8th Region Boys Basketball Preview

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    Region 8 2019-20 Boy’s Basketball Preview
    By Colonelmike

    In 2019, “the streak” came to an end in the 8th Region. Since re-districting occurred before the 2006 region tournament, the 8th Region title has been the exclusive property of the “South End” – namely, the two southernmost districts, district 29 and district 30. For thirteen consecutive seasons, five teams from those two districts monopolized the titles, with Oldham County claiming 4 region championships, followed by South Oldham (3), Shelby County (3), Collins (2), and Anderson County (1).

    The last time the 31st or the 32nd districts had made the region finals was in 2014, when Simon Kenton fell to South Oldham. The last district 31 or 32 team to win the region title was in 2004, when Scott County – then a member of the 8th Region and playing in the 32nd district – defeated another former 8th Region member, Bullitt East, in the title game.

    That all changed last year, when the champs of the 32nd district, the Walton-Verona Bearcats, put it all together in a magical season. Walton won a region-best 28 games en route to a 28-7 season, dominated region foes with a 19-1 mark against region 8 opponents, won the 8th Region All-A tournament, reached the semi-finals of the Kentucky state All-A tournament, won the 32nd district and the 8th Region tournaments, and advanced to the second round of the Sweet 16.

    It was the fourth consecutive year that the 8th Region champion had won at least one game in the Sweet 16 tournament.

    That put the finishing touches on a strong year for Region 8; six teams won 20 or more games, the most since eight teams turned the trick in 2016…

    And the caliber of play – offensively, at least - continues to elevate. In the past two seasons, we’ve seen the style of play in the 8th Region evolve dramatically. We identified this trend in the 2017-18 season, when 10 of 17 region teams averaged over 60 ppg, with South Oldham leading the pack at 69.9 ppg.

    Last year, the ante was upped. Thirteen of 17 region 8 squads averaged at least 61.2 ppg. South Oldham again led the way – the Dragons were the highest scoring team in the region and the state, averaging a whopping 81 ppg. Grant County finished as the 17th-highest scoring team in Kentucky, averaging 71.0 ppg, and Gallatin County was 24th in the state, averaging 69.5 ppg. Apparently the days when the 8th Region had just a couple of high-scoring teams and a lot of games won with 55 points are over.

    In fact, the region was well-represented among the state’s statistical leaders, with an impressive thirteen schools making their way into the statistical leaders. Among those:

    • Luke Morrison (South Oldham) - #8 in KY in scoring at 25.4 ppg.
    • Wyatt Supplee (Carroll County) - #14 in KY in scoring at 23.9 ppg.
    • Kelly Niece (Simon Kenton) - #17 in KY in scoring at 23.4 ppg.
    • Colton Lair (Simon Kenton) - #6 in the state in field goal percentage at 68.6%.
    • Dieonte Miles (Walton-Verona) - #20 in the state in field goal percentage at 64.9%
    • Seven of the top 44 free throw shooters in the state came from Region 8:
    o Troy Coomer, Gallatin County - #1 in Kentucky at 91.3%
    o Seth Johnson, South Oldham 82.5%
    o Luke Morrison, South Oldham 82.0%
    o Kelly Niece, Simon Kenton 81.8%
    o Aaron Hurley, Grant County 81.7%
    o Jeremy Davis, Simon Kenton 81.6%
    o Dallas Roberts, North Oldham 80.7%
    • Luke Morrison, South Oldham - #1 in the state in three point accuracy at 54.9% (among the top 50 players who made the most threes). Morrison was #2 overall in most threes made per game at 3.6.
    • Troy Coomer, Gallatin County - #11 in KY in three point accuracy at 44.2%. (among the top 50 players who made the most threes).
    • Jeremy Davis, Simon Kenton – Tied for #1 in KY, making an average of 3.7 threes / game.
    • Troy Coomer, Gallatin County – tied for #6 in KY with 3.0 threes made per game.
    • Dayvion McKnight, Collins - #15 in the state at 10.4 rebounds per game.
    • South Oldham - #1 in Kentucky in team scoring at 81.0 ppg.
    • Walton-Verona - #4 in KY in team scoring defense at 47.2 ppg.
    • South Oldham - #7 in Kentucky in field goal percentage at 51.4%.
    • South Oldham - #2 in Kentucky in team free throw percentage at 77.7%. (five different 8th Region teams hit over 70% of their free throws last year and ranked among the state’s leaders, including South, Grant, Collins, Oldham County, and North Oldham)
    • South Oldham - #1 in three point field goal percentage at 43.0%. (This was an amazing feat, especially considering the Dragons shot the most threes (914) and made the most threes (393) among the schools ranked in the top 50 in three point field goal percentage. The second closest in both stats was Scott County, who made 316 of 823 threes.)

    2019-20 is an entirely new year. Some things remain the same from last year at this time – the coaches have picked Collins as the pre-season favorite for the second consecutive season. Other things have changed… the region welcomes the Woodford County Yellowjackets, who move from the 11th Region. Woodford will compete in the 30th District with Collins / Shelby County / Anderson County / Spencer County.

    And, like every year, we welcome some new coaches: Jonathan Moore (Carroll County), Gary Tuell (Eminence), Marcus Mumphrey (Trimble County), Mike Hester (Walton-Verona), and Jacob Cheesman (Williamstown).

    However, this year could be a continuation of last year’s evolving region. As many as six or seven - or more - teams could win the region this season without having to pull off a huge upset along the way. Legitimate contenders could go home early. And no less than Jon Jones, the region’s longest-tenured coach, stated that he felt that six different teams – Collins, South Oldham, North Oldham, Oldham County, Spencer County, and Simon Kenton – could all find themselves in the top 25 at some point this year.

    High praise.

    Time for the fun to begin…there are as many as eight different teams that could win the region title this year…

    1 - Collins (23-9, 30th District champ, lost round 1 of the Region tournament, 51-50, to Oldham County) – Titans head coach Chris Gaither knows the routine by now. Another year, and another dose of high expectations for his Collins basketball team. So it goes when you just keep winning.

    Gaither has done just that since becoming only the Titans second head coach in the 2011-12 season. That first team went 24-11 and won the 30th district championship. They wound up making it all the way to the regional finals, where they fell to longtime 8th Region power Oldham County. The new kids on the block didn’t win that game, but they had served notice.
    Since then, Gaither and the Titans have continued to roll. In eight seasons, Gaither’s teams have won 180 games, an average of 22.5 wins per year, four district titles (including last year), and two regional titles (2015 and 2017). The team has made the regional tournament each season, and only once has the team won fewer than 20 games (2015-16, when the Titans actually finished with a losing record at 15-18).

    Along the way, the team has been dominant against region rivals, winning 84 of 110 games for a .764 winning percentage.

    This year’s edition of the Titans holds a lot of promise, returning three key starters from last year’s district champs that lost a heartbreaker to Oldham County in the first round of the regional tournament on a buzzer-beating three-pointer. Of course, all eyes will be on the two seniors beginning their fourth year on the varsity: Dayvion McKnight (17 ppg, 10.4 rebounds), a 6’1” senior guard who may be the favorite for 8th Region Player of the Year honors, and Marcellus Vail (18.5 ppg), a 6’4” senior forward. McKnight has been a starter ever since joining the varsity as a freshman; Vail was a heavily-used sub his freshman year, but has started ever since.

    Those two alone put Collins in the discussion for a region title. McKnight is one of the most offensively-talented point guards to come through the region in years, capable of shooting the jumper (33.3% beyond the arc) or powerfully attacking the rim. His leaping ability is such that he frequently outrebounds much larger opponents, and he’ll get plenty of points on putbacks.

    Vail, on the other hand, despite being listed as a forward, makes his living on the outside. A steady shooter at about 48%, Vail led the Titans in threes last year, making 68 at a 33.8% clip.

    Defenses that try to take Vail and McKnight out of their games by playing physical find that gambit often backfires; McKnight (78.8%) and Vail (75.2%) are two of the region’s best free throw shooters.

    Also returning to the starter lineup this year will be Tyson Turne, a 5’10” senior guard who averaged 6 ppg last season.

    Other players expected to be in the primary rotation: 5’9” junior guard Darrian Crittendon (3.8 ppg last season in 28 games), Caleb Hawley, a 6’4” junior forward, and Aaron Thompson, a 6’1” sophomore forward.

    Gaither says that this is the “oldest” team he’s ever had in Shelbyille with six seniors and six juniors.

    With greater depth on the bench, Gaither hopes to be able to pick up the tempo more in 2019-20. Defensively, that projects to more physical, pressure defense in the full-court than in the past. The Titans have always hung their hats on a suffocating half-court defense; they allowed just 55.6 ppg last year, 4th-best in the region; Gaither still expects his team to excel in the half-court.

    Offensively, the Titans figure to shoot well “by committee”, as Gaither says. Although the Titans are certainly not a bad shooting team, the squad really doesn’t have anyone that is a “super shooter.” Last year’s team was a very average 46.2% from the field and 33.2% from beyond the arc. However, one of the things the Titans did so well last year doesn’t show on a stats sheet; the Titans moved extraordinarily well without the basketball, making them extremely difficult to defend.

    Gaither is somewhat concerned about the general lack of size on the roster. Vail and Hawley both check in at 6’4”, but after that, the team’s size drops off in a hurry. If history means anything, look for the Titans to try to compensate by being more physical than the opposition. If the officials are allowing a more physical brand of play on any given night, give the Titans the advantage.

    The Titans project to have another challenging schedule, facing North Laurel, Oldham County, Spencer County, South Oldham, McCracken County, Simon Kenton, Male, and North Oldham. An 8-day stretch in February may be particularly telling as the Titans host Oldham County on the 11th, travel to Grant County on the 15th, and host North Oldham on the 18th.

    An eighth 20-win season in nine years looks probably for this team. A regional title will be quite the challenge, with a number of legitimate contenders this year, but this team has as much cause for optimism as anybody, if not more. With the experience coming back, the extraordinary talent on the perimeter, and the solid coaching, I am going to have to make the Collins Titans the pre-season number one pick in a crowded, crowded field of legitimate contenders for the 8th Region crown.

