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It's been just a short few days since my last update, so I'll keep this relatively short....but a lot happened over the past few days, particularly last Friday night when we had a lot of key games with significant results.

At the bottom, I've included a short preview of the 8th Region All-A, which starts Tuesday at Owen County HS.

Overall observation:
The region has some clear favorites, but the gaps between the teams have narrowed. We are seeing some teams that are red-hot and others with high upside that are improving dramatically and rapidly. There are a number of teams that are more than capable of knocking off a higher-ranked team, meaning the three game push to the regional title will be quite a grind. The way the districts are set up, there likely won't be many easy wins in New Castle.

1. Oldham County (14-2) Last week: #1 The Colonels stay at the top of the list this week, despite taking their first loss to a Kentucky team last week in a 70-60 defeat at arch-rival South Oldham. Oldham was defeated by a talented, well-coached, and motivated Dragon squad, so this wasn't a bad loss. Senior center Travis Henderson was strong in defeat, scoring 21 points and showing a mobility that seemed to surprise South. Oldham bounced back quickly, dominating Oldenburg Academy (IN), 70-38, in the KY/IN Hall of Fame Classic the day after losing to South.

This week: Big week against two rapidly-improving 8th Region teams plus a road trip to Dixie Heights. 1/9 - vs. Spencer County 1/12 - vs. North Oldham 1/13 @ Dixie Heights

2. Walton-Verona (11-4) Last week: #2 The Bearcats had to deal with bad news this week, but still came up with one of the big wins of the week in the region. Coach Grant Brannen announced that star junior center Dieonte Miles is out for the season with a labrum injury, dealing a bit of a blow to the Bearcats' title hopes....but then again, W-V has been playing about a third of the season without him, and they continue to do pretty well. Walton started last week with an easy win over Owen County, but then had to hit a corner three at the buzzer to defeat Simon Kenton at home. It was a classic game between the two 32nd district favorites, and promised more to come when the district tournament rolls around. Despite the loss of Miles, W-V has shown plenty without him to retain this spot in this week's rankings.

Upcoming: 1/11 - semi-finals of the 8th Region All-A in Owenton

3. Collins (11-4) Last week: #3 The Collins Titans continue to roll along; they've won two in a row and 8 of their last 10, making them one of the hottest teams in the region. After falling to top-5 Trinity on Tuesday, the Titans bounced back with two impressive victories, beating district 30 rival Spencer County, 66-48, and topping Grant County, 75-56 - both games on the road. This continues to be a different sort of Collins team; whereas Chris Gaither's squads in the past have mostly excelled on the defensive end and been average in terms of scoring, this team is good at both, and scoring points in bunches. They are #5 in the region at 68.1 ppg coming into this week.... four players average in double figures, and in the last six games, four different players have taken a turn leading the team in scoring. Nick Fort continues to lead the way at 16.8 ppg...

Upcoming: 1/9/18 @ South Oldham 1/12/18 vs. Shelby County 1/13/18 Grayson County (at the MLK Jr Classic at George Rogers Clark)

4. Simon Kenton (10-4) Last week: #4 The Pioneers beat Johnson Central by fourteen before losing the heartbreaker at Walton-Verona on a last-second three last week. SK hasn't updated their cumulative stats online yet, but freshman Kelly Niece is making quite a name for himself this year, and I understand he scored over 20 points versus W-V. The Pioneers play a brutal schedule the rest of the season; they should be battle-toughened and resilient at the end of the year...

Upcoming: 1/9/18 vs. #4 ranked Cooper 1/12/18 vs. Scott High (at Bank of Kentucky Center / Bluegrass Classic)

5. South Oldham (10-5) Last week: #6 The Dragons edge up one this week after topping Oldham County at home last Friday. Great game / great atmosphere. South, leading by one with about 40 seconds to play, got a huge three from Peyton Hicks to all but seal the game, then closed it out with six free throws for the 70-60 victory. Devin Young continues to look like Region Player of the Year material, hitting for 29 points and grabbing 9 rebounds, while blocking numerous shots. South is also one of the hottest teams in the region, having won 4 of their last 5 games, including wins over Marion County, McCracken County, and Oldham County. In fact, the only bad loss South has was to Shelby County in game two of the season, a game in which Devin Young did not play. January will continue to be a challenging month: Collins and E-town are up next, and South closes out the month versus Iroquois, Simon Kenton, and North Oldham.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 vs. Collins (The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN) 1/13/18 vs. Elizabethtown

