The 2017/2018 3rd region basketball season is setting up to be a fun one. While it appears that Catholic and Daviess County are the slight favorites on paper, it’s not by much. It will be interesting to see which teams outside of Owensboro emerge to compete for the title. Overall, it feels like this region is wide open to at least 7-8 different teams.

1.Owensboro Catholic Aces (22-11) - One year removed from their first trip to Rupp, the Aces look primed to make another push for a 3rd region title. Coach Tim Riley will return most everyone from a squad that won over twenty games last year before bowing out in the regional semi-finals to eventual champion, Meade County. The Aces will be led by senior swingman Luke Hayden (14.3ppg) and the best big man in the region, JD Marshall (11 points/7 boards). Steady point guard Max Reid returns as well. Riley should have one of the deepest benches in the region. Look for Catholic to go 10-11 deep. There have been rumors that Muhlenberg County big man Ty Vincent has transferred to Catholic. If true, Vincent would give the Riley a very strong 1-2 punch in the paint. The combination of talent, depth and great coaching, should have Owensboro Catholic in the mix all the way until the end.

2.Daviess County Panthers (21-13) – The Panthers bounced back from a first round district upset in 2016 to make an improbable run to the 3rd region title game last season. Since taking over 2 years ago, Coach Neal Hayden has brought a ton of success to the DC program. They will return a great core of scorers from last year’s roster, and look primed to make another run deep into the region. Blake Boswell is a 2017 Wendy’s Heisman nominee and was the leading scorer for the Panthers last season (14ppg). Look for him to continue to ascend in 2017. His tag team partner, Jay Owen (11ppg) is also back in the mix. Coach Hayden will have one of the most balanced teams in the region this season. Guys like Caden Coomes at PG, Nick Driskell at F and Dakota Walden at G will hold big roles on the 17/18 Panthers. One of my breakout candidates for DC is big man Seth Fenwick. Fenwick only averaged 5 & 3 last year, but he came on strong at the end of the season. He should get a bigger role after the graduation of Hassan Green. The Panther fan base should have a very fun and fast paced team to watch this season.

3.Apollo Eagles (22-7) – The Apollo Eagles still have a bad taste in their mouths over the way their season ended a year ago. They were upset in the first round of the 9th district tournament by Daviess County. 3rd Region player of the year Zach Hopwell (21ppg) is headed to Murray. Sure handed PG Tabor Shadowen graduated as well. Even with those big departures, Coach Steve Barker will return a core of solid role players. 3 point specialist Nathan Boyle (13ppg) is back in the fold. Undersized Alex Gray returns in the paint, where he averaged 10 & 7 last year. Athletic forward Meachie Chambers finished strong last year and looks to have an even bigger role this season. Apollo will benefit from the return of guard Hayden Shelton to the program. He will be another long range threat for Coach Barker and bring some stability to the PG spot. There is also talk of an international transfer to the program who would provide a big lift. With several role players in place for the Eagles, their success will depend on who will step up to lead this team. The potential is there.

4.Breck County Tigers (11-16) – After finishing last season winning 8 of their last 10 games, the expectations in Breckenridge County will be very high this season. The Tigers run ended at the hands of Meade County in the 11th district tournament last year. They should be the favorites in the 11th district this year. Coach Patrick Critchelow will have the benefit of one of the best scoring duo’s in the region with juniors Kobe Poole(15ppg) and 3 point marksmen Tanner Whitworth(11ppg & 49% from 3). The biggest question around this year’s team is going to be replacing role players like Grayson Sosh and Korey Miller. Look for Will Bland and Brock Lucas to take a bigger role this season. If Coach Critchelow can find some support around his two scorers, the Fighting Tigers should be tough this season.

5.Owensboro Red Devils (13-15) – Heading into the 17/18 season, the Red Devils have all of the potential in the world. Coach Rod Drake will have one of the most athletic rosters from top to bottom in the region. Although the Devils graduated all-region PG Jacoby Harris, they return everyone else from a team last season that showed flashes, but could never put it all together. The Devils leading scorer Cory Gardner (14ppg) will return to lead the team this season. Deonte Douglas (10ppg) played well down the stretch but needs to be more consistent. He has the talent to be one of the best players in the region, but has to bring it every single night. Big men Jaron Tinsley and Klain Creamer will be a force in the paint. Role players Darion Wimsatt & Dequantre Bellamy have shown impressive ability. Both players have the talent to emerge as more than just role players, if they can work their way onto the floor. My breakout candidate for the Devils is athletic 6-11 Taeron Hogg. Hogg came in with a lot of ability but little experience last season. Now, with a year under his belt, I expect him to make a big impact. If Coach Drake can find a way to get this talented unit to gel, skies the limit.