    2 - South Oldham (21-10, 29th District champions, lost round 1 of the 8th Region tourney to Spencer County, 75-71) – Steve Simpson is entering his 20th season at the helm of South Oldham basketball, second in tenure in the region only behind Jon Jones at Gallatin County. Few coaches have made the impact on their program that Simpson has during that time frame. With an all-time record in Crestwood of 366-190 (.658), Simpson is by far the winningest coach at South, and seems to be getting better as time goes by. He has coached the school to all three of its region 8 titles and one of its region runner-up finishes – and all four of those seasons came in the last 7 years. Along the way, he’s led the Dragons to eight of the school’s nine 20-win seasons.

    There’s no secret about what the Dragons are going to try to do. South aims to score, score, and score some more – so much and so fast that the opponent can’t keep up. The Dragons have led the region in scoring for four straight seasons, and last year, they not only led the region, they led the state in scoring at 81.0 ppg.

    The Dragons particularly excel at the three point shot, and South set a new state record last season, making 392 threes over the course of the season. Ironically, the Dragons broke their own record of 370 made in the 2017 season and the 367 threes they made in the 2016 season. (That’s right, South now has the top three seasons in KHSAA history in terms of made threes…). Amazingly, despite taking more threes than any other team among the top 50 three-point shooting teams in the state (913 attempts), the Dragons also led the state in three point shooting percentage at 43.0%. Individually, Luke Morrison was a beast, making 54.9% of his threes – tops in KY among the top 50 three point shooters – while hitting 3.6 threes a game, tied for second-best in the state.

    Yes, South likes the three. So much so that 54.3% of their shot attempts came from beyond the arc last year.

    The Dragons return a lot of experience from a team that won 21 games and wrested the 29th District crown from Oldham County last year. Four starters return, including South’s top two scorers, 8th Region Player of the Year Luke Morrison, a 6’4” senior guard (25.4 ppg, tops in the region) and 6’2” senior guard Seth Johnson, who had a breakout season, averaging 17.2 ppg. Johnson and Morrison also led the team in rebounding, at 6.3 boards per game and 5.4, respectively.

    Jason King, a 5’7” senior guard, and Ben Michel, a 6’6” sophomore forward, are also returning starters.

    South returns a veteran bench as well, including seniors Nick Cranfill (7.6 ppg), Creighton Thieneman, and Tim Stragand, all of whom played in at least 30 games in 2018-19. In addition, Brice Clay, a 5’10” senior who didn’t see much action last season, is expected to contribute more in 2019-20, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

    South Oldham doesn’t have to have an elite defense, but the Dragons will likely have to improve upon last year’s defense in order to get back to the regional final. Last season, South ranked fifteenth in the seventeen team region, surrendering 68.8 ppg. In the past, the Dragons have been able to confuse the opposition by employing multiple defenses throughout the game, and constantly changing. The tactic has been successful; the 2016 South Oldham 8th Region champs gave up just 57.2 ppg. If South is able to come close to that number again, it will be bad omen to the rest of the region

    3 - North Oldham (13-18, lost round 1 of District 29 to Oldham County, 59-53) – North enters the 2019-20 season as something of a mystery.

    Last year, in David Levitch’s first season as coach, the Mustangs turned in a somewhat uneven performance that at times was very impressive and other times was head-scratching. Narrow losses to Oldham County, South Oldham, and Ballard showed North’s potential, but the Mustangs were unable to pull off any signature victories and losses to some teams that North appeared better than kept the Mustangs from gaining any momentum.

    Another year slipped by without a regional berth; North last made it to New Castle in 2015; the Mustangs last won a region tournament game in 2011.

    There’s reason to be optimistic about the 2019-20 season, however, in Goshen. Perhaps even reason to be extremely optimistic.

    Levitch returns for his second season as coach, bringing stability. That in itself is huge; in 16 previous seasons, North Oldham has had 8 different head coaches.

    On the court, North returns four starters, including leading scorer Dallas Roberts, a 5’10” freshman point guard (13.8 ppg). Levitch, the school’s all-time leading scorer, likes to joke about the fact that he is coaching the player who will – barring the unexpected – not only break his record, but who will likely obliterate it.

    6’4” senior F/C Tyler Higdon (9.8 ppg / team-high 7.2 rebounds) returns on the inside. An under-rated big man, Higdon showed remarkable mobility in 2018-19, and is a legitimate threat to average a double-double this season. Other returning starters are 6’1” junior guard Thomas Ashton (4.7 ppg) and 6’4” senior guard Luke Berry (8.1 ppg).

    Joining the four returning starters is perhaps the most significant transfer in the state of Kentucky this year. Justin Powell, a 6’7” senior point guard, returns to North Oldham, where he started his high school basketball career as an 8th grader on the 2015-16 Mustang varsity squad. Powell, who played for Montverde Academy (FL) last season, is expected to not only lead the Mustangs in scoring, but to contend for 8th Region Player of the Year honors and even the Kentucky Mr. Basketball award.

    Powell is a human highlight reel. At 6’7”, he’s a defensive nightmare for most guards, easily shooting over defenders. Despite his size, he’s an adept ballhandler, and is superb at accelerating and driving to the rim. A tremendous leaper, Powell can elevate high enough for some truly rim-rattling dunks. Finally, he’s got the skills to be a tremendous point guard, seeing the floor well and making precision touch passes. In short, he’s the complete package; North could realistically play him at any position. The only question that remains is how quickly Levitch can integrate him into the Mustang attack and how well the team jells around him. Depending upon how the Mustangs utilize him, Powell is definitely a threat to unseat South Oldham’s Morrison as the region’s top scorer in 2019-20.

    The Mustangs also welcomed a second transfer during the off-season. Rico Carr-Cole is a 5’6” sophomore guard who transferred from Ballard.

    North looks poised to make a run. The experience is there; the depth is there. Inside-outside scoring looks good with Powell-Berry-Roberts on the outside and Higdon-Powell on the inside. Ashton’s a natural leader and will lead the team in floor burns.

    The primary concerns appear to be interior post defense and free throw shooting by the front-line players.

    Levitch is also concerned about how his team copes with the “target” on the team’s back due to all the off-season attention, and the high expectations.

    The immediate task for the Mustangs is easy to see, but not so easy to accomplish. If North wants to get out of the loaded 29th District and back to the 8th Region tournament, the Mustangs will have to find out a way to reverse their fortunes against Oldham County and South Oldham – North is 0-5 against Oldham County and just 1-5 against South Oldham over the past four seasons.

    4 - Oldham County (20-14, 29th district runner-up, 8th region runner-up, lost to Walton-Verona, 60-51) – After winning 8 consecutive District 29 titles – the second-longest such streak in the state – the Colonels were upended as district champions last season, falling in the District 29 final to South Oldham, 60-55.

    Still, the Colonels – who reached the 20 game win plateau for the ninth consecutive season, and reached the Region 8 championship game for the sixth time in nine seasons – found themselves just one game away from Rupp Arena, before falling to Walton Verona by nine points in the Region 8 championship game.

    Coy Zerhusen, who enters his seventh season as the Colonels’ mentor this year, has compiled a record of 151-47 in his six seasons to date, averaging 25 wins a seasons, while winning five district titles.

    This year, Oldham County will have to learn how to win with a markedly different cast, however. Gone are four senior starters that included two of the region’s best defensive players in Christian Harper and Matthew Teague. That senior group included Oldham’s top three scorers, top two rebounders, and most prolific outside threat.

    The 2019-20 version of the Colonels will be similar in that once again, Oldham will aim to generate offense from defensive pressure. The Colonels will play that same in-your-face full court pressure that has served them so well for the past six years. The difference is that this year’s team will be one of the “longest” that Zerhusen has had in a while.

    The Colonels will boast a deep lineup that will feature up to eight different players who could start at least part-time. And Zerhusen is particularly excited about the wingspans many of the top players have: Xander Wagner is listed as a 6’4” junior, but Zerhusen says he’s more like 6’6”; Tyler Slone is a 6’4” junior, and Logan Hudgins is a 6’4” senior. All three figure to start or play a lot of minutes. In addition, Ethan Elkins is a 6’4” junior and Hayden Burges is a 6’8” sophomore who will see more action as the season progresses.

    Slone is the lone returning starter for Oldham. Slone averaged 8.0 ppg last season, and was one of the team’s better three point shooters. He’ll likely be joined by 6’1” junior sharpshooter Deaton Oak (7 ppg) and 6’0” junior guard Sam Campbell (6.3 ppg). Assuming Wagner starts on the inside, that would give Zerhusen four juniors in the starting lineup including a strong rebounder on the floor in the form of Wagner, and three good outside shooters. The fifth starter could be any of several different options: junior Grant Gibson, or one of three seniors – Logan Hudgins, Nick Carter, and Steven Votaw.

    Or maybe a completely different combination. Zerhusen says that right now, the starting five could be any combination of those eight players.

    Zerhusen says that this may well be the best-shooting team he’s ever had. But he’ll have to live with some ups and downs, especially early in the season, as this team will need time to adjust to the varsity game, both in terms of the speed of the game and the physicality of it. Lack of varsity experience will likely hobble the Colonels somewhat early on in the season; the question is whether / when they can learn to play like veterans.

    If this revamped lineup can jell, Oldham may well be one of the two or three elite defensive units in the region. The challenge will be in making the region tournament in a district with two highly-ranked rivals in South Oldham and North Oldham. The Colonels haven’t missed the 8th Region tournament since 2010, but there’s going to be at least one of the pre-season top-ranked teams in the region staying home after the 29th District tournament is over.
    The Colonels’ record may not be a good indicator of how good the team is, as Oldham has put together a killer schedule from December to February.

    5 - Simon Kenton (18-11, 32nd district runner-up, lost first round of the 8th Region tournament, 75-71, to Gallatin County) – Trent Steiner begins his 17th season as the head coach of the Pioneers with lofty goals, and with good reason. Simon Kenton returns one of the region’s best starting guard tandems in Kelly Niece (junior, 23.4 ppg last season) and Jeremy Davis (senior, 14.6 ppg), two players who were largely the reason why SK was the number two scoring offense in the region last year, averaging 74.3 ppg. Surrounding these two are four experienced players from last year that should provide plenty of veteran leadership.

    Last year was a step in the Pioneers’ path back towards prominence. Since joining the region in the 2005-6 season, SK had never missed the region - until Walton-Verona and Grant County combined to put the Pioneers on the region tournament sideline in 2018. Prior to 2018, the Pioneers had completely dominated the 32nd district, and been an annual contender in New Castle. Last year, SK bounced back with an 18-win season, finishing as the district runner-up to Walton-Verona – the eventual 8th Region champ – before falling in a narrow loss to Gallatin County in the first round of the region.

