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What I'll be watching: Several defending co-champions face big tests

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Posted at 6:17 PM, Feb 11, 2021

There are several defending co-state champions with monster games on the docket this weekend, as postseason basketball is right around the corner.

Cancellations, though, have begun to arise once again, as winter weather across the state has made travel difficult. While these games are working to be rescheduled, it could affect how the conference standings shake out.

Bozeman High's boys will get a chance to even the all-time series with its newest rival on Thursday night. The Hawks will need a win to keep pace with the top of the Eastern AA. A big-time battle in the Western AA slated to take place this weekend has been put on the back burner as the snow and frigid air continue to linger.

The Eastern AA looks like a two-horse race as we hit the stretch run of the season. The defending co-champion Billings West girls, though, can all but lock up the regular-season title with a season sweep of their crosstown rival on Friday night. Unbeaten Missoula Hellgate will have a stiff test on Saturday, at least for now. Hellgate's Thursday game at Kalispell Flathead has already been canceled.

The unbeaten Dillon boys can all but lock up the Southwestern A regular-season crown on Thursday night, but the Beavers will need to beat one of the conference's best teams in the process. Havre is in control of the Northeast A and can move one step closer to locking up the regular-season title on Saturday night, though a loss would bring the Blue Ponies back to the pack.

Hardin will be the sight of the biggest Class A girls game of the weekend, as the two defending co-champions will renew their rivalry with a Southeastern A regular-season title at stake. Butte Central's girls put their lead atop the Southwestern A on the line on Saturday night, too.

First Interstate Arena at MetraPark will have all Class B boys eyes on it this weekend, as the two defending co-champions are slated to meet in a neutral-site non-conference game. The Bigfork boys have been surging of late and have a chance to jump to the top of the District 7B standings on Saturday night.

The Southern B girls divisional tournament is going to be loaded with teams capable of making a deep run at the state tournament. Defending co-champion Forsyth is one of those. The Dogies have a monumental task ahead of them on Thursday against one of the division's best, though. Missoula Loyola, the other defending co-champion, has a chance Saturday to avenge its only conference loss of the year and leap to the top of the standings in the process.

Manhattan Christian has dominated District 12C this season, but the Eagles have a massive game on Friday night. A win would clinch a regular-season crown for Christian. Melstone's reign atop District 4C isn't over just yet. The Broncs have a chance to jump right back on top of the conference standings if they can pull off the season sweep one of the conference's best.

A rare Class A vs. Class C battle is set to take place on Thursday night, though weather in the surrounding area is expected to be brutal. If you're making the trip to Havre to watch two of the state's best girls teams play, do so safely. A little farther east, two of the top three teams in District 2C meet on Thursday night as Froid-Medicine Lake looks to keep its unbeaten record in conference play alive.

It's a sprint to the finish line, as numerous big games highlight a busy weekend slate.

Reminder: Scores, stats and record-breaking performances can be submitted to sports@ktvh.com.

Boys

Class AA

  • Bozeman High finds itself within striking distance of Eastern AA leader Great Falls High, but the Hawks would be on top of the conference if not for an early season loss to rival Bozeman Gallatin back on Jan. 14, 62-60. Bozeman can make right on that and even the series with its newest rival on Thursday night. The Hawks will need to win to keep pace with the Bison atop the conference standings, while Gallatin is pushing to get in the top four of the Eastern AA.
  • Missoula Sentinel was scheduled to play Helena Capital this weekend, but the weather has put an end to that. The unbeaten Spartans beat the Bruins back on Jan. 8, 67-59, and were looking for the season sweep to move them even closer to the Western AA regular-season title. Here's to hoping the two sides can reschedule this meeting.

Class A

  • Dillon has been the top team in an impressive Western A field this year, and the Beavers are on the cusp of clinching the Southwestern A regular-season title. Thursday night, though, is the biggest game of the year for Dillon, as the Beavers host visiting Frenchtown. Frenchtown fell at home to Dillon on Jan. 30, 57-49, but has a chance to vault itself right back into the conference title hunt with an upset on the road. With a two-game lead in the loss column on Frenchtown, this may be the last chance the rest of the Southwestern A has to catch the Beavers.
  • Havre has been impressive in the Northeast A and can essentially lock up the regular-season crown on Saturday night against Lewistown. These two played the season opener against each other, with Havre winning 54-37. The Blue Ponies have a conference loss to Glendive, which is third in the conference. Should Lewistown top Havre this weekend, it's a three-team race for the regular-season title up north.