6.Ohio Co Eagles (15-14) – Coach Tony Hopper returns for his 2nd season as head coach of the Eagles. In his first season, his unit improved throughout the season, which ended in the first round of the regional tournament. He will be looking to replace the production from his 2 big forwards, Ross Tichenor and Jay Newcom. PG Connor Wilson was also lost to graduation. Those 3 combined for 34 points and 12 boards per game. John Parker is Coach Hopper’s top returning scorer as a junior. Senior swingman Logan Sandefur is a breakout candidate this season. He showed flashes last year but he should thrive in an expanded role this season. PG Dylan Decker played a lot of minutes last season and should be able to step right in and run the offense. Kennedy Addington should provide some scoring and experience to the roster this season. The player to watch for the Hartford Hustlers, will be freshman athlete Q'Daryius McHenry. He has provided a spark on the football field and has a lot of hype around him on the hardwood as well. Never underestimate a Tony Hopper coached team. The Eagles should be right there in the mix for a 10th district title.

7.Meade County Greenwave (13-22) – The defending 3rd region champion Green Wave will have a new look this season. James Baker (16/7) has graduated and taken his talents to Morehead State. Meade lost 19 of 20 with Baker injured last season. Chesney Weick (8/6) emerged in the regional tournament as a player to watch this season. Weick missed a lot of the season with an injury himself, but played very well down the stretch. He will be aided by Aiden Mathews and Noah Schwartz (10ppg each). Guards Steven Benock and Dawson Gagel will also return for Coach Tripure. Tripure has led the Wave to the 3rd region final in each of his first 3 seasons as head coach. They will be in the mix in a very competitive 11th district.

8.Muhlenberg County Mustangs (15-16)
– Brand new Mustang Head Coach Kyle Eades will have his work cut out of him. He is taking over a program that is losing 5 of its top 6 scorers from last season. Eades will have to find a way to replace the scoring of Noah Mcelwain, Austin Sailing, Mike Walker and Dondre Mitchell. It will start with senior sharpshooter Will Noffsinger. He averaged 11ppg and hit 46 triples last season. Look for guys like Alex Van Hook and Joe McInerney to step in to expanded roles this season. There is a tradition of winning in Muhlenberg County that coach Eades will look to build on. Even though this is mostly a new cast, expect the Mustangs to compete night in and night out and be in the mix in the 10th district.

9.Hancock County Hornets (27-5) – 2016/2017 was a magical season for the Hancock County Hornets. They won a school record 27 games, and won the 11th district championship game on a buzzer beater. The Hornets will lose 5 players from that team, none bigger than Brendan Lewis (17ppg). Lewis was one of the top players in the region a year ago and will be difficult to replace. In all, Coach Lynam will need to replace 38ppg and 15 boards from the graduating class. The top returning player for Hancock will be Jacob White. The 3 sport athlete averaged 9ppg a season ago. Other players with experience are junior 3 point shooter Jaxson Gray & big man Lathan Lamar. Very atheletic, Tanner Singleton is on the roster for basketball and should give the Hornets a lift. Coach Lynam has a 59-29 overall record in his 3 seasons as head coach and has improved the program every season he has been there. He should give Hornets fans confidence that even with the departures, the team is going to be fundamentally sound.

10.Butler County Bears (13-16) – The Bears entered last season with high expectations, but got off to a slow start. However, they finished the regular season winning 5 of their last 7. They topped that off with a huge upset of Hancock County in the first round of the regional tournament. The hero of that game and the team’s leading scorer, Will Moore (14ppg) will return this season. Behind him, Coach Dockery will be looking to replace the production of his next 3 highest scorers in Baylee Anderson, Rex Henderson and Blake Graham. Look for Caleb Beasley (7ppg) & Brennan Grubb (8ppg) to try to fill those shoes. The Bears have a good shot to have the best team inside a wide open 12th district.

11.Mclean County Cougars (3-26) – Last season is one the folks in Mclean County would like to forget. Bad luck struck more than one time for Coach Stevens’ group, as they were plagued with injuries all season long. Sam Miller has graduated and now the program is looking for a fresh start. The good news, several players gained key experience last season in spot duty. Senior Keenan Smith and sophomore Logan Patterson should be the guys to try to bring the program back from a 3 win season.

12.Grayson County Cougars (14-16) – The Cougars season ended with a heartbreaking 4 point loss to Butler County in the 12th district tournament. Brand new Cougar Head Coach Travis Johnston is a Cougar legend and will look to bring some of that winning tradition that he enjoyed as a player, back as a coach. He will have to replace 2 of the teams top scorers from a year ago. Gone are Trey Goff (13ppg) and Connor Shultz (9ppg). Bailey Logsdon is the team’s top returning scorer at 11ppg. Coach Johnston will have to mold a lot of youth and inexperience if he wants to improve on last years 14 win campaign.

