Expect a more on this topic next week in our boys hoops podcast, but let me go on record saying I've been very impressed with the quality of play we're seeing from the boys basketball teams here in town. Last year, until the end of the season when Skyview surprised Butte in a playoff to reach the state tournament and Central surprised everyone by running through the Class A Eastern divisional tournament, Billings West was considered the class of the city. I'd probably still put the Golden Bears at the top of the list (hard not to at this point, seeing as how they're still undefeated and reigning AA state champs), but if early results are indicative of anything, it's pretty clear the gap has closed considerably since last season.
Break it down, after the jump.
As mentioned, Billings West is still undefeated, and in many ways, they are very similar to last year's team. They win games with outstanding defense, and their overall team speed, depth and familiarity of their system makes up for being slightly undersized. The won they're first two games of season easily, but Skyview really tested them in a 62-55 win for the Bears, and Saturday night we got word that they had squeaked out a win at Laurel. The Locomotives are one of the best teams in Eastern A, but I was still surprised the result was that close. I was unable to see the game, so I'll let those of you who were there fill us in as to what happened. West has a tough test schedule coming up, traveling to Wyoming to face Casper Natrona (one of the biggest games in Billings last year) and Kelly Walsh, then heading to Bozeman before returning to Billings to face Senior. I have a feeling we're going to learn a lot about the Golden Bears in the next two weeks.
Speaking of Senior, the Broncs 3-2 record may not be too impressive on the surface, and granted, I've only seen them play once so far, but by all accounts they are much improved from last year's 11-10 squad. Senior's two losses were on the road, and both were in close fashion (54-49 at Sheridan, Wyo., and 66-58 at Missoula Sentinel). As a team that struggled to score consistently last year, this year's edition looks quicker on offense, and against Central the Broncs turned the tables defensively, pressuring the Rams into turnovers and mistakes down the stretch. So far, Senior appears to be utilizing a hockey-like line-change system, moving players in and out of play in bunches to keep legs fresh and complicate the other team's defensive assignments. I don't know if they'll continue that system once conference play begins, but I'm in favor of it; it's fun to watch, and the results have been positive so far.
Skyview is surely the biggest team in town, with two 6-8 kids in the frontcourt. I've been most impressed with the Falcons energy, especially on defense, and they a handful of good shooters. To take the next step, they're going to need big men Steven Davis and Danny Little to contribute consistently on the offensive end; the two have been outstanding on the defensive end so far, and when they get consistent points from these two (like they did Saturday against Central, combining for 22 points on 11 shots), they've got a weapon that no one else in town has.
Which brings us to Billings Central. The Rams are off to a great start; at 5-2, their only two losses have come at the hands of Class AA teams (Senior and Skyview, and both games were close for much of the game). Central has a number of shooters with great range that can be deadly if not watched closely, and 6-7 Joel Barndt, when consistent, can cause some serious matchups from the guard position.
Long story short, if you're a basketball fan, you'd be served well by heading to any of the school's gyms to catch a game.