Class B

  • Fairfield and Lodge Grass were slated to play for a State B title last year until the cancellation of the state tournament. The Eagles and Indians are going to play a rare neutral-site non-conference game on Saturday night in Billings, though, as two of the state's premier teams look to make a statement to the rest of the state. Fairfield once again looks like a force in the Northern B, while Lodge Grass is the team to beat in the Southern B. Something tells me we could see these teams playing at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in March, too.
  • Bigfork's boys have ripped off six consecutive wins and now find themselves with a chance to take over the top spot in District 7B. The Vikings will need to avenge a loss from earlier this season in order to do so, though, as they'll visit conference leader Thompson Falls on Saturday night. Thompson Falls won the first meeting on Jan. 12, 81-75, and can move even closer to clinching the conference title if its able to sweep Bigfork.

Class C

  • Can anyone in the Western C slow down Manhattan Christian? It turns out the best test may come within the Eagles' own conference, as Harrison-Willow Creek has a chance to bring the Eagles back to the pack a little bit in District 12C. Manhattan Christian, though, dominated Harrison-Wlilow Creek in the first matchup of the year, winning 79-48 at home. The Eagles can keep their perfect record intact with a season sweep of the Wildcats.
  • District 4C has three teams jockeying for the regular-season conference title, but Melstone is in the driver's seat for now. The Broncs can clinch the regular-season crown on Friday night at home by completing a season sweep of Broadus. Melstone won in Broadus on Jan. 9, 59-43, and have seven consecutive wins since a loss to Terry on Jan. 15. Broadus, though, can win the regular-season crown by sweeping a weekend series with the Broncs and Terry. Terry will need a Melstone loss to Broadus and a victory over the Hawks to come out atop the conference. It's shaping up to be an entertaining weekend in southeastern Montana.

Girls

Class AA

  • Billings West and Billings Skyview have separated themselves in the Eastern AA as the top two teams. The Golden Bears and Falcons will meet for a second time on Friday night, as Skyview has a chance to even the season series after falling earlier this year, 47-44. Will the defending co-champions continue their supremacy atop the conference, or are the Falcons ready to usurp the Bears?
  • Missoula Hellgate's girls were slated to make the trip to Kalispell Flathead Thursday night but that's been canceled due to weather. For now, Saturday's matchup with Kalispell Glacier is still on. Glacier has had its ups and downs this year, but the Wolfpack could flip the conference on its head with an upset victory this weekend.

Class A

  • Defending co-champions Billings Central and Hardin have been as impressive as any defending champions around the state this year. The Rams hold the advantage over Hardin this year after winning 54-50 on Jan. 29. The Bulldogs, though, have a chance to hand Central its first loss of the year at home on Friday night. The Eastern A is likely going to be a three-team battle at the divisional tournament between Hardin, Central and Havre, but the Southeastern A regular-season title is on the line for the Rams this weekend.
  • Butte Central's girls are leading the Southwestern A and can move closer to the regular-season crown on Saturday night in Corvallis. It begins a stretch of three consecutive road games for the Maroons, who have been on a roll since losing to Frenchtown earlier this year.

Class B

  • Defending co-champion Forsyth has a big opportunity on Thursday night. Though it's battle with Big Timber is a non-conference game, these have been two of the best in the Southern B over the past two years, and the Sheepherders are still unbeaten. While this won't affect conference standings, this could be a sign of what to expect when the Southern B divisional tournament kicks off in a few short weeks.
  • Missoula Loyola is the other defending co-champion in Class B and the Breakers are heating up at the right time. Loyola has a chance to avenge its only conference loss and jump to the top of District 6B if it can knock off Anaconda on Saturday. Anaconda defeated Loyola 58-50 on Jan. 9.

Class C

  • Unbeaten Fort Benton has its biggest test of the year on Thursday night, as the Longhorns travel to Class A powerhouse Havre. This is a great barometer for how Class C's best can stack up with one of Class A's best in a rare, late-season, non-conference, cross-class battle. Be careful making the trip to Havre, though, as the weather up north is rather treacherous this weekend.
  • Froid-Medicine Lake is still unbeaten in District 2C play, but the Redhawks put the record on the line on Thursday night when they host Westby-Grenora. The Thunder have lost just once in conference play this year and have a chance to make the conference a true three-team race with Plentywood, though the Wildcats have beaten the Thunder twice this year. Froid-Medicine Lake also beat Westby-Grenora back on Jan. 26, 31-25.