I'm back at work after an unexpected "vacation," so hopefully we'll get back into the normal flow of things. I'm still not at 100 percent, so I doubt this edition of "what I'll be watching" will be as extensive as past entries. It's hard to believe, but the B and C classes are only two weeks away from their district tournaments. At this point, every conference game is a big matchup, and big games are now bigger. Who will rise to the occasion? Here's a rundown of just a few of the games I'll be watching this weekend:
AA Boys Basketball
- With Billings Skyview's upset of Bozeman last weekend, there are now five teams within a game of first place (in the loss column) in the Eastern AA. At this point, Butte is really the only team out of contention for the conference's top seed. The Great Falls schools travel to Billings for the weekend to face Senior and Skyview. On Friday, CMR is at Senior and Great Falls is at Skyview. The schedule flips on Saturday: Great Falls at Senior and CMR at Skyview.
- Despite its loss to Kalispell Glacier on Tuesday, Missoula Hellgate still controls the Western AA. At 7-1, the Knights have a sizeable lead on Kalispell Flathead and Missoula Sentinel at 3-1. Hellgate beat Sentinel last week, and, this Saturday, it hosts Flathead.
A Boys Basketball
- Like I said in the intro, every conference game at this point in the season is important. And I'm sure there will be some results that catch my eye this weekend, but only one game on the schedule stands out to me right now: Corvallis at Dillon on Friday. The Blue Devils won the first meeting, 57-41, making them the top dog in the Southwestern A at 6-0. That loss was Dillon's only conference setback of the season. With a win on Friday, the Beavers can justify that no. 3 ranking in the Associated Press Power Poll and move back into a tie at the top of the conference standings.
B Boys Basketball
- In the Southern B, the top spot in Districts 3B and 4B is on the line this weekend. Forsyth currently sits atop the standings in the 3B at 5-1, just ahead of Broadus (6-2) and Baker (5-2). Broadus hosts the Dogies on Friday night. In the 4B, Huntley Project (7-1) travels to Columbus (7-0). The Cougars won the first meeting by six points, and I know the Red Devils have eagerly been looking forward to their shot at revenge.
- And in our typical Northern B look, Rocky Boy's weekend with Shelby and Fairfield highlights the schedule. The Northern Stars (7-1) lead District 1B by half a game over Cut Bank (7-2) with Fairfield (6-2) and Shelby (5-3) rounding out the top four. With two wins, Rocky Boy virtually puts a lock on the conference's top tournament seed...but two losses and the Northern Stars fall into a tie for third.
C Boys Basketball
- The 3C race for the top spot is the closest conference race nobody is talking about. Scobey-Opheim (8-2), Nashua (7-2), Lustre Christian (7-3), and Saco-Whitewater (7-3) all are within a game of each other heading into the weekend. The Spartans visit the Porcupines on Saturday to help provide some clarity.
- Staying in the Eastern C, District 2C's top two teams tip off on Friday when Froid-Lake (11-1) hosts Culbertson (9-3). I doubt Froid-Lake's no. 1 tournament seed is in jeopardy, but a loss would prove costly for the Cowboys. A loss would drop Culbertson to 9-4 in the conference, tying the Cowboys with Fairview (8-4) and Circle (7-4) in the loss column.
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AA Girls Basketball
- The Western AA takes center stage this weekend as the top four teams play games against each other starting on Thursday. Helena Capital (6-0) currently holds the top spot. The Bruins put their unbeaten conference mark on the line Thursday night against another conference unbeaten in Missoula Sentinel (4-0). Also on Thursday, Helena (4-1) visits Missoula Big Sky (3-2). On Saturday, the Bengals host Sentinel.
- In the Eastern AA, the most interesting matchup is probably Billings Senior at Great Falls CMR. The two are fighting for the four-seed and a home playoff game. As of now, the Broncs (2-2) have a slight edge on the Rustlers (2-3).
A Girls Basketball
- Like with the Class A boys, only one game on the weekend schedule really caught my attention. Laurel travels to Miles City on Friday in a matchup featuring two of the state's top teams. The Locomotives are on a bit of a slide, dropping their last two games, while the Cowgirls continue to pile up Eastern A wins. Miles City's lone conference loss is to top-ranked Sidney, and the Cowgirls handed Laurel a five-point defeat the last time the two teams met. Following its game with Laurel, Miles City hosts Sidney on Monday.
B Girls Basketball
- The top game on the Class B schedule comes from District 5B. Townsend and Three Forks continue to control the conference, with Three Forks' two-point overtime win over the Bulldogs being the difference between the two. They meet again on Saturday with the no. 1 seed on the line. If Three Forks wins again, it will essentially clinch the top spot, while a Townsend win would create a tie for the top seed.
- In District 1B, you probably don't want to enter tournament play as a four-seed (that would match you up on the same side of the bracket as Fairfield (14-0 overall, 8-0 conference, AP no. 1)). Conrad has a big weekend ahead to try to avoid falling to that point in the standings. The Cowgirls (6-3 conference) play at Fairfield on Friday and then host Choteau (5-3) the next night. Rocky Boy (5-3) and Shelby (4-4) are definitely still in the mix to grab a two- or three-seed.
C Girls Basketball
- I don't mean to keep looking toward the 6C, but the Roberts girls have as tough of a weekend as anybody in the state. The Rockets play Joliet on Friday in a game that actually counts for two games in the conference standings. Since the teams only play one time this season, the game's value is doubled, so second place in the conference is at stake when the two meet in Joliet. On Saturday, Roberts has a home date with Harlowton-Ryegate. A sweep of the weekend would put the Rockets in a tie for first, while two losses would drop them into a tie for third with Broadview-Lavina.
- A few interesting matchups dot the Class C landscape this weekend, especially in the Northern Division. On Thursday, District 8C's no. 2 and 3 teams tip off in Geraldine when the Tigers host Fort Benton. In the 9C, no. 3 Chinook visits no. 2 Big Sandy on Friday, while the 7C's no. 3 team, Roy-Winifred, hosts no. 1 Winnett-Grass Range. And in the Southern C on Friday, Hysham, 4C's no. 2, tips off at Wibaux, 4C's no. 3.