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We're down to the final two weeks of the 2017-18 regular season, and the 8th region favorite is....

LOL!

Right now, we are looking at a region tournament that will likely feature at least five teams sporting 20+ wins, and probably two of the remaining three will have 18-20 wins. Considering that the "favorite" hasn't won the event since Oldham County took the title in 2012, it might be just as well for all involved that nobody wears the role of undisputed favorite today.

As for who should be considered the favorite...reasonable people can surely disagree this year.

If you haven't made the trek to "the Roy" in New Castle for the 8th region tournament in a while, this might be the year you should find the time to go.

The region continues to have three teams that have been most consistently successful this season: Oldham County, Walton-Verona, and Collins. Oldham has beaten two teams ranked in the top 20 at the time of their game, Warren Central and John Hardin, both of which are considered the top teams in their respective regions. Walton-Verona has had very solid performances in the King of the Bluegrass and the State All-A Classic, where they finished as runner-ups. They also have beaten ranked opponents, including Campbell County and Mayfield. Collins has gone 0-3 against ranked teams this year, but two of those were top-5 teams (according to Bluegrasspreps.com) Regardless, Collins has a number of quality wins, including victories over Scott High, Simon Kenton, Spencer County, and South Oldham.

Right behind the top 3 are four teams that appear very much to have the talent, coaching, and moxie to make a serious run at the 8th region title, without having to pull off a major upset along the way. Gallatin County, South Oldham, Spencer County, and Simon Kenton all fit into this tier. It's interesting to note that three of the longest tenured-coaches in the region - Gallatin's Jon Jones, South's Steve Simpson, and SK's Trent Steiner - are in this bunch.

The two wild cards - definitely dark horses in terms of odds, but also two teams that have the talent to win it or at least go deep into the tournament - are North Oldham and Anderson County. North Oldham is hot now, and it's interesting to note that only Oldham County, Walton-Verona, and Collins have a better region mark than the Mustangs. Anderson County has under-performed all year against an absolutely brutal schedule, but never underestimate a Glen Drury team in the post-season. The problem for both is that they will have extremely challenging first round district games and might not even make the tournament.

It may not matter too terribly much whether you are a district champ or a district runner-up this year.

As far as the rankings, how crazy can things be? Let's see:

Gallatin County beat Collins...Simon Kenton beat Gallatin County...Walton-Verona beat Simon Kenton...Oldham County beat Walton-Verona...South Oldham beat Oldham County...North Oldham beat South Oldham...Iroquois beat North Oldham...Spencer County beat Iroquois....Collins beat Spencer County (repeat cycle)

Let the madness continue...on to this week's rankings:

1 #14 Walton-Verona (20-5) Last week: #2 The Bearcats slide back into the number one position in the poll this week after a solid, consistent week in which they won three games over lesser competition. W-V defeated Williamstown, Grant County, and Trimble County, each by 28 points or more in a week in which it was important for the Cats to simply take care of business. They did, and Walton has now won 11 of their last 12, a trend any coach would like to see heading into the post-season. The Bearcats - who will be heavily favored in their three games this week - should be on pace to eclipse their 26 game win total from last year. The Cats are doing it with a committee approach; the team is averaging a solid 63 ppg, and doing it with only one player averaging in double figures (Brennan Stanley, 13.1 ppg). During this 12 game stretch, Walton has scored 64 points or more in 8 games, and the Cats have defeated Simon Kenton, Gallatin County, Clinton County, Campbell County (ranked at the time), and Mayfield (ranked #17 at the time). This is a team that seems to be hitting its stride at exactly the right time.

As of this week, the Bearcats are now the only ranked 8th region team in the Bluegrasspreps.com ranking, coming in at #14. Within the region, the Bearcats have a region-best record of 10-1 versus region rivals.

This week: 2/6 - @ Lloyd Memorial 2/7 vs Henry County 2/9 vs St. Henry

2 Oldham County (21-4) Last week: #3 We continue with the season long 1, 1A, and 1B¯ approach to the top 3. I could have made a strong argument for Oldham as #1 this week, as Oldham showed something significant this week - the ability to beat good teams without their top player. With player of the year candidate Jackson Gibson out with a hand injury, the Colonels whipped a very good Waggener team, 72-58 in a game where Oldham shot 63% from the field, and followed that with a solid win over a motivated Simon Kenton team, 86-79, a game in which Oldham again shot the ball well from the field (51%).

