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In the Class B and C levels - especially Class C - teams usually hit their conference schedule earlier in the year than AA and A teams. So December games carry more weight for the smaller schools than they do for the bigger schools.

District tournaments level the playing field if a team has to play a portion of the season without a key player or two, but teams can establish the groundwork for a solid conference season with wins in December.

Earlier in the week, I looked at some of the things that caught my eye from the AA and A results and standings. The B and C version follows (Note: Records are based off of conference standings submitted to The Gazette during the winter break. Note Two: If you notice a trend in Montana prep sports you want to me to look into or an idea for a blog post, feel free to email me at ckimmel@billingsgazette.com.):

B Boys Basketball

- In the preseason, I mentioned Columbus as a state tournament team. The Cougars stumbled out of the gate and are now 2-4 overall and 1-1 in District 4B.

Columbus’ struggles have allowed Shepherd and Red Lodge to assume the top spots in the conference. Both the Mustangs and Rams are 4-1 overall, but three of Shepherd’s wins were conference contests. The Mustangs have quality wins over Columbus and Forsyth, while their only loss was a season-opening defeat to undefeated Manhattan.

The Mustangs play Red Lodge on Saturday in a battle for the conference’s top spot in this early season.

C Boys Basketball

- Most teams in the Northern C were five or six games into their seasons by the time the winter break started. Amazingly, through those first three weekends, not a single team from the Northern C is undefeated at this point.

Seven teams from the division have only suffered one loss, and a couple more sit at 4-2, but no teams have really established themselves as the teams to beat in their respective conferences.

In District 7C, Denton, Hobson, Roy-Winifred, and Stanford-Geyser all have overall records that are .500 or better. Highwood and Centerville are both 5-1 overall in District 8C.

Big Sandy is the one Northern C team that looks like it is ready to establish control in its conference. The Pioneers are 5-1 overall and 2-0 in District 9C. No other team in the league has an overall record better than 3-3.

And in District 10C, it’s a three-team race for the top seed for the district championship (a little early to call, I know, but…). Dutton-Brady, Chester-Joplin-Inverness, and Heart Butte have identical records at 4-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play.

- In the preseason, there was talk that the Eastern C – specifically District 2C – would be one of the most competitive leagues in Class C. Things are shaping up that way with five 2C teams posting 4-3 records or better. Culbertson is the lone “unbeaten” in conference play with a 4-0 record to go with its 5-2 overall record. The Cowboys did lose to Fairview, but that game counted as a non-conference contest.

B Girls Basketball

- The expectation heading into the 2011-12 class B girls basketball season was for Malta and Fairfield to storm through the Northern Division again. Neither team is disappointing so far in the early portion of the schedule, but the level of dominance is eye-popping.

Fairfield is 6-0 overall and 2-0 in District 1B. The second-best overall record in the conference belongs to Choteau at 4-2. The Eagles beat the Bulldogs by 39 points on Dec. 15. They beat Conrad by 30, and beat Class A opponents Browning and Lewistown by a combined scored of 143-74.

Malta hasn’t been quite as dominant as Fairfield, but owns a perfect record just the same. In their last four games – after a slow start by their standards – the M’Ettes outscored their opponents by an average of nearly 44 points per game.

Will either team lose before they meet up at the divisional tournament?

C Girls Basketball

- After last season saw three teams qualify for the State C girls basketball tournament with undefeated records (and I believe five undefeated teams reached the divisional rounds), this season doesn’t look to have as many purely dominant teams.

Fairview, Harlowton-Ryegate, and Winnett-Grass Range are each off to perfect starts again, though, even after losing key contributors from their 2010-11 state tournament teams. Of those three, the Rams have the best chance at running the table in their respective conference. Aside from W-GR, no team in District 7C has a record better than 3-3.

- Speaking of Fairview, the District 2C conference race is shaping up to be an intense battle the rest of the season. Circle joins the Warriors in the undefeated ranks, while Culbertson is 6-1 overall. The Cowgirls’ lone loss was an 8-point non-conference setback against Fairview on Dec. 17.

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