The Region 7 tournament pairings are set and, as always, this one is bound to be a doozy. Here are my breakdowns and predictions for the quarterfinal games, which are scheduled for Monday, Feb. 21 at Knights of Columbus Activities Center:
Beulah (District 14 No. 1) vs. Hettinger (District 13 No. 4), 3 p.m.
Beulah came into the season the clear-cut favorite to win the region. Everybody else seemed to be playing for second place.
Then, the Miners lost standout junior Casey Duppong to a broken wrist. They promptly suffered back-to-back losses to Dickinson Trinity and Berthold and fell out of the Class B media poll.
Lately though, it seems that Beulah has recaptured its mojo.
Duppong said at the end of January that there was a chance he could return for the region tournament. But would the Miners really want him back in a big role? They seem to have found what works best without him, seemingly leaning on a different guy every night. For example, Trevor Zacher scored 28 points to beat Trinity in the District 14 title game on Monday and Leighton Guthmiller scored 17 to push the Miners past Killdeer in the semifinals.
While Beulah is the clear-cut favorite in this one, the Black Devils arenâ€™t going to go down quietly. They have the length to compete with Beulah, but their speed and transition defense is suspect.
If junior guard Ben Laufer gets hot â€” trust me, he has the ability to be game-changing â€” and Hettingerâ€™s big men can control the boards, things could get very interesting here.
Prediction: Beulah 72, Hettinger 61
Heart River (District 13 No. 2) vs. Killdeer (District 14 No. 3), 4:30 p.m.
Heart River came into the District 13 tournament as the No. 6 seed â€” and, in my mind, it has a legitimate shot to make it to the Region 7 championship game.
The Cougars are deep, big and tough to stop when their guards are shooting well. If this all comes together for them, the Cowboys may be sitting ducks.
Senior guard Dalton Oâ€™Brien came to play in the District 13 championship game against New England on Monday night and there might not be a hotter player in the region than junior forward Jordan Strecker, who is kind of like the Kevin Love of Region 7. Nobody really knows how the big guy does it, but he seems to get a double-double every time he steps on the floor.
Killdeer, however, is a perfect example of a sleeper.
The Cowboys have some firepower in scorers Colt Mavity and Austy Sadowsky. And they have the size and depth to compete with the Cougars, who appear to be playing their best basketball of the season.
If Killdeer can get Mavity and Sadowsky some help when the Cougars bottle them up â€” which will happen â€” then it stands a chance. If not, the Cougars get to play two more games.
These teams played back-to-back games separated by three days in December. Heart River won both, the first 65-55 in Killdeer and the second 47-45 in the opening round of the Roughrider Tournament.
Though a lot has changed since then, I am expecting a surprisingly tight game.
Prediction: Heart River 53, Killdeer 48
New England (District 13 No. 1) vs. Hazen (District 14 No. 4), 6 p.m.
This is the lone game featuring two teams that didnâ€™t face each other during the regular season. Who does that will benefit more? Itâ€™s hard to say. Itâ€™s probably a wash.
Whatâ€™s certain is that New England may be team no one wants to face coming into this tournament.
The Tigers entered the District 13 tournament with the No. 5 seed and upended No. 4 Hettinger 71-47, No. 1 Mott-Regent 80-71 and No. 6 Heart River 60-52.
The junior trio of Clarence Binstock, Kaine Hanson and Nick Wolf is what makes the Tiger engine go. Meanwhile, seniors Mark Frank and Avery Krebs are about as perfect of role players as youâ€™re going to find at this level and they both played well in the district tournament. Junior center Devin Plaggemeyer, who comes off the bench, looks to be peaking at the right time too.
The biggest knock on New England has been their erratic play. They won the Roughrider Tournament in December and earned a spot in the Class B poll, they then lost a few and finished 3-3 in the District 13 regular season before blowing out some below-.500 teams and losing to the Dickinson Trinity junior varsity a week prior to their district championship victory.
Hazen is a team that relies on its athleticism but, honestly, didnâ€™t look too great the only time I covered them this season. Then again, that was against Dickinson Trinity when the Titans were hitting their midseason stride. Though the Bison arenâ€™t terribly deep (like they have been in the past), theyâ€™re no team to look past.
If the Tigers bring Mr. Hyde to Knights of Columbus Activities Center and leave Dr. Jekyll at home, theyâ€™ll make their first trip to the region tournament since their juniors and seniors were in elementary school a great one. If they donâ€™t â€¦ well, the Bison might be in for a shocking victory.
Prediction: New England 66, Hazen 52
Dickinson Trinity (District 14 No. 2) vs. Mott-Regent (District 13 No. 3), 7:30 p.m.
There is always that one Region 7 tournament quarterfinal game that is by far superior to all the others.
This is it.
What a better way to cap off the tournamentâ€™s opening day than with a game between two of the top teams in the area.
Trinity and Mott-Regent came into their respective district tournaments with the No. 1 seed and ran into some trouble along the way. Beulah upended the Titans in the District 14 title game for the second straight year and fifth-seeded and eventual district champion New England dispatched the Wildfire in the semifinals.
Regardless, these teams stack up incredibly well. Both have size and speed and are capable of exploding at the drop of a hate. Mott-Regent will want to move the ball up and down the floor. Trinity will want to control the game through its half-court offense, thereby keeping the Wildfire from getting into a flow.
Thatâ€™s what Trinity did in the opening round of the Roughrider Tournament when it blasted Mott-Regent 66-36. The Wildfire turned the tables on their home floor during the regular season, winning 64-62.
Mott-Regent has only two seniors, but is still in contention with Trinity and Beulah for the title of â€œdeepest team in the region.â€
There are many factors that will decide this one. But what will it truly come down to?
Will it be the play of Mott-Regent junior standouts Nate Fries and Chad Mosbrucker? Will it be Trinity sophomore stud Jacob Volk and senior sparkplug Alex Klug keeping the Titan offense on task? Will it be Trinityâ€™s home-court advantage? Will it be Mott-Regentâ€™s size advantage?
I canâ€™t stand that one of these teams is going to be done after Day 1, but whoever walks away from this one might just punch a ticket to the Class B state tournament a few days. Iâ€™m going out on a limb hereâ€¦
Prediction: Mott-Regent 59, Trinity 57 (OT).