Round 2 of Montana’s high school divisional basketball tournaments got started as early as 11 a.m. on Wednesday.
Both Class AA divisional tournaments for boys and girls are this weekend. Can the Billings West teams continue to tear through the Eastern AA? Missoula Hellgate’s boys are again unbeaten. Can the Knights turn that into a divisional title? The Western AA girls is the only Class AA conference that doesn’t feature an unbeaten regular-season champion.
The Southern B boys and girls tournaments get going with play-in games on Wednesday evening. Huntley Project’s boys come in red hot and having beaten every team on their schedule, including several at the divisional tournament. The girls bracket is loaded, but Big Timber stands out as the favorite with its perfect record. Can the young Sheepherders keep it rolling?
The Northern B girls divisional tournament takes place in Shelby this weekend to round out the Class B divisional tournaments. Harlem has to be among the favorites, but it’s a crowded field to navigate. Shelby and Fairfield put together strong years out of District 1B, while Malta has been playing well of late.
The final Class C divisional tournaments take place this weekend, as the Southern C boys and girls tournaments are already under way in Miles City. The Melstone boys were stunned in the District 4C tournament two weeks ago. Can the Broncs find their way back to the state tournament? Melstone’s girls are the only remaining unbeaten Class C girls team after Fort Benton and Charlo fell at their respective divisional tournaments last week.
With the final state tournament spots up for grabs, here’s what I’ll be watching during the last of the high school divisional basketball tournaments.
The Billings West boys cruised through the Eastern AA regular season with a perfect record in conference play. The Golden Bears were tested during the season, though, and it isn’t a foregone conclusion they’ll be crowned divisional champions. Great Falls High and Billings Skyview will likely be the two teams capable of challenging West, and those two will meet in the semifinals if they both win first-round games on Thursday. West will have the advantage of not playing on Thursday with a bye to the semifinal round.
Missoula Hellgate has run roughshod over the competition in the Western AA this season. The Knights have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in Class AA. Is Missoula Sentinel the team to challenge Hellgate? The Spartans have a bevy of talented juniors, but they just haven't been able to keep pace with Hellgate during the regular season. Helena Capital had a strong season, too, but the Bruins didn't show during the regular season that they could hang with Hellgate.
There’s quite a field of teams at this weekend’s Southern B divisional tournament in Billings, headlined by Huntley Project, Three Forks and Lodge Grass. Project has been among the hottest Class B teams to close the regular season and cruised to the District 4B title. Project split with Lodge Grass and beat Three Forks back in December. Three Forks will have its hands full in the opening round against Colstrip, which played Project tough toward the end of the regular season. This should be one thrilling divisional tournament.
Broadus shocked Melstone in the semifinals of the District 4C tournament two weeks ago, handing the Broncs their first loss of the season, but the Broncs still finished third to advance to the Southern C divisional for a first-round game against Bridger, District 6C’s No. 2 seed. Shayden Cooke scored on a difficult lay-up just before the horn sounded to help the Broncs to a 70-69 win over the Scouts in Wednesday's first round.
Broadus, meanwhile, will face Reed Point-Rapelje in the final game of the first round Wednesday.
Billings West's girls matched the boys with an undefeated regular season in Eastern AA play. West appears to be the one dominant team in the conference, while the Western AA has much more parity. West's top contender will likely be Great Falls CMR, which has played well down the stretch behind Allie Olsen. The Rustlers will need Olsen to continue her dominant ways if they are to have a chance at taking down Billings West.
Helena Capital was the best team in the Western AA throughout most of the season, but Missoula Hellgate got the better of the Bruins once toward the end of the regular season. Hellgate, though, would wind up falling to Missoula Sentinel to cost itself a shot at the top seed at the Western AA divisional tournament. Hellgate and Sentinel will likely meet in the semifinals with a chance to potentially face Capital in the title game. There doesn’t appear to be much separating the top three teams in the division, but Capital should have the benefit of an easier path.
This could be one of the weekend’s toughest tournaments to predict. Outside of unbeaten Big Timber, the teams at this weekend’s divisional tournament spent the better part of the year beating up on each other. Columbus and Forsyth are set to square off in one of Thursday’s first-round games. Columbus won the District 4B tournament, while Forsyth was the regular-season champion in District 3B but lost to Colstrip in the title game. The winner of Columbus/Forsyth will likely meet Big Timber in the semifinals. Colstrip and Roundup could potentially meet in the other semifinal in what could be one of the most competitive tournaments all weekend.
Should things hold to form, Friday night at the Northern B divisional tournament will have a pair of fantastic semifinal games. Harlem and Shelby are paired on one side of the bracket, while Fairfield and Malta are on the other. We’ve seen plenty of epic games in the Fairfield-Malta rivalry and I get the feeling we could see another if they meet. Harlem has had its eye on the state tournament all season, but Shelby has put together a nice season and split its regular-season meetings with Harlem’s top challenger in District 2B, Malta.
Melstone’s girls are suddenly the lone unbeaten team remaining in Class C, as Fort Benton and Charlo fell at the Northern C and Western C divisional tournaments, respectively, last week and will miss out on the state tournament. The Broncs are the favorites at the Southern C divisional tournament in Miles City and their top competition will likely come from within District 4C. Ekalaka took the Broncs to the brink in the district title game two weeks ago. Ekalaka will need to navigate through Bridger and likely District 6C champion Plenty Coups for a chance to return to the state tournament, as the Bulldogs are two-time defending Southern C champs.