For the season, Oldham ranks #6 in Kentucky at 52.2% overall from the floor.

In Gibson's absence, others stepped up to the plate: Zach Larimore had two big games, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds against Waggener and scoring 18 against SK Oldham also seems to be regaining their form at the right time; the Colonels have won 6 of their last 7 and 8 of their last 10 games.

Oldham is 8-1 against 8th region competition.

This Tuesday, Oldham travels to Collins for what should be the biggest remaining game of the regular season.

This week: 2/6 @ Collins 2/9 @ Christian Academy of Louisville

3 Collins (18-6) Last week: #1 The Titans stumbled a bit last week, but continue to factor among the elite teams in the region. Surprisingly, after beating Male by 3 to start the week, Collins dropped two out of region games against a decent St. Xavier team and Bullitt East. That brought a halt to an impressive 9 game winning streak the Titans had been riding. The Titans have the opportunity to make a statement here in the final two weeks, however, with matchups against Oldham County, Doss, DeSales, and North Oldham among their final five opponents. In the end, this little hiccup may have done little more than make the Titans angry.

At 7-1, Collins is one of only four schools with just one loss in region play.

This week: 2/6 Oldham County 2/9 @ DeSales 2/10 - #6 Doss

4 South Oldham (16-7) Last week: #5 Don't look now, but South Oldham is moving up the rankings. The Dragons have won 3 of the last 5 Region 8 titles, and Steve Simpson seems to have finally gotten this ship moving in the direction he wants. South has won 7 of their last 9 games, and the typical South Oldham scoring machine seems to finally be in full swing; South has scored 66 points or more in 7 of their last 9 games. The Dragons are now averaging a region-best 71.6 ppg.

The Dragons recently went to SK without three starters, including their top two scorers, and came away with an impressive win, with three subs scoring in double figures (Ben Johnson 21, Jake Vincent 13, and Seth Johnson 10). They briefly came down to earth in a 5 point road loss to arch-rival North Oldham, in a game where they were still missing the services of Luke Morrison, their #2 scorer. But the Dragons rebounded to defeat DuPont Manual and then went on the road to knock off Gallatin County behind Peyton Hicks' 22 points.

After missing the Simon Kenton game due to the flu, 8th Region Player of the Year candidate Devin Young, a 6'6" senior guard, has been practically unstoppable. He has now recorded three consecutive double-doubles, going for 16 points and 12 rebounds in his first game back (against North), scoring a team-high 24 points and grabbing 14 rebounds against Manual, and wrapping up the week with a 19 point / 14 rebound performance against Gallatin despite a physical Wildcat defense focused on taking him out of the game.

South has just three games left in the regular season, including just one game this week, against 5th region foe Central Hardin. They wrap things up next week against former 8th region rival North Bullitt and top-ranked region contender Walton-Verona.

As well as South is playing, they will have one of the toughest roads to the region tournament, as they will have to face rival North Oldham on North Oldham's court in the first round of the 29th district tournament.

This week: 2/8 vs Central Hardin (The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN)

5 Gallatin County (20-6) Last week: #4 Gallatin swaps places with South Oldham this week, after falling at home to the Dragons in a game in which South led by double digits on a couple of occasions but struggled to put away the Wildcats until the very end of the game.

Two years after winning just 11 games, Jon Jones has now led his Gallatin squad to back-to-back 20 win seasons. The Wildcats have defeated Collins this year, lost to South by just 2, and fell to Walton-Verona by only four points in the 8th region all-A Classic. In short, the Cats have pretty well proven that they can play with anyone in the region.

Three seniors and two juniors lead the Cats in scoring, led by junior Troy Coomer at 16.7 ppg. Congrats to senior Justin Rassman, though, who's really had the hot hand of late, and who scored his 1,000 point against South Oldham on February 3rd.

Gallatin continues to figure prominently in the state statistical rankings: Jaymee Hale (10.4 ppg) is #5 in the state in field goal percentage at 68.3%. Troy Coomer is tied for second in the state with 3.5 made threes per game. And the team as a whole is #16 in the state in overall field goal percentage at an even 50%.

Gallatin has now won 10 of their last 13 and should be favored in each of their final four regular season games.

