1. Graves County (18-10) - No team in the region has a better 1-2 punch then center Randon Cavette and guard Zach Sims, and the Eagles have a solid cast of role players.
Cavette, a 6-5 center, is a proven low-post scorer and a ferocious rebounder, and his ballhandling skills allow him to help the Eagles bring the ball up against fullcourt pressure. The question is his attitude, and how it could affect team chemistry - Cavette was dismissed from the team at midseason for disciplinary reasons.
Sims, a 6-0 senior, is a quick guard that can create his own shot and hit the 3-pointer. The hope is a move off the point will lessen his workload and allow him to become more of a scorer. Josh Johnson and Justin Towery are expected to share the point, but transfer Andrew Sanderson (a transfer from Colorado and the quarterback on the football team) could work into the mix.
Forward Jamie King (6-2) is a capable defender and rebounder, and 6-2 forward Brett Wiggins can take the ball to the hole and gives the Eagles a third scoring threat.
Graves has gone three seasons without winning a game in the regional tournament, the first such stretch in school history. Another similar postseason fate seems unlikely.
As usual, Graves will play a solid out-of-region schedule. The Eagles will meet Owensboro Catholic in Marshall Countyís Hoop Fest and take on two-time Second Region power University Heights. They will also compete in a pre-Christmas tournament at North Broward Prep in Florida, which is coached by former Lexington Catholic mentor Danny Haney.
2. Marshall County (19-10) - The Marshals return three starters, including 6-6 forward Daniel Ard, a football-basketball star who signed with Murray Stateís hoops program. Ard averaged 22 points and 9 rebounds a game last season, but the Marshals need to provide him some offensive support.
Moved from the post to the wing last season, Ard has a good mid-range game and causes matchup problems with his ability to face the basket.
Landon Smith (6-3) is a solid power forward, a capable scorer and rebounder. Point guard Sawyer Donohoo is a steady playmaker and physical defender.
Three players are candidates to provide some more scoring punch. Swingman Anthony Allbritton (6-2) is a gifted offensive player. Landon Lockhart, a 6-3 transfer from district rival Calloway County, can score from the perimeter and sophomore Travis Spiceland was a contributor as a freshman. Lucas Williams is a long-armed 6-4 forward who will give the Marshals good work off the bench.
Marshall is essentially a co-favorite with Graves County and will be tested with a December schedule that includes games with Lexington Catholic (at Marshall Countyís Hoop Fest), defending Third Region champion Ohio County and a trip to the Beach Blowout at Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
3. Calloway County (27-3) - The Lakers were the regionís top team for most of last season, but an injury to role player Cody White was more damaging than expected and Calloway lost a scoring and rebounding force when 6-4 center Trey Tindell (20 ppg, 9 rpg) graduated.
Three players will share the scoring burden. Point guard Chase Futrell, the regionís best ballhandler, developed his outside game last season and has a knack for penetrating and making the pull-up jumper.
Jeremi Bumpus (6-2) is a slasher who can also score from the perimeter and a capable defender. Brett Welter (6-2) will look to score more and is also a good interior passer.
The development of Wes Adams (6-5) in the low post will be critical for the Lakers, who can mix and match in the backcourt with T.J. Hargrove and Brian Murdock.
Calloway will appear in Lexington Catholicís Fifth/Third Holiday Classic, taking on either Trinity or North Laurel in the round of 16.
4. Paducah Tilghman (12-19) - After a tumultuous regular season, the Tornado caught fire and was a surprising regional runner-up. Tilghman returns four starters, and the development of a couple of talented youngsters looks to make it a contender from the outset.
David Jones (6-4) is the returning leading scorer and rebounder and also has the ability to score from the outside. The keys might be 6-5 sophomore Isaac McClure, a shot-blocker and rebounder whose offensive skills are developing, and 5-9 point guard Eric Hutcherson, a quick penetrator and passer who played his best during Tilghmanís postseason run.
Tim Travis (6-1) is a slasher who showed during the postseason that he can score from the perimeter. Brandon Davis (5-10) is a tough on-the-ball defender and can also hit the 3-pointer.
Tilghman should be improved defensively, with guard Ross Wagner figuring to see plenty of playing time. Brent Buchanon (6-3) and bulky Stefon Perry (6-3) will see some time up front. Wagner and Perry are younger brothers of players who were key guys on Tilghmanís state runner-up squad in 2002.
