Preseason 16th Region Basketball Rankings

It may be cliché, but 16th Region Basketball appears wide open at the season’s onset. The team rankings from top to bottom are far from set, as they are dependent upon game experience and play of younger, untested players. As the season starts, teams are adjusting to integration of football players, addition of freshman, transfers of key players, unfortunate injuries, mass exodus via graduation, and new coaches. With team schedules full of local games preceding district and regional matchups, a clearer picture should develop by the Christmas classic season. Traditional names appear at the top of the list, but even they are not secure. Elliott County has been on a terrific run of regional titles, but graduations and transfer of one of the region’s top players, make them anything but a safe bet.

1. Boyd County - Although the Lions graduated key producers from last year’s team (especially Kenser’s 24 points), Blake Stewart and Reese Robinson return to lead a talented Lions team. Robinson missed several games last season, and his presence this year will only benefit the Lions. Coach Anderson’s up-tempo, high scoring offense should prove to be successful if it continues to be balanced with his focus on the fundamentals. The Lion’s showcase-filled schedule includes an early December home-based round ball matchup with Elliott County that may provide a better picture of the 16th Region. Seventeen years removed from a Sweet-Sixteen, Boyd County could be in contention to make a run this year.

2. Ashland - With a 1-2 ranking reminiscent of the nineties, the 64th district promises to be competitive, at least at the top. Similar to Boyd County, Blazer is 15 years out from their most recent trip to Lexington. Last year’s 13-19 season was underwhelming, but the return of Chase Villers and Devaunte Robinson provides hope for the Tomcats. Villers proved to be an effective scorer and the athletic Robinson will help get the group of up-and-coming sophomores involved. If Coach Howell can find scoring within the sophomore class rounding out the rotation, the Tomcats could prove dangerous come Spring.

3. Elliott County- Coming off another 16th Region title, the Lions were looking strong even with the departure of Chase Porter, but the off-season defection of Korbin Spencer to Hargrave Military Academy, creates a bit more precarious future. It’s too early to count Coach Adkins out, though, with the ball in the hands of a super smart and quick Kole Whitley and the capable scoring of Tanner Dickerson. Elliott is the exception to local 16th Region play, making a trip to Lexington to play in the Catholics Christmas Classic. Last year’s 26-4 record will prove a lofty benchmark, but Elliott is not a team to back down.

4. Greenup County - The Musketeers possess what may be the region’s best player, Gage Hughes, a proven scorer. With Hughes drawing attention from opposing team’s defenses, Coach Tackett will need to find other players capable of filling the void left by Mike Hubbert. Hubbert was responsible for 24 points and nearly 8 rebounds a game last season. An even loftier challenge may be formulating a defense that can control the scoring of other shooting teams…see Elliott and Boyd above.

5. Raceland - With the return of Octavious Hall at the point position this year, the Rams are looking to improve upon last year’s 7-22 season. Travis Weaver and Rylie Potter are both reliable producers and at 6’5”, each has a size advantage over most region teams. If this advantage can be cashed in on both offensively and defensively, the experience of Potter and Weaver could propel the Rams past last year’s showing in an evenly talented 63rd district. The duo is going to have to improve on a combined rebound average of just 11 boards a game to keep the Rams competitive in higher scoring games. They also need to find more scoring, coming into the season with one of the lowest total point outputs in the 16th region.

6. Russell - Bobby Hale enters the season as one of the most experienced guards in the district. The Red Devils will need his experience and help from the remainder of the team, especially with Ryan Stump suffering injury early in the football season. Losing Ethan Raby to graduation, the Devils may look to Hale for more scoring early in the season. Hale was a 14 ppg scorer last year, but can’t be expected to pick up the 14 points that Raby was adding. Landon Brewer was the next highest scorer averaging nearly 10, but has also moved on via graduation. Austin Clark contributed 7 as a junior guard and should be able to aid Hale.

7. Fleming County - A promising season took a major blow with the loss of Zac Alexander to a football injury. It appears last year’s Regional Tournament standout will miss the basketball season. Chris Stapleton will take over coaching duties following yet another change in the head spot at Fleming. In Stapleton, the Panthers have youth and experience with local name recognition. If he can get buy in from all involved, the Panthers could vie for a top position.

8. East Carter - Similar to Russell, East Carter will be relying heavily on an experienced, reliable guard in Brady Bush. Look for him to be called upon to score more than in past seasons. Shooting and scoring may be early issues for the Raiders, but expect Coach Baker to start looking for minutes and shots from the sophomore and possibly freshman class. I would expect more of the same low-scoring, grind-them-out games this season. “Pretty” won’t be used to describe Raider games, but they could prove to be the best defense to the more offensively inclined teams at the top.

