-fought opening game, and may have the ideal opportunity for the upset. Any team with a strong point guard is a threat at tournament time, and Junior Guard Colton Fraley fits that mold. Pulaski executes well in the half-court, they attack the basket and get to the FT line often, and they can match up physically inside with Junior Forward Grant Oaks. The Maroons have a nice draw and potential path to the finals.
7. Somerset (16-14): The Briar Jumpers have been one of the most improved teams down the stretch, they can certainly score the ball and have been a bit better defensively in recent weeks. If Senior Guard Chase Walker and Sophomore Guard Kade Grundy are both knocking down shots and Sophomore Guard Dylan Burton is getting into the paint and drawing fouls, Somerset has a perimeter attack that will cause any team problems. Sheron, Bruner and Acey provide physicality in the paint and can at times dominate the boards, and they can at the very least neutralize some of the athleticism of strong inside teams like Danville. In the last matchup against Wayne County, however, the Cardinals dominated the rebounding; they were just quicker to the ball. The Briar Jumpers can match up with the Cardinals on the perimeter athletically, but not in experience, and they will need to attack and make Wayne County guard them physically and all the way to the rim if they are going to pull off the upset. Somerset may be able to take down Wayne County in the first round, but it will be very difficult for this young team to win three straight games this week. Next year will be a different story, the Briar Jumpers will be one of the preseason favorites.
8. McCreary Central (9-23): The Raiders played their best basketball of the season down the stretch, upsetting Southwestern and nearly taking down Wayne County in the District Tournament last week. In both games, McCreary demonstrated a balanced scoring attack and successfully controlled the pace of the game, and if they can repeat that formula then an upset of Pulaski is possible. It will be a tall order, however, for a team who went 2-14 in the Region to advance very far in this tournament.
12th REGIONAL TOURNAMENT BRACKET (all games played at Lincoln County High School):
6:30 PM – West Jessamine vs. Danville
8:00 PM – Pulaski County vs. McCreary Central
6:30 PM – Wayne County vs. Somerset
8:00 PM – Lincoln County vs. Mercer County
6:30 PM – Semifinal #1
8:00 PM – Semifinal #2
7:00 PM - Championship