For the Sidney boys basketball team, weekends don’t get much bigger than this one. The Eagles – picked second in the preseason coaches poll – host Laurel and Billings Central on Friday and Saturday.
The Locomotives and Rams have dominated the Eastern A over the last four years. They’re the only two teams to qualify for the state tournament in that span. Laurel hasn’t lost a conference game since Feb. 14 of 2009, coincidentally a 59-56 overtime loss at Sidney, a feat the Eagles are ready to repeat.
“We know that getting the No. 1 seed going into divisionals is going to be huge,” Sidney senior forward Ryan Sullivan said. “To get the one-seed we have to take care of business at home. The last time (Laurel) lost in conference was my freshman year in Sidney. Hopefully we can do it again (Friday) night.”
In order to beat the Locos (5-2 overall, 3-0 conference), the Eagles (4-1, 1-0) will try to use their size advantage against coach Pat Hansen’s smaller Locomotive team. Hansen often fields a lineup of five players 6-foot or shorter.
“What they like to do is pick you up full court and force you into a corner of the backcourt,” explained Sullivan. “They will come up and trap, and we just have to take our time, see where the trap is coming and make ourselves available. When we do get it past half court, we can't let them dictate where we start our offense.”
The next night, Sidney plays host to Billings Central (4-4, 2-1), a team built more similarly to the Eagles than the Locomotives. Senior Ryan Burke, an all-state performer last season, helps lead a balanced, athletic Rams team, which has won its last two games.
Burke can be a dangerous scorer for Central, and the court is opening up for him with the emergence of 6-7 junior Daniel Meyer down low. Sullivan said the Eagles will likely focus on slowing those two down on Saturday.
“The thing about Central is that they have as good of athletes as anyone in Class A,” Sullivan added. “Ryan Burke can hit from deep, and the Meyer kid is going to be tough to deal with down low. But other than Burke and maybe the other guard (Bobby Keil), we don't think they can shoot as consistently as Laurel. So we are going to play zone and maybe chase Burke and hope someone doesn't go off.”
If Sidney is going to end the Laurel-Central run this year, it probably starts this weekend. The Eagles have only played one Class A game so far – a 69-48 win over Miles City – so this weekend’s two conference games will serve as a measuring stick for the Eagles.
“Until we do knock one of those teams off, people have to think that those are the two teams to beat,” Sullivan said. “Hopefully these games serve as a measuring stick as to where we are and where we need to be…but we are definitely out to prove something this weekend.”
Here a few other games I’ll be trying to keep an eye on this weekend:
- Corvallis at Polson (Friday)
- Savage at Brockton (Friday)
- Kalispell Flathead at Great Falls CMR (Saturday)
- Helena Capital at Great Falls (Saturday)
- Butte Central at Corvallis (Saturday)
- Bozeman at Billings West (Friday)
- Glendive at Billings Central (Friday)
- Frenchtown at Stevensville (Friday)
- Columbus at Three Forks (Friday)
- Fairview at Circle (Friday)
- Park City at Harlowton-Ryegate (Saturday)