Thursday will be a long day at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman. The boys and girls combined State B basketball tournament tips off at 9 a.m. Eight games later, the first-round of the tournament will reach its conclusion.
Just because it’s a long day, though, doesn’t mean it won’t be an awesome day. There are lots of great players and teams at the tournament, so there should be some entertaining games. The first highly anticipated game is the girls’ matchup between Forsyth and Malta at 10:30 a.m.
The Dogies (22-1) won the Southern B divisional championship, while the M-ettes (22-1) suffered their first loss of the season in the Northern B championship against Fairfield.
“I think both of us play kind of the same style,” said Malta coach Nate Hammond. “It might be kind of fun to watch. I definitely think they’re a good team. I think they’re very well coached, too. We’ll have our hands full for sure.”
Fairfield coach Dustin Gordon pointed to the Malta-Forsyth game as the best first-round game on paper, as well. But his Eagles, 23-0 and winners of 101 consecutive games, have a challenging draw themselves when they play Manhattan (21-3) at 3:30 p.m.
Brooke Jones (5-foot-10 guard/forward), Tessa Miller (6-0 post) and Sophia Wass (6-0 post) provide the Tigers with the size that most teams can’t match.
Deer Lodge (22-1) and Columbus (17-8) begin Thursday’s action in the 9 a.m. game. The Wardens finished fourth at the state tournament last season, returned the bulk of their roster and have been ranked in the top three all season.
Missoula Loyola (13-10) and Shepherd (16-7) play the final girls game on Thursday. The two teams, both of which feature young rosters, play at 5 p.m.
On the boys’ side, Bigfork begins the tournament as the favorite to hoist the championship hardware. The Vikings (23-0) are the only undefeated team on the bracket and have impressive wins over Class A state champion Columbia Falls on their resume.
Christian Evans, a 6-7 senior, leads the way for Bigfork with 16.6 points and 9 rebounds per game.
Bigfork plays in the first boys’ game against Joliet at noon. The J-Hawks are the fourth seed out of the South after an impressive showing at the divisional tournament where they beat Forsyth in the first round and played eventual champion Huntley Project to a close game.
Brock Beede was an absolute beast during the divisional tournament, dominating the paint. He was a points and rebounds double-double machine all weekend, and even had one by halftime of the semifinal game against Huntley Project.
The Red Devils, who started slow in every game at the divisional tournament, were good enough after the first quarter in each game to win the Southern B title. From seniors Michael Harris and Tanner Oblender to underclassmen Yancey Fitch (junior) and Michael Jobman (sophomore), the Red Devils have had different players step up at key moments all season long.
Huntley Project (19-4) plays Malta (18-6), the second seed out of the North, in a first-round game at 1:30 p.m. in what figures to be a closely contested matchup. The two teams player a similar style of basketball – emphasizing their guard play – and rely on some younger athletes.
The Mustangs have won the past two State B titles, but standout guard Kendall Denham graduated, so there are some new faces running the show for coach David Costin. Zach Handley is a familiar name, though, and he’s kind of the engine that makes the Mustangs go.
In the evening games, it’s Glasgow (20-3) versus Jefferson (21-3) at 6:30 p.m. and Columbus (18-5) versus Florence (13-10) at 8 p.m.
The Scotties didn’t suffer their first Class B loss until the district championship when Malta beat them. They turned around and won the divisional title, though.
Chase Fossum, a 6-5 junior, gives Glasgow an interior presence that can affect the game in all three phases: offense, defense and rebounding. Coach Norm Braaten has a balanced squad, though, that could easily have a different leading scorer in each game at the tournament. Lane Herbert, Jason Thibault, Jake Page, Jake Kolstad and Keil Krumwiede are all capable scorers.
Jefferson came back to finish third at the divisional tournament after losing to Columbus in the semifinal round. Trase LeTexier is a really solid interior player, and the Panthers got good play out of Scotty Ferguson and Sam Fletcher last weekend.
In the nightcap, Columbus wraps up a long day for coach Paul Barta, who also coaches the girls team. The Cougars’ matchup with Florence figures to be a deliberate, low-scoring game, as both teams are comfortable playing games in the 40s.
For Florence, it’s a balanced offensive attack with three players (Ryan Mangun, Brad Schaff and Levi Clagett) averaging between 9.4 and 10.5 points per game.
It’s a similar story for the undersized Cougars, who, like Glasgow, could have a different leading scorer in every game. Philip Holten, Kade Osborne, Tanner Osborne and Trey Ostrum are solid, consistent scorers.
It’s a long, wire-to-wire day for coach Barta, one he probably won’t mind if his teams come out of the day with two wins. Either way, it will be a fun day – and weekend – for die-hard Class B basketball fans in Bozeman.