This week: 2/5 vs Grant County 2/6 @ Trimble County

6 Spencer County (16-7) Last week: #7 The Bears move up one slot this week as they move into the final two weeks of the season on a roll. Spencer has won 7 in a row - the longest current winning streak in region 8 - and 8 of their last 10 now, with their only losses to Collins and Oldham County. The Bears are winning with timely shooting and solid defense. Against an athletic Iroquois team from the 6th region, Spencer won by shooting 56.8% from the floor, nailing 11 of 20 threes (55%), and hitting 13 of 17 free throws (76.5%). A little over a week later, the Bears knocked down another sixth region team, the Pleasure Ridge Park Panthers, with a tough defense. On a night when Spencer made barely 40% of their shots and got to the line only six times, the Bears won with a defensive effort that held PRP to just 52 points, their second-lowest total of the year.

Last week, Spencer won all three of their games, 55-52 over PRP, 60-40 over Carroll, and 75-56 over Henry County.

The Bears will be favored in their final three regular season games, putting them solidly on track to equal or surpass last year's 20-win season.

Spencer's reward for a tremendous season looks to be a date with dangerous Anderson County in the first round of the district 30 tournament. Spencer has already defeated AC once (by 12).

This week: 2/6 @ Shelby County 2/7 vs Rock Creek Academy (IN)

7 Simon Kenton (14-7) Last week: #6 The Pioneers are struggling a little. Trent Steiner's crew has lost 6 of their last 11 games, but SK has not had a truly "bad" loss all year. That said, the home loss to a good South Oldham team ā€“ but a South team missing three starters, including their top 2 scorers ā€“ definitely created some doubts.

SK has had no problems scoring all year. The Pioneers, led by freshman Kelly Niece (17.1 ppg), are scoring at nearly 68 ppg. The Pioneers are hitting nearly 49% from the floor, over 38% beyond the arc, and 70% at the line. Not too shabby. Simon has scored 60 points or more in 10 consecutive games. Yet SK has only won 5 of those 10 games, whereas the perennial top region contenders usually win 75% or more of their games when they score over 60 points. (comparison made with historical Oldham County, South Oldham, Simon Kenton, Anderson County, and Collins teams)

Defense is the concern. South Oldham scored 66 points without three starters, including leading scorer Devin Young and second leading scorer Luke Morrison. Oldham hung 86 on SK without leading scorer Jackson Gibson (16 ppg). Collins scored 73 and Walton-Verona 65, both SK losses. Boone County scored 69.

The Pioneers should have a relatively easy path to the 8th Region tournament, and Trent Steiner has a lot of talent work with. SK will also have a chance to play some solid competition in the final two weeks of the season.

This week: 2/6 vs. #19 Campbell County 2/7 vs. Williamstown 2/9 @ Anderson County

8 North Oldham (15-9) Last week: #8 - In a lot of ways, I feel I should be ranking the Mustangs higher. North, since beginning the year 1-4, has won 14 of 19 games and is currently riding a 5 game winning streak, second-longest in the region. Since December 29th, the Mustangs have beaten Fifth Region power Elizabethtown, Sixth Region power Valley, and 8th Region contender South Oldham. The North defense, keyed of late by a stingy 2-3 zone, is one of the best in the region, surrendering just 54 points per game. And Justin Rose, averaging 19.3 ppg and 6.5 rebounds, is one of the region's most versatile threats. North has beaten two of the teams ranked ahead of them: South Oldham and Spencer County. North is shooting the perimeter shots really well. And finally, the Mustangs are one of just four teams with only one region 8 loss (6-1 record to date).

Last week, North came together for three wins; an emotional 56-51 victory over arch-rival South Oldham that deprived the Dragons of the district #1 seed, a 70-65 victory over Carroll County, and a 64-43 whipping of Atherton.

Coach Rob Burton also just became the winningest boys basketball coach in the history of North Oldham.

So why is North still sitting at #8?

Basically, because I couldn't find reason to move the other teams down. North Oldham is playing excellent basketball now. Additional players are beginning to finally rise up to support Rose in the scorebook: Dylan Yates, Grant Adelson, and Justin Burton. The defense is stingy. The confidence level is high. But Spencer, Simon Kenton, and Gallatin County - the three teams ranked just above North - have resumes that stake them to a claim above North.

The biggest question mark the Mustangs still have to answer: Can they win big games if Rose is on the bench? In North's last loss (against Oldham County) the Mustangs' star spent much of the game on the bench in foul trouble, and failed to reach double figures. The result was a catastrophic second half as Oldham rolled, 65-39.

This week: 2/6 @ Owen County 2/9 vs Meade County (The Pegasus Sports Network - PSN)

9 Anderson County (8-12) Last week: #9 Anderson holds at number 9 this week after dropping two of three games last week. The Bearcats fell to Gallatin by 12, defeated St. Patrick, 77-44, and lost convincingly to top 20 Lafayette, 86-55.

