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What I'll be watching: Contenders already looking to separate

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Posted at 8:11 PM, Jan 14, 2021

The 2021 Montana high school basketball schedule has been filled with plenty of intrigue, and last week saw some eye-opening results.

This week surely will, too, but it's hard to pinpoint which games might be the best on the schedule. The Eastern AA has a light schedule, and so do a number of the Class B and C districts, and it seems more and more teams are playing on Tuesdays and Thursdays due to the coronavirus pandemic and a shortage of available officials. In fact, many of the week's best games -- on paper, at least -- have already been played, including Tuesday's crosstown girls game in Great Falls and Wednesday's Hardin-Lodge Grass rivalry game at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.

But we're here to peer ahead and try to identify some of the biggest games on the schedule, and we aim to look specifically at Friday and Saturday so folks can get their NFHS Network feed up and running to watch the state's most impactful games. Let's dive in.

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

Boys

Class AA

  • It’s a light schedule in the Eastern AA with all eight teams playing only one game each this week, but there figures to be a good one in Billings on Friday when Skyview hosts West for a rivalry matchup between two 1-1 teams. Both the Falcons and Bears enter Friday’s game with lopsided wins over Bozeman Gallatin and narrow losses to Bozeman High.
  • Missoula Sentinel has looked the part of contender through the early goings of the season, and the Spartans have an opportunity to further bolster their resume this week against the Helena schools. Capital, especially, should be a good measuring-stick game for Sentinel, as the well-coached Bruins are consistently one of the top teams in the Western AA.

Class A

  • Frenchtown has put out plenty of highlights in its three wins to start the season, but the 3-0 Broncs have an opportunity to show their substance in the coming weeks. That starts Thursday with a game at Polson and continues Saturday with a home game against Ronan. Both Polson and Ronan are also undefeated to start the season.
  • Glendive is out to a 3-0 start with an eight-point win over Lewistown and blowout wins over Sidney and Wolf Point. The Red Devils will look to get to 4-0 against Miles City on Friday before hosting Billings Central for a big game on Saturday. The Rams are 4-0 and look like one of the favorites in Class A.

Class B

  • Two of the Northern B’s best meet up in Malta on Saturday. The Mustangs, who are 2-0, will likely contend for the District 2B championship. They’ll face District 1B favorite Shelby, which has been nothing short of dominant to start the season. The Coyotes are 4-0, including a 12-point win over Class A Browning and an 18-point win over conference rival Fairfield.
  • Four teams in District 4B currently have .500-or-better records: Huntley Project (4-1), Shepherd (2-1), Columbus (2-1) and Red Lodge (2-1). Shepherd and Columbus both have big weeks ahead that could shake up the standings. They play each other in Shepherd on Friday, then the Mustangs face rival Huntley Project on Saturday while Columbus hosts rival Red Lodge.

Class C

  • Froid-Medicine Lake got a big win last week when it edged by Fairview. The Redhawks could take another step toward claiming the District 2C title with a win at Richey-Lambert this week. The Fusion are 3-1, having lost to Fairview their last time on the court.
  • An early lead in the District 6C standings is on the line Friday night when Bridger hosts Plenty Coups. The two teams are the lone unbeatens remaining in conference play and have their eyes set on deep postseason runs. It’s early, but Friday’s game could be a tone-setter for the rest of the season.

Girls

Class AA

  • The Eastern AA’s best game on the schedule this week was likely on Tuesday when Great Falls High outlasted CMR for a 49-38 crosstown win. This week features a number of crosstown games, including the first iteration of the new Bozeman High-Gallatin rivalry on Thursday and Skyview-West on Saturday.
  • Missoula Sentinel and Helena Capital figure to be in the mix in the upper half of the Western AA all season, but both have already suffered early losses — Sentinel a 49-42 setback to Helena High and Capital a 52-50 nail-biter against Missoula Hellgate. The Spartans and Bruins meet Saturday in Missoula for a game that could end up having postseason seeding implications.

Class A

  • It’s a big weekend for the Laurel girls, who are undefeated to start the season with wins over Miles City and two Wyoming schools. The Locomotives have two big conference games on Friday and Saturday, facing Billings Central at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark on Friday and then traveling to Hardin on Saturday. The Rams and Bulldogs are both undefeated thus far, too.
  • The Northwestern A will get some clarity at the top of its standings this week. Browning, Columbia Falls and Whitefish are all off to quick starts, but one or more will suffer its first loss of the season this week. Whitefish is at Columbia Falls on Thursday and Columbia Falls is at Browning on Saturday. Browning also hosts Havre on Thursday, which is always a fun non-conference matchup.

Class B

  • The District 1B rivalry between Choteau and Fairfield has provided plenty of storylines over the years, and the two are slated to meet up again on Saturday. Fairfield, under first-year coach Travis Schenk, is 3-0 with lopsided wins over Shelby, Rocky Boy and Conrad and could really start to distance itself in the conference standings with a win over the Bulldogs.
  • The Red Lodge girls have gotten out to a 3-0 start, including two conference wins to sit tied with Roundup atop the District 4B standings. Both conference wins came against winless opponents, but the Rams could take a step in proving their place as a conference contender this week. They host Joliet on Thursday and travel to Columbus on Saturday.

Class C

  • Fort Benton’s girls are among the best in Class C, but it’s still a big week for the Longhorns. They host Roy-Winifred on Thursday in a highly anticipated matchup of two teams with state championship aspirations (Fort Benton won 44-35 thanks to a 16-4 run in the third quarter). Then on Friday they’re at Turner, which might be the Longhorns’ stiffest competition in District 9C.
  • Though nobody has played more than four games and only three conference games have been played in District 2C, four teams — Circle, Froid-Medicine Lake, Richey-Lambert and Plentywood — have seemingly already risen to the top of the league. We should get further clarity this weekend as Richey-Lambert hosts Froid-Medicine Lake on Friday and Circle hosts Plentywood on Saturday.