    Despite starting the season with 8 straight wins, and checking in at 11-3 the first week of January with wins over South Oldham, Walton-Verona, and Highlands to their credit, the Pioneers couldn’t sustain the momentum, and some key injuries helped to derail the team at the end of the season, when SK dropped 7 of their final 9 games.

    For the third year in a row, SK will be a guard-oriented team. And junior guard Kelly Niece should make it three years in a row as the team’s leading scorer. But instead of looking to a freshman to make things happen for them offensively, as SK often found themselves two seasons ago, the Pioneers will now have a veteran Niece – entering his fourth year on the varsity team – to lead the way.

    Niece is perhaps one of the best pure shooters in the 8th Region. He shot almost 52% from the floor overall last year and nearly 46% beyond the arc. At the line, he’s nearly automatic at 82%. He’s a legitimate threat to win Player of the Year honors in a season when the 8th Region has numerous high-quality candidates.

    His partner in the backcourt, Jeremy Davis, emerged from the background last season. He more than doubled his scoring average, from 6.1 ppg in 2017-18 to 15.2 ppg. A true marksman, Davis is one of the elite three point shooters in the region, hitting 95 threes last year while connecting at a 44.6% clip.

    With Niece and Davis connecting from the outside, the Pioneers should be able to spread the defense, to allow their offense to operate efficiently. The Pioneers shot 48.8% as a team last season and 40.7% beyond the arc. At the line, they were one of the best in the state at 73.4%, making them one of the 15 best free throw shooting teams in the state.

    SK will need to be efficient shooting the ball, as the Pioneers will be one of the smaller teams in the Region. Rebounding will have to be by committee; nobody was a dominant rebounder last year for SK, and two of the team’s better rebounders - Colton Lair (4.3) and Robbie Krohman (3.7) – are gone to graduation. That’s the bad news. The good news is that neither Grant County or Walton-Verona, the Pioneers’ primary rivals for district supremacy, sport big lineups. Guard-oriented lineups will be the norm in the battle for District 32.
    In 2018-19, the Pioneers benefited from two seniors who raised their games and became key contributors. Lair and Krohman were those players, combining for 15.5 points and 8 rebounds a game. With Lair and Krohman gone to graduation, Logan Schwartz, a 6’2” senior who averaged 8.5 ppg last year, and Jon Hensley, a 6’3” senior who averaged 4.4 ppg figure to be “next up”. Both project to play inside for SK, and their ability to, at a minimum, keep the Pioneers even on the glass, may well be the difference in a good year and a legitimate run for the title.

    Sophomore Isaac Miller, a 6’2” guard, figures to round out Steiner’s opening day starting lineup. Miller appeared in 23 games as a freshman and averaged 3.6 ppg.

    The Pioneers feature a challenging schedule; the annual SK Invitational includes district rival Grant County and perennial power Lexington Catholic. SK also plays in the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic in December. The new year includes games against traditional powerhouses Oldham County, Covington Catholic, Gallatin County, Campbell County, and Scott High.

    6 - Spencer County - (21-12, 30th district runner-up, lost in the semi-finals of the region to eventual champion Walton-Verona) – Jason Burns enters his seventh year in Taylorsville, where he’s slowly been building a contender with the Bears. When Burns took over in the 2013-14 season, he introduced an entirely new style of basketball to Spencer County, patterned in part from his time as a graduate assistant at the University of Louisville under Rick Pitino and in part from his time as an assistant at South Oldham under Steve Simpson.

    The new style of play took three years to really have an impact; Spencer went 30-54 those three seasons and failed to get out of the district. But in year four, the lights went on. Spencer County went 20-9 and followed it up with a 20-8 record in 2017-18. Last year, Spencer took the next step, finishing 21-12 and earning runner-up honors in the district. With their first region tournament appearance since the 2011 season, the Bears made the most of the opportunity and advanced to the semi-finals before falling to eventual champion Walton-Verona.

    Nobody’s sleeping on Spencer this year; expectations are high. Although Burns figures to start the year with a thin 6-man rotation – all of whom are underclassmen - all six are returning players with plenty of varsity experience. Three of the returning juniors have played varsity since their 8th grade seasons. Leading the cast is one of the more talented underclassmen in the region, 6’3” junior Sam Conley (17.7 ppg / 6.7 rebounds, both team highs). Conley has been among the region’s statistical leaders since emerging on the varsity scene in the 2016-17 season, when he averaged 7.4 ppg as an 8th grader. The next year, as a freshman, he led the team in scoring, and he has ever since. Conley is one of the more athletic scorers in the region, and one of the better on-the-ball defenders. One of the tallest players on a short team, Conley will likely draw the task of defending the oppositions’ interior players.

    Gone is #2 scorer and three point ace Jacob Seawright (13.8 ppg), but Conley will have a solid surrounding cast, albeit a thin one. Lucas Hornback is a 6’3” junior who averaged 8.6 ppg / 4.0 rebounds last year and Jake Whitlock is a 5’11” junior who contributed 7.8 ppg. Those two figure to be the primary scorers behind Conley, at least early on.

    Also in the mix: 6’3” sophomore Gage Mabry (5.1 ppg), 6’1” junior Jackson Jaggers (1.9 ppg), and 6’4” Jason Nichols, a junior, who averaged 0.9 ppg. Despite the low scoring averages, all got plenty of game experience; Jaggers and Nichols both appeared in 32 games for the Bears.

    Expect Spencer to shoot a lot of threes again this year. Maybe it’s the influence of Burns’ time spent with Steve Simpson at South Oldham – or maybe it’s simply because Spencer is a short team featuring a lot of guards. Last year’s team threw up a whopping 842 threes, making 282 for a reasonable 33.5%. They averaged 8.5 made threes a game.

    As usual, expect the Bears to play fast – all the time – on defense and offense.

    The concerns for Spencer all surround depth. Can the team stay healthy? The Bears have been cursed by the injury bug the past few seasons. Can they stay out of foul trouble? Who will step up to take some of the scoring pressure off of Conley? Burns is looking hopefully to a freshman, Bryce Roark, who has the tools to potentially earn some playing time and help ease the crunch.

    Burns is 91-83 in his short six years; he has elevated this program to the point to which the Bears and their fans expect to excel. He has three consecutive 20-win seasons under his belt; a fourth straight 20-win season will be a real challenge with this short bench and a brutal early schedule, but it’s very do-able, and if the team stays healthy, a second straight trip to New Castle would seem likely.

    December 10-19 will be a telling stretch early; the Bears host the South Oldham Dragons on 12/10/19, travel to North Oldham on the 12th, and visit Oldham County on the 14th. The Bears then host Bullitt East (which won 20 games last year with an underclassman-dominated team) on the 19th of December.

    7 - Gallatin County (27-6, 31st district champions, lost in the semi-finals of Region 8, 87-65, to Oldham County) – Gallatin County is riding high in the 8th Region right now. Coached by Jon Jones, winner of the 2019 8th Region Coach of the Year award, the Wildcats have won three consecutive District 31 titles, and have gone 31-1 against district opponents during that time frame.

    Last year’s team went 27-6, winning more games than anyone in the region not named Walton-Verona. And the Wildcats won 20 of those games over 8th Region opposition – more than any other team in the region.

    Jones, the longest-tenured coach in the region, knows something about getting the most out of his teams. In 25 years with the Wildcats, Jones has piloted the school to 432 wins. The Cats have won 20 or more games three straight years, with a combined record of 73 – 27 during that time, and have advanced to the region semi-finals in each of the past three seasons. During that span, the Wildcats’ post-season record stands at 9-3.

    Last season, the Wildcats played toe-to-toe with the other contenders, defeating Simon Kenton twice, beating South Oldham in Crestwood, and losing to Collins by 2 and Oldham County by 1 during the regular season. Only Walton-Verona seemed to have Gallatin’s number, beating the Cats twice, and Oldham County beat Gallatin by 22 in the 8th region semi-finals.

    Scoring wasn’t a problem for Gallatin last year, as the Wildcats averaged 69.5 ppg, 4th-best in the region and ranking in the top 25 in the state. Gone, however, are Troy Coomer and Wyatt Bowen, the team’s top two scorers who accounted for about 32 points and 10 rebounds a game. Coomer was the complete package and will be hard to replace. He led the team in scoring (17.8 ppg), rebounding (5.8 rebounds/game), hit 50.3% from the field, made 96 threes at a 44.2% clip (both team bests), and was the number one free throw shooter in the state of Kentucky, connecting on 91.3% of his charity tosses.

    But the cupboard’s hardly bare in Warsaw. Jarin Rassman, a 6’1” senior guard, returns after averaging 13.9 ppg last year and 5.5 rebounds. Of the players on the team that took more than 50 shots on the season, Rassman topped the team in shooting percentage at 53.8%. Perhaps the best point guard in the 8th Region, Rassman may well be in the discussion for Player of the Year come spring.

    Joining Rassman in the starting lineup will be Devin McAlister, a 5’10” senior guard (7.2 ppg), Hayden Dickerson, a 5’10” junior guard (6.3 ppg), Gage Ashcraft, a 6’2” senior guard who transferred in from Ryle H.S., and one of the following: 5’11” junior guard Brayden Terrell, 6’2” junior guard Noah St. Claire, or 5’9” sophomore guard Zach Johnson.

    Jones thinks Ashcraft has a skill set similar to Coomer. High praise, indeed. Ashcraft didn’t play basketball at Ryle last year, but he did as a sophomore, coming off the bench for the Raiders and averaging 2.4 ppg. The fact he projects as a starter for Gallatin even after a year off, and Jones’ comparisons to Coomer make this young man someone to keep an eye on.

    St. Claire, who moved back to Gallatin County from Owen County during the off-season, may be the wild card. Jones says he’s as talented as anyone on the team, but will have to adjust as he learns the Wildcats’ system. Last year, St. Claire led the Rebels in scoring at 11.3 ppg.

    This is a typical Gallatin squad. Short (as many as three starters will be under six foot). Good shooters (Gallatin hit 49% from the floor last year, 38.3% beyond the arc, and 68.7% from the stripe, and those numbers probably won’t be going down this year). Aggressive. This year, however, Jones also believes the team has the most depth he has ever had. Look for Gallatin to play ten players a game and press more than they have in the past.

