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What I'll be watching: Conference play starts as holiday break looms

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Posted at 5:22 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 23:46:56-05

Just one weekend remains before Montana’s high school basketball teams hit the holiday break.

Teams across the state begin conference play this weekend, save for Class AA, which won’t ramp up conference play until the calendar turns to 2020. What a slate this weekend has, too.

Games get going as early as Thursday evening, as a huge Southwestern A boys showdown takes place in Dillon. Then Friday evening it’s a rematch of the 2018 and 2019 Class A title games. The top Eastern A girls teams will continue their gauntlet to start the season, as well.

Two of the best teams in District 1B will battle it out on the boys side on Friday night, while two of the winningest girls basketball coaches in recent memory meet for a cross-class game.

Two of the best girls teams in the Northern C meet in what could be a divisional tournament preview, and two of District 2C’s best will duke it out for an early leg up in the standings. While the season is young, every conference game is of importance.

That and more highlight what I’ll have my eye on in the final high school hoops weekend of 2019.

Reminder: Scores, stats, record-breaking performances and story ideas can be emailed to sports@ktvh.com.

Boys

Class AA

  • Helena Capital makes the trip to Billings on Friday and will face Billings West in the Golden Dome. Billings West was last season’s third-place finisher, but the Bears have plenty of new faces this year. Capital brings back a ton of pieces from last year’s team and looked like a legitimate contender in its opening weekend. Capital could prove that legitimacy with a win on the road over West this weekend. West is looking to rebound from a loss to Missoula Hellgate last weekend.
  • Missoula Sentinel was impressive in its opening weekend of the season, and the Spartans are again back on the road. They’ll face Great Falls CMR on Thursday evening. CMR split its opening weekend against the two Kalispell schools. Missoula Sentinel should contend in the loaded Western AA, but how good can CMR be?

Class A

  • It’s a rematch of the past two State A title games on Friday night, as Billings Central travels to Hardin to face the Bulldogs. Hardin won the first title-game matchup in 2018, but Central won last year’s to even the score. Hardin is coming off a 102-point outburst against Poplar, and it could certainly light the scoreboard up against the Rams. Central has had an overhaul of its roster from last season and was beaten by Havre last weekend. Hardin will look to make a statement that the Eastern A goes through the Bulldogs.
  • Frenchtown is the site of Thursday’s biggest Class A game, as the Broncs host the Dillon Beavers. Frenchtown was a state tournament team last season while Dillon was not. The Beavers, though, should contend for the Western A this season right alongside Frenchtown. Thursday’s game will give the winner an upper hand in the standings before the calendar flips.

Class B

  • Rocky Boy and Shelby were two of the Northern B’s three state tournament representatives last season and both should be well-equipped for another run at a divisional title. They’ll meet in Shelby on Saturday night in the biggest game in District 1B. Shelby still isn’t at full strength with Tanner Parsons sidelined, but the Coyotes and Northern Stars will likely deliver a tremendous game.
  • Two teams in District 5B looking to take a step this season are Manhattan and Jefferson, who finished at the bottom of the conference last season. On Friday night, Manhattan will visit the Panthers. Experience is on the side of both teams after returning multiple players from last season. Moving up in the district starts with a win Friday night.

Class C

  • Rivals meet up in Twin Bridges on Saturday night when the Ennis boys visit the Falcons. Twin Bridges should be among Class C’s best teams with four all-conference players back. Ennis has an all-conference selection of its own back this year and will look for new names to contribute. I’m looking at Twin Bridges this season to see if it can stay motivated when steamrolling lesser opponents.
  • District 6C rivals Bridger and Plenty Coups will square off in Pryor on Saturday evening with a chance to pick up a much-needed head-to-head victory early on. Bridger has a young roster, but it will get plenty of experience throughout the season with just one senior. Plenty Coups brings back all-conference selection Clarence Stewart and will likely be in the hunt for a district title in February.

Girls

Class AA

  • The Bozeman girls got off to an 0-2 start after falling to Helena High and Helena Capital to start the season, but those are the heavyweights of the Western AA. The Hawks will visit Kalispell Glacier on Friday night, which also opened 0-2. Glacier is looking to build off last year’s state tournament berth, while Bozeman is getting comfortable with new faces in its rotation. These could be two teams battling for spots at the state tournament in their respective divisions later in the year.
  • Billings West stumbled at home last weekend to Missoula Hellgate, and the road doesn’t get any easier for the Golden Bears. West travels to Helena Friday to take on one of the Western AA’s best teams, Helena Capital. Capital can add an impressive early season victory to its resume as the Bruins look to stake their claim as one of Class AA’s true title contenders.

Class A

  • The Southeast A and Northeast A are going to beat up on each other throughout the season. Just one week after hosting two-time defending state champion Havre, the Billings Central girls travel to Hardin to face the Bulldogs, who have finished runner-up each of the past three seasons. Central made a statement with an early win against the Blue Ponies, but how will it follow up that performance on the road at another of the Eastern A’s best?
  • Havre is making another long road trip. Last week it was to Billings, this week the Blue Ponies go to Glendive, where they’ll take on the Red Devils. Glendive will be in contention for the fourth and final Eastern A spot at the state tournament, but how close are they to competing for the top spot in the division?

Class B

  • Belt’s Jeff Graham and Fairfield’s Dustin Gordon have two of the winningest basketball programs of the decade, and the two will face off Saturday night in Fairfield. It’s a cross-class game, and it’s one basketball fans shouldn’t miss. The two teams should be in contention for district, divisional and possibly even state titles in 2020.
  • Joliet was impressive at the Woodden Memorial Basketball Tournament in Red Lodge to open the year, but the J-Hawks turn their attention to District 4B foe Huntley Project on Friday night. Huntley Project will likely be in contention for the district title later this season, while Joliet proved it is no slouch, either. Friday’s winner will have the upper hand early on.

Class C

  • I mentioned Belt playing a big game on Saturday night, but the Huskies host Roy-Winifred on Friday night in an even bigger matchup. The Outlaws were last year’s runner-up and should contend for the state title again behind Dyauni Boyce and Madeline Heggem. If Belt is to reign supreme over the Northern C once again, it will have to go through Roy-Winifred to do so.
  • As will be the case most weekends this season, a big matchup looms out in the Eastern C, where Plentywood will visit Westby-Grenora on Friday night. Both Plentywood and Westby-Grenora were at the Eastern C divisional tournament last year but were left home from the State C tournament. The District 2C nemeses have a chance to separate themselves from the pack early.