6. Gallatin County (13-3) Last week: #5 I don't normally bump a team down when all they did was win both of their games during a week - and both by double figures, at that! So I need to be clear that - in my mind - Gallatin isn't slipping any. They are an excellent team; I just feel that South Oldham has now accumulated a body of work against superior competition that elevated them above the Wildcats. (so this probably gives Jon Jones some bulletin board fodder - like one of the region's best motivators needs any!) Gallatin had a productive week last week, beating Eminence by 26 and keeping district rival Carroll County at bay with a 17 point victory. The win over the Panthers almost assured Gallatin of the #1 seed in the post season 31st district tournament, though they still could lose it, mathematically. A win on the 20th versus Carroll would formally cinch the #1 seed. Gallatin continues to win the Jon Jones way - with strong shooting (48.9% from the floor) and efficient play. The Wildcats have now won 5 of their last 6 and they are 8-1 against 8th region competition, the most region wins of any team. Trey Coomer continues to lead the way; the junior forward is averaging 15.7 ppg and has scored in double figures in seven straight games, including three games where he tallied 20+.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 - vs Williamstown, round 1 of the 8th Region All-A at Owen County.

7. North Oldham (8-8) Last week: #7 North Oldham continues to be one of the most improved teams I've seen this winter, from December 1 to now. The Mustangs - which are the only team left that is undefeated against region competition at 2-0 - have won 7 of their last 11, including victories over Spencer County, Elizabethtown, and a stunning 16 point win over Valley, a team whose four losses had been to Butler by 1, Henry Clay by 1, Paducah Tilghman by 1, and Waggener by 7. North also lost to GRC on a last-second putback and trailed Waggener by just one possession in the final minute, before losing by 8. The Mustangs, who went 1 and 2 last week (lost by 8 to Waggener, beat Valley by 16, lost to Butler by 18), lost their most recent game to Butler by a handful, but the Bears had just taken their first loss of the season in the previous game and were spoiling to get back on the winning track. Still, North held the Bears to their second lowest point total of the season (53). Dylan Yates' emergence as a scoring threat, complementing Justin Rose, has been a big part of North's emergence as an 8th Region threat. BIG GAME this Friday at Oldham County; North holds their destiny in their hands and can still capture the #1 seed in the 29th district tournament, which will be held at North.

Upcoming: 1/12/18 @ Oldham County (The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN) 1/13/18 Franklin County

8. Spencer County (9-6) Last week: #8 The Bears are the team everyone better be keeping an eye on. Not only are the Bears doing well now, they are young, meaning at any moment, it may all just "click". Jason Burns has done a fantastic job in Taylorsville....his first team (2013-14) won just 8 games, but his next two both won 11, and last year, the Bears went 20-9, their first 20-win season since the 2011 squad went 25-7 and was 8th Region runner-ups. Sam Conley is one of the top freshmen in the region (14.4 ppg / 5.3 rebounds) and is a potential four-year "all-region" player. The Bears are only hitting 43.8% from the field, but that is deceiving Burns, a former Steve Simpson assistant at South Oldham, has his team shooting 48% of their shots from beyond the arc - where they are hitting a solid 34%. Jacob Coke continues to have the hot hand there, hitting 54 of 100 three attempts. But Spencer struggled a bit last week, beating Nelson County (4-11) in overtime and then losing a chance at a signature win when Collins came to town and beat the homestanding Bears by 18. That said, it should be noted that Spencer trailed Collins by a manageable 11 points heading into the fourth period... Spencer gets another crack at one of the top-ranked region teams this week when they travel to Oldham County.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 @ Oldham County

9. Anderson County (5-8) Last week: #9 The Bearcats remain an enigma this season. Considered by many to be the pre-season favorites in the 8th Region, Anderson has struggled in the first half of the season, though they may yet emerge from the ashes to be the team to beat. But Glen Drury's club continues to struggle at the present, and has dropped 5 of their last 7 games, albeit to very good competition. The Bearcats beat Shelby County last week in a rivalry/district matchup, 47-38. The issue continues to be scoring; despite having perhaps the most prolific scorer in the region in Cobe Penny (22.8 ppg), the Bearcats have struggled to find people around him who can score. Dylan Pittman continues to have a stellar season (13.2 ppg), but with center Christian Gritton out with an ankle injury, Anderson continues to have trouble finding consistent, additional scoring alternatives.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 - @ Casey County (0-15) 1/12/18 Somerset (15-2) 1/13/18 @ Perry County Central (8-5)

10. Grant County (5-11) Last week: #10 Grant County stays put at #10 this week after a split last week. The Braves lost to 8th Region power Collins, 75-56, but defeated winless Williamstown, 88-39. In other words, they won when they should have and lost when they were expected to. It was all about shooting; in the win over W-town, the Braves shot 53% from the field, 44% from beyond the arc, and 81% at the line. But in the next game, the loss to Collins, Grant hit just 39% from the field, 31% from beyond the arc, and 43% at the charity stripe. Up next is a pretty solid stretch of games, including matchups against Pendleton County, Scott County, and Simon Kenton.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 @ Montgomery County 1/12/18 @ Pendleton County

11. Carroll County (5-11) Last week: #11 Carroll splits two last week, knocking off Henry County to get revenge for an early season loss to the Wildcats, and dropping a 17 point decision to 31st district favorite Gallatin County. The Panthers have lost 4 of their last 5 and continue to struggle shooting the ball. In the last six games, Carroll has hit over 45.5% of their shots only once (56% in a win over St. Francis). During that stretch, they've shot under 30% beyond the arc four times, and less than 60% of their free throws three times.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 versus Trimble County in the 8th Region All-A at Owenton

12. Henry County (8-8) Last week: #12 The Wildcats had a busy week last week, going 1-2, as they lost to Lloyd Memorial in a heartbreaker, 53-52, defeated Owen County by 8, and lost to Carroll County by just two points. A five point total swing in points and the Wildcats are 10-6 heading into this week instead of 8-8. Henry instead has lost 5 of their last 7, but the Cats have a chance to rebound this week as they have two very winnable games.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 Walden 1/11/18 Bullitt Central 1/13/18 @ Iroquois

13. Trimble County (6-9) Last week: #13 The Raiders have lost 4 of their last 5, but have been on the cusp of victory each time. Trimble lost those four games by a total of just 19 points and had the chance to win each. Shane Mills shone in the lone win, a 77-60 victory over Beth Haven in which he scored 19 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 Carroll County in the All-A tournament in Owenton.

14. Shelby County (2-12) Last week: #14 Anderson County prolonged the Rockets' losing streak, winning 47-38 in Shelbyville on January 5th for Shelby's eighth consecutive loss. For the season, Shelby continues to struggle with the shooting, hitting just 39.7% from the field, 29.7% from beyond the arc, and 58.6% from the line.

Upcoming: Shelby hopes to get back on the winning track against cross-town rival Collins on 1/12/18 at Collins

15. Eminence (9-8) Last week: #15. The Warriors lost to Gallatin County, 78-52, but rebounded to beat Williamstown, 73-65, in a game in which Maurice Richardson scored 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds last week. The Warriors are on a roll, having won 8 of their last 10 games, and putting up 63.6 ppg.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 vs. Owen County in the first round of the 8th Region All A Tourney at Owenton.

16. Owen County (2-11) Last week: #16 The Rebels have lost their last five games, the third longest losing streak in the region, by an average margin of over 27 points, and are putting up a region-worst 44.4 ppg. Still, hope springs eternal for a second-half rally. Owen is 0-4 in district seeding games, but the Rebels have winnable games left against Eminence (0-3 in seeding games) and Carroll County at home. Only one seeding game remains in which they will be a decided underdog (vs. Gallatin on 1/20/18). The narrow loss to Henry County last week - after falling to the Wildcats by 24 in mid-December - suggests the Rebels are improving.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 vs Eminence in the 8th Region All-A at Owenton.

17. Williamstown (0-12) Last week: #17 The Demons continue to be true "Road Warriors" as they have played 9 of their 12 games away from the confines of their home gym... The offense is still searching; the Demons have scored less than 50 points in 8 of 12 games this year and rank 16th in the region in scoring at 46.4 ppg. Coach Reitz is hoping the All-A tourney will be a springboard to an improved second half of the season. The next few games are not kind: Gallatin County, one of the two favorites in the All-A tournament, followed by Simon Kenton and Pendleton County. But after that, the schedule becomes a little more manageable, although 16th region power Morgan County and 8th region power Walton Verona lurk on 1/27/18 and 1/30/18.

Upcoming: 1/9/18 - Gallatin County in the first round of the All-A Region 8 tourney in Owenton.

A quick preview of the All-A Tournament

January 9th - round 1 at Owen County HS

Walton Verona gets a "bye"

5:30 pm Trimble County vs. Carroll County
Trimble looks to get revenge for a 16 point loss to the Panthers back on 11/30/17. The
Raiders hit just 37% from the floor in that game; Troy Grieshaber (15 points) and Reece
Webster (12) led Trimble, but the Raiders' stars hit just 40% of their shots. Carroll hit
47% from the floor and placed four players in double figures, with Braedyn Cole scoring
23 points on 7 of 12 shooting (including 3 of 7 beyond the arc) and 6 of 7 at the line
Free throws were big: Carroll only made 58% at the stripe, but the Panthers shot 38
free throws, and made 22 - twice as many as Trimble made.

7:00 pm Gallatin County vs. Williamstown
The Wildcats will be a heavy favorite in this one, having demolished Williamstown, 78-32,
on 11/29/17 in one of the Demons' rare home games. Troy Coomer led the way with 23
points as Gallatin hit 57% from the field in that game. Williamstown was led by Brady
Montgomery with 17 points, but the Demons hit just 33% from the field and were
outrebounded, 32-16.

8:30 pm Eminence vs. Owen County
Eminence and Owen County will be playing for the first time this year, and momentum
has to favor the Warriors, who come in winners in 8 of their last 10 games. The Warriors
continue to put up a lot of points (63.6 ppg) - if this becomes a shootout, the Rebels, the
lowest scoring team in the region at 44.4 ppg - may not be able to keep up. These two
always seem to play each other close - last year's games were decided by 2, 10, and 3
points - but Eminence looks to be a slight favorite in this game.

January 11th - semi-finals
6:00 pm Trimble-Carroll winner vs. Walton-Verona
7:30 pm Gallatin-Williamstown winner vs. Eminence-Owen winner

January 13th - championship
7 pm at Owen County HS

BIG REGION 8 GAMES THIS WEEK

Other than the 8th Region All-A tournament games, the following figure to be key games this week....

Oldham County vs. Spencer 1/9/18 at Oldham County - Oldham got the bounceback win Saturday after losing to South Friday, but the Colonels look to take out some frustrations on a quality team like Spencer; likewise, Spencer is still looking for a signature win. This would certainly qualify.

South Oldham vs. Collins 1/9/18 at South - These two coaches - Steve Simpson of South Oldham and Chris Gaither of Collins - have claimed the last five regional titles, with South winning three and Collins two. Both teams are coming into this game playing very well. Both teams can light up the scoreboard. Should be a lot of fun! The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN

Simon Kenton vs. #4-ranked Cooper 1/9/18 at SK The Pioneers get a chance to bounce back after the heartbreaker of a loss at Walton-Verona against one of the top-ranked teams in the state. A great opportunity for an 8th Region squad to uphold the region's honor against a truly great opponent.

Anderson Couty vs. Somerset (15-2) 1/12/18 at Anderson. The Bearcats try to get back some respect against the winningest team in the 12th region

North Oldham at Oldham County 1/12/18 at Oldham County. The Mustangs are one of the most improved teams in the 8th Region. Just how much improved? A win at Oldham would speak volumes and give North a solid chance at earning the coveted 1 seed in the 29th district tournament.

Grant County at Pendleton County 1/12/18 @ Pendleton Grant is trying to get over the hump, and can do so if their defense can catch up with their offense. A wonderful opportunity to take a big step upward if they can upset a talented Pendleton County team that is having a superb year.

Collins vs. Shelby County 1/12/18 at Collins OK, this one looks lopsided on paper. But it's Collins vs Shelby, and when two rivals go at it, well, anything can happen, and often does. These two teams are just a few miles apart, and expect everyone in Shelbyville to be packed into the Collins gym for this one.

Henry County at Iroquois 1/13/18 at Iroquois Henry County is looking for an opportunity to take the next step up, and an upset of the Raider-Wolves would be just that. A well-coached, extremely talented and athletic team, Iroquois will challenge the Wildcats in ways no opponent has challenged them this year. Another opportunity for an 8th Region team to carry the region banner proudly...

See you all next week!

CM