13.Edmonson County Wildcats (19-11) – The Wildcats are coming off a 12th district championship. They had one of the best records in the region a year ago but they will have to replace a lot of scoring and senior leadership this season. Leading scorers Bailey Board and Caleb Skaggs are gone to graduation. As are big man Issac Blankenship and the heart and soul, Daniel Caudill. PG Tucker Cole is the top returnee for Coach McClintic. He will have a lot of inexperience around him. Logan Lindsey, Braden Carey and Logan Minton are some names to watch, as the Cats try to repeat as 12th district champs!

14.Whitesville Trinity Raiders (7-24) – Coach Nathan West will get to move the Raiders from the historic “Barn” to the new Whitesville community center this season. While the insane atmosphere at the barn will be missed, the new facility is beautiful and has the entire community excited. On the court, the Raiders will have to replace senior leaders and top scorers Eric Howard and Jack Goetz. They combined for 22ppg last season. Look for junior Cameron Wright (8ppg) & senior Dalton Crisp to assume the leadership roles this season. Lookout for sophomore Brenden Wathen, as good basketball runs in his genes.

15.Cloverport Aces (11-20) – Coach Scott Bradley will step in and take over a program coming off a nice 11 win season. He will have to replace senior leaders Max Dubree & Steven Jennings. That’s 20 points and 16 boards that they will be looking to replace. Seniors John Fetch and Dylan Simmons will step to the forefront, while junior Ben Harness is the teams top returning scorer with 8ppg.

Much like the teams across the 3rd, the players are very evenly matched. Preseason, there isn’t really one player that stand out above the rest. There have been talk of talented transfers into the area, but without seeing them, I didn’t put them on the list. Here is a list of 14 guys. It was difficult to rank them, as you can almost throw a blanket over all of them in terms of odds on winning 3rd region player of the year.

1.Blake Boswell – Daviess County -14ppg – Boswell emerged as one of the best scorers in the region last season. If he can take as big a step forward this season as he did last year, he will be one of the best in western Kentucky.

2.Kobe Poole – Breck County – 15ppg - Poole is the top returning scorer in the region. He has a factor in Breck’s system since his freshman year. Expect to hear his name a lot this coming season.

3.Luke Hayden – Owensboro Catholic – 14ppg – Hayden entered last season with very high expectations last year, but had inconsistent results. Hayden is very team oriented and that is a good thing, but sometimes he can be to unselfish. If Hayden can be a little more aggressive, he should be a strong player of the year candidate.

4. Q’Daryius McHenry – Ohio County – Only a Freshman, lookout for Mr McHenry this winter. Among freshmen, he ranks among the top 70 players in the nation in a couple different ranking systems. He played AAU with WACG Nike Team at Peach State in Georgia, leading the team to the Elite 8, averaging 17ppg. In Las Vegas his WACG team won one the biggest tourneys on the country!

5.JD Marshall – Owensboro Catholic – 11 ppg/7rpg – Much like his teammate, Hayden, Marshall needs to develop that killer instinct. With his size, there aren’t many in the region who can matchup with him. If he can turn on that switch, he should be in for a big senior season.

6.Corey Gardner – Owensboro – 14ppg – The Devils leading scorer was sometimes found out of his natural spot last year, playing beside Jacoby Harris. Gardner has the ability to drive and shoot against anyone. Look for big scoring numbers this season.

7.Nathan Boyle – Apollo – 13ppg – As a sophomore, Boyle was a very good spot up shooter. Last year he showed the ability to get to the rim a little better. If he can continue improve on that and be more versatile, he could lead the region in scoring.

8.Jacob White – Hancock County – 10ppg – White is one of the best athletes in the 3rd region. His numbers from last season may not be on par with a lot of others on this list, but his expanded role should increase his scoring this season.

9.Will Moore – Butler County – 14ppg – Moore is a scrappy player and a great shooter. He can drive the lane and hit the floater and he can spot up and hurt you from the outside. His clutch 3 pointer eliminated the Hancock Co Hornets last season.

10.Jay Owen – Daviess County – 11ppg – Owen may be the most underrated player on this list. He finished last season playing as well as anyone. Look for a big season from him playing next to Blake Boswell.

HM – Alex Gray – Apollo – 10ppg/7rpg – Gray is the garbage man for Apollo. He’s undersized but rarely out worked. He has the ability to play the 5 for Coach Barker, or he can step out and play the 2.

- Will Noffsinger – Muhlenberg County – 10ppg – Look for Noffsingers numbers to rise this season. He was surrounded by scorers last year. If he can find a way to get his shot, being the #1 target, hes in line for a big season.

-Deonte Douglas – Owensboro – 10ppg – Douglas has all the ability in the world and will be an X factor for Coach Drake this year. He’s added some strength in the offseason which should help him be more versatile.

-John Parker – Ohio County – 9ppg – I expect Parker to make a big jump this season and step into the big shoes left by the Eagles graduating seniors. He has the ability to spot up, drive the lane or bang inside.