Two weeks remain, and the "Big Four" may now be the "Big Three Plus One"(?)
I still believe it when I say this: The 8th Region is WIDE OPEN this year. Although I don't think certain teams have shown yet that they should be in the "top four" ranking, the top teams are not so overwhelming that it's impossible to see a "second-tier" team getting hot and running through New Castle.
An upset here or there....a key call....a last-second made FT or half-court heave.....yeah, this is a year you don't want to miss the region tournament. Anything could happen.
Or - we may see the four teams in the semi-finals that have elevated themselves so far.
Shoot, one of those "second tier" teams is the home team - and Henry County is hungry to win a region title on their home court in front of thousands of Wildcat fans!
(19-3, 7-0 region 8) OK, conventional wisdom says the Titans are the class of the region, and they are undoubtedly the team with the target on its back. Collins has defeated some good teams, including Bullitt East, Eastern, and defending 8th region champ South Oldham. Their 18 point win over Mason County on a neutral court was the Royals' (18-4) worst loss of the season. The Titans have athletes, and some of those athletes are flush from winning the state football championship over the unbeatable Highlands Bluebirds. They EXPECT to win. Their losses have been to good teams: Madison Central (17-8), Bullitt East (18-5), and Trinity (20-4). And they defeated BE the second time around. Their final five games includes two solid teams in DeSales (17-6) and John Hardin (13-5), both of which will pose differing challenges. Brent Kidwell is a solid point guard, and Raphael Stone is a do-it-all senior forward with icewater in his veins - Stone hit three FTs to beat Shelby County by one point with one second left this past week.
Why they'll win it?: They have the best athletes in the region and more returning starters. The Titans have been competitive with this bunch the past two years. Experience, athleticism, confidence.
Why they won't?: They play to the level of the competition, leaving them open to upsets. Wins over Conner, Scott, Anderson County, Franklin County, and North Oldham weren't as impressive as expected.
(15-2, 8-1 region 8) Winners of 6 straight, the defending 8th Region champions seem loaded to contend again. Despite graduating a boatload of seniors, and four of five starters, South is back again. Coach Steve Simpson, who ranks only behind Glenn Drury of Anderson County and Jon Jones of Gallatin County in terms of tenure at his school, has instilled a system that works. New starters are expected - and they expect, themselves - to simply pick up where last year's graduating class left off. This is the second year in a row South has graduated 7-8 seniors and nearly the entire starting lineup - last year, it didn't prevent them from winning it all. This group is - as always - one of the premier shooting groups in the region. They hit 38+% from beyond the arc, and the entire team has the green light. They average a whopping 77 points per game - 80 ppg over the current 7 game winning streak - and are giving up just 57 ppg. All this despite only one starter over 6'1". The Dragons have just two losses - an 18 point loss to Collins in the second game of the season, and a 2 point loss 8 games ago to Louisville Holy Cross (18-5), the same Holy Cross that has victories over 5th region power Taylor County and region 6 power PRP. Recently, South has been on an 8th region parade...the last five games have been wins over Anderson Co (by 29), Oldham Co (come from behind win by 4), Gallatin County (by 39), Henry County (by 27), and Grant County (by 14). The Dragons also beat Shelby County by 16. South has a big game this Monday at North Oldham; a win gives the Dragons the #1 seed in the 29th District and avoids a cross-county matchup against either Oldham County or North Oldham in the first round of the District Tournament. (South vs. North on the Pegasus Sports Network The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN
at 7 pm)
Why they'll win it?: South keeps coming at you, and it really doesn't matter if one player is having an off night. Although Kyle Young and Michael Griffin both average double figures, the top 8 or 9 players are all capable of big nights.. South also does something that wins championships: they are extraordinarily good free throw shooters with six or seven players hitting over 75% of their freebies.