"Twelve"¯ seems to be the magic number for Anderson as they try to rally late in the season. Anderson lost to Spencer County by 12, Collins by 12, and Gallatin County by 12 all in the last few games. Competitive, yes. Close enough to turn the score around next time, yes. Losses, yes.

Shooting - particularly perimeter shooting - seems to be a problem for this Bearcat squad. In the last three games, Anderson has shot under 40% from the floor twice, and has made only 4 threes in each game. Overall, the Cats are just 12 of 66 from beyond the arc in the last three games (18.2%).

Cobe Penny continues to be Cobe; the Anderson star eclipsed the 2,102 point mark in his illustrious career against St. Patrick, passing his brother C.J. Penny for most career points in Anderson County history.

Christian Gritton also seems to be hitting his stride; the Cats' big man has 30 rebounds in this last three games.

At the end of the day, it's very hard to pinpoint this Anderson team. Glen Drury has packed a schedule that is brutal in the extreme. Anderson has lost to some very, very good teams. But are they a contender who's simply lost games to great teams? Or are they a pretender who simply isn't quite good enough to compete with the big boys?
Past history suggests it's not a good idea to test AC in the tournament.

This week: 2/6 @ Carroll County 2/8 vs Owen County 2/9 Vs Simon Kenton

10 Grant County (8-15) Last week: #10 Like Simon Kenton, the Braves can score. And like SK, defense is becoming the concern.

Grant split two games last week, defeating Henry County, 74-59, before losing to Walton-Verona, 79-51.

Against Henry, five Braves reached double figures, led by Luke Dawalt's 23 points and 15 rebounds. Ben Vickers led the way in the loss to Walton, tallying 14.

The Braves are averaging 66 ppg, but they have given up 60 points or more 18 times in 23 games. As a result, they head into the final two weeks trying to get a winning streak going, as they have lost 5 of 7.

This week: 2/5 @ Gallatin County 2/8 Boone County 2/10 @ Pendleton County

11 Henry County (12-13) Last week: #11 The Wildcats have the opportunity to do something tomorrow night that they haven't done since early December: start a winning streak.

The Wildcats opened the year 5-2, with a two-game winning streak and a three-game winning streak. Since then, they haven't won more than one game "in a row".¯ Of course, Henry hasn't lost more than two in a row all season, either.

After dropping games to Grant County and Spencer County last week, both by double digits, the Wildcats responded with a 64 point outburst in a 64-59 win over Washington County. A win over arch-rival Eminence Tuesday would give them their first winning streak since December 18th. The Wildcats beat the Warriors, 77-65, back on December 5th.

Senior Landon Morgan continues to lead the Cats at just under 12 ppg and 7.4 rebounds.
This is a hard-nosed, blue-collar team. They'll have a shot to advance to the region, on their home floor.

This week: 2/6 @ Eminence 2/7 @ Walton-Verona 2/9 @ Shelby County

12 Carroll County (8-17) Last week: #12 The Panthers lost two last week, 60-40 to Spencer County and 70-65 to North Oldham. The Panthers have now lost 6 of their last 8, and face Anderson County and Walton-Verona over the final two weeks of the season. But the Panthers also should be favored against Williamstown and Louisville Collegiate, giving them the opportunity to head to the playoffs having split their final 8 regular season games.

Shooting, shooting, shooting. The Panthers continue to struggle with shooting straight. Overall, Carroll is hitting just 42.1% of their shots, including 30% from beyond the arc.

Keep in mind that this is a very young Carroll County team. Leading scorer Wyatt Supplee is just a sophomore, and second-leading scorer David Duncan is a junior. Rebounding wiz Keishaun Mumphrey is a mere freshman. There are only two seniors, and Eli Yocum and Braedyn Cole combine for just 15 ppg.

Carroll doesn't boast any "signature"¯ wins, but they have split two games with Henry County, their apparent first round foe in the 31st district tourney, meaning a win over Henry would put them in the region tourney.

This week: 2/6 vs. Anderson County 2/9 @ Williamstown

13 Trimble County (10-14) Last week: #13 The Raiders took care of business last week, winning the games they were supposed to win, as Trimble defeated Evangel, 80-47, and Williamstown, 77-53.

Troy Grieshaber scored 21 against Evangel, and Shane Mills posted a double-double (22 points / 11 rebounds) against Williamstown.

