It’s hard to believe that the 2012 calendar year is almost over. The fall sports seasons flew by, so the winter sports now have our full attention. Some teams have already played a game or two, but the season really tips off this weekend.
As is the case every year, I’m making my championship predictions in early December. I posted the girls picks in the previous blog post. You can find those by clicking here.
I also released my preseason boys and girls basketball all-state teams earlier in the week.
The 2011-12 season ended with Billings West, Dillon, Malta, and Fairview winning the state championship trophies. For West, it was their first title after finishing second the previous three seasons.
Dillon and Columbia Falls met for the State A title for the second consecutive year. The Wildcats won the first meeting, but the Beavers earned a 54-39 win last year.
Malta and Manhattan played probably the most exciting boys championship game, with the Mustangs eking out the 67-62 win. Both teams will be good again this year, and some are already expecting a rematch in the state final.
And in Class C, Fairview beat St. Labre, Twin Bridges, and Highwood en route to its State C title. The Warriors potentially return four starters, and the Mountaineers only graduated two players, so both of those teams could be in the mix again.
Billings Skyview and Kalispell Glacier topped the preseason coaches polls and are “easy” choices for those honors. But after those two teams, the race is wide open in both conferences.
Billings West, Bozeman, and Great Falls CMR all have key players returning from last year’s squad, but West will have to find a way to replace Danny Robison and Brady Gustafson. Returning contributors Andrew Campbell and Stewart Harris will pick up some of the slack, but look for Ty Webb and Jared Samuelson to have solid seasons as well.
The Western AA appears to have four solid teams fighting for three state tournament berths behind Glacier. Helena High, Helena Capital, Missoula Big Sky, and Missoula Hellgate will be the mix, especially at the end of the year as they develop and gain experience.
But right now, this season is about Skyview and Glacier. The Wolfpack return three very good starters in Ryan Edwards, Kyle Griffith, and Evan Epperly. They won the Western AA last year.
Skyview is talented and experienced. Starters Daine Muller, Matt Fuhrman, and Kooper Kidgell are back. All three can really push the tempo on offense, attacking off the dribble and finishing at the rim.
State tournament teams:
Eastern AA - Billings Skyview, Billings West, Bozeman, Great Falls CMR
Western AA - Kalispell Glacier, Missoula Hellgate, Helena Capital, Helena High
Championship prediction: Kalispell Glacier 59, Billings West 52
When talking with coaches from across Montana, two Class A teams are consistently mentioned as state championship contenders: Billings Central and Stevensville. Both teams return a ton of talent off of last year’s teams.
Central will need to adjust to new head coach Jim Stergar, but the Rams have height and athleticism. Of course, Laurel stands in their way in the Eastern A, which should be more competitive this year with Glendive and Miles City trending upwards.
The Yellowjackets have three very talented players back this year in Jared Schultz, Zach Gavlak, and Jesse Sims. They’re expected to finish in the top two in the Southwestern A along with defending state champion Dillon. The Beavers need to figure out how to replace some key players who graduated, but coach Terry Thomas will have them playing good basketball by the end of the year.
In the Northwest, Columbia Falls gets tabbed as the preseason favorite almost by default. The Wildcats have been a model of consistency over the years and will be relying on new players to fill big roles. They’ll compete with Polson and Whitefish for the conference title.
The Central A is wide open this year. A case could be made for just about any of the five teams in the conference. Livingston returns standout post player Marcus Payne, but he’ll be starting alongside four new players.
State tournament teams:
Eastern A - Billings Central, Laurel
Central A - Livingston, Browning
Southwestern A - Dillon, Stevensville
Northwestern A - Columbia Falls, Polson
Championship prediction: Dillon 45, Billings Central 44
Across the state, Class B is probably the most competitive class again. Malta comes back with the majority of its state championship team, but the Mustangs will have their work cut out for them in the Northern B.
Wolf Point – with Mechiah Zilkoski and Easton Copenhaver leading the way – will definitely be a contender in District 2B, and Plentywood and Glasgow could be solid challengers by year’s end, too. In District 1B, Choteau and Rocky Boy look strong. Three teams from the North qualify for the state tournament.
The Southern B divisional tournament should be a good one again. It sends three teams to state this year, and Manhattan, Whitehall, Red Lodge, and Forsyth are the four expected to fight for those three spots. Keep an eye on Shepherd in District 4B, too.
Three teams – Bigfork, Florence, and Missoula Loyola – are garnering the early-season attention in western Montana. The Falcons placed third at last year’s state tournament and bring back every starter. Malta might be the only Class B team in Montana ranked ahead of them in the early polls.
State tournament teams:
Southern B - Manhattan, Red Lodge, Whitehall
Northern B - Malta, Wolf Point, Rocky Boy
Western B - Bigfork, Florence
Championship prediction: Florence 53, Malta 48
Class C is devoid of dominant big men this year (from what I can gather), but there are a ton of really good guards, as evidenced by my preseason all-state team.
After winning the State C title, Fairview could potentially return four starters this year. Tim Hurley graduated, but Brock Schriver, Cody Vitt, Justin Bieber, and Riley Reynolds are all back. Schriver (shoulder) and Vitt (ribs) are recovering from football injuries, but will be back at some point. Reynolds’ (knee) status for the season is up in the air.
The Warriors will struggle in the early going, but they should be one of the best teams in the Eastern C by the end of the year. They’ll have to contend with the likes of Westby-Grenora and Culbertson in District 2C all season long. Those three teams are probably tops in the entire division, too.
The North has three really solid teams, too, in Big Sandy, Highwood, and Roy-Winifred. The Pioneers and Mountaineers reached the state tournament last year and return the cores of their teams. Highwood is young (coach Aaron Skogen will play a lot of sophomores), but they’re experienced after playing a long season last year.
No clear-cut favorite has emerged in the South. It could be any of a number of teams, including Broadview-Lavina, Melstone, Plenty Coups, St. Labre, and Wibaux.
And in the West, Ennis got the nod in the preseason coaches poll in District 11/12C. The Mustangs are one of the few Class C teams with height (they have two 6-foot-4 players). Look for Charlo, Twin Bridges, and Victor to be contenders in western Montana, too.
State tournament teams:
Eastern C - Westby-Grenora, Culbertson
Southern C - Melstone, St. Labre
Western C - Ennis, Twin Bridges
Northern C - Roy-Winifred, Highwood
Championship prediction: Roy-Winifred 58, Westby-Grenora 52