Why they won't?: If the Dragons have an off-night shooting, it could be trouble. That's really only happened once this year, in the loss to Collins. It WAS only the second game of the season, but the shots were not fallling that night and Collins wound up winning easily. South is a short team, with 6'4" Drew Horsey the only player with any real size, so the Dragons have to rebound by committee. Guard Michael Griffin leads the way at 5.9 boards per game.
(18-5, 8-1 region 8) The Colonels aren't getting a lot of respect when it comes to discussions about the 8th region tournament. Certainly, Oldham has yet to play a complete 32 minute game, but the "upside" of this team is scary. The Colonels are certainly still becoming proficient with the new offense / defense of first-year head coach Coy Zerhusen. Oldham is currently playing their best ball of the season: They've won 8 straight, and the last two weeks have especially been impressive: 2 weeks ago the Colonels played back-to-back-to-back games and defeated emotional rival North Oldham by 14, Shelby County by 9, and Gallatin County by 29. The Shelby game wasn't that close; Oldham led by 20 going into the fourth and emptied the bench early, playing 15 players in the game. Last week, the Colonels fell behind by 9 after three periods against Simon Kenton, then erupted for a 33-point fourth period and pulled away to a 72-65 victory over the Pioneers, while forcing 20 turnovers. Oldham has some major speed bumps ahead: at Louisville Eastern on 2/17/14 and home against Owen County on Senior Night 2/20/14. (broadcast on The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN
at 7 pm)
Why They'll win it?: Balanced scoring; the Colonels have four starters averaging in double figures, and they can hurt you inside or out. Three of the starters are proficient three-point shooters, but the Colonels generate a lot through penetration, and four of five starters are excellent at driving with the ball. Austin Perkins, a 6'2" senior center, may be the most underrated center in the region and is strong with the ball. The Colonels have depth, and their press is beginning to pay dividends.
Why They Won't?: Consistency. Oldham is prone to lapses in focus, probably primarily due to the new system, and Zerhusen probably would say the Colonels have yet to put a full 32 minute game together.
(11-8, 7-1 region 8) SK is better than their record. This bunch will get up and down the court in a hurry. The Pioneers have shooters (they average 70.4 ppg) and they will let it fly from beyond the arc without hesitation. It's something when a team has a guard coming off the bench who can hit 5 or 6 threes in a single game and score 30 points! (Childers) SK has size (multiple players in the 6'4"-6'5" range), they have quickness, and they have bulk. And they have a certifiable "game-changer" player in Morrison who can take a game over by himself. The Pioneers will push the envelope, trying to use their strength against opponents to get them off their game. Trent Steiner has probably taken some grief from folks who aren't happy about the 8 losses so far, but the Pioneers have been playing a pretty rugged schedule, and that will help them come region tournament play. With the 32nd district "down" a bit, SK hasn't really played many of the other 8th region powers yet, so a lot of folks were really watching the matchup at Oldham County last Friday. SK acquitted itself well, but faded in the stretch. The Pioneers have some chances to impress down the stretch, though, with Campbell County (14-5) up next, along with a couple of 8th region dark horses - Henry County (17-7) and Anderson County (9-8) - and highly-ranked Covington Catholic (20-1).
Why They'll Win it?: Trent Steiner has had a lot of success since joining the 8th region in 2005-6, reaching the region tournament all 8 seasons. The Pioneers reached the finals in 2006 and 2007 (lost to Shelby County in 2006 and Oldham County in 2007). This may not be the best team he's had in that stretch, but the region is overall down a little, too. SK has a lot of bodies they can put on the floor, they shoot well, and they have size. There's a lot to like. And with NKY full of top-tier teams this year, SK has been playing a schedule full of toughies. The Pioneers will be ready for the tournament.
Why they won't?: Although SK is 64-6 vs. its district opponents, the Pioneers are just 17-20 against the rest of the 8th since 2005-6. Can this team "break the mold?" The other concern is ballhandling; SK committed 20 turnovers against the pressure of Oldham County last Friday, a stat that pretty much told the "tale of the tape." Inability to take care of the ball against the pressure defense teams like Oldham County, South Oldham, or Collins could spell a quick region exit.
