Many years, the state tournament is a mixed bag. This year, it certainly seems like a kid’s sack of trick or treat candy. A little something for everyone.
Most of the top teams in West Virginia and many of the state’s best players get set to take their bows at the Charleston Civic Center as the 105th boys basketball state tournament opens Wednesday with six games.
Some of the top story lines fans will be following this week include:
n All three defending champions return — Huntington (Class AAA), Fairmont Senior (AA) and Notre Dame (A) — as well as all three teams ranked No. 1 in the final state polls, namely, University (AAA), Fairmont Senior and Ravenswood (A).
n Many of the old standbys are back for what’s become their traditional March foray to the state capital — schools like Huntington, Martinsburg and Woodrow Wilson (AAA), Fairmont Senior (AA) and Wheeling Central and Tug Valley (A). Woodrow, in fact, makes its 25th trip in the past 30 years.
“That’s where Beckley belongs,’’ said senior forward Eddie Christian. “It feels good.’’
n Most of the teams that finished high in the state rankings made it all the way to the big show — including eight of the top nine in Class AAA, along with seven of the top 10 in AA and six of the top nine in Class A.
n Several athletes in contention for the Bill Evans Award as the state’s top player also get to strut their stuff — names like Mikal Dawson (Huntington, 20.7 points per game), Corey Barnett (Martinsburg, 21.0), Taevon Horton (Fairmont Senior, 20.4), Brent Price (Wheeling Central, 19.5) and Isaiah Morgan (Ravenswood, 25.2).
n You can call them Cinderella if you want, but Braxton County (AA) and Webster County (A) make what’s become infrequent visits to the state’s top hoops event. Braxton’s last trip came in 2005. Webster was in town in 2013 in AA with former all-stater Brett Morris.
Here’s a brief look at what to expect in each of the three classes this week:
University definitely deserves its spot as the top seed and projects as a favorite to reach Saturday’s finals, but really, an argument can be made for any of the top six seeds to get to the championship game as all season, this division has been as balanced as any in recent memory.
The lone loss for the Hawks (24-1) came to Parkersburg South on Jan. 24, but they avenged that setback to the Patriots four weeks later and carry a 14-game win streak into the tournament. University is 7-1 against state-ranked teams and has flashed a propensity for playing whatever kind of game it needs — a run-and-gun affair, or a half-court chess match.
“We average over 80 [points] a game,’’ said Hawks coach Joe Schmidle. “But it depends. When we have it, we take it. If we have the opportunity to run, we run. If we have to slow it down and be disciplined and be patient to get the shot we need, we’re pretty good at that, too.’’
Indeed, the Hawks have been all over the scoreboard with their winning point totals this season. They’ve won one game with a final score in the 40s (beating Morgantown 47-41), one in the 50s, five in the 60s, four in the 70s, six in the 80s, two in the 90s, four in the 100s and one in 110s. A team built for all speeds, perhaps?
“I think that’s the biggest difference between this year and last year,’’ Schmidle said. “We pretty much have the same kids with the exception of [Geoff] Hamperian and [Holton] Summers. They’ve become more disciplined and their shot selection is much better. Last year, we lost three games and we shot ourselves out of all three games.’’
The rest of top six in AAA features No. 2 seed Parkersburg South (21-3), No. 3 George Washington (20-3), No. 4 Martinsburg (20-5), No. 5 Woodrow Wilson (18-6) and No. 6 Huntington (17-6).
Fairmont Senior and Chapmanville Regional staged a high-energy, entertaining game in last year’s finals, with the Polar Bears rallying for a 59-54 victory. With the amount of talent each side returned this year, it’s no wonder they were ranked 1-2 all season in the state poll.
Neither has lost to a West Virginia team all season, with the Polar Bears coming in at 23-0 and the Tigers at 24-1, falling to Lebanon, Tennessee, in a holiday tournament. So there’s no reason to expect anything less than a rematch in the title game.
Fairmont’s leading scorers are Horton (20.4 points per game, 6.7 rebounds), Jalen Bridges (16.6 points) and Zyon Dobbs (12.7 points, 5.3 assists). Chapmanville’s top guns include Drew Williamson (16.0), 6-foot-9 sophomore Obinna Anochili-Killen (12.9 points) and Dylan Smith (9.6 points).
The Polar Bears have played only three games decided by fewer than 29 points and their closest game was a 50-43 verdict over East Fairmont. With Killen roaming the foul lane, the Tigers allow just 49.5 points per game.
The top three seeds all seem to have the credentials to go all the way this week — No. 1 Wheeling Central (22-2), No. 2 Ravenswood (24-1) and No. 3 Tug Valley (18-7).
The Maroon Knights and Red Devils are both 6-1 against ranked teams this season. Central’s only loss was to No. 4 seed Notre Dame 60-59. The Red Devils’ lone setback came to Tug Valley 60-56.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are 12-0 versus West Virginia single-A teams this season. Three of their seven losses came to AA state tournament teams Westside and Chapmanville, two more to AAs (Mingo Central, Nicholas County) and the other two to out-of-state schools. They’ve beaten Notre Dame twice and Ravenswood once.