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What I'll be watching: Conference leads up for grabs

Helena Capital GBB
Posted at 11:44 AM, Jan 16, 2020

We’re inching closer and closer to high school basketball district tournaments in Montana, as they loom just more than a month away.

Some huge games take place around the state this weekend. The Western AA boys race appears to have its front-runner, but who can take control of the No. 2 spot? Is Bozeman still the team to beat in the Eastern AA? Missoula Hellgate’s girls had an up-and-down week last week, but the Knights can turn things in the right direction this week.

The Southwestern A will again produce an outstanding boys matchup, as two state tournament-caliber teams meet. The top of the Northwestern A girls race is up for grabs in Columbia Falls, while Hamilton’s girls hope to remain unbeaten in conference play.

Two of District 1B’s best boys teams meet in Fairfield on Friday night, as the Eagles look to keep their momentum going. Harlem’s girls have made it clear they’re the team to beat in District 2B, but who is the conference’s second-best team? District 3B has been crowded to date, but that will change by Thursday evening.

There are a handful of good Class C boys games. Plenty Coups looks to keep its unbeaten start in conference play going. Two of the Northern C’s best go at it for conference supremacy, and Froid-Medicine Lake looks to put itself on the map against a perennial contender.

Class C girls basketball should see some tremendous games around the state, too. Two of the Western C’s best battle for the top spot in the conference, while Melstone’s girls look to remain unbeaten and atop District 4C. Belt and Roy-Winifred have looked like the strongest teams in the Northern C to date, but Augusta is climbing into the conversation of title contenders.

Here’s what I’ll have my eye on when high school teams hit the hardwood this weekend.

Boys

Class AA

  • Helena Capital got handed a decisive defeat by Missoula Hellgate last weekend, but the Bruins have an opportunity to stay in the top two of the Western AA. Capital hosts Missoula Sentinel on Saturday night in a big showdown for conference positioning. Sentinel was impressive in its non-conference slate and has looked the part of a conference title contender. A victory over Capital would go a long way in that direction, but the Bruins have their own championship aspirations.
  • Bozeman hasn’t gotten off to the same blistering start it did last season, but the Hawks have a chance to jump to the front of the Eastern AA. Bozeman plays Belgrade Friday and Billings Senior on Saturday, and a perfect weekend would have the Hawks at 3-0 in conference play. Senior’s boys have lost some close games to start the season and can flip the script with a win over Bozeman.

Class A

  • Not busy on Thursday night? Get down to Lodge Grass. Not only is it the inaugural Elvis Old Bull Day, but the Class B Indians will host Class A Hardin. Hardin has been on a mission since last year’s loss in the State A title game to Billings Central and is unbeaten to date. Lodge Grass has suffered just one loss – a 10-point defeat at the hands of Wyoming Indian down in Ethete, Wyo. Both the Bulldogs and Indians appear to be state championship contenders in their respective classes, and Thursday night’s game could be one of the highest-scoring games we see in the state this season.
  • Butte Central took control of the Southwestern A last week with a win over Dillon, and now the Beavers are looking to avoid a second conference loss in as many weekends. Dillon will host Hamilton on Saturday. Alongside Frenchtown, there look to be four state tournament-caliber teams in the Southwestern A. Hamilton and Dillon are battling for the conference’s No. 2 spot currently, and Saturday’s result will likely go a long way in determining the conference’s postseason picture.

Class B

  • District 1B rivals Choteau and Fairfield meet again on Friday night in Fairfield with conference supremacy on the line. Fairfield is the only team unbeaten in conference play so far, while Choteau has lost just one game, albeit a blowout loss to Shelby. Along with Rocky Boy, it appears that there are four solid basketball teams in the district. We’ll have some clarity by the end of the weekend on how the district is beginning to pan out, but a Fairfield win would keep the Eagles alone atop the conference.
  • For the second consecutive weekend, Huntley Project will have a test in non-conference play, as the Red Devils host Colstrip on Friday night. Colstrip isn’t quite the powerhouse it has been the past couple seasons, but the Colts are still off to an 8-1 start with their only loss coming to Lodge Grass, which throttled Huntley Project. This could be a precursor of what to expect from the Southern B divisional tournament in March.

