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What I'll be watching: Regular season coming to a close

Posted: 3:33 PM, Feb 13, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-13 20:27:36-05
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This is the final week of the high school basketball regular season for Classes B and C, while Classes AA and A will push on.

There are still several conferences yet to be locked up and teams are still jockeying for postseason positioning.

Billings West has been the top dog in the Eastern AA all season, but the Golden Bears will host one of the hottest teams in the state this weekend. Missoula Hellgate has controlled the Western AA, but the conference’s No. 2 spot is up for grabs with the season winding down. Missoula Sentinel’s girls still have conference title aspirations and can shake up the Western AA this weekend, as can Kalispell Glacier.

There’s never an off night for the boys teams in the Southwest A, as Hamilton will have its hands full trying to maintain pace with Butte Central and Frenchtown. The Hamilton girls, however, are trying to overtake the Southwest A leader on their home floor. We’ll also see two of the top girls teams in the state square off in a late non-conference game.

One conference title is up for grabs on the Class B boys courts this weekend, as Deer Lodge is looking to overtake the recent power in District 6B. Two of the top teams in the Southern B will do action in a possible preview of the divisional tournament and expect a ton of points from two prolific offenses in a cross-class matchup. Big games litter the girls slate, as the District 7B lead is up for grabs, rivals meet in District 2B with big postseason implications and non-conference foes meet in Roundup in what could be a preview of postseason action.

Twin Bridges is looking to complete a perfect regular season, but the Falcons will face the only Class C team to play them within single digits this season. The District 8C regular-season crown is on the line in Belt on Friday night, and Fort Benton looks to lock up its conference title and perfect regular season. There are three unbeaten teams on the girls side in Class C, and all can close the regular season 18-0 with victories this weekend.

That and more highlight what I’ll be watching on a jam-packed weekend of basketball.

Boys

Class AA

  • Billings West has been cruising atop the Eastern AA, sitting at 12-1 overall and 7-0 in conference. The Golden Bears will host one of the hottest teams in the state on Thursday night, Billings Skyview. The Falcons have won seven consecutive games and haven’t lost since Jan. 11 to Bozeman. West is two games clear of Skyview and Great Falls High, but the Falcons can inch closer with a win.
  • Missoula Hellgate is running away with the Western AA, but there’s quite the battle for the conference’s second spot. Helena Capital and Missoula Sentinel are deadlocked at 7-2 in conference play apiece, but Capital holds the advantage after winning Jan. 18’s meeting 72-59 in Helena. The two sides meet again in Missoula on Saturday in what will likely decide the Western AA’s No. 2 seed at the divisional tournament.

Class A

  • The top of the Southwest A is as competitive as it gets, as three teams are within half a game of each other. Hamilton is in third among those teams and the Broncs host fifth-place Dillon on Saturday night. Dillon has underachieved this season, but don’t count the Beavers out. They’ve been competitive in a number of games. Hamilton needs to win in order to keep its regular-season title hopes alive.
  • The Eastern A divisional tournament is shaping up to be quite interesting. Hardin has established itself as the one dominant team, but outside of the Bulldogs there hasn’t been a firm No. 2. Laurel, which is 0-5 in the Southeast A, takes on Miles City, which is leading the Northeast A. This should provide a barometer for these two teams with the divisional tournament approaching.

Class B

  • Deer Lodge will be the site of the biggest game in District 6B this weekend, as the Wardens host Missoula Loyola. Deer Lodge holds a half-game lead over Loyola in the conference standings and can seal the regular-season title with a win over the Rams. Loyola has been king of the conference of late, but Saturday could be the changing of the guard, at least for now.
  • Three Forks and Columbus have been two of the top boys teams in the Southern B so far, combining for a record of 24-7. The Wolves will visit the Cougars on Saturday night in what could be a preview of a divisional tournament matchup. Three Forks leads District 5B while Columbus is second in District 4B. How do the two conferences stack up?
  • Last time Lodge Grass and Hardin met, the two teams combined for 204 points. There could be more of the same in Hardin on Thursday night when the Bulldogs host the Indians. Lodge Grass and Hardin have been among the top teams in their respective classifications all season long and will likely be playing late in the postseason. With the future of the rivalry tentatively up in the air, don’t miss a chance to catch what should be another fantastic Lodge Grass-Hardin game.

