Every high school basketball team in Montana has officially opened its 2019-20 season after a flurry of action this past weekend.
We saw the first team of the year to crack the century mark on the scoreboard, two defending champions go down and a possible championship preview all in one weekend. And that's just on the boys side. Two boys teams have also emerged and asserted themselves early as title contenders.
Momentum seems to have carried over from last season for the Missoula Hellgate girls, while Billings Central handed the two-time defending Class A champion a decisive defeat. Some of the Southern B's best girls teams met at the Woodden Memorial Basketball Tournament in Red Lodge, which led to a few phenomenal games.
You surely haven't forgotten about the Belt girls, right? Belt won a pair of games against Class B opponents in blowout fashion to start the year, including defeating the defending State B champion. That could spell danger for the rest of Class C.
That and more highlight what caught my eye in another busy weekend on the hardwood.
- Missoula Sentinel got its campaign off to an impressive start, winning a pair of games in Billings. First, Sentinel beat Billings Senior in a track-meet style game by outscoring the Broncs and winning 82-78. The Spartans followed that up with a come-from-behind victory at Billings Skyview, where Sentinel outscored Skyview 17-1 to open the fourth quarter and pull away. The Spartans should prove to be one of the top challengers for the Western AA throne.
- Helena Capital should be in the hunt for the Western AA title, too. The Bruins throttled defending champion Bozeman in Bozeman on Saturday, 75-44, just days after Bozeman beat Helena High in overtime. The Bruins have a large chunk of their roster back from last year, and the firepower offensively is evident. With one of the more experienced rosters in the classification, Capital is primed for a big year.
- Defending Class A state champion Billings Central went down on the Rams’ opening weekend. Central traveled to Havre on Saturday, but the Blue Ponies handed the Rams a 66-59 defeat. We knew there would be an adjustment period for Billings Central after losing nine seniors and a foreign exchange student. The Rams will likely still battle for a berth at the State A tournament, but outside of Hardin the Eastern A appears to be wide open.
- Speaking of Hardin, the Bulldogs became the first team in Montana to crack the 100-point plateau in the 2019-20 season, as Hardin hung 102 on Poplar in a 91-point victory. Hardin is the favorite in Class A this year and offensive outbursts like this could become commonplace throughout the season. The Bulldogs should run roughshod through the Eastern A and put up astronomical numbers in doing so.
- Three Forks picked up an impressive win at the Imerys Classic by taking down Fairfield on Saturday. Three Forks made the State B tournament last year, but the Wolves lost a talented senior class. Micaiah Hauser is back to lead Three Forks this year, and the guard is capable of putting up points in a hurry. Keep an eye on the Wolves as the season progresses, as they could again be at the State B tournament in March.
- Huntley Project could be the team to beat in the Southern B, though. The Red Devils throttled Jefferson on Friday and then handed Three Forks a 16-point defeat on Saturday. Noah and Isaiah Bouchard and Tim Rose give the Red Devils three dangerous weapons that teams will struggle to contain all year. Huntley Project has made an early statement and looks to be a championship contender in Class B.
- Two championship contenders at the Class C level met in Fairview on Friday night, as the Warriors hosted Scobey. This was a rematch of last year’s Eastern C title game and State C consolation game, both of which Scobey won. Scobey got the better of Fairview on Friday night, too, as the Spartans hung on for a three-point win. These are two teams we’ll be watching and talking about throughout the season, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Fairview/Scobey State C title game in 2020.
- Twin Bridges has had the unfortunate luck of running into Arlee and Manhattan Christian in recent years in the Western C divisional tournament, but this could be the year the Falcons break through. Twin Bridges topped two Class B foes Anaconda and Big Timber over the weekend. The Falcons, led by senior guard Bryce Nye, will likely be a title contender come March.
- Missoula Hellgate’s girls are building on last year’s late-season run, and they started the 2019-20 season off strong with two wins in Billings. First, the Knights took down Billings Skyview in thrilling fashion, blocking a shot in the final moments to hold on for a two-point win. Hellgate then beat Billings West on Saturday with a strong defensive performance, holding West to just 36 points. Hellgate is young and talented. The Knights could be in contention this season and beyond.
- Helena Capital is likely viewed as one of the favorites for the Class AA girls title this year, and the Bruins started off the season in style. Capital traveled to Bozeman and handled the Hawks, 42-30. The Western AA should be quite competitive at the top this season, so keep a watch on the Bruins to see if they can separate themselves from the pack.
- Billings Central and its star-studded roster got its first big test of the season when two-time defending champion Havre came to town on Saturday. Billings Central wound up beating the Blue Ponies, 59-46, even on a night when Mya Hansen and Isabelle Erickson didn’t have the best offensive showings. That’s a testament to the depth and top-end talent of Central, as the Rams have more than a handful of players capable of pouring in double figures. Can anyone stop Billings Central this season?
- Forsyth had a big weekend at the seventh annual Woodden Memorial Basketball Tournament in Red Lodge. On Friday, Forsyth took down 2019 Southern B champion Columbus, 40-38, behind 25 points from 6-foot-6 junior Lindsey Hein in a rematch of that divisional title game. Saturday, the Dogies held on for a one-point win over Joliet, which defeated Colstrip on Friday. Forsyth has aspirations of another appearance at the State B tournament, and the Dogies proved this weekend that they’ll be a power in the Southern B again.
- Glasgow made the long journey south to join several Southern B teams at the Woodden Memorial Basketball Tournament, and the trip was well worth it for the Scotties. Friday night, Glasgow dominated Red Lodge for a 25-point win. Saturday, the Scotties were able to take down Columbus, 46-43. Glasgow narrowly missed the state tournament last year, but the Scotties already have a win over a 2019 state tournament team and will be a handful in the Northern B this year.
- Don’t you dare forget about Belt. Sure, the Huskies have missed back-to-back state tournaments, but they also played on Saturday night at the state tournament for 10 consecutive years up until that point. It seemed as if head coach Jeff Graham lit a fire under Belt this weekend, as the Huskies took down defending Malta by 44 points and then knocked off defending State B champion Wolf Point by 42. Two years absent feels like a lifetime for Belt fans after the Huskies’ run of success. That "drought" could come to an end this season.
- Ekalaka has won back-to-back Southern C divisional championships. The Bulldogs sent a message to the rest of the Southern C this weekend that they’ll likely be the favorite to do so again. Ekalaka defeated Bridger, last year’s third-place finisher in the Southern C, on Friday night before dominating Winnett-Grass Range on Saturday. The Bulldogs are the team to watch in the South, as the Bulldogs bring back three all-conference players and are looking for a third consecutive berth at the state tournament. Bridger could be the top challenger to Ekalaka later this season.