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What I'll be watching: Divisional tournament madness

Posted at 12:39 PM, Feb 28, 2020

Divisional basketball tournaments began as early as Wednesday around Montana, as the high school basketball postseason heats up.

The Eastern A has had one dominant boys team, but who can fill out the other three spots to the state tournament? The girls tournament should be much more wide open, as the top three teams in the state – Hardin, Billings Central and Havre – are all in Friday’s semifinal round. Which boys team will hoist the Western A first-place trophy? What the heck is going on at the Western A girls divisional tournament? Top teams fell in the first round, setting up a wild weekend finish.

The Class B divisional tournaments are light this weekend, with only the Northern B boys and Western B boys and girls taking place. There’s a big-time game in Malta at the Northern B on Friday night, as two of the state’s best meet in the semis. Deer Lodge has appeared to be the best team in the Western B this year, but there are familiar faces in the semifinals that will test the Wardens. Will the Missoula Loyola girls be able to enter the state tournament with an unblemished record?

The only Class C divisional tournaments not taking place this weekend are the Southern C boys and girls in Miles City. Two rivals meet yet again in the Eastern C boys title game, while two of Class C’s best girls teams are on a collision course to meet in the championship.

Fort Benton is the overwhelming favorite at the Northern C boys divisional tournament, but the Longhorns will likely get all they can handle in Friday’s semifinal. The Northern C girls bracket is absolutely loaded, and Friday night’s semifinal will pit two of Class C’s best head to head.

Friday night in Frenchtown at the Western C boys divisional tournament should be quite the show. Two of the state’s premier teams will duke it out for a spot in the title game. Charlo’s girls entered the Western C divisional tournament without a loss, but the Vikings don’t have an easy path to maintaining their spotless record.

That and more highlight what I’ll be watching across the state’s divisional basketball tournaments.

Boys

Eastern A

  • Hardin is still the top dog in the Eastern A, at least for now. The Bulldogs have a matchup with Livingston in Friday night’s semifinals. Hardin beat Livingston twice this year, but the first victory came on a buzzer beater. With Hardin the favorite, the question is who will be the other three teams to clinch berths to the state tournament? Friday’s semifinals feature all four teams from the Southeast A, while the Northeast A’s top seed, Miles City, lost out on Friday morning. It seems that the Southeast A could push all four of its teams to the state tournament.

Western A

  • Throughout the regular season, we talked extensively about how strong the Southwest A was. One of its top teams, Hamilton, didn’t survive the first round, though. The other two, Frenchtown and Butte Central, will meet in Friday’s semifinal with a berth to the state tournament on the line. Frenchtown enters as one of the hottest teams in Class A, but don’t count out Browning, which will play Whitefish. Browning won the Northwest A regular-season title and beat Whitefish twice during the regular season.

Northern B

  • Harlem’s loss in the district title game to Wolf Point made the Wildcats’ path to the state tournament slightly more difficult. Harlem meets District 1B champ Fairfield in Friday’s semifinal, which features the top two teams in the Northern B throughout the regular season. One team will punch a ticket to the State B tournament, while the other will have to fight back through the consolation bracket to claim the Northern B’s third and final spot. Both Fairfield and Harlem can fill it up, so don’t be surprised if this is one of the weekend’s highest-scoring games.

Western B

  • Deer Lodge entered the Western B divisional tournament as one of the favorites after putting together a 13-win regular season, but there are some familiar faces joining the Wardens in Friday’s semifinal round. Arlee, which is in its first year of Class B basketball since moving up from Class C, Bigfork, the two-time defending State B champion, and Missoula Loyola, the 2019 runner-up. Deer Lodge will need to beat teams with serious postseason experience to earn a berth at the State B tournament.

Eastern C

  • Scobey and Fairview have controlled the Eastern C for the past few years. Saturday night will mark the third consecutive meeting between in the Eastern C title game between the two squads. Scobey has gotten the better of Fairview over the past three seasons, including winning two divisional titles and a State C third-place trophy at Fairview’s expense. The Warriors’ only loss this season came to Scobey way back in December. These two should put on a thrilling show on Saturday night, as both teams have state championship aspirations.

Northern C

  • Fort Benton was the one dominant team in the Northern C during the regular season, but the Longhorns will have their hands full in Friday night’s semifinal round against Belt. Belt had arguably the second-best regular season in the Northern C and absolutely thumped Sunburst in the opening round of the divisional tournament. Fort Benton hasn’t really been tested much this year, save for the District 9C title game against Chinook. How will the Longhorns respond if this game goes down to the wire?

Western C

  • Manhattan Christian and Arlee have kept some very good Twin Bridges teams home from the state tournament in recent years, but now the Falcons have a chance to return the favor. Twin Bridges and Manhattan Christian will meet in one of Friday’s semifinals. Manhattan Christian has yet to lose to a Class C school this season, while Twin Bridges is still perfect. This may be one of the best games of the entire weekend, not just the Western C tournament.

Girls

Eastern A

  • The top three teams in Class A girls basketball are all in Friday’s semifinals at the Eastern A divisional tournament. Hardin will likely make its way to the championship game, but Billings Central and Havre will have to battle for the other berth in the title game. Havre lost at Billings Central back on Dec. 14 59-46. Havre, though, is the two-time defending State A champion, even though it didn’t win the Eastern A divisional tournament last season. Friday night should be a fun one to watch at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.

Western A

  • There were upsets galore in the opening round of the Western A girls divisional tournament. Northwest A’s top two seeds, Columbia Falls and Browning, each lost in the opening round, as did Dillon, which closed the year struggling. Hamilton’s girls are the only team that finished in the top two in either conference to make it to the semifinals. Three teams out of the Southwest A are in the semis, with regular-season champ Dillon the lone exception. With the top teams going down early, it’s setting up to be a wild weekend in Ronan.

Western B

  • Missoula Loyola is the headliner at the Western B girls divisional tournament. The Breakers are one of two Class B teams yet to lose. Loyola will get Florence in Friday’s semifinals, a team they beat twice during the regular season. Should Loyola get to the title game, it will need to beat the winner of Thompson Falls and Bigfork to maintain its unbeaten record. Thompson Falls and Bigfork could be one of the better games at the Western B divisional tournament.

Eastern C

  • Two teams stole the show out in the Eastern C all season long, as Scobey and Westby-Grenora each racked up 17-1 regular season record before claiming district titles last week. Should both the Spartans and Thunder win semifinal matchpus on Friday, they’ll meet in the championship game for the third time this season. The two teams split their prior meetings, with the road team winning both times.

Northern C

  • There are three teams in the Northern C that are capable of being at the State C tournament, but only two teams will make it. Fort Benton is still unbeaten, while Belt and Roy-Winifred have only suffered losses to each other. Fort Benton and Belt are set to square off in Friday night’s semifinals in one of the most anticipated matchups of the weekend. The loser of this game will have to hope things go right to have a chance to still make the State C tournament.

Western C

  • Charlo is keeping its hopes of an undefeated season alive, but just barely. Charlo advanced to Friday’s semifinals with a two-point win over Manhattan Christian in the first round, but the Vikings have another difficult task ahead when they take on Seeley-Swan in the semifinals. Should Charlo win, they could potentially get West Yellowstone, which has been on a tear since losing to Manhattan Christian in the regular season.