    The questions are also somewhat typical for the Wildcats. Rebounding is the primary concern, due to the lack of size. Seven players on the roster check in at under six foot tall, and only two players stand taller than 6’2”. Jones expressed some concerns about the defense, but Gallatin always seems to have their defense playing well by year-end. Last year’s club held opponents to just 56.5 ppg, the fifth-best scoring defense in the region.

    Gallatin may take a little bit to get their feet underneath them, as Ashcraft and St. Claire become accustomed to their new surroundings, but a fourth consecutive district title would seem likely, and I would be loathe to count out a Gallatin County team come year-end. You just don’t want to see the Wildcats in the first round of the boys’ 8th Region tournament come March.

    8 - Woodford County – (21-12, runner-up in the 41st district; lost in the semi-finals of the 11th region tournament to Henry Clay.) – Coach Jaron Brown is in his first year at Woodford County HS, which is making the move from the 11th Region to the 8th Region.

    The Yellowjackets “tested the 8th Region water” last year, playing four 8th Region opponents and fashioning a 3-1 record against their future rivals as they defeated Grant County, Collins, and Shelby County, while dropping a 54-47 decision to Anderson County. The only 30th district foe they didn’t face was Spencer County.

    Gone for the Yellow Jackets is leading scorer Brandon Cromwell, who averaged 13.7 ppg last year. Bromwell, a superb shooter, hit 49% of his shots, made 41.1% of his threes, and hit over 80% at the line. Back in the lineup, however, are last year’s #2 scorer, 5’8” senior guard Anthony Tabor (9.9 ppg) and the number two rebounder, Hunter Penn, a 6’2” junior who averaged 7.2 ppg and 5.6 rebounds.

    Also expected to contribute in a big way this year for Woodford is a transfer from Franklin County, 6’0” senior Jared Courtney, who averaged 9.8 ppg / 3.1 rebounds for the Flyers last year.

    Telling who will start for this team is difficult, however. Per Brown, ten different players could still earn starting spots, and he indicated that all would probably start at sometime during the year, indicating that the Jackets will play a deep, deep bench.

    Brown is looking to use that depth to push the ball up the floor in transition for easy buckets. On the defensive end, look for Woodford to focus on a half court defensive scheme.

    Putting the Yellow Jackets this far down this list may be foolhardy. But it’s hard to predict where Woodford County should be placed on this list; the Jackets had a solid season last year, and come from arguably the toughest region in the state, top to bottom. On the other hand, the chemistry must be re-established with a new group of kids and a new coach.

    9 - Grant County Braves (19-12, lost round 1 of the District 32 tournament, 54-49, to Walton-Verona) – Last year Joe Utter guided the Braves to their first winning record since the 2014-15 team went 16-15. After winning a combined 23 games in his first two seasons as head coach, Grant County went 19-12 and became a contender in District 32. The 19 wins was the most in Dry Ridge since the 2012-13 team went 24-6. The Braves offense exploded to the forefront as Grant averaged 71 ppg, third-best in the region. The defense, however, didn’t quite keep pace, giving up 65.1 ppg, ranking #13 in the district.

    The results were mixed; the Braves went 14-4 to start the year, but faded in the stretch, losing 8 of their final 13 games. Still, Grant County stayed competitive till the end; the Braves lost in the first round of the District to eventual Region 8 champion Walton-Verona by just 5 points, 54-49.

    Grant County took care of business against the teams the Braves were expected to defeat, but struggled to pull the upset against the region’s “blue bloods”, going just 1-7 against Collins, Oldham County, South Oldham, Gallatin County, Walton-Verona, Simon Kenton, and new 8th Region rival Woodford County. That said, Grant did end a 14-game losing streak against Oldham County, knocking off the Colonels, 66-63, for the program’s first win against Oldham since January of 2006.

    Utter’s squad looks ready to take the next step up in 2019-20. Three starters return, all of whom averaged in double figures last season. Leading the way is 6’5” big man Luke Dawalt, a senior four-year starter who will likely be the biggest post man in District 32. Dawalt - who led the Braves in scoring and rebounding last season at 14.2 ppg / 7.5 rebounds - is also a talented outside shooter who will likely prove to be a defensive matchup problem for opponents. Dawalt has already received an offer from Asbury University to play college ball. Dawalt is joined by fellow senior returnees Jack Epperson (6’2”, 11.0 ppg / 6.9 rebounds) and Ben Vickers (6’1”, 11.0 ppg / 4.0 rebounds). Besides being three of the Braves’ top scorers from 2018-19, Dawalt, Epperson, and Vickers were the team’s top three rebounders.

    Joining the starting five will likely be 6’1” junior point guard Blake Robinson, a talented perimeter shooter who just might be the heir apparent to the role filled by the graduated Jonas Alger last year, who hit 89 threes to lead the Braves in that category. Robinson played in 24 games last year, averaging 2.2 ppg.

    Moving into the varsity rotation and rounding out the starting five should be freshman Dylan Hammonds, who started on the Grant County JV for two years as a 7th grader and as an 8th grader.

    After a pretty deep rotation last season, the Braves may have to wait awhile to develop the same this year. With only three seniors and one junior on the roster, the subs off the bench will be very green to start the year. Utter expects 5’9” sophomore guard Colton Scalf and 6’4” freshman shooting guard Mason Guffey to be the first two off the bench. But Scalf and Guffey played in a combined 22 games last year, averaging a combined 1.8 ppg; nobody after those two on the bench had any varsity experience last season, meaning depth is likely a concern, especially early on. How fast the coaching staff can develop that youth may determine Grant’s long-range success.

    Offensively, expect some changes this year from the Braves, who have lived by the transition game. Utter expects to try to pound the ball inside a bit more this year with Dawalt, Epperson, and Hamonds.

    Although the Braves are not huge, they figure to have the strongest post presence in the 32nd district; look for Grant to try to take advantage.

    A December 7th matchup in Crestwood against South Oldham, a December 16th home game against Oldham County, and a visit to Simon Kenton for the SK Invitational in late December will give us a real feel for the Braves early on.

    10 - Anderson County (14-13, lost in the first round of District 30, 45-34, to Spencer County) – In the first-year of the post-Glen Drury era, the Anderson County Bearcats went through a re-building season. Under new coach – but longtime Anderson County assistant – Bryan Hyatt, the Cats struggled with consistency en route to a 14-13 season.

    Anderson’s defense meant that the Cats were rarely out of any game. A mainstay under Drury, Anderson has always been known for stingy, blue-collar, in-your-face, physical defensive tactics. Hyatt kept the tradition alive; Anderson gave up just 52.3 ppg last year, 2nd-best in the region. Expect more of the same this year as nearly all of the 2018-19 squad returns for the new season.

    Four starters – all of whom started every game last season – return in the form of 5’9” senior Tyler Rice (11 ppg), 6’3” junior Jagger Gillis (6.9 ppg / 4.7 rebounds), 6’1” senior Hunter Rutherford (5.4 ppg), and 6’0” senior Sam Harrod (6.1 ppg).

    Darion Dearinger, Mike Duncan, and Alex Carpenter also return; all started some games for the Cats.

    Hyatt is hoping for the return of Zach Labhart; the 6’1” senior started as a freshman and sophomore but blew out his ACL last year during football season and missed his junior campaign. If he returns, he brings a wealth of experience as well. Finally, Dylan Stephens returns; the 5’9” senior played varsity last year and is in the running for a starting spot.
    With all that experience, Anderson figures to be a contender for a region berth this year, despite a general lack of height. Nobody checks in over 6’3” for the Bearcats, but then again, lack of size seems to be epidemic in the region, particularly in the 30th, 31st, and 32nd districts. The Bearcats may be able to overcome their lack of height; Dearinger at 6’3” and 255 pounds and Gillis at 6’3” 205 will have the bulk to potentially win inside battles by out-muscling their opponents.

    Tyler Rice probably leads this team in scoring again, and he could be poised for an All-Region kind of year. Rice hit just 41.1% of his shots overall last year, but made 52 threes at a 40.6% clip. At the line, he was one of the region’s best, shooting 71.3%.

    Last year’s Bearcat team found itself forced to play a more traditional half-court game; Hyatt wants to pick up the pace this year. He feels that this is one of the better shooting teams that Lawrenceburg has had, at least in a while.

    Interestingly, Hyatt wants to see the biggest change on defense. Despite giving up just 52.3 ppg last year, Hyatt felt that the team was a little under-developed physically. Getting bigger and stronger was a focus during the off-season, and the returning players have done just that. Hyatt expects a return to the days when Anderson was recognized for its physical defense.

    Anderson County’s biggest advantage this year would appear to be its numbers. This is a deep team, with a lot of players who can contribute in some way, shape, or form. Hyatt legitimately feels that he can play 12-13 players deep without significant drop-off. While that’s practically not very possible in a game situation, it gives Anderson a lot of insurance against injuries and also provides Hyatt with the ability to have extremely competitive practices.

    Anderson may be the team that a lot of people are forgetting about. It’s been three years since the Bearcats lost in the regional finals when a last-second layup attempt fell off the rim. In the two seasons since, Anderson has gone 12-16 and 14-13. Overlooking this team, however, may be a mistake.

    11 - Carroll County (12-13, lost in the first round of the District 31 tournament, 85-73, to Henry County) – Carroll got off to a fast start last season, winning six of its first nine games, and falling in the three losses by just a combined 19 points. As the season wore on, the Panthers proved competitive with district favorite Gallatin County, falling by competitive margins of just 11, 1, and 9 points at home, on the road, and in the 8th Region All-A tournament. And Carroll County was still on the positive side of .500 on January 15, 2019, when they walloped Owen County at home by a score of 61-39 – with star junior Wyatt Supplee on the bench. Without Supplee, senior David Duncan outscored his average by 12 points and led the team with 21 points in the win.

    But even though Supplee returned to action two games later, scoring 30 points in a blowout loss to South Oldham, the Panthers just seemed to lose their way after the Owen win, losing 6 of their final 9 games, including blowout losses to South Oldham and Walton-Verona, and some head-scratching nailbiters in wins over what appeared to be lesser teams.

    Throughout it all, Wyatt Supplee shined. Supplee finished the year with a 23.9 ppg average, second-best in the region and 14th-best in all of Kentucky. He led the team with 47 made threes (38.5%) and he had shot over twice as many free throws as anyone else, making 140 of 202 at the stripe for a solid 69.3%.