The Tornado has a rugged stretch to open the season with Illinois power Carbondale, last yearís Class AA runner-up and a semifinalist in 2004, at Marshall Countyís Hoop Fest, followed by regional contenders Calloway County and Graves County and defending regional champion Lone Oak. University Heights, a final four team last season, is on the schedule in February.
5. Fulton County (19-10) - This team is a year away from making a run at the regional title, with a junior-dominated club that includes sleek 6-5 forward Jeffery McClain, perhaps the regionís most talented player.
McClain, who is most comfortable on the wing, averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds a game last season and is considered a Division I prospect.
The Pilots lack a true point guard but have a pair of good 3-point shooters in Jonathan Roberson and Tari Bishop, who is back after being let go from the team for disciplinary reasons in January. Bishop can handle the point if needed, but the hope is that Hickman County transfer Trey Emerson can take that job and free up Roberson and Bishop to play on the wing. Emerson wonít be eligible, it appears, until early December at the earliest.
Fulton County may have the regionís quickest and most athletic team, but lacks much size other than McClain. The Pilots could make a splash in the All A Classic, if they can get by St. Mary and Mayfield in regional play.
6. St. Mary (19-10) - The Vikings go as their guards go, counting on Jonathan Byrd, Sam Howard, Wes Overstreet, Justin Colgan and Jonathan Roof to provide pressure defense and opportunities to score in transition. Overstreet is the best shooter of the bunch, but all of them are 3-point threats.
Gabriel Shaw (6-2) can score and rebound. St. Maryís only size is Dylan Oliver, a 6-7 forward that can score and run the floor but needs to play tougher on the inside to give the Vikings the low-post threat lost with the graduation of 6-5 center Alex Bryant.
The Vikings lost a little depth and size when 6-4 sophomore Case Cochran, who won the state golf tournament and (along with teammate Overstreet) led St. Mary to the team title. Cochran, the youngest son of former PGA Tour pro Russ Cochran and the brother of University of Florida golfer Ryan Cochran (also a former all-state basketball player), has elected to concentrate his efforts on golf. Cochran isnít ruling out a return to basketball in the future, but wonít play this winter.
7. Mayfield (14-15) - If the Cardinals had a proven post player, they would be rate much higher on the list of contenders. Point guard Demetrek Moss is a quick left-hander who can penetrate and score and also knock down the 3-point shot. Junior Jeremy Rodgers is the regionís best pure shooter and Adam Shelton can handle the ball and score from beyond the arc.
Fred Brown gives Mayfield quickness on the wing and sophomore Tony Hockett (6-2), who has an uncanny knack for scoring inside, has grown three inches and improved his face-the-basket game.
As usual, Mayfield could get off to a slow start because of the football team's march through the postseason. Six of the 11 varsity players play football, including Shelton and Brown. Tristan Dumas is rejoining the basketball team, giving the Cardinals a little size and athleticism, and the hope is that 6-2 freshman Jordan Elliott can work his way into the rotation.
8. Heath (15-13) - The Pirates were the regionís mystery team, collapsing after making the All A Classic State tournament by losing six of their last eight games. Heath returns three starters, but the late skid and a key injury raise some questions.
Point guard Jayce Long led the Pirates in points and assists, but needs to play a little more under control and keep turnovers to a minimum. Forward Clint Tilford, a top-flight pitcher who signed with Kentucky's baseball program, broke a bone in his left (non-throwing) hand during football season and is out until at least January.
Max McConnell, a 6-8, 190-pound junior, has put on 20 pounds, sparking hope that he can be counted on to step up, score and rebound. Justin Jett (6-3) will start at forward and quick Virgil Burton returns at guard.
Andrew Baer gives the Pirates a good 3-point shooter and is expected to emerge as an offensive threat to complement Long.
Heath won't get a shot to defend its All A Classic regional crown - the school's enrollment has surpassed the tournament limit.
9. Lone Oak (23-10) - The school's first trip to the Sweet 16 is a memory, and so are most of the players that took the court at Rupp Arena.
Only do-everything guard Chase Denson is back from the starting lineup, and as the team's only senior, he will have to usher a young supporting cast into the limelight while likely facing a constant diet of double-teams and junk defenses.
Denson, who scored 25 of his 30 points in the first half of the Purple Flash's first-round overtime loss to Corbin, led Lone Oak in scoring, assists and steals and shot 85 percent from the foul line. He is an excellent penetrator and is at his best in the open court, and Lone Oak will continue to rely on him in its up-tempo style.
