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What I'll be watching: Clarity coming in conference title races

Northern C boys: Chinook, Belt advance to Friday semifinals
Posted at 3:04 PM, Jan 21, 2021

There are just four full weekends left in the high school basketball regular season, as district tournaments are slated to begin as early as Feb. 15.

Schedules are jam-packed down the stretch as teams grind through a condensed season. There have been COVID cancellations around the state, but some teams have taken that as an opportunity to play stiff competition.

Billings Skyview appears to have a stranglehold on the Eastern AA boys race, but there's going to be quite the battle for the conference's second spot. There are a number of teams in contention, all with huge games this weekend.

Kalispell Glacier has a rivalry game this weekend that, if an upset occurs, could really shake up the Western AA.

There's a big Class A boys game on deck Saturday night that will likely shape the Northwestern A conference standings. Also, defending co-champion Hardin will look to snap a two-game losing skid.

The Columbia Falls girls withstood a test from Browning last week, but another challenge is ahead for the Wildkats. Are they the team to beat in the Western A? Hardin's girls have started off well in defense of their co-championship, but can the Bulldogs survive a road test in the Eastern A?

The Malta boys nearly upset Northern B favorite Shelby last weekend at home, falling 44-40. The Mustangs will take on a team more than capable of filling it up in what should be a tremendous game in District 2B.

Anaconda, the Western B's best, will get to see how it stacks up against one of the top teams in the Southern B on Saturday night. The Southern B has looked like the deepest division in Class B girls basketball this year, but the Copperheads already have knocked off defending co-champion Missoula Loyola.

After COVID caused games to be canceled for Scobey and Froid-Medicine Lake, two of the top Eastern C boys teams will meet on Thursday night. This is likely a precursor to future meetings this season between Spartans and Redhawks.

Melstone's girls look like the team to beat in the Southern C, but the Broncs will welcome in an Eastern C contender on Thursday night. Can Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale knock off the Broncs and prove its place as a legitimate threat out east?

That and more highlight what I'll be watching in another weekend filled with hoops.

Boys

Class AA

  • There are a number of teams in the Eastern AA that are looking up at Billings Skyview right now, but they have to handle the business in front of them. Bozeman High, Great Falls High, Bozeman Gallatin, Billings West and Billings Senior are all in action this weekend. Bozeman High will play Great Falls High, as will Gallatin. Billings Senior and Billings West face off on Thursday night. By the end of the weekend, there will be clarity to how the Eastern AA will shake out.

Class A

  • Hardin's boys lost two games last week, which equaled their total losses over the past two seasons. The Bulldogs are a much different team than the one that was crowned co-champions last March. Hardin will look to snap its losing skid against Miles City on Thursday night. The Bulldogs will travel to Livingston on Saturday.
  • Whitefish and Polson are slated to meet on Saturday night in Whitefish in a battle between two of the top teams in the Northwestern A. Polson has some big wins on its resume already this season, including a win last Thursday over Frenchtown. Whitefish has been a bit up and down, but the Bulldogs have a chance to get right back in the thick of the conference title hunt with a win at home.

Class B

  • There's no easy weekend in the Northern B. After narrowly falling to Shelby last weekend, Malta has another challenge ahead against Harlem. The Wildcats don't quite have the firepower they had last year, but RJ Ramone poured in 39 points last Thursday against Glasgow, so there's still some weapons in the cupboard for Harlem. This game will go a long way in determining how District 2B will shake out.
  • The Manhattan boys can play some basketball, too. The Class B state football champions look like a threat in the Southern B in basketball this season, but they'll get all they can handle from Class C rival Manhattan Christian on Friday. The Eagles have been a staple at the State C boys basketball tournament in recent years and have another talented team led by former Livingston head coach Layne Glaus. It's a cross-class game, but it's a litmus test of sorts for the Tigers.

Class C

  • Scobey and Froid-Medicine Lake are giving Eastern C fans a present a bit early this year. Not slated to meet until Feb. 7, the two schools have scheduled a game for Thursday night after both sides were affected by COVID cancellations. The defending co-champion Spartans are the favorites in the Eastern C, but Froid-Medicine Lake might be the only team in the state that can match Scobey's talent level. Don't be surprised if these two meet again in the Eastern C title game in just over a month.
  • The top two teams in District 9C and two of the best in the Northern C are set to battle on Saturday night for conference supremacy when Fort Benton visits Chinook. Fort Benton had a somewhat surprising loss to Roy-Winifred last week, while Chinook has been putting points up in a hurry. Both of these teams will likely be competing for the Northern C divisional title later this year, but Saturday's winner will have the inside track to the District 9C regular-season title.

Girls

Class AA

  • Helena Capital and Kalispell Glacier are staring up at Missoula Hellgate in the Western AA standings after both suffered narrow defeats to the Knights. The Wolfpack have a rivalry game slated for this weekend and a loss could really shake up the conference standings. Glacier will take on Kalispell Flathead, which has struggled in 2021. Capital, meanwhile, was set to face Helena High, but that game has been shelved due to COVID-19.

Class A

  • Columbia Falls has a chance this weekend to stake its claim as the team to beat in the Western A. Having already dispatched of Browning, the Wildkats will host Hamilton on Saturday in a non-conference game. Hamilton has been exceptional early on in the Southwestern A. A win by the Broncs could mean there's a strong level of parity across the top teams in the Western A.
  • Defending co-champion Hardin continues to cruise along. The Bulldogs have yet to lose in 2021 but will get a test on the road at Livingston on Saturday. Livingston pushed Billings Central early on this season and could be a pesky team for the Eastern A heavyweights come tournament time. Do the Rangers have what it takes to pull off an upset?

Class B

  • Anaconda is out to an unbeaten start and has an impressive win over defending co-champion Missoula Loyola, but the Copperheads hit the road this weekend to take on Whitehall, one of the better teams in the Southern B. Whitehall has losses to Big Timber and Loyola, but the Trojans should be in contention in an extremely deep Southern B field. Going on the road and knocking off a team that played on Saturday at the divisional tournament would be another notch on the belt for Anaconda.
  • Roundup and Forsyth delivered a thrilling game last week, as the Panthers exacted a little revenge on the defending co-champion Dogies who eliminated them from last year's Southern B tournament. The two teams will meet again in Forsyth this weekend. Roundup struggled to score when it wasn't hitting 3s against Forsyth at home. If that's the case again, the Dogies could split the season series with the Panthers yet again. Something tells me they'll both be at the Southern B divisional tournament, though.

Class C

  • Melstone has been extremely impressive in the early portion of the season, as the Broncs have walloped their conference foes. Melstone will welcome in one of the top teams in the Eastern C on Thursday night, though, as Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale makes its way to town. The Mavericks should be in contention for both district and divisional titles this season out east. If Melstone wants to be considered one of the state's premier teams, it needs to win games at home against good competition.
  • Defending co-champions Belt and Roy-Winifred meet up on Friday night in a highly anticipated Northern C showdown. The Huskies are a vastly different team than last year, while Roy-Winifred has a good chunk of its roster back, save for Dyuani Boyce who is at MSU Billings. This is likely not the last you'll hear from either of these Northern C powers.