    Offensively, though, while Carroll averaged a respectable 63.6 ppg, the Panthers were having trouble putting the ball in the hole. The Panthers shot just 43.8% from the field, the sixth consecutive season Carroll County shot less than 44% from the floor. That will need to change this year.

    Big things are expected in Carrollton. The team was close enough last year to tantalize the faithful, and with Supplee returning for his senior year, along with the optimism that always comes with a new coach, hope springs eternal for this year’s squad. There are reasons to be optimistic.

    Carroll County brings back two starters for 2019-20, the team’s top two scorers from last year. Besides Supplee (23.9 ppg), junior swing man Keishaun Mumphrey (14.4 ppg, team-high 8.0 rebounds) returns. With those two providing offensive punch, new coach Jonathan Moore will add in three seniors, giving Carroll a veteran starting lineup. Joining Supplee and Mumphrey in the starting five will be seniors Dalton Furnish, a 5’11” guard (2.1 ppg last year), Trevor Sandusky, a 6’5” center (5.0 ppg), and Justin Williams, a 6’1” guard (3.4 ppg). All five starters played in at least 20 games last season.

    Sandusky could really swing things one way or another for Carroll; the Panthers’ big man hasn’t really played a ton of varsity minutes in the past, but has been working hard in the off-season to improve his ability to finish in close. An Eastern Kentucky University football commit, Moore hopes he can become a force at both ends of the court.

    Early on, expect Carroll to lean heavily on a rotation of about 7 players, with Zach Clifford (6’3” senior guard/forward, and 6’3” senior guard/forward Logan Strickland both battling for minutes off the bench. Clifford is playing for the first time since middle school, but he’s a natural athlete and Moore expects him to be a major defensive force. A wildcard in the lineup is 6’5” post Clayton McCallister. McCallister didn’t play his sophomore season, but has rejoined the team. At 6’5”, 200 pounds, Moore says he may be the best athlete in the entire school. He’ll get a lot of minutes at the “4” or “5” spot.

    With four players 6’4” or taller, the Panthers have the potential to be one of the more dominant inside teams in the 31st. Defensively, Carroll looks to take advantage of the length – the Panthers could field a lineup with only Supplee under 6’3”.

    Defensively, look for Moore’s squad to put multiple defensive looks on the court. Instead of focusing on one or two defenses, Carroll will mix in multiple lineups and formations in order to hopefully find the right combination for the opponent.

    Moore is in his first season as a head coach; he has been an assistant at George Rogers Clark, Franklin County, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. While at Dunbar, he helped coach the KY Sweet 16 champions, as the Bulldogs took it all in 2016.

    Outlook: Carroll County has not been to the 8th Region basketball tournament since 2006, when the Panthers finished as the runner-ups in the 31st district to Gallatin County. That team was eliminated in the first round of the region by North Oldham. Prior to that, Carroll hadn’t been to the region tourney since 2000, which was the last time the Panthers won a game in the 8th Region tournament, a 59-52 victory over Walton-Verona (the Panthers fell by 3 to Shelby County in the semi-finals that season.). Moore thinks that the streak could end this year. But for Carroll County to take the next step, they probably have to improve on the shooting woes. Not just the field goal shooting; three of the projected starters hit between 51.9% and 56.1% of their free throws last season.

    They closed the gap in the 31st last year. Could this be the year for Carroll to take the next step?

    12 - Henry County (12-19, 31st district runner-ups, lost in the first round of the 8th Region Tournament, 78-45, to Walton-Verona) – When you’re the Henry County Wildcats, advancing to the 8th Region basketball tournament has a special meaning. It means playing on your home court against fans from across the region. Last year, Henry made it two trips in a row to the region tournament, as they finished as the runner-ups in the 31st district before falling to Walton-Verona in the first round of the region tourney. In fact, under Enoch Welch’s coaching, Henry has been a regular in the tournament; the Cats have made it to the Region five of the past seven seasons.

    Welch enters his 9th season in New Castle and he’s had mixed results. His third team, in 2013-14, was the first Wildcat team in five years to win 20 games or more, finishing 20-11. Since then, the wins haven’t always come easily, but the Wildcats have developed a reputation as being a smart, hard-nosed bunch, that plays with a blue-collar, never-surrender style.

    Welch said it best: “The guy who surrenders last has the best chance at victory.”

    The second-winningest coach all-time at Western Hills, and the winningest coach at Henry County with 109 wins in 8 seasons, Welch knows how to win basketball games.

    Now the Wildcats need to start picking up some wins in the region tournament, having lost in the first round in each of their last five appearances.

    First, Henry County has to make it out of the district, with Gallatin County and Carroll County expected to be the primary obstacles this year. The measuring stick in District 31, however, remains the Gallatin County Wildcats, and the Warsaw Cats have had the New Castle Cats’ number for the past three seasons, winning the last 8 contests between the two. Henry dropped three games against Gallatin last year by 38 points, by 16, and by 21. For Henry County to take the next step, they will have to have to find a way to bridge that gap and compete on equal terms with Gallatin.

    Two starters return for Henry County, led by all-Region candidate Trevor Hardin. Hardin, a 6’4” junior, led the team in scoring last year at 18.9 ppg and also in rebounding at 8.8 / game. Ethan Lankford, a 6’0” senior, was number two in scoring and also returns for Welch, after averaging 15.8 ppg.

    Gone to graduation is Dandre Wright (13.7 ppg / 7.3 rebounds), but Hardin and Lankford – two excellent shooters at 59.2% and 48.4%, respectively – took 48% of Henry County’s shots last year.

    Three of the following four players are likely to fill out the starting five: Will Peyton (5’11” junior; 1.7 ppg), Ryan Phillips (6’5” senior), Sam Royalty (6’5” sophomore), and Josiah Montero (5’5” senior, 1.4 ppg). Welch expects Phillips and Royalty to be key factors to Henry’s success with their play in the post and on the glass.

    Henry County will look to push the ball in transition more this year, but Welch says that he recognizes that good half court teams last longer in March, so look for the Wildcats to stress efficiency in the half court setting.

    Offensively, Henry is looking to get a little more production from the outside this year. Lankford shot about 31% from beyond the arc last year, but he was about the only outside threat on a team that shot just 28.1% from beyond the arc and made just 86 threes – fewer than several individuals made for other teams.

    Offensively, a repeat of last year would be welcome. The Wildcats averaged 65.5 ppg, fifth-best in the region, but the defense struggled at times, surrendering 67.3 ppg, only fourteenth-best in the seventeen team region. Some added size on the inside, and added experience for the team’s best players can’t hurt.

    After losing six seniors to graduation, it may take a little time for this season’s team to jell, but they certainly have the parts to be successful in the 31st District and in the region. The Wildcats have some size, and they have two strong scorers. The Wildcats will have to replace the passing of Wright, and the ballhandling of Rodney Tingle. If they can find answers to those two gaps, they should be OK.

    Henry County’s last 8th Region title came in 1962, the last time the 8th Region tournament was held somewhere other than New Castle. The Cats will try to make a return “trip” to their own gym in an effort to end that long drought.

    13 - Shelby County (8-21, lost in the first round of District 30, 54-43, to Collins) – Every school has a down cycle. We know that. But somehow, it’s still a shock when one of the true “bluebloods” of the region suffers through one. That’s what has happened to the Rockets.

    One of the winningest teams in the history of Region 8, the Rockets have won three region crowns since the state re-districted before the 2005-6 season. Their last title came in 2010. The next year, cross-town rival Collins opened. The new school went 18-12 in its inaugural season; the Rockets plummeted to 4-24 and Shelby hasn’t been the same since.

    The last four years, in particular, have not been kind. Shelby has been eliminated in the first round of the District 30 tournament four straight seasons – each time by cross-town rival Collins. The last Shelby County appearance in the 8th Region tournament came in 2015; the last Shelby County win in the region tournament came in 2010 – the year the Rockets won it all and went to the Sweet 16.

    Quite a fall for a regal tradition.

    Rebuilding the tradition will start by rebuilding the offense. For the last two seasons, Shelby has ranked near the bottom of the region in scoring; last year’s team averaged just 53 ppg, ranking 16th out of 18 teams (includes Woodford County’s average; there were actually 17 teams actually competing in region 8 last year).

    Second-year coach Eddie Oakley will have to go about that rebuilding project with some new faces. Four seniors graduated, including two of the top three scorers and the top rebounder. Noah Gordon, a talented sophomore who was the number two scorer last year at 11.4 ppg, did not return, either.

    Two starters return, Austin Griffin, a 5’11” junior guard (5.9 ppg) and Keegan Tingle, a 6’2” senior forward (4.4 ppg). That’s not a lot of proven offensive firepower, especially from two players who both shot 35% from the field or worse. Oakley will have to develop an offense largely from scratch.

    Joining Griffin and Tingle as likely starters are JaShon Marshall, a 5’11” sophomore, 5’11” junior Trenton Burchfield, 6’1” senior Isaac Clark, and Kaden Dugle, a 6’1” senior. All should start at some point during the season.

    5’9” senior forward Dalton Moore joins Shelby County this season after being re-districted from Collins.

    With so little experience returning, Shelby expects a challenging start to the season. As experience is gained, Oakley hopes his team will mature.

    In terms of the roster, Shelby will fit right in with the rest of the 30th District. In what seems to be a mantra of sorts for the district this season, Shelby Couty will feature an extraordinarily short roster, featuring eight players who are under six foot tall. Of the remaining six players, none are over six-foot-two.

    It’s a whole new wave of players who take over the mantle of Shelby County basketball this year. If those players can find the range this year, that alone will enhance Shelby’s regional prospects – last year’s team shot just 38.8% from the floor and 64.5% at the line.

    14 - Trimble County (13-15, lost in round 1 of District 29 tournament, 100-76, to South Oldham) – The Raiders have slowly been on the upswing over the past three years. After winning just 2 games in the 2015-16 season, Trimble went 4-25 in 2016-17, 13-17 in 2017-18, and 13-15 last season. And last year the Raiders got their first victory over a district opponent since 2014 – defeating North Oldham, 74-72 – ending a fifteen game losing streak to district rivals. Their last win over a District 29 opponent had come on 12/15/14 when Trimble defeated South Oldham, 65-53.

    Despite the improvement on the floor, the Raiders’ primary goal of returning to the 8th Region Tournament has eluded them, however. The frustrating streak now stands at 19 consecutive seasons without a region berth; the Raiders last reached New Castle in 2000 after finishing as the runner-ups to Carroll County that year in the 31st district tournament.