Class C

  • Plenty Coups is unbeaten in District 6C play and has lost just once this season. The Warriors will put their record on the line at Bridger on Thursday night with a chance to open up a two-game lead in the District 6C standings. Plenty Coups has already beaten Bridger once, and it has wins over top conference contenders Park City and Harlowton-Ryegate, too. If Plenty Coups gets by Bridger, it’ll likely cruise to the 6C regular-season title.
  • Some around the Northern C thought Chinook may be down this season, but that hasn’t been the case. The Sugarbeeters are 7-1 and 5-0 in District 9C play, but they’ll have their toughest test of the season on Saturday when they host unbeaten Fort Benton. The Longhorns have looked to be one of the strongest teams in the Northern C this year and can prove that with a win at Chinook. The Sugarbeeters, though, may not be ready to give up their grasp on the conference.
  • We talked extensively early in the season about Fairview and Scobey out of the Eastern C, and for good reason. But there is another team on the rise out east, as Froid-Medicine Lake owns an 8-1 record. The Redhawks will travel to Fairview to face the Warriors on Friday night with the top spot in District 2C on the line. Fairview’s talented, senior-laden roster has lost just once this year, and that came to Scobey. Froid-Medicine Lake is led by sophomore Javonne Nesbit, who was a first-team all-conference selection last year as a freshman, and junior Colt Miller, who was an all-state pick last year. The Redhawks have something brewing.

Girls

Class AA

  • Missoula Hellgate rode a roller coaster last weekend with a victory over Helena High followed by a loss to Helena Capital. The Knights can keep themselves in the Western AA’s top three with a win at Kalispell Glacier on Friday night. Glacier is in need of a win, or the Wolfpack could be trending toward the bottom of the conference.
  • Billings West has had an up-and-down season, but the Golden Bears are off to a 1-0 start in Eastern AA play. West can improve upon that record and set itself up well for the stretch run with a win against Billings Senior on Friday. A Senior win would shake up the Eastern AA early.

Class A

  • The top of the Northwest A is up for grabs in Columbia Falls on Thursday night, as the Wildkats play host to Browning. Both teams are unbeaten in conference play so far and have looked superior to the rest of the conference. Both teams were at the state tournament last year and look to have strong chances at appearances again in March.
  • Not only is the Northwest A’s top spot on the line this weekend, the Southwest A’s is, too, as Dillon hosts Hamilton on Saturday. Dillon and Hamilton have separated themselves from the rest of the conference early. The winner of Round 1 will be in the driver’s seat for the regular-season title.

Class B

  • St. Labre’s girls have gotten off to an 8-1 start and will have a chance to sit alone atop District 3B if they can win against Colstrip on Thursday night. Colstrip owns the top spot in the conference currently and can put some distance between itself and the Braves with a win. The District 3B regular-season title race should have a fantastic finish.
  • Harlem’s girls have wins over both Glasgow and Wolf Point and are in control of District 2B, but who is going to grab the No. 2 spot? The Scotties visit Wolf Point on Saturday, but they’ll face off with rival Malta on Friday. We could be in store for a thriller between Malta and Glasgow.

Class C

  • The Hot Springs girls are unbeaten to start the year, but the Savage Heat will get a tough test on Friday night at Charlo, as the Vikings have also looked every bit the part of a Western C title contender. District 14C has two talented girls basketball teams that will likely see more of each other down the line.
  • Melstone has started the season off 8-0 and has beaten nearly every top District 4C challenger. Another test looms on Saturday, as the Broncs host Northern Cheyenne, which is off to a 4-1 start in conference play. Melstone has wins over both of the 2019 Southern C representatives at the state tournament and can add another impressive win to its already gaudy resume.
  • Belt and Roy-Winifred look like absolute powerhouses in the Northern C, but Augusta is a team to keep an eye on. The Elks are 7-1 and have started conference play unbeaten. Their biggest game of the year comes on Thursday, as the Elks visit Power, which sits No. 2 in the conference. Augusta can take a commanding lead in the District 10C standings with a win at the Pirates.