Class C

  • Twin Bridges has been rolling teams this season en route to a 16-0 record. The Falcons have won 14 of their past 15 games by at least 25 points. The only exception? A Feb. 4 meeting with Harrison-Willow Creek that Twin Bridges won 52-48. The District 12C title is on the line, as the Wildcats could supplant the Falcons with a victory by a wide enough margin.
  • The District 8C regular-season crown is on the line in Belt on Friday night, as the Huskies will host Denton-Geyser-Stanford. DGS won the first meeting between the two teams back on Jan. 17 by two to hand Belt its first loss of the season. If the Bearcats can top Belt again, they’ll just need to beat Centerville Saturday night to seal the regular-season title.
  • Fort Benton’s boys are looking to finish the regular season a perfect 18-0, too. The Longhorns will host Chinook on Saturday night with the District 9C regular-season title up for grabs. Fort Benton has been dominant over its conference opponents this season, including a 71-39 beatdown of the Sugarbeeters in Chinook on Jan. 18.

Girls

Class AA

  • Missoula Sentinel’s girls have their biggest weekend of the season ahead. The Spartans will first visit Helena High on Thursday night, as the Bengals are looking to build off their win over Missoula Hellgate. The Spartans then take on Western AA-leading Helena Capital on Saturday at home. Sentinel needs to find a way to at least split the weekend games to solidify its position in the postseason. A win over Capital would throw the Western AA into a blender, as there could potentially be three teams with two losses.
  • Missoula Hellgate is one of those teams currently with two losses and the Knights will host fourth-place Kalispell Glacier on Thursday night. Glacier has a chance to make some noise down the stretch of the regular season, and the Wolfpack can start that with a win in Missoula. Hellgate, though, is still hoping things fall its way for a crack at the Western AA regular-season title.

Class A

  • Dillon has breezed through its conference schedule, racking up a perfect 8-0 record in Southwest A play. Hamilton is 7-1, but Hamilton’s lone loss came to Dillon. The two meet in Hamilton on Saturday night, as the Beavers look to clinch the regular-season title. The Beavers won the previous meeting by 11 and have stifled opponents offensively all year long. If Hamilton can find a way to pull one out, it’ll have a shot at overtaking Dillon.
  • Two-time defending state champion Havre has quietly put together a 14-1 record this season with its lone loss coming to Billings Central in December. The Blue Ponies will host one of the Western A’s strongest teams on Friday night in Browning. Browning was at last year’s State A tournament and has put together a 12-2 record with a perfect 7-0 record in conference play. This is a showcase of two of Class A’s top girls teams.

Class B

  • Forsyth and Roundup have been two of the better teams in the entirety of the Southern B division. Forsyth leads District 3B and Roundup is second in District 4B. The two meet Thursday night in Roundup for their second matchup this season. The Panthers won the first meeting in Forsyth, 30-27, back on Jan. 16. Roundup will be without senior Meghan Eiselein for the remainder of the year with a knee injury, but the Panthers have played a significant portion of their schedule without her already. These two teams will likely be at the Southern B divisional tournament.
  • Harlem has a hold on District 2B, but Malta and Glasgow are lingering. The Scotties and M-Ettes will play in Malta on Friday night with the winner grabbing second place behind Harlem. Glasgow trounced Malta in their previous meeting on Jan. 17, winning 56-40. Since that game, Malta has wins over Harlem and Shelby. These two teams will likely be in the hunt at the Northern B divisional tournament.
  • Out west there’s a battle for the top of District 7B. Bigfork leads the conference, but Thompson Falls is hot on the heels of the Valkyries. Thompson Falls will visit Bigfork on Saturday night. The Bluehawks won the first meeting between the two back on Jan. 16, 52-42. Thompson Falls’ two losses to Eureka, though, have also left the door open for the Lions to find themselves as conference champions. There’s a lot on the line in Bigfork this weekend.

Class C

  • Charlo is one of three unbeaten Class C girls teams, and the Vikings are looking to finish off the season by clinching the regular-season title. One-loss Hot Springs will host Charlo on Saturday night. The Savage Heat’s only loss this year came to Charlo back on Jan. 17, 43-40. Two of the top teams in District 14C have proven to be two of the top teams in the Western C. Don’t be surprised if both teams find their way to the state tournament.
  • Fort Benton is another of the Class C girls unbeatens, and the Longhorns are looking to finish the season 18-0 with games against Chester-Joplin-Inverness and Chinook, middle-of-the-pack teams in District 9C. Fort Benton has been especially dominant all season long, but the Northern C girls divisional tournament is shaping up to be a dandy. Between Fort Benton, Belt and Roy-Winifred, there is some serious firepower at the top.
  • Melstone is the final Class C girls team chasing a perfect 18-0 regular season. The Broncs have handily beaten the top challengers in District 4C on their way to a 16-0 record. Melstone will host Custer-Hysham and travel to Broadus in search of two more victories ahead of the district tournament. Behind super sophomore Draya Wacker and a strong supporting cast, Melstone has its sights set on its first state tournament bid in more than 40 years.