High school basketball regular seasons are beginning to wrap up around the state, as Class C schools begin their district tournaments this weekend.
Billings Skyview picked up a pair of wins over its crosstown rivals to position itself for a run at the Eastern AA regular-season title. The Missoula Sentinel boys continue to bulldoze those in their path and are looking like a lock to be the Western AA’s top seed.
Billings West proved it’s the team to beat in the Eastern AA girls race, as the Golden Bears thumped their rivals to stay unbeaten. The Western AA regular-season picture is a bit murkier, especially after defending co-champion Helena Capital’s statement win on Tuesday night.
There's still an unbeaten team in Class A, as the Dillon boys continue to win no matter the circumstance. It seems they're on a collision course with another top team in the Western A, one that they've already beaten head-to-head.
Man, how competitive is the top of the Eastern A? The Hardin girls suffered a surprising loss but bounced back to knock off the division’s lone unbeaten team. That division could be four-deep at the top.
Fairfield and Lodge Grass were slated to play for the 2020 State B title. The defending co-champions finally met up, and, boy, did they deliver a game for the ages. Manhattan, one of the top teams in the Southern B, is no longer unbeaten against Class B teams after a surprising result last Thursday.
The Lodge Grass girls were able to make it a sweep of Fairfield this weekend, which just adds another impressive win to the Southern B’s resume. Defending co-champion Missoula Loyola had an up-and-down weekend, as Saturday’s loss leaves the Breakers looking up in the standings at Anaconda.
Class C has already begun its district tournaments, but there were still regular-season titles up for grabs last weekend. The Fort Benton boys made it a clean sweep of their rival, while Melstone is still the team to beat in District 4C. The Western C girls race features three of the state’s best teams, while Plentywood picked up a huge win heading into the District 2C tournament.
That and more highlight what caught my eye around the state, as several conference titles were handed out.
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- It's still a three-team race atop the Eastern AA. Great Falls High currently leads the conference having lost just one game in league play, but Bozeman High and Billings Skyview are both just a half-game back of the Bison. Skyview's wins over Billings West over the weekend and Billings Senior on Tuesday night cemented the Falcons as a true conference title contender. Great Falls High still has games left with both Bozeman and Skyview, so the Eastern AA race is far from finished.
- I probably haven't given enough love to the Havre boys yet this year. The Blue Ponies just locked up the Northeastern A regular-season title by defeating Lewistown 59-49. Havre has put together a solid stretch of good basketball and will enter next weekend's Eastern A divisional tournament on a tear. It's not only the Havre girls team that you have to look out for. The boys can play, too.
- Dillon just keeps winning, no matter the opponent. The Beavers squeaked out a two-point win over Hamilton on Saturday, but the big win came Thursday against Frenchtown. Dillon beat the Broncs for the second time this year and locked up the Southwestern A regular-season title with Tuesday night's win over Corvallis. All signs are pointing to a Dillon/Polson battle for the Western A championship.
- Fairfield and Lodge Grass didn't get to decide the 2020 State B champion on the court last year, but the two sides made up for it Saturday night in Billings. Lodge Grass took down Fairfield 85-84 in triple overtime in a battle between defending co-champions that had it all. Both teams overcame deficits, hit big shots when they were trailing late and delivered a show to the 2,900 fans at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark. Both the Eagles and Indians have been among the best in Class B once again this year and could be on a collision course to another meeting at MetraPark, as the State B tournament is set for March 10-13.
- Manhattan saw its unbeaten regular season against Class B opponents come to an end over the weekend, as a buzzer beater from Jefferson's Trent McMaster pushed the Panthers to a 53-52 win over the Tigers. Manhattan will still be the top seed at the District 5B tournament, but now there's a chink in its armor. How will the Tigers respond? Is Manhattan truly one of the elite teams in Class B?
- Fort Benton has pulled off the season sweep of rival Chinook. The Longhorns beat the Sugarbeeters 64-61 to clinch the District 9C regular-season title. It's going to be quite a battle at the Northern C divisional tournament in a couple weeks, though, as the Simms and Belt boys have piled up tons of wins this year and are in search of state tournament berths.
- Don't celebrate the demise of Melstone quite yet, because the Broncs aren't going anywhere. Sophomore Bryce Grebe poured in 33 points to push Melstone past Broadus 53-42 to clinch the District 4C regular-season title and avoid both Terry and Broadus in the first two rounds of the district tournament. Once again, it looks like Southern C basketball fans will be seeing plenty of Melstone, as head coach Jason Grebe has his sights set on yet another State C tournament appearance.
- The Eastern AA all but belongs to Billings West. The Golden Bears routed rival Billings Skyview 67-43 to complete a season sweep of the Falcons. Billings West is the only remaining unbeaten team in Class AA, and with its talented freshman class playing at an elite level alongside its upperclassmen, the Bears are looking like they'll be playing Saturday night at the State AA tournament.
- Missoula Hellgate could have joined West atop the Class AA ranks with an unbeaten record, but Helena Capital dismantled the Knights on Tuesday night. The defending co-champion Bruins have muddied up the waters in the Western AA regular-season race, as they seem to have asserted themselves as the conference's best team. Can Capital keep it rolling through the end of the regular season and into the divisional playoffs. Are Capital and West shaping up to play for a state title after getting the opportunity taken away last year?
- The Eastern A is really, really good, and it might have four of the top five teams in Class A. Laurel shocked Hardin with a 54-38 win to hand the Bulldogs their second consecutive loss, but Hardin responded by beating Billings Central the following night to give the Rams their first loss of the season. Central got right back to its winning ways on Tuesday night, though, rallying from a first-half deficit to beat Laurel on the road. Add in Havre from the Northeast A and the Eastern A divisional tournament could potentially have the top four teams in Class A, although Columbia Falls would have something to say about that. Don't be surprised if you're seeing those four Eastern A teams playing late at the State A tournament in Great Falls March 3-6.
- While the Fairfield and Lodge Grass boys stole the weekend's headlines, the performance from the Lodge Grass girls shouldn't get lost in the mix. Fairfield is undefeated in District 1B play. Lodge Grass has been in the middle of the pack in District 3B and will be fighting for its life to make it to the Southern B divisional tournament. Lodge Grass, though, came back from an early deficit to beat Fairfield 55-49. It's another impressive win for a Southern B team. Not only have they beat up on each other in conference play, but they've also beaten some of the state's best teams, including Fairfield and Malta. The Southern B divisional tournament is going to be spectacular, both in boys and girls.
- Defending co-champion Missoula Loyola will have some work to do at the Western B divisional tournament. The Breakers will enter as the No. 2 seed out of District 6B after suffering a 63-59 overtime defeat at the hands of Anaconda, which swept Loyola on the season. Both teams have odd losses on their resume, so the Western B divisional tournament will be one of the more intriguing tournaments to follow.
- Charlo, Seeley-Swan and Manhattan Christian have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the Western C. There isn't a single loss between the Vikings, Blackhawks and Eagles in the regular season as they turn their attention to the district tournaments, looking to bring home the first of possibly multiple trophies. I'd be shocked if these three weren't district champions this weekend, but high school basketball is a weird game, especially come tournament time.
- Plentywood locked up the District 2C regular-season title with a statement win over Froid-Medicine Lake over the weekend, giving the Wildcats a sweep of the Redhawks and the top seed at the district tournament. Plentywood's only two losses this season came to District 3C's Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale, which has established itself as one of the state's best girls teams. Keep an eye on Plentywood, it'll likely be making a deep postseason run yet again.