There was plenty of movement in the conference standings after a chaotic hoops weekend, and the final weekend of January could present more shuffling around.
No team can lock up a regular-season conference title this weekend, but a loss could knock several out of the running. The Bozeman boys will be in must-win mode after a pair of eye-opening losses in Great Falls last weekend, while Hamilton’s and Park City’s boys and Malta’s and Hardin’s girls are in the same boat.
- Bozeman needs to rebound after a pair of losses in Great Falls last weekend, but the Hawks welcome another challenge on Thursday night when Billings West comes to town. Last weekend’s losses put Bozeman two games back of Great Falls High in the Eastern AA and has the Hawks on the brink of falling out of the regular-season conference title race. Billings West is a game ahead of Bozeman, so this is an opportunity for the Hawks to move back up the standings.
- Great Falls High vaulted to the No. 2 spot in the Class AA coaches poll after throttling Bozeman last weekend, but the Bison must prevent a letdown this weekend. GFH hosts 2-7 Butte, which is still winless in conference play. The Bulldogs lost by 13 to Great Falls High the first time around and will look to bring the Bison back to the rest of the pack in the Eastern AA.
- Billings West suffered its first setback last weekend in stunning fashion to Butte, dropping the Golden Bears from the top of the Eastern AA. West hosts Bozeman on Thursday night looking for separation from the Hawks in the standings. West will need to win and continue winning to have a shot at catching Butte, which has yet to lose in conference play.
- Helena High stands as the only unbeaten team in Class AA, boys or girls. The Bengals make the long trip to Kalispell this weekend, where they will take on Glacier, which is still unbeaten in conference play, on Saturday. The Bengals look primed for a run at a third consecutive state title and can extend their lead in the Western AA with a win against the Wolfpack.
- Billings Central is unbeaten against Class A teams, with its lone loss coming against Class AA Billings Skyview. The Rams can avenge that earlier loss on Saturday night at home against the Falcons. Billings Central has been red hot all season, whereas Skyview has battled inconsistency. Both teams are looking to end their non-conference schedules on a high note and build momentum heading into the season’s final weeks.
- Butte Central can put itself on the cusp of the Southwestern A regular-season conference title on Saturday night, but the Maroons will face 2018 third-place finisher Hamilton. The Maroons won the first meeting between the two by holding the Broncs to a season-low 50 points. Hamilton’s conference title hopes would be alive and well with a win at home, but the Broncs must take down the undefeated Maroons to make that a reality.
- 2018 runner-up Hardin needs a win at rival Laurel on Friday night, or its hopes of the Eastern A conference title will be all but gone. The Bulldogs can bring the conference-leading Locomotives back to the pack with a road win. However, Laurel has yet to lose to a Class A team this year. Laurel won in Hardin by nine in December and will look to duplicate that to stay alone atop the Eastern A.
- Two of the top teams in the Western A meet on Saturday, as Columbia Falls travels to Corvallis. Columbia Falls is coming off its first loss of the season, an overtime thriller against Northwestern A foe Browning, and is looking to get back in the win column. But Corvallis sits atop the Southwestern A and wants to establish itself as a contender in Class A. A win over the perennial contender Wildkats would be a step in that direction.
- The Western B’s top two teams do battle on Saturday night, as Missoula Loyola travels to Bigfork. Both the Vikings and Rams have unbeaten records in conference play and have 10-plus wins – the only two teams in the Western B with either. Bigfork won the season’s first meeting by five in Missoula, but Loyola is looking to establish a new hierarchy out west. A third meeting likely looms ahead at the Western B divisional tournament, too.
- District 3B’s top spot is on the line on Saturday night when undefeated Colstrip travels to Lodge Grass. Lodge Grass’s only loss in conference play came at Colstrip in late December, while the Colts are the top-ranked team in the initial MontanaSports.com power rankings. A win by Colstrip would all but wrap up the regular-season conference title, but Lodge Grass can tie the Colts at the top with a win at home.
- Wolf Point and Malta meet on Thursday evening with plenty at stake in District 2B. Wolf Point and Harlem sit atop the conference, but Malta can turn the Wolves’ season upside down. Wolf Point hasn’t been nearly as dominant this season as anticipated, including a two-point win at Malta in late December. Wolf Point must win to keep pace with Harlem, while Malta needs a win to keep any hope of a conference title alive.
- An inter-class matchup pits Class A No. 2 Browning against Class B Shelby, which received votes in the initial MontanaSports.com power rankings, on Friday in Browning. This game is more about which team can build momentum from a strong win heading into the season’s close. Browning is coming off a huge win over Columbia Falls that vaulted it to the top of the Northwestern A. Shelby has won five of its past six games, including a win over No. 4 Harlem and an early-season win over Browning.
- District 2C will finally see a little separation at the top of the standings this weekend when two of the top four teams meet up. Fairview hosts Richey-Lambert on Friday night looking to keep its hold on top of the conference. The Fusion, however, are trying to assert themselves as a force in the Eastern C, and a win over perennial power Fairview would be the first step.
- Bridger and Park City occupy the second and third spots in District 6C and meet in Park City on Friday night. The Panthers had high expectations after a run to the State C tournament in 2018 but find themselves battling their rival for the conference’s second seed. Plenty Coups sits atop the conference but narrowly beat Park City earlier this season. With Melstone being the team to beat in the Southern C, the second spot at the state tournament could come down to Park City, Bridger and Plenty Coups.
- The two representatives of the Eastern C at the 2018 State C tournament meet on Friday night, as No. 3 Froid-Medicine Lake travels to Plentywood. Plentywood is looking up at the Red Hawks in the District 2C standings, but a win would vault them right back into the conference title mix. Froid-Medicine Lake has yet to lose this season after a third-place finish at the state tournament last year and will look to prove its status as one of Class C’s best.
- Roy-Winifred has to go through the District 8C gauntlet this weekend, playing the conference’s top two teams. On Friday, the Outlaws travel to Belt, which needed overtime to beat Roy-Winifred earlier this year. The Outlaws then host Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap on Saturday, and the Titans already beat Roy-Winifred, too. A pair of wins could send Roy-Winifred back into the conference title discussion, but a loss would likely dash those hopes.