    This year, with the three Oldham schools all expected to have strong seasons, the possibility of getting out of the district tournament would seem remote.

    Unfortunately, Trimble County has yet to post their 2019-20 roster, but we know that the Raiders will have a “breaking in” period to start the year as four starters graduated from last year’s squad. In addition, there’s a new sheriff in town at the head coach spot, as Marcus Mumphrey comes to Bedford to coach the squad.

    The one returning starter is a key one; senior guard Reece Webster led the Raiders in scoring last year at 17.2 ppg and his leadership both on the scoreboard an in the locker room will be key to this season. Trimble will have to find help for Webster quickly; no other returning varsity player averaged more than 3.8 ppg last season.

    Webster may well be the best 8th Region player you’ve never heard of. Besides averaging 17.2 ppg, Webster hit 50% from the floor, including 38.1% from beyond the arc (51 of 134, both team highs). Webster shot 77.3% at the line, where he hit 102 of 132 free throws (both team highs). He also grabbed 3.2 rebounds.

    Last year, depth was a concern for Trimble. With seven seniors graduating last year, it may be an issue again this year. Seniors Austin Cissell (3.8 ppg) and Beau Turner (2.3 ppg) figure to move up to more prominent roles for the Raiders this year after being two of the top subs off the bench. Turner played in 27 of the Raiders’ 28 games.

    Statistically, the numbers that stick out the most – and which must improve if the Raiders are to have any chance of contending – are the shooting percentages from last year. The Raiders hit just 45.9% from the field last year and only 64.9% from the line.

    15 - Walton-Verona (28-7, 8th Region All-A Champs, District 32 champs, 8th Region champs, lost round 2 of the Sweet 16, 49-42, to Campbell County) – Last year was a dream season at Walton-Verona, as the Bearcats won their first-ever boys’ 8th region championship. Along the way, W-V ended the long region championship drought for the 32nd district, which last won the title in 2004, and the even longer drought for the “small” (All-A) schools, which last won a region 8 title in 1972, when Carroll County took the title.

    For the Cats, it was their third consecutive district title as well, and marked the third straight season in which the team won 26 games or more.

    It’ll be a different team that comes out for the 2019-20 season, however. Gone are nine seniors that accounted for approximately 90% of the scoring, including all five starters and the team’s top six scorers. Jack Watson is really the only returning varsity player, and he averaged just 4.4 ppg last season. The graduates also took 30.5 rebounds per game with them as the top 6 rebounders all moved on.

    Even the head coach on the sideline is new. Gone is Grant Brannen, who piloted the Bearcats for six seasons, improving the team from a 4-20 campaign in 2013-14, to the 28 win regional championship squad last year. Brannen finished 116-65 (.641) at W-V; the keys are now handed to a former Region 8 guard, Mike Hester, who was an all-region performer for Simon Kenton in the mid-2000s. Hester, who has spent the last several years as an assistant at SK, will be in his first year as a head coach – and will face his alma mater in the battle for the district title.

    With so much youth and inexperience in the lineup, the Bearcats may have to count on their defense to carry them early on. That defense was a major reason for their success last year, as W-V ranked #4 in Kentucky, giving up just 47.2 ppg.

    The Bearcats will also have to deal with the loss of one of the biggest front lines in the region. Gone to graduation are 6’10” Dieonte Miles, 6’9” Ethan Brooke, and 6’4” Kam Pardee. In their place is a lineup that features only one player over 6’2”, senior Jack Watson, who checks in at 6’3”.

    Interestingly, Hester may benefit from a transfer from SK, freshman Carter Krohman, who played JV as an 8th grader last season. Krohman is a talented offensive player who can score inside-outside. Per Hester, however, while he will likely have an impact, he will need to improve defensively to see more minutes at the varsity level.

    Hester feels that on any given night, any of the team’s top seven players could lead the team in scoring. But he’s counting on Watson, who has the most experience, to be the team’s leader. Watson will likely lead the Bearcats in scoring and rebounding.

    Hester expects to push the pace at both ends of the floor. Look for W-V to shoot the first good shot that is available on the offensive end of the court, and to try to speed up the opponent when on defense.

    Walton-Verona looks like a season-long project that will likely improve dramatically as the season progresses. Hester, however, has several questions to answer: Where will the points come from? There is no proven scorer on the roster. Can Walton improve on the shooting from last year. Last year’s team hit a solid 49.9% of their shots, but a lot of that success came from close-in shooting from their bigs. If Walton can’t establish a strong inside game, does this group have better perimeter shooting than last year’s team, which managed just 45 made threes over 35 games? The Cats will also need to improve on last year’s 60.8% free throw shooting, especially early in the year, when points figure to be at a premium for this inexperienced squad. And – more importantly – will this smallish squad be able to compete on the glass?

    The defending 8th Region champs won’t get much sympathy from the rest of the region, and they’ll be tested early . The Cats will go to Gallatin County on December 9th, host Simon Kenton on 12/13/19, and travel to Oldham County on 12/20/19.

    16 - Williamstown (9-22, lost to Simon Kenton, 87-55, District 32 round 1) – Williamstown upped their game last season, improving their record by seven games as they went from 2-29 in 2017-18 to 9-22 last season.

    One of the smallest schools in the 8th Region, Williamstown also featured one of the smallest teams, height-wise, on the court last season. They won’t be much bigger this year; Kenner McClelland at 6’3 ½” is the only player on the varsity roster listed over 6’1”. However, lack of height may not be the team’s biggest challenge in a district that doesn’t feature particularly big teams.

    The biggest challenge may be improving on a shooting mark that ranked near the bottom of the region last year. Williamstown shot just 39.1% from the field and 57.9% at the line. Both will need to improve if the Demons are to return to the Region tournament. The good news is that Williamstown returns a lot of experience; last year’s team rotated a lot of players; nine players played in at least 20 games last season, and two others played in 18 and 15 games, respectively.

    Back in his third season as a starter is 6’1 ½” junior forward Cole Kighlinger, who led the team in scoring last season at 13.0 ppg, and also grabbed 4.1 rebounds. Number two scorer Cole Kemper (10.1 ppg) is gone to graduation, but the Demons’ number three scorer, Bryant Henson, a 5’8” senior guard, returns with his 9.0 ppg average.

    Last season’s top rebounder, Joel McCain, a 6’1” sophomore, also returns after averaging 5.4 rebounds per game.

    From there, though, new coach Jacob Cheesman will be looking for some new contributors; nobody else on the roster averaged more than 2.6 ppg last season.

    The Demons last made the Region tournament after the 2016-17 season, when they went 17-16. Kighlinger – then an 8th grader – and 5’6” senior guard Isaiah Magee – then a freshman – were on that team. Cheesman will be looking for those two to draw upon their experiences to hopefully lead this team back to New Castle.

    17 - Owen County (5-24, lost in the second round of the 31st district tourney, 88-51, to Gallatin County) – It’s been a rough three years for the Owen County Rebels and coach Devin Duvall. Since the almost magical run in 2015-16, when the Rebels went 29-4, won the 31st district tournament, went into the region tourney as the favorite, and featured the player named Mr. Basketball in Kentucky (Carson Williams), the Rebels have struggled to find their groove. The last three seasons have resulted in a combined record of just 17-71 and no 8th Region tournament appearances, as Gallatin County has vaulted to district supremacy. District wins have been hard to come by; Owen has won just 8 district matchups over the last three seasons, with all 8 victories coming over Eminence (5 wins) and Carroll County (3 wins).

    Duvall, who enters his fourteenth season in Owenton (213-139), knows the task ahead is challenging as he tries to get his squad back to New Castle.

    Every school goes through “the cycle”. It happens. When you’re at the bottom of that cycle, however, the good news is that things can only get better. This year, though, may be just a stepping stone towards that “better” as Owen will put one of the youngest teams in the region on the floor to compete. Five of the six players Duvall identifies as likely to see a lot of time in the rotation are underclassmen – including two sophomores, a freshman, and an 8th grader. Size will be an issue as well, at least until the Christmas break, after which Brax Ward, a 6’7” eighth-grader will join the team and hopefully provide an inside presence.

    The success of the team may hinge on 6’3” freshman guard Teagan Moore, who averaged 10.7 points and 3.6 rebounds last season. A multi-dimensional player who is entering his third year on the varsity, Moore can shoot from beyond the arc (33.6% last season), score off the bounce, handle the ball well, and can defend multiple positions. Duvall feels he may be the top freshman in the region, and one of the best in the state, and a lot will fall on his young shoulders this year.

    Moore will be joined by 6’0” senior Brandon Lewis in the backcourt (5 ppg last year), plus 5’9” sophomore point guard Lincoln Cobb. Isaac Wash, a 6’2” sophomore who averaged 6.0 ppg last year, will start at forward. Despite their youth, both Wash and Cobb bring a lot of varsity experience from last year.

    Cody Anderson is a 6’1” junior forward who is new to the team; Duvall expects him to provide rebounding and post defense – and a lot of floor burns.

    With very little size on the roster, Duvall is looking forward to January, when 6’7” 8th grader Brax Ward should join the rotation. Ward saw limited minutes last year, but is expected to provide much-needed help on the glass and in defending interior shots.

    With rebounding a challenge, Owen must improve their shooting if they expect to compete. Last year’s squad posted shooting percentages of 43.2% from the floor and 64.2% from the line. Both will need to come up if Owen is to upend two of the three favorites (Gallatin County / Carroll County / Henry County) in the district to earn a region tournament berth. Last year’s Rebels averaged just 48.8 ppg, next to last in the 8th Region. And at the end of the day, the game is all about points.

    Look for Owen to play more zone than Duvall normally likes to play, and to shoot more threes than usual.

    Keys to the season – the Rebels, particularly Moore – must play older than their years. The shots have to fall. And someone has to come up with some rebounds.

    18 - Eminence (3-26, lost in the first round of the 31st district tournament, 62-50, to Owen County) – Since Chris Nethery coached the Warriors from the 2008-9 season through the 2015-16 season (8 years), Eminence simply hasn’t been able to find stability.

    Nethery went just 71 – 152 over that eight year span for a winning percentage of just 31.8%, but he provided a steady influence that allowed Eminence to take advantage when the stars aligned and the right talent came along. His 2012-13 team went 17-13 and finished as the runner-ups in District 31, advancing to the 8th Region tournament where they lost to Simon Kenton in round one. That team got hot at the right time, winning 7 of their 8 games heading into New Castle.