Sophomore guard Luke Shuemaker played well in a reserve role in the postseason and will be expected to provide some scoring punch, as will guard Landon Blackman. Lone Oak has little in the way of size, with no player taller than 6-2, and will often field a four- or five-guard lineup.
10. Hickman County (13-12) - Point guard Sam Rushing, whose brother Ben Rushing was a guard on Eastern Kentucky's NCAA tournament team, and sweet-shooting lefty Justin Boaz lead a Falcon team that ended last year with a bad taste in its mouth, losing at home to Carlisle County in the district tournament after beating the Comets soundly during the regular season.
Forward Zach Workman (6-3) is back at one forward. The Falcons may start a couple of sophomores, guard Joseph Daughtery and 6-4 center Zach Stroud, and guard Isaiah Vinson gives Hickman some quickness and versatility in the backcourt.
11. Carlisle County (7-20) can feel Lone Oak's pain. The Comets lost seven of their top eight players from their 2004 regional championship club and got off to a painful start, but was competitive by late February.
Guard Tim Dunn (6-2) scored 40 points in a first-round district tournament upset of Hickman County and will lead an improved team. Senior guard Eddie Cunningham (5-8), the lone holdover from the 2003 squad, is a good defender and will be asked to score more this season.
12. Murray (10-17) - New coach David Fields has plenty of size to work with in 6-4 forward Hugh Rollins, 6-8 Joey Jackson and 6-6 Todd Buck. The questions are in the backcourt, where sophomore Kenneth Trice will have to score alongside point guard Brooks Hudson.
13. Reidland (5-21) - The Greyhounds have become much more athletic with three transfers from southern Illinois power Cairo over the last two years.
The best is 6-3 junior Mario Johnson, a talented swingman who could emerge as one of the regionís best players, but he wonít be eligible until January. Guards Shawd and Rod Purdiman give the Greyhounds quickness and defense. Clay Duncan is back at guard, as is David Burzynski, who was injured last season, and thin (6-8,155) center Travis Watson.
14. Fulton City (11-13) - Keith Burton, the region's leading scorer and player of the year, has graduated, but the Bulldogs will still field their customary small, quick club led by forward 6-2 Barry Graves, a good rebounder, and athletic sophomore Daeron Williams.
15. Ballard Memorial (4-20) - - New coach Rob Anderson, a longtime Carlisle County assistant, tales over a program that has fallen on hard times. Anderson is working on reviving interest in the program and will rely on guard Nathan Lawrence, center Kevin Barrow and newcomer Blake Crainshaw.
16. Community Christian (6-17) - CCA was moved from the Third District to the Second District and is rebuilding after losing four starters. Matt Prewitt is the only returning starter and guard Brent Goodman can hit the 3-pointer.
Top Players in the Region
1. Chase Denson, Lone Oak ... one of the state's best pentrators and point guards is a marked man as Flash's only returning starter
2. Daniel Ard, Marshall County ... at 6-6, Murray State signee can take the ball to the basket and causes matchup problems on the wing
3. Jeffery McClain, Fulton County ... versatile 6-5 junior does it all for Pilots - scoring, rebounding and ballhandling
4. Randon Cavette, Graves County ... warrior on the backboards and region's strongest low-post scorer
5. Zach Sims, Graves County ... quick, athletic guard can play the point and create offense, but more valuable as a scorer
6. Chase Futrell, Calloway County ... steady, heady point guard takes care of the ball, runs the offense and scores when needed
7. Jayce Long, Heath ... exciting, gifted point guard can score and pass, but needs to stay under control
8. Jeremi Bumpus, Calloway County ... slasher on offense, can also score from the perimeter and defend three positions
9. Demetrek Moss, Mayfield ... quick lefty point guard can drive and score and create shots for Cardinals' jump shooters
10. David Jones, Paducah Tilghman ... 6-4 wing can score from perimeter and hit the boards, must improve shot selection
11. Tim Dunn, Carlisle County ... offensive-minded guard exploded for big games down the stretch last season
12. Gabriel Shaw, St. Mary ... workmanlike swingman isn't flashy, but can score from the wing and on the drive
13. Landon Smith, Marshall County ... solid power forward could emerge as regular double-double man
14. Brett Welter, Calloway County ... versatile forward with ability to score and rebound, nifty interior passer
15. Mario Johnson, Reidland ... talented transfer swingman won't be eligible until January, but could make big impact