9. Morgan County - While suffering from a 9-20 record last season, the Cougars look to rebound with experienced and always energetic Matthew Perry at helm. Following key graduations and transfers to the rest of the district, a relatively young Cougars team paced by Senior Michael Prater, will look to challenge in the 62nd. The Cougars suffered some ugly losses last year that may serve as motivation this season.

10. Rowan County - Following the exit of Sean Woods and his son DeSean combined with mass graduation, the Viking squad is a bit of an unknown. Sizemore will return to offer game experience but the Vikings are mostly inexperienced beyond that. Thacker, no doubt, will have the incoming squad ready to play, but with three gritty teams in the District, it may be a rough start to the season.

11. West Carter - The Comets are coming off one of their best seasons since Coach Webb was a dominate 16th Region player, but they are reeling from the loss of big-man Ben Jordan and the tough-as-nails Roe. They will look to their more inexperienced players this season, but Coach Webb is a tough teacher who will have them learning from every outing. Like several teams on the list, the loss of experience and the unknown will be key words until Christmas.

12. Lewis County - Tay Offut returns to lead the Lions again this year. If Coach Hampton can find some production from his Juniors in scoring, the dependable Offut could put the Lions into District contention. Look for Kelly, Wallingford and Ruckel to step up this season.

13. Bath County - Reeling from two consecutively rough seasons and losing much of the scoring help to graduation, the Wildcats will rely on Coach Williams’ son Bryce to lead the team. It will be difficult for Bath to mount a major turn-around this season.

14. Menifee County - The Wildcats have players returning, including top performer Dalton Barnett. However, a vast improvement over last year’s 8-21 season may prove a difficult challenge.

15. Fairview - It could be a long season for Coach Cooksey this season, but following in the long tradition of the Cooksey family he will have his team ready to compete. The athletes of Ashland and Boyd County will make district play a challenge.

16. Rose Hill - Another coach’s son, Johnny Bush, is set to take over the helm this season. Well known in the Royals family, he is familiar with the challenges of a perennially young team from a small school.

Top Players

1. Chase Villers (Ashland) Look for the transformation to a leader with scoring ability. He shot 36% behind the line and averaged a bit better than 16 points per game last season. The Tomcats will need at least that from him this year.

2. Gage Hughes (Greenup County) A proven scorer, a shooter who will have the green light. Averaging nearly 29 points he managed an impressive 46.7% from the floor, dropping 89 three pointers along the way. Expect a productive season from Hughes this year.

3.Reese Robinson (Boyd County) Athletic and capable of running the floor with a quick offense. Robinson averaged 10 points and 6 boards a game last season. With the departure of Kenser, Reese will have the opportunity and responsibility of adding to both of those averages.

4. Dalton Barnett (Menifee County) Skilled with size, will have to shoulder the lion’s share of the load. He’s shown his self to be capable of the responsibility last season but will need to improve on his team leading 17 points and 8 rebounds to improve Menifee’s stock.

5. Devaunte Robinson (Ashland) As athletic as they come in the 16th, capable of creating plays. He shot a reliable 50% through last season. If he can produce at that rate this year and increase his attempts, it will be a sound season for Ashland and Devaunte.

6. Bobby Hale (Russell) True point guard, with a high basketball IQ and a leader on the court. Hale was able to put up 450 points last year on 45% shooting. If Russell is able to find another scorer, this would be a good rate for Hale in ’18. If not, he may have his hands full trying to run the show, while making up scoring void left by Raby.

7. Tay Offutt (Lewis County) fundamentally sound and reliable, tough and gritty. Has relied on two point baskets but has been very efficient shooting 55%. He's already averaging nearly 9 rebounds a game, and plays all out buzzer to buzzer.

8. Brady Bush (East Carter)
Brady grew up in a basketball family, plays a smart game, fundamentally sound. Not a strong scorer at 6 per game, but capable of running the team. Like Hale from Russell he’ll need some help scoring to show his game.

9. Blake Stewart (Boyd County) A floor general from a young age, proven ability, capable of distributing and scoring. With Kenser’s graduation Blake may have to up the scoring slightly, but his strength still lays with this ability to get the ball up the court.

10. Michael Prater (Morgan County) Capable of scoring, experienced, benefits from an experienced coach. Michael is a solid rebounder and scorer. Not a great three point threat, but a solid double double guy is realistic.

**Zac Alexander (Fleming County) After a terrific Regional tournament showing, Zac was poised to be one of the top players in the Region. It appears at this point, though, that Zac may not get to play this season following an unfortunate football injury. A very tough kid who led his team last year in strength and scoring.