    Since Nethery left, it’s been a revolving door in Eminence. Jason Mays, Robert Amis, and Patrick Jackson each led the team, to varying degrees of success, for one year. Mays and Amis both managed to get Eminence to .500 records, and Mays was able to take the Warriors to round one of the Region tournament. But the bottom fell out last season, as Eminence dropped to a 3-26 record and failed to win a district game in ten tries.

    The fifth coach at Eminence in the last six years, Gary Tuell is the latest coach to take the reins of the once-proud Warriors and it appears he will be working from a pretty clean slate. Tuell has quite the resume; a former assistant coach to Denny Crum at the University of Louisville, Tuell has spent 40 years coaching at the collegiate level, at Cincinnati Christian, Milligan College, St. Thomas College (FL), Augusta State College and finally, Nova Southeastern University, where he spent 13 years as the head coach and shepherded the program from the NAIA level to NCAA Division II. When interviewed by the local newspaper after taking the job, Tuell noted that most of his college jobs were at places that nobody thought could win. Despite the expectations, Tuell left nearly every job with a winning mark. He hopes to do it again with the Warriors, a team that last played in the Sweet 16 in 1949 and was last a major factor in regional play back in the late 1970s, when the school featured one of the region’s all-time greats, Mont Sleets.

    Five players from last year’s roster appear on this year’s pre-season roster – one senior, one junior, two sophomores, and one freshman. Other than Dakadrian Saunders, a 5’9” senior (7.6 ppg last year) Bryce Sipes, a 6’2” junior, who averaged 8 ppg / 3.8 rebounds last season, none averaged more than 2.5 ppg last year. The roster reveals a few other insights:

    - Five seniors and three juniors are on this year’s roster, but only one senior, Dakadrian Saunders, and one junior, Bryce Sipes, appear in last year’s stats. The other six appear to be newcomers.
    - There are more sophomores (7) and freshmen (2) than there are seniors (5) and juniors (3).
    - Eminence will be painfully short. The large 17-player roster includes 13 players under 6 foot. The only player taller than 6’2” is Donovan Clark, a 6’5” senior.
    Given the lack of experience, youth, and lack of size, there will be no “givens” on the schedule this year. Eminence will face district rival Owen County at least twice, a team that’s about as short and as young as the Warriors. Even so, Owen County’s youngsters are relatively experience at the varsity level and will have a decided advantage in that regard.
    With last year’s top scorers and rebounders gone to graduation (Josh Dotson and Braedin Hinkley), there are simply a lot of question marks in Eminence this year. Some of the objectives are clear, however: The Warriors must improve upon shooting that ranked among the region’s worst last year, including 33.6% from the field, 25.1% beyond the arc, and 60% at the line. It added up to the region’s worst offense, averaging just 45.8 ppg. Improve that with this new cast of characters, and Eminence’s fortunes could change dramatically from the outset.

    Coach Tuell’s task is formidable, but so are his credentials. It’ll be interesting to watch how the Warriors develop this year.

    District Predictions (Coaches’ Polls) Each coach who responded was asked to rank the teams in his district. Points were allotted based on their ballots, with 5 points for a first-place vote (4 points in four team districts), 4 points for a 2nd place vote (3 points in four team districts), and so on down to 1 point for a last-place vote. First place votes are in parentheses, below. Not all coaches voted.

    29th District – 3 coaches voting - North Oldham 11 points (2), South Oldham 9 points (1), Oldham County 7 points, Trimble County 3 points South Oldham broke Oldham County’s eight-year grip on the 29th last season; the Dragons were picked ahead of the North Oldham Mustangs in the overall region balloting, but the District 29 coaches picked North to win the District. Hmmm.

    30th District – 5 coaches voting - Collins 25 points (5), Spencer County 19 points, Woodford County / Anderson County (tie) 12 points, Shelby County 7 points Collins and Spencer County are picked to finish 1-2 again this year, but what will the effect of 8th Region newcomer Woodford County be?

    31st District – 4 coaches voting - Gallatin 19 points (3), Carroll County 15 points, Henry County 14 points (1), Owen County 7 points, Eminence 5 points This district has gone through Warsaw for three straight years – and the coaches think 2020 will make it four straight. For the first time in a while, though, other teams are starting to feel some pre-season love.

    32nd District – 3 coaches voting – Simon Kenton 12 points (3), Grant County 8 points, Walton-Verona 7 points, Williamstown 3 points It’s a new-look 32nd. Gone are the “bigs” that have dominated this district for the past few years. In their place are four small, guard-oriented teams that will push the pace.

    Region Predictions (Coaches’ Poll) Fourteen of the fifteen coaches who responded to my pre-season questionnaire voted, and – for the second straight year in this poll – the Collins Titans emerged as the clear favorite. This year, however, the Titans were very close to being a consensus favorite, as 12 of the 14 voters picked Collins as the favorites to take down the nets in New Castle next March.

    The coaches were asked to pick the top 5 teams in the region. I then assigned points, giving teams 5 points for a first place vote, 4 points for a second place vote, etc., down to one point for a fifth-place vote. Two coaches failed to choose a fifth-place team. Three coaches split their fifth-place vote, and each of those teams received one-half of a point. Finally, one coach voted for six teams and one voted for seven; the additional teams were not assigned points.

    Some notes from the balloting:

    • Collins is not only the favorite, the Titans had no real dissenters. The two ballots that did not peg Collins to win the region had the Titans as the #2 pick. In the three years I’ve done this preview, this was by far and away the closest we’ve had to a consensus.
    • South was also nearly a consensus pick. The Dragons were picked second in the region on 10 of 14 ballots. The Dragons were the only team in the top three to be omitted from a ballot, however, the coach submitting that ballot voted for only four teams; it’s very conceivable/likely the Dragons would have been the fifth team.
    • Besides Collins, the only other team to appear on all 14 ballots was North Oldham. The Mustangs haven’t been to the Region 8 tournament since 2015 and last won a region tournament game in 2011, when they reached the semi-finals. But the expectations have soared in Goshen this season, and the coaches seem to agree that North may break their slump this year.
    • The coaches clearly expect heartbreak in the 29th; the three Oldham schools finished 2, 3, and 4 in the balloting – but one of the three will be eliminated in the district tournament.
    • Surprisingly absent from all the ballots was Gallatin County. Jon Jones’ Wildcats have made the Region semi-finals three years in a row, while compiling a three-year record of 73 – 27. Despite losing their top two scorers to graduation, the Cats are favored to win the 31st District, but received no love in this poll.
    • The coaches clearly expect the region title to revert back to the South End of the region (districts 29 and 30), as 6 of the 7 teams receiving votes, including the favored Titans, hail from those two districts. Simon Kenton (32nd District) was the lone team from the north to receive votes.

    The results, with first-place votes in parentheses:
    1 – Collins 68 points (12) named on 14 ballots
    Titans the pre-season favorite for the second year in a row.
    2 – South Oldham 51 points (1) named on 13 ballots
    Dragons are clear pick as the “most likely” to upset the favored Titans.
    3 – North Oldham 37 ½ points (1) named on 14 ballots
    Picked #3 on 7 ballots, North hopes to return to New Castle for first time since 2015.
    4 – Oldham County 21 ½ points named on 11 ballots
    The Colonels received three 3rd place votes, but nothing higher.
    5 – Spencer County 15 points named on 10 ballots
    Fifth on five of the ballots, Spencer’s highest vote was one third place ballot.
    6 – Simon Kenton 13 points named on 8 ballots
    SK showed up as high as second, receiving one second-place ballot.
    7 – Woodford County 2 points named on 1 ballot
    On just 1 ballot, the region’s newest team may simply not be known well enough yet.
    No other teams received votes.

    Player of the Year Voting The coaches were asked to rank the top 10 players in the region. First place votes earned 10 points; second place votes 9 points, etc., down to 1 point for 10th-place votes.
    Thirteen of eighteen region coaches voted in the Player of the Year poll. Some did not fill out a full ballot.
    What we learned from the coaches:

    • Being the incumbent may be good for politicians, but it didn’t help South Oldham’s Luke Morrison, the defending 8th Region Player of the Year. Despite being compared against most of the same players he was compared to last year, Morrison didn’t even show up on all thirteen ballots – he was on twelve - and finished third overall in the balloting.

    • Of course, being picked number one in this poll doesn’t guarantee anything. Anderson County’s Cobe Penny was the overwhelming pre-season pick in the 2017-18 season, and he went on to win the award. Last year, however, Walton-Verona’s Dieonte Miles was the pre-season pick with Dayvion McKnight of Collins the close second choice. Instead, South Oldham’s Luke Morrison – the #4 pick in the pre-season poll – had a monster season and won the award.

    • The number of players getting noticed is significant. The coaches identified 21 players in the voting as deserving of potential all-region recognition.

    • Dayvion McKnight edged North Oldham’s Justin Powell as the pre-season favorite to win Player of the Year honors. Both players appeared on all 13 ballots; McKnight secured nine first place votes and four second place votes; Powell grabbed the other four first place votes. He also had eight second place votes and one third place vote.

    The results (first place votes in parentheses):

    1 - Dayvion McKnight, 6’1” senior, Collins 126 points (9)
    Watching McKnight play over the past three years has been constant excitement. McKnight averaged a double-double last year, scoring 17 ppg and averaging 10.4 rebounds per game. A strong player around the glass, McKnight is adept at offensive putbacks, but he’s also a reasonably good outside shooter, hitting 33% of his three point attempts. Overall, his shooting is an impressive 50% from the floor. Although listed as a guard, McKnight is so good on the glass, he can easily play the 3 or 4 spots on the floor, using his athleticism to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, and using his extraordinary strength and leaping ability to outmuscle opponents on the backboard.

    2 - Justin Powell, 6’7” senior, North Oldham 120 points (4)
    Justin Powell returns to North Oldham – where he played as an 8th-grader – and brings high expectations with him to Goshen. The 6-7 senior is listed as a G / PG, but can play any position on the floor and still be the best player in the game. When he’s playing the “2” guard position, Powell is almost impossible to defend as he generally is able to shoot over the average (shorter) high school guard. As a point guard, Powell can use that height to see the floor, and he utilizes that advantage to the max. As a shooter, Powell is the rare big man with an extraordinary outside shooting ability, including the talent to come to a running “jump stop” and nail the three pointer. Recruited heavily by a number of Division 1 schools including Purdue, Cincinnati, Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Tennessee, Powell has eliminated the suspense and has signed with Auburn.

    3 - Luke Morrison, 6’4” senior, South Oldham 87 points
    It’s kind of hard to believe that last year’s 8th Region Player of the Year, who led the region scoring at 25.4 ppg (#8 in KY), who was #2 in the state in made three pointers per game (3.6), who was tops in KY in three point shooting among the top 50 three pointer shooters at a phenomenal 54.9% (112 of 204), and who hit 82% of his free throws (#3 in the region) is just the #3 pick to win the award this year – but that’s more of a testament to the talent in the 8th Region than it is a knock on Morrison. Morrison figures to be the leader on a strong South Oldham team again this year, and his game has evolved tremendously over the last two years. As a sophomore, Morrison was one of the region’s leaders on the offensive glass, and he made his living on putbacks. Last year, he unveiled arguably the most deadly outside touch in the region, and – with his 6-4 frame – was able to take advantage of smaller guards on the outside to get good looks. Morrison’s the complete package and the Dragons will go as far as he can take them.

    4 - Marcellus Vail, 6’4” senior, Collins 84 points
    The second Collins player ranked in the top four, Vail completes Collins’ amazingly talented, experienced backcourt. Last year’s leading scorer for the Titans (18.5 ppg), Vail is a good shooter (48% overall, 34% three pointers, 75% free throws) and made the most threes (68) for last year’s Titans team. Like Powell and Morrison, his size gives him a decided advantage against perimeter defenders. Vail has vastly improved over the last two years; the game has slowed down for him, and he’s making good decisions with the ball.

    5 - Kelly Niece, 6’3” junior, Simon Kenton 78 points
    Though a junior, this will already be Niece’s fourth season on the varsity. Niece was a regular in the rotation as an 8th grader, and he led the Pioneers in scoring both as a freshman and a sophomore. Last year, he was one of the top 20 scorers in the state at 23.4 ppg. A classic shooter, Niece hit 51.8% of his shots overall last year and 45.7% of his threes (48 of 105). At the line, he led the Pioneers at an 81.8% clip. If Niece is fully recovered from an injury he suffered last season, his ability to score alone will keep the Pioneers in contention.

    6 - Sam Conley, 6’3” junior, Spencer County 56 points
    Like Niece, Conley has been a major contributor on the varsity squad since his 8th grade season, meaning this is his fourth season. Conley has led the Bears in scoring the last two seasons, and was the leading rebounder last year. In 2018-19, his numbers were a solid 17.7 ppg / 6.7 rebounds. A gifted defender, Conley is particularly good at defending the perimeter, but on a relatively short team, he has been asked to defend the post and he’s done well.

    7 - Jarin Rassman, 6’1” senior, Gallatin County 35 points
    Perhaps the best pure point guard in the 8th Region, Rassman operates in a Gallatin County offense that demands precision passing – and he delivers. Last year, Rassman was the #3 scorer on a strong Wildcat offense, averaging 13.9 ppg while hitting 53.8% from the field. At the same time, he was the rare point guard that excelled on the glass, averaging 5.5 rebounds per contest.

    8 - Trevor Hardin, 6’4” junior, Henry County 29 points
    Hardin was probably one of the region’s most over-looked gems last year, nearly posting a double-double to lead the Wildcats in both scoring (18.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg). Though he struggled at the stripe, Hardin was an extraordinary shooter from the floor on one of the state’s top-shooting teams, hitting 59.2% of his shots. This year, coach Enoch Welch is saying that Hardin has extended his range, although he probably won’t take a lot of threes.

    9 - Wyatt Supplee, 5’11” senior, Carroll County 18 points
    Carroll County missed the region 8 tournament last season, so a lot of region observers may have failed to see one of the premier scorers in the entire state. Supplee averaged 23.9 ppg – second only to Luke Morrison in the 8th region and 14th-best in the state – and also finished as the Panthers’ premier outside threat, hitting 47 threes (38.5%) on the season. Supplee is adept at getting to the line; he averaged 10 free throw attempts per game last year, hitting an average of 7 per game.

    10 - Luke Dawalt, 6’5” senior, Grant County 16 points
    The biggest player on the Grant County roster, Dawalt is critical to the Braves’ efforts on the glass, where he averaged 7.5 rebounds per game last season, tops on the team. A legitimate “dual-threat” big man, Dawalt has a solid outside stroke; he was number two for Grant County with 44 made threes last year. Dawalt is a real threat to average a “double-double” in 2019-20, particularly if the Braves play him in a more conventional post role.

    Others receiving votes:
    Seth Johnson, South Oldham 13 points
    Jeremy Davis, Simon Kenton 8 points
    Tyler Slone, Oldham County 6 points
    Dallas Roberts, North Oldham 6 points
    Tyler Rice, Anderson County 4 points
    Lucas Hornback, Spencer County 3 points
    Sam Campbell, Oldham County 2 points
    Hunter Penn, Woodford County 2 points
    Reece Webster, Trimble County 1 point
    Ricqiece Washington, Woodford County 1 point
    Jack Watson, Walton-Verona 1 point

  2. #2

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    Jan 19

    ColonelMike, this is outstanding! I'm sure some will question the rankings and predictions (perhaps a Spencer County fan or two), but no one will question the thorough amount of research you did for this preview. Thanks for putting this together!

  3. #3

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    Dec 08

    Great job as always @ColonelMike love involving the coaches looks pretty much spot on.

  4. #4
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    Pegasus Sports Network - Oldham County, KY

    Quote Originally Posted by ConverseAllStar View Post
    ColonelMike, this is outstanding! I'm sure some will question the rankings and predictions (perhaps a Spencer County fan or two), but no one will question the thorough amount of research you did for this preview. Thanks for putting this together!
    Thanks, Converse! I truly appreciate the kind words. It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it.

    As for the rankings, I probably questioned them myself a hundred times while putting this together. I have been active in the 8th region since the late 1970s...and I thought LAST year was tight. This year may be more so - or perhaps it's more a case that there are a lot of questions to be answered yet. Not sure which.

    Bottom-line is this...I picked Anderson County as #10 (using them as an example for a moment), but that doesn't mean I'm "dissing" the Bearcats. In fact, I think they are going to do well. Ditto for all nine ranked above them. Heading into the season, I think at least the top 10 all have valid reasons to believe that they have the ingredients for a possible championship run. Some of those teams will show their cards right away....others will need the season to develop. But the potential is there.

    Let the games begin!
    Last edited by ColonelMike; Nov 13, 19 at 09:25 PM.

  5. #5

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    Feb 19

    Wow. Somebody did their homework! Big thanks, enjoyed the read!

  6. #6

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    Jan 19

    This assessment of the 8th is very well thought out.... and I think its "spot on". In my opinion, the 8th is deeper than any region in the state this year. In year's past, the 6th and 7th have been strong, talented, and very deep. I'm not sure that's the case this year. Seems like I'd put the top 5-6 teams in this region up against the top 5-6 in any region in the state.... this is gonna be fun!

  7. #7

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    Jan 19

    It's not unreasonable to believe that the third place finisher in districts 29 (Oldham County, South Oldham or North Oldham) and 30 (Collins, Spencer County, or Woodford County) - a team that doesn't even make it to the 8th region tournament - would be the favorite to win some regions throughout the state.

  8. #8
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    Jan 14

    Talking to the Walton middle school coach yesterday and discussed how there are no private schools in the 8th region. It's funny considering how many there are in the 9th.

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    Aug 16

    Quote Originally Posted by ConverseAllStar View Post
    ColonelMike, this is outstanding! I'm sure some will question the rankings and predictions (perhaps a Spencer County fan or two), but no one will question the thorough amount of research you did for this preview. Thanks for putting this together!
    I'm one of those Spencer County fans. LOL. There is no way in heck that Spencer County is the 6th best team in the region. After watching summer ball and recent scrimmages I will say they are better than they were last year. Spencer County has 4 players that will play college ball at some level. I will agree that they are short on the bench but their first five is as talented as anyone in the region. I'll keep quiet on here this year and let the basketball speak for itself but you heard it here first. They are extremely skilled and talented. Injuries or foul trouble will be the only thing that will sidetrack the expectations I have for them. I pick Collins, South Oldham, and Spencer County as the best teams in the region (in that order). Spencer County's first half schedule is murderous. Looking forward to it.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cardsrule1972 View Post
    I'm one of those Spencer County fans. LOL. There is no way in heck that Spencer County is the 6th best team in the region. After watching summer ball and recent scrimmages I will say they are better than they were last year. Spencer County has 4 players that will play college ball at some level. I will agree that they are short on the bench but their first five is as talented as anyone in the region. I'll keep quiet on here this year and let the basketball speak for itself but you heard it here first. They are extremely skilled and talented. Injuries or foul trouble will be the only thing that will sidetrack the expectations I have for them. I pick Collins, South Oldham, and Spencer County as the best teams in the region (in that order). Spencer County's first half schedule is murderous. Looking forward to it.
    The schedule may be front-loaded, but you should be on a 10-game winning streak heading into districts!

  11. #11

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    Aug 16

    Quote Originally Posted by ConverseAllStar View Post
    The schedule may be front-loaded, but you should be on a 10-game winning streak heading into districts!
    If they survive the first half. Collins, South Oldham, North Oldham, Oldham, Bullitt East, Warren Central, Bowling Green, Connor, St. X, Lafayette, Shelby Valley, etc.
    Last edited by Cardsrule1972; Nov 15, 19 at 01:01 PM.

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    Pegasus Sports Network - Oldham County, KY

    I wouldn't worry about Spencer County. They will likely be in the region title mix come year end with anywhere from 7-8 other teams. It's that much of a mad scramble this year. Several teams have legitimate championship potential - but all the contenders also have questions to answer. I truly agree with Converse - the "third best" teams in the 29th and 30th will likely be good enough to win other regions - but they won't make it to New Castle....

  13. #13

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    Aug 04

    Sounds like this will be a tough region.
    Last edited by tcjkbt; Nov 17, 19 at 09:50 PM.

  14. #14

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    Feb 19

    Anyone attend Gallatin County Blue/White game?

  15. #15

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    Feb 17

    Yes, 10 deep with plenty of shooters. Rebounding may be the worse part of the game for them, this year but they should contend with anybody they play.