The rest....there are lots of potential "dark horses" in the crowd...
(17-7)....the Wildcats, if they can get out of a balanced 31st district, have the advantage of playing at home. Right now, though, the Wildcats need to "right the ship". The Wildcats are just 7-5 since the New Year, and that includes losses to Owen County (by 3), Gallatin County (by 8) and South Oldham (by 27). There's no guarantee the Cats will make the region.
(13-6, 11-2 region 8) Once again, Devin Duvall has the Rebels poised to take the 31st district. The Rebels have won 7 of their last 8 and seem to be hitting their stride at just the right time. Sophomore forward-center Carson Williams may be the best big man in the region. But it's hard to assess the Rebels right now....9 of their 19 games have come against District opponents....their other four region 8 opponents have been Trimble County, Eminence (twice), and Williamstown. We'll know more shortly; over the next two weeks, Owen will play Anderson County (2/13/14), South Oldham (2/15/14), and Oldham County (2/20/14), all on the road. The games vs. South Oldham and Oldham County will both be on the Pegasus Sports Network at The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN
(9-8, 0-5 region 8) Anderson County is a bit of an enigma this year. They had a nice win over a pretty good Estill County team, but have struggled of late, losing 6 of their last 9. Worse, the Bearcats have yet to defeat an 8th region team, losing by 23 to Shelby County, by 8 to Collins, by 29 to South Oldham, by 8 to Oldham County, and by 6 to Spencer County. Austin Cummings and Christian Estes are two of the better outside shooters in the region, and Darius Harvey is a load inside. Anderson has some size, quickness, and shooting ability, but just hasn't seemed to "jell" yet. Hard to believe, but Anderson may not make the region tourney.
(12-7 overall, 9-7 region 8) Jon Jones always seems to have the most mentally tough team in the region, but sometimes that's just not enough. The Wildcats have been very erratic this year, but they haven't been shy about taking on all comers. Gallatin has lost to Collins (by 18), SK (by 11), Owen County (by 16), Oldham Co (by 29), and South Oldham (by 39). That said, they also own victories over Owen (by 4) and Henry County (by 8). It's not out of the realm of possibility to see Gallatin coming out of the 31st as champs. And Jon Jones-coached teams are never easy outs. Never.
(10-12, 3-3 region 8) North has not quite reached the level coach Chris Stobaugh thought his team would reach, but the Mustangs have a great opportunity to turn things around late. The last five teams on the Mustangs' schedule all have winning records, and a strong finish could propel North to a region berth.....it all starts with South Oldham (15-2) on Monday 2/10/14 (The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN
at 7 pm), followed by a trip to Owen County (13-6) on 2/11/14, and a trip to North Bullitt (14-7) on 2/13/14. The Mustangs return home on 2/18/14 to face Franklin County (11-10) and DeSales (17-6) on the 21st. JonJon Henry is one of the best penetrating guards in the region, and Trevor Burton has emerged from an early slump to be one of the best perimeter shooters. Depth has been an issue; the Mustang bench is averaging barely 5 ppg.
(9-13 overall) The Rockets have rallied, winning 7 of 10 since starting the season 0-8 and 2-10. Shelby has a 23 point win over Anderson to its credit, rallied from 13 down in the third to beat North Oldham by 9, and lost two heart-breakers to county rival Collins, by 2 and by 1. On the flip side, they were handled easily by both Oldham County and South Oldham. Still.....Manica is everywhere, all the time. Cochran is a strong penetrator. James Gordon is just a sophomore, but a mobile, big one who is growing into one of the better big men in the 8th. Jason Couch has done a good job bringing this bunch along....not sure this is one of the teams I'd like to face in the tourney as they are improving fast and do many things well.
Hang on folks; this is going to be an interesting tournament.....
As always, the boys' and girls' 8th Region tournaments will be aired in their entirety on the Pegasus Sports Network! The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN