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Last week turned out to be very disappointing to the 8th Region basketball fan. Several games that would have been very interesting were cancelled or postponed by the weather….which didn’t even turn out to be all that bad.

Still…some key games got played…Spencer County went to Oldham County, failed to respond to the opening bell and nearly got run out of the gym in the first half, only to mount a ferocious rally in the second half that fell just short in a stirring finish….. Collins got a solid win over South Oldham, just days after South had upset Oldham County. Were the Dragons still too high after the big win over their ranked rival just a few days before? The Titans looked dominant…. And Simon Kenton got the region’s signature victory of the week, defeating the state’s #4-ranked team, the Cooper Jaguars.

All in all, still a pretty exciting week. But does anything change in the rankings??

The Top Four earn a little separation…

1. #14 Oldham County (15-2) Last week: #1 With the abbreviated schedule, Oldham had just one game this past week, the 71-64 win over the visiting Bears of Spencer County. Oldham showed a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde look, failing to put away a strong Spencer team in the second half after opening almost a 20 point halftime advantage. Zach Larimore had a strong game for losers of just one game to KY competition, still have the most impressive resume at the midpoint of the season. But Oldham will have one of the most challenging schedules in the second half of the season, with games against North Oldham, #17 John Hardin, Waggener, Simon Kenton, Collins, #12 Lafayette, and Boyle County. They could potentially also face #3 Scott County, Larue County (14-1), and / or Woodford County (12-4) in the Toyota Classic this week. In short, a lot of opportunities for the Colonels to slip up….

The bottom line with Oldham County is that they have just one loss to a KY team – and though that was to an unranked team, the opponent was their rival, on the road, in a district seeding game – and it was a 1 point affair with 40 seconds left. And although the region has some very nice wins against other regions’ powers – see “Simon Kenton”, below, for the latest big win - the dominating performances by Oldham County on back to back nights against two undefeated (at the time) and ranked opponents in Warren Central and John Hardin rank as the two most impressive performances in the region this year.

This week: #12 Lafayette in the Toyota Classic at Scott County HS on 1/17/18.

2. Walton-Verona (12-4) Last week #2 OK, so life for the Bearcats officially continues for the rest of the season without Dieonte Miles. A loss, yes, but this W-V squad is still plenty talented, experienced, and well-coached. They have all the parts still to win the region, and are definitely in our Top 4. Like Oldham, Walton had just one game last week, whipping Carroll County, 80-35, in the semi-finals of the 8th region All-A. The Bearcats were set to face the Wildcats of Gallatin County for the title when the weather hit, a team that they previously beat by 20 in December. The toughest part of the Cats’ season is behind them, although potential potholes remain against Gallatin County, Campbell County, and South Oldham. It is very easy to see this team rolling into the postseason riding a long, long winning streak. The Cats won 26 games last year; they might have that matched heading into the region tourney.

This week: I haven’t been able to obtain the makeup schedule for the region All – A final game….but the Cats’ original schedule calls for three games this week, vs. Augusta on 1/16, at Highlands on Thursday 1/18, and at powerful Campbell County (16-2) on Saturday 1/20/18 at 2:30 pm.

3. Collins (12-4) Last week: #3
The Titans have won three in a row, with especially convincing victories at Spencer County (66-48) and at South Oldham (89-73). The South Oldham game, Collins’ only game last week, represented their highest point total of the season, and demonstrated again the damage a team can do when they are able to penetrate the lane / baseline at will. The Titans continue to be very balanced among their starting five; Nick Fort (23 points) and Dayvion McKnight (21 points) led the way for Collins, who also had Jacob Feltner (19 points) and Marcellus Vail (14 points) in double figures. Attacking off the dribble, the Titans shot an impressive percentage – 61.7% - mostly from point-blank range. When needed, Feltner hit three of six beyond the arc, to keep the South defense loose enough for the dribble-drive. I was also very impressed with McKnight; the difference in this young man (just a sophomore!) from last year to this year is very, very impressive. Much more in control, meaning his freakish athleticism becomes that much more dangerous. The player of the game, though, was undoubtedly Fort, who not only scored 23 points but also snagged a team-high 12 rebounds, with many coming on the offensive end and resulting in easy putbacks.

This Week: The Titans travel to Danville to face a very dangerous Boyle County team (9-4) that already owns wins over Somerset and Campbell County, on Tuesday 1/16/18. On 1/20, we get to see what we were cheated out of in the Simon Kenton Invitational; a big matchup between Collins and SK.

4. Simon Kenton (11-4) Last week: #4 The Pioneers earned the 8th Region’s “MVP” award this past week, carrying the region’s standard in the biggest inter-regional game of the week. In the end, the Pioneers defeated the state’s #4 ranked team, the Cooper Jaguars, behind 26 points from freshman Kelly Niece, and 17 points, 8 rebounds from big man Zach Kelch. SK shot the ball extraordinarily well – especially considering the opponent – hitting 63.6% from the field, 81.8% from beyond the arc (9 of 11!), and 81.8% from the line (also 9 of 11). They needed every bit of it to subdue Cooper, last year’s state runner-ups. For a team that had mostly dealt with “near-misses” in their games this year against top-tier teams, this game was vindication for Trent Steiner’s squad and proof positive that the Pioneers will be a contender. SK is now 11-4 on the season, with the four losses coming by just a combined 26 points, including a 3 point loss to Walton, a 5 point loss to South Laurel (12-3), a 7 point loss to North Laurel (14-2), and an 11 to Scott High (12-4). The remaining four weeks of the season will tell the tale: 7 of the final 11 regular season games for SK will be a real litmus test, as the Pioneers will face Collins (1/20), South Oldham (1/26), Gallatin County (1/29), #14 Oldham County (2/2), Campbell County (2/6), Anderson County (2/9), and #5 Covington Catholic (2/13). Whew!

This week: 1/16 vs. Williamstown 1/19 at Grant County 1/20 vs. Collins

#5 - #8 – Four teams capable of beating anyone in the region on a given night. Can they win three straight in New Castle?

5. South Oldham (10-6) Last week: #5 It’s been a crazy stretch of games for South, beating a strong McCracken County team on 12/28, losing to #19 (and at the time, undefeated) Butler by a mere 8 points, beating rival (and previously undefeated in state competition) Oldham County at home, then losing by 16 to Collins. The Collins game was an eye opener for the Dragons; prior to that game, they had lost five games by a total of just 22 points, with Butler’s 8 point victory the largest deficit. The Dragons learned a lot over the last few contests; when their defense is working and their shots are falling, they can beat anyone (Oldham); when defense isn’t working, it doesn’t matter if the shots fall (Collins). South hit 52% of their shots, including 7 of 17 threes (41.2%) against Collins, but was dominated on the glass and failed to protect the lane from the dribble drive penetration in their worst loss of the season. Still, this team looks to be a top 5 team in the region, and that explosive South Oldham offense is still good enough to outscore a lot of teams. And oh yeah, Steve Simpson has led his team to three of the past five regional titles. Better not count the Dragons out.

Upcoming: 1/16 vs. North Bullitt, 1/20 vs Bullitt East at the Henry County Inv Tournament.

6. Gallatin County (15-3) Last week: #6 I’ve always been a big fan of Jon Jones and his ability to get the most out of his teams. This year’s squad is no exception, as the Wildcats have pretty much locked up the #1 seed in the 31st district tournament at the midway mark of the season. Gallatin is riding a five game winning streak, and has a date with Walton-Verona in the 8th Region All-A finals. The concern here is the level of competition to date for Gallatin; they lost their biggest game of the year so far, 51-31, to Walton-Verona, while beating Collins by 11. Other than those two games, the schedule has been pretty soft to date, which makes the 8 point loss to Campbellsville (7-9) and the narrow three point win over Danville (6-10) concerning. Still, the bottom line is this: Gallatin is largely getting the job done, and the Cats have a more challenging schedule ahead, including matchups with Simon Kenton, South Oldham, and Anderson County, which will prep them nicely for the post-season. Last week, Gallatin defeated Williamstown by 28 to start the All-A, and followed with a semi-final win over Eminence by 13. As usual, many different players contributed, points-wise; Gallatin had three in double figures against the Demons, led by Jaymee Hale (28 points) and four in double figures against Eminence, led by Zach Beatty (17 points). And neither of those players is even the leading scorer on the season: That honor belongs to Troy Coomer, who averages 15.6 ppg.

Upcoming: 1/16 – Trimble County 1/20 – at Owen County

7. North Oldham (8-8) Last week: #7 North got pasted in their last game, 53-35, by #19 Butler, but that came on the heels of a pretty solid four game stretch in which North lost on a buzzer-beating follow shot to GRC, beat Elizabethtown 71-64, lost to Waggener 66-58 in a game that was a one possession affair heading into the final minute, and defeated a strong Valley team by a large margin, 63-47. Of all the teams I’ve seen so far, North Oldham is the most improved from December to January. Most notably, the offense finally seems to be getting its act together; after failing to reach 50 points in five of the Mustangs’ first 10 games, North has scored 58 points or more in its last 6 games – against a better brand of competition. North scored 58 against GRC, 71 against Elizabethtown, and 63 against Valley. In the Valley victory, four Mustangs reached double figures, led by star guard Justin Rose’s 20 points. To be a threat at the end of the season, North will have to develop consistency; after the Valley win, the Mustangs hit just 21% from the field in the loss to Butler.

Upcoming: 1/16 at Anderson County 1/19 vs. Shelby County The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN 1/20 at Henry County (HCIT) The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN

8. Spencer County (9-7) Last week: #8 - Jason Burns has done a magnificent job in Taylorsville. This young Spencer team just oozes potential, and they are a bomb that is set to go off soon. After a disappointing game against Collins at home, where they lost by 18 points, the Bears went on the road last week and challenged Oldham County. After trailing by nearly 20 points at the half, the Bears turned in a stellar second half performance and might have pulled out the come-from-behind upset, but they simply ran out of time. On a team full of “Jacobs” (there are three!), Jacob Seawright (20 points) and Jacob Coke (16) led the way against Oldham in the loss; freshman sensation Sam Conley chipped in 15. The Bears hit 53.5% against a stingy Colonel defense, and 44.4% (8 of 18, with Seawright hitting four) from beyond the arc. At the line, the Bears shot 71.4%. Like many young teams, consistency is still what the Bears are searching for – that, and a signature victory that could elevate their season. The home game on the 23rd versus Anderson County will be very interesting as the Bears will likely have to beat the Bearcats in order to advance out of the district – and Spencer should be favored to do just that. The rest of the schedule looks fairly user-friendly, but – besides the Anderson game – two big opportunities loom on 1/20 against Iroquois and on 1/29 at #18 Pleasure Ridge Park.

Upcoming: 1/18/18 vs Christian Academy of Louisville 1/20 at Iroquois

The rest of Region 8….

9. Anderson County (6-8) Last week: #9 How good is Anderson County really? Many had this team on top of the region in pre-season polls, and with reason. A savvy, veteran coach who has done it all in Glen Drury. The consensus region player of the year in Cobe Penny. Great supporting scorers in Christian Gritton and Dylan Pittman. But at the midway mark of the season, how good is Anderson – really?? Persistent injuries to Gritton….lack of consistency at point guard….a brutal schedule (including three ranked teams in the first 14 games)….and some head-scratching losses (Highlands) and narrow wins (Shelby) have made Anderson a difficult team to nail down. Anderson is not a great shooting team (45.6% from the floor, 32.5% from beyond the arc, 61.9% at the line), but at the end of the day, the Bearcats are really looking for that third scorer to step up to help Penny (23 ppg) and Pittman (14.1 ppg). It should be Gritton (8.8 ppg / 8.0 rebounds), but the talented center – who has played 12 games, but many while hobbled with a bad ankle – simply hasn’t been 100%. If Gritton can get healthy again, and Drury can find a consistent point guard, this team may be the “surprise” of the region tournament – the team that everyone “forgot” about. If not, they may not get out of the tough 30th district. For now, the Cats have things going in the right direction; they’ve won three of their last four games and hold their district seeding destiny in their hands with a 1-0 mark. Penny and Pittman both tallied 25 in the most recent win over Casey County. And sophomore guard Tyler Rice has been in double figures the last two games.

Upcoming: 1/16 vs North Oldham 1/18 at Central Hardin

10. Grant County (6-12) Last week: #10 Luke Dawalt (15.4 ppg / 9.2 reb) and Chase Good (12.2 ppg) still lead the way in Dry Ridge as the Braves continue to be a high scoring team that struggles to win the defensive battle. Grant is shooting the ball well from beyond the arc, and the Braves have made 162 threes at a 39% clip. At the line, Grant is a very good 72.2%. But while Grant is averaging 68.3 ppg, they are giving up 70.5 ppg. Grant has certainly testing themselves against a solid schedule – South Oldham, Oldham County, Collins, John Hardin – but much more will be known about the chances of this team making the region tourney when they play Simon Kenton (1/19) and Walton-Verona (2/2). The Braves also face #3 Scott County, Gallatin County, Boone County, and Scott High.

Upcoming: 1/15 vs. #3 Scott County 1/19 vs. Simon Kenton

11. Carroll County (6-12) Last week: #11 The Panthers have struggled of late, losing 5 of their last 7 games, but their two wins came against 8th region opponents Henry County (49-47) and Trimble County ( 69-61). Wyatt Supplee continues to be the barometer of the Panthers’ success; he scored 22 versus Henry County and 18 versus Trimble County in the two wins, and scored just 58 total points in the five losses (27 of those were against one team – Clinton County). Carroll, however, appears to be in the driver’s seat – along with Henry County – to claim the #2 and #3 seeds in the 31st district, meaning the Panthers should be in the bracket opposite favored Gallatin County, and giving them a real shot at the 8th region tournament. Carroll has a chance to build some momentum this week, playing two winnable road games at Owen County and Eminence.

Upcoming: 1/16 at Owen County 1/20 at Eminence

12. Henry County (9-9) Last week: #12 It’s been a yo-yo year for the Henry County Wildcats, whose longest winning streak is three games and longest losing streak is two games. Last week they went 1-1, defeating Walden at home, 78-43, and losing at home in a heartbreaker to Bullitt Central, an old 8th region foe from years past, 59-56. To date, Henry has won the games they should, and lost the games they were expected to lose. HC hasn’t posted much in the way of stats online, but the key stat to the season has been points per game; the Cats are averaging just 57 points per game in a season in which the scoring averages in the region have surged upward dramatically. The Wildcats have scored 53 points or fewer in ten of their 18 games to date.

Upcoming: 1/16 at Eminence 1/19 vs. Trimble County 1/20 vs. North Oldham (HCIT) The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN

13. Trimble County (6-10) Last week: #13 The Raiders have lost five of their last six now, but continue to be competitive in every game. None of the five losses have come by more than 8 points. Reece Webster continues to lead the Raiders at 17.2 ppg, but Shane Mills has been hot of late, averaging 16.5 ppg and 8.5 rebounds in the last two games with stats posted. Stacey May’s club is on the edge of putting together a string of victories, and the upcoming schedule is largely user-friendly, giving the Raiders an opportunity to head to the post-season on a serious up-tick. Not to say it will be all roses; Trimble faces Gallatin County twice and Walton-Verona once during the second half of the season. The inability to get to the free throw line may be a big contributor; in close games, free throws have a heightened importance and Trimble hasn’t shot more than 13 free throws in their six games (prior to the recent Carroll County game). They went 2-4 in those games.

Upcoming: 1/16 at Gallatin County 1/19 at Henry County 1/20 vs. Williamstown

14. Shelby County (2-12) Last week: #14 The Rockets have not played since losing to Anderson County on January 5th. They have three games scheduled this week as they try to right the ship.

Upcoming: 1/17 at Franklin County 1/19 at North Oldham The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN 1/20 vs. Valley

15. Eminence (10-9) Last week: #15 Eminence gave quite a battle during the 8th region All-A against heavily favored Gallatin County, ultimately losing by 13 to a team that had defeated them by 26 and 27 points earlier in the season. The Warriors’ offensive abilities have been impressive – Eminence has scored over 60 points in 9 of the 12 games since being held to a season-low 22 points by Walton-Verona on 12/11/17 – but the team is struggling to get region 8 wins, and is just 3-6 against 8th region opposition and 1-4 against their district. With a likely 4 or 5 seed staring them in the face, the Warriors will almost certainly have to defeat Gallatin County – a team they are 0-3 against – to advance out of the 31st district. Deandre Wright is averaging 19 ppg in the last two games, since returning to the lineup for Eminence, including a 25 point / 7 rebound effort against Gallatin County, when he hit 4 threes. Even more impressive was the fact that Eminence hit 47.6% of their shots (50% beyond the arc) against Gallatin County.

Upcoming: Eminence could possibly run the table over their final 11 regular season games, giving them a 21 win season one year after going 14-14. This week: 1/16 vs. Henry County 1/20 vs Carroll County

16. Owen County (2-12) Last week: #16 Owen is riding a 6 game losing streak after falling to Eminence in the All-A last week. The Rebels hope to reverse their fortunes this week against two teams who already have double-digit victories over the Rebels from earlier in the season

Upcoming: 1/16 vs. Carroll County 1/20 vs. Gallatin County

17. Williamstown (0-13) Last week: #17 The Demons showed improvement last week in a first-round loss in the 8th Region All-A Classic against Gallatin County, but in the end lost by 28. The Demons face a brutal week: four games, all on the road, including powerhouses Simon Kenton and Pendleton County. A chance for that elusive first win might come on Thursday at Nicholas County (4-8).

Upcoming: 1/16 at Simon Kenton 1/17 – at Pendleton County 1/18 – at Nicholas County 1/20 – at Trimble County

That’s it. No changes this week. That top 4-5 looks very, very interesting. Some of these games in the next few weeks may cause a re-shuffle. Or maybe not.