The Raiders ended the week with a 34-71 loss to Walton-Verona.

Trimble is showing signs of coming out of the mid-season slide that saw them drop 8 of 10 games. They have now won 3 of their last 4, and after Tuesday's game against Gallatin, in which they will be a heavy underdog, the Raiders figure to be very competitive in their final four games. They realistically could go in to the district tournament as winners of 7 of their last 9 contests.

This week: 2/6 vs. Gallatin County 2/8 @ Eminence 2/10 @ Owen County

14 Shelby County (5-18) Last week: #16 The Shelby County Rockets are this week's big movers, moving up two spots to #14.

What a transformation in one week! Shelby looked like a team that had completely packed it in last week. A fourteen game losing streak, capped by a 34 point loss to Oldham County and a 31 point loss to cross-town rival Collins, seemed to have Shelby poised to move into the off-season sunset.

But coach Cates offensive tweaks finally took hold, and a young Shelby County team finally started scoring. For the first time this season, Shelby scored over 50 points in three consecutive games, and they did so against decent competition. The Rockets beat a good Frankfort team, 67-62, behind Kennedy Ballinger's 23 points and Taurius Robinson's 19 points / 18 rebounds. They followed that with a 67-57 win over Central Hardin (Ballinger 16 points) and a 79-70 victory over Ryle (Robinson 18 points, freshman Noah Gordon 16).

Suddenly, the Rockets look like a new team. Three of their final four games look to challenge their new-found success as they face Spencer County, DeSales, and Gallatin County. However, if Shelby can win one or two of those games, the Rockets' confidence level will soar, giving them a big boost heading into the District 30 tourney, to be held in the shadowy Shelby County HS gym.

Suddenly, Shelby has the third-longest winning streak in the region.

This week: 2/6 vs. Spencer County 2/9 vs. Henry County

15 Eminence (13-12) Last week: #14 The Warriors sit at 13-12 on the season, but Eminence simply hasn't beaten anyone of significance this year, and the Warriors dropped 2 of 3 last week.

Eminence beat St. Francis, 76-69, to start last week, but fell, 83-76 to Brown and 58-50 to Lloyd Memorial to end the week on a sour note. Both were games the Warriors needed to win to take care of business. Instead, faulty shooting largely derailed Eminence, particularly from the outside, as Eminence hit just 1 of 10 threes against St. Francis and 1 of 16 against Lloyd.

Junior Josh Dotson had a stellar week, though. Dotson posted three consecutive double-doubles last week, with 11 points / 15 rebounds against St. Francis, a whopping 39 points / 24 rebounds(!!!) in the loss to Brown, and 16 points / 12 rebounds against Lloyd. For the season, Dotson now is averaging 13.6 ppg / 9.6 rebounds.

This week: 2/6 vs Henry County 2/8 vs. Trimble County

16 Owen County (4-17) Last week: #15 The Rebels fall one spot this week. The Rebels dropped two last week - they've now lost 11 of their last 13 - with a 70-36 loss to Ryle and a 65-58 loss to Augusta.

Free throws bedeviled the Rebels, who hit just 12 of 26 at the line in the two games.
Although it doubtless wouldn't have mattered against Ryle, the free throw challenges may have cost Owen the Augusta game.

This week: 2/6 vs. North Oldham 2/8 @ Anderson County 2/10 vs. Trimble County


17 Williamstown (0-23) Last week: #17 The Demons are playing a lot of basketball in the final weeks of the season; they played four times last week and play four games again this week.

Last week, the Demons fell to Walton-Verona, 85-35, St. Henry, 66-27, Trimble County, 77-53, and West Carter, 80-40.

Dating back to the end of last year, Williamstown is riding a 25 game losing streak.

Senior Brady Montgomery leads the Demons, averaging 15.9 ppg / 5.6 rebounds.

It will be interesting to see how this extremely young team holds together despite the rough season. There is only one other senior on this roster: Chance Jordan (6.8 ppg). The rest will all develop, get older / stronger / smarter / better.

This week: 2/6 @ Harrison County 2/7 @ Simon Kenton 2/9 vs Carroll County 2/10 vs. Powell County

8th Region longest winning streaks:
Spencer County 7 games
North Oldham 5 games
Shelby County 3 games

8th Region longest losing streaks:
Williamstown 25 games
Carroll County 2 games
Eminence 2 games
Owen County 2 games
Collins 2 games