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It has been a long 4 months but the eve of the start of the boys 9th region tournament is finally upon us. Tomorrow the 8 remaining teams left will begin their next journey as they try to advance to Rupp Arena. Below is everything you need to know about this year's 9th region tournament.

The Bracket

9th Region Boys Basketball Tournament Bracket

The Teams

Cooper (25-4 ; 33rd District Champions)
Since losing to Covcath on January 18th, the Jags have won 11 straight, including wins over Boone County (69-42) and Ryle (60-25) to capture the 33rd district championship. Sean McNeil (17.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Adam Kunkel (16.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg), and Brayden Runion (10.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) were all named to the All Tournament team with McNeil taking home MVP honors.

Bottom Line: This team is 15-1 against 9th region competition and I'm sure they would love a finals rematch with the Blue Colonels with both teams being at full strength to avenge that one loss. The Jags have the player of the year (Sean McNeil) and coach of the year (Tim Sullivan) but if you ask either of them, none of that matters unless they get to Rupp Arena.

Ryle (15-17 ; 33rd District Runner Up)
The Raiders lost 7 of their final 10, but won when it mattered as they defeated Conner (60-58) for a third time this season to secure a spot in the 9th region tournament. Braden Cheesman leads the Raiders in scoring at 14.9 ppg, while sophomore Vince Rankin enters the tournament averaging 10.5 ppg, 7.2 rppg. With Aaron O'Hara (9.4 ppg), Austin McDaniel (7.3 ppg), and Jared Webster (7 ppg) all having big games at some point this season, this is a team that has more balance than they are probably given credit for.

Bottom Line: Dave McFarland has his team back in the region tournament for the second time in his four year tenure as Ryle head coach. While his team was matched up against evenutal State Champion, Covington Catholic, that year, this year the Raiders have a realistic chance at advancing past the Quarter finals.

Lloyd (22-10 ; 34th District Champions)
It was an up and down year for the Juggs, but Mike Key's squad closed the year out strong, winning 8 of 9 and five straight to capture the 34th district championship with wins over St Henry (53-50) and Dixie Heights (72-44). Sterling Hamilton had 19 and 12 against St Henry and 12 and 8 in the win over Dixie, while Jamal McNeil put up 19 points in the 34th district championship game. While Hamilton (16 ppg, 7.5 rpg) is the only Lloyd player that averages double figures (Cipollone 9.8 ppg, McClendon 9.7 ppg, Neal 8.6 ppg), their depth makes them an extremely tough opponent to game plan for.

Bottom Line: Lloyd will be favored to get to the semi finals, but it is going to take a major upset for them to get to the finals. Not many people expected them to beat Dixie the way they did, however, so I guess you really won't know until the final horn sounds on their season.

Dixie Heights (26-6; 34th District Runner Up)
After racing out to a 24-3 regular season start, the Red Colonels finished 2-3 in their final 5, including a surprising 28 point loss to Lloyd (72-44) in the 34th district championship. Hunter Meyer (14.4 ppg), Reed Bradfield (12.7 ppg), and Cameron Thornberry (10.5 ppg) lead the Colonels in scoring heading in to the region tournament but Tyler Schreck (9.1 ppg) and RJ Schweitzer (7.4 ppg) are both capable of leading Dixie to the region finals.

Bottom line: Coach Ken Chevalier's team lost to Covcath by 17 in the regular season meeting. With Dixie getting upset in the district finals and drawing the Colonels, they got the toughest possible draw they could have seen. Should Dixie lose, a great coaching career will come to an end as "Chevy" will hang it up and retire when this season ends.

Covington Catholic (27-5 ; 35th District Champions)
The Colonels enter the 9th region tournament undefeated in region play (13-0) and winners of 15 of their final 16 games. Covcath handled business in the 35th district tournament by defeating Holmes (76-52) and Holy Cross (62-35) as junior CJ Fredrick (20.9 ppg) earned MVP honors. While Covcath features a balanced attacked offensively with Cole Vonhandorf (17.7 ppg), Aiden Ruthsatz (13.4 ppg), and AJ Mayer (11.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg), along with Fredrick, it is their defense (48.5 ppg) that will have to continue to be strong if the Colonels want to make it back to Rupp after being defeated by Newcath last year in the finals.

Bottom line: Covcath has been to 4 straight 9th region tournament finals. The Colonels no doubt have the toughest road to the finals this year, but they beat the 3 other teams on their side of the bracket by an average margin of 25 points. With there only being one other team in this tournament who can seriously challenge them, don't expect a slip up by Scott Ruthsatz team on their way to a 5th consecutive 9th region finals appearance.

Holy Cross (10-18 ; 35th District Runner Up)
Holy Cross lost 14 of their first 17 games but Coach Ryan Schrand has his team back in the 9th region tournament for a second consecutive year after defeating Beechwood in a 34-33 overtime shootout. Will Volpenhein led the Indians with 10 points, 7 rebounds while sophomore Ty Houston had 10 points in the 62-35 championship loss to Covcath. Nolan Schrand (11.1 ppg) and Will Volpenhein (10 ppg) are the only two Indians averaging double figures but 7 different players average atleast 5 ppg.

Bottom Line: Holy Cross won 5 of their final 7 but will be asked to beat one of the top 2 teams in the area in order to advance to the semi finals. While the first matchup was a 12 point loss to Cooper and Holy Cross has improved since then, it will still take a major upset for the Indians to advance to Saturday night's semi finals.

Newport Central Catholic (20-12 ; 36th District Champions)
Newcath struggled late in the season, losing 4 of 5, but won another 36th district championship with wins over Dayton (72-38) and Newport (68-62). While four Breds players scored in double figures in the semi final win, it was the Brennan Hall show in the finals with 28 points.

Bottom Line: Hall (15.2 ppg) and Luke Moeves (12.3 ppg) are the only two Breds to average double figures. Others have shown the ability to put up big numbers, but consistency from outside will likely determine how far the Breds can advance.

Newport (15-16; 36th District Runner Up)
Like some of the other teams in the field, Newport struggled at the end of the season with 5 losses in the final 6 games, but won at the right time as they defeated Highlands (73-50) to secure another spot in the region tournament. MeKell Burries finished with a game high 32 points in the loss to Newcath in the finals and had 21 in the semi final win.

Bottom Line: Newport has a good enough team to get to the semi finals but lost twice to first round opponent, Lloyd (65-60 and 87-74; double OT), during the regular season so will come in as an underdog. Newport has one of the better playmakers in the are in Burries but Donnie Miller (13 ppg) and Tahj Harding (11.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will both have to have big performances for Newport to advance in the region tournament this year.

Ranking the Teams

1. Covcath
2. Cooper
3. Lloyd
4. Dixie Heights
5. Newcath
6. Holy Cross
7. Ryle
8. Newport

Final Predictions

Wednesday March 1st
Newcath over Ryle
Covcath over Dixie Heights

Thursday March 2nd
Lloyd over Newport
Cooper over Holy Cross

Saturday March 4th- Semi Finals
Covcath over Newcath
Cooper over Lloyd

Monday March 6th- 9th Region Championship
Covcath v Cooper Round 2.

Rather than making a prediction on the game, I'll simply say what everyone already knows. This will be an absolute war. Covcath won the regular season match up 55-52 on an AJ Mayer and one with 5 seconds left. But...neither team had their leading scorer (Sean McNeil - CJ Fredrick) so does that outcome really matter when it comes to a rematch? The tougher team will win. Who that team ends up being, we should know sometime around 9:00 Monday night.