Regular-season conference title pictures across the state are coming into focus, as several teams moved one step closer to clinching in a weather-altered weekend of high school basketball.
The Eastern AA boys race, however, is not one of those that has gained much clarity. The defending co-champions put a beating on one of the conference's top teams to shake things up as the stretch run awaits.
Old Man Winter struck down a highly anticipated game that could have decided the Western AA girls race. This game has been rescheduled, though, so it's only a matter of time before the race clears.
Dillon's boys continue to rack up wins, as the Beavers are the only unbeaten team in Class A. The top team in the Eastern A also cruised to victory this weekend.
Year after year, the Eastern A has some top-tier girls basketball teams. And it's the usual culprits, as Havre announced its status among the state's elite teams on Saturday. Columbia Falls is the top team in the Western A, but the Wildkats had a tough game over the weekend and a nail-biter on Tuesday night.
Boy, is the Southern B boys tournament shaping up to be fun. Huntley Project has stumbled twice in its past three games, most recently to the District 3B leader on Tuesday night.
The District 7B girls race could come down to a tie-breaker scenario. Eureka wasn't able to clinch the conference title, as the Lions fell in dramatic fashion. Roundup's girls have two losses this year, but they've now beaten every team on their schedule this year.
Scobey and Froid-Medicine Lake have delivered two tremendous basketball games out in the Eastern C. The defending co-champion Spartans survived the Redhawks again on Tuesday night, but it looks like these two are on a collision course to meet again for a divisional title. Bridger's boys remain unbeaten in District 6C, but the Scouts' margin of victory is declining as the season continues.
Fort Benton's girls have passed every test on their schedule so far. The Longhorns were able to wrap up a regular-season title in District 9C over the weekend. Jeff Bellach's successful run with the Manhattan Christian boys has transferred well to the girls program in Churchill, as the Eagles took down a top conference foe and a Class B team over the weekend.
Some of the state's best teams had impressive showings over the weekend, as that and more highlight what caught my eye.
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- For now, Great Falls High is in the driver's seat of the Eastern AA, as the Bison are the only team with one loss in conference play. Billings Skyview, though, has everything left in front of it still. The Falcons put a beatdown on Bozeman, 53-25, to avenge an earlier loss and pull even with the Hawks. Skyview still has a matchup with Great Falls High looming that will likely determine the regular-season conference champion.
- Class A's only perfect team keeps on winning. This time, Dillon took down defending co-champion Butte Central to keep a zero in the loss column. While the Beavers are looking like a lock for a regular-season title in the Southwestern A, there are some talented teams in the division that could make things tough in the postseason. Polson and Frenchtown have proven tough throughout the year, but the Beavers own head-to-head wins over each. A second win over Frenchtown would solidify Dillon's status as Class A's best.
- Laurel leads the Southeast A, thanks in large part to a victory earlier this year over Billings Central. The Locomotives continued to roll this past weekend, as they routed visiting Sidney. Laurel has struggled at times to shoot the ball this year, which could hurt it when games tighten up in the postseason.
- Huntley Project has seen its ups and downs this year. The Red Devils knocked off Lodge Grass, though without Damon Gros Ventre, on Feb. 2. The next seven days were a bit tumultuous, though. Project fell to District 4B foe Columbus last Thursday in overtime on the road for their first conference loss in nearly two full years. The Red Devils were again beat in overtime on Tuesday night, this time by District 3B-leading Colstrip, 55-53. Colstrip, Lodge Grass, Huntley Project, Columbus and District 5B leader Manhattan look like the top teams in the Southern B, but only three of those can advance to the state tournament.
- Defending co-champion Fairfield is starting to hit its stride. The Eagles knocked off Rocky Boy and Conrad last week, letting it be known that the Northern B is likely going to go through Fairfield and District 1B rival Shelby. The Eagles have a huge test upcoming on Saturday, though.
- If Scobey and Froid-Medicine Lake are playing for a State C title in March, I won't be the least bit surprised. The Redhawks are really the only team to test Scobey this year and almost pulled out a victory on Tuesday night, falling 49-47 in overtime at home to the defending co-champion Spartans. A meeting in the Eastern C divisional title game will likely preclude any state tournament meeting, though. Froid-Medicine Lake did, however, pick up a 47-44 win over Class B Malta over the weekend, only solidifying its status among the best teams in northeast Montana regardless of class.
- Bridger beat Park City last Tuesday and Broadview-Lavina on Friday to keep its unbeaten record intact in District 6C, but the results were a far cry from what they were in the beginning of the season. After beating Park City by 39 points in the first meeting, the Scouts won by just seven at home. They also beat Broadview-Lavina by 33 back on Jan. 8, but Friday's meeting was a one-possession ball game until early in the fourth quarter. Is this a case of Bridger falling back to the pack, or is District 6C deeper than just the Scouts?
- The Western AA race didn't get any clearer this weekend. Unbeaten Missoula Hellgate's bout with defending co-champion Helena Capital was postponed due to inclement weather. Several games that were postponed this weekend have make-up dates, including the Knights and Bruins, which announced Wednesday that their game will be played on Feb. 16. All eyes in Class AA will be on that Tuesday night game.
- Billings Central, Hardin and Havre, Sharpie those three teams in for the State A tournament seemingly every year. The Central girls seem to be the top team in the Eastern A, as the Rams have defeated both Hardin and Havre so far, though by fewer than five points. The Havre girls are improving as the year goes on, as evidenced by a 44-40 win in Hardin on Saturday. The question isn't whether these three will make the state tournament, it's who will be playing for the Eastern A title and who will have to settle for third place?
- Columbia Falls continues its impressive season, as the Wildkats beat one of the Western A's top competitors in Whitefish over the weekend to all but lock up the Northwestern A regular-season crown. Columbia Falls, though, nearly suffered a setback on Tuesday night in Bigfork. The Wildkats trailed late but rallied for a 56-51 win. Columbia Falls has been the top team in the Western A all season, but is the Western A's best good enough to beat one of the Eastern A's top three teams?
- Thompson Falls has vaulted to the top of the District 7B standings after a thrilling win over Eureka via buzzer beater. That win helps alleviate the pain from a Jan. 9 49-42 loss to Eureka. I still think the road in the Western B race goes through defending co-champion Missoula Loyola, which is beginning to hit its stride. Loyola beat Eureka back on Feb. 2, but teams from the Western B have been beating up on each other throughout the year.
- Roundup's girls have two losses, but they've beaten every team they've faced so far this season. A Friday night setback against District 4B foe Columbus hurt, but the Panthers bounced back to beat Malta at home on Saturday. The win over Malta is impressive, but Roundup is in a loaded division and will need to be at its best to get out of the division and into the state tournament.
- Just a few unbeaten teams remain in the Class C ranks. Fort Benton is one of those, as the Longhorns blasted Turner and beat Box Elder by 15 to wrap up the District 9C regular-season title. Fort Benton also has a win over Roy-Winifred and will face Havre on Thursday night. The Longhorns will be battle tested when the postseason rolls around, which can only help in the always-competitive Northern C.
- Whether he's coaching boys or girls, Jeff Bellach is a winner. He has the Manhattan Christian girls out to a perfect start, as the Eagles picked up a critical win over Ennis last weekend. Manhattan Christian added a win over Class B Jefferson, which has been hovering near the top of District 5B's standings. The Eagles are far from a lock from the state tournament, though, as the Western C boasts two more top-level teams in Charlo and Seeley-Swan.