By Troy Howell
For Bluegrass Basketball
1. One year later – Elizabethtown, Ashland, Knox Central, McCracken County, and George Rogers Clark are all back in the field after also winning the region last year. The 2020 tournament was cancelled so I am happy for all these teams now that they get to play in Rupp Arena after having it ripped away from them last year.
2. Football powerhouses – Bowling Green, Boyle County, Paintsville, and Ashland won football titles in the spring and are 4 games away from doing the same in basketball. The other two state champions (Beechwood and Trinity) both had good years on the hardwood as well. Elizabethtown, the top ranked basketball team going in to the Sweet 16, lost in the 3A finals to Ashland. Highlands, winners of the 9th region last week, are a traditional power on the gridiron.
3. Heavy favorites – Two of the first-round games are expected to be very lopsided. Elizabethtown comes in as the top ranked team in the field, while their opponent, Knott County Central is rated at the bottom of the sixteen teams. Another heavy favorite is Bowling Green over University Heights Academy. The Purples have been near the top of the rankings all year and defeated the Blazers by a score of 88-50 in a road win on February 1. Let’s hope the game is a little more competitive this time!
4. Missing Star Power – Sophomore Reed Sheppard (North Laurel), sophomore Kaleb Glenn (Male), freshman Travis Perry (Lyon County), senior Zion Harmon (Marshall County) and senior Ben Johnson (Lexington Catholic) all missed out on the state tournament. The tournament still features some of the top seniors in the state including Northern Kentucky University commits Sam Vinson (Highlands) and Isaiah Mason (Bowling Green).
5. 2013 Finals Rematch – The Madison Central vs Ballard first round game will bring back memories of the epic 2013 state finals. Madison Central defeated Ballard 65-64 on a last-second shot by Ken-Jah Bosley. The Madison Central team featured Dominique Hawkins (Kentucky) while Ballard was led by Quinten Snider (Louisville) and Kelan Martin (Butler).
6. Best Draw – Highlands is the only top 4 team in the bottom half of the draw. The Bluebirds got a good draw and will be favored to make the finals. Ashland may be their toughest competition to get there, but Highlands beat the Tomcats 84-75 in the opening game of the season.
7. Toughest Draw – After knocking off then #1 Lexington Catholic and then top #8 Frederick Douglass in the 11th region tournament, the path doesn’t get any easier for the Madison Central Indians. They may have to go through the gauntlet of Ballard, Bowling Green, and Elizabethtown just to make the finals.
8. Buzzer Beaters – George Rogers Clark and Paintsville both won their region tournament at the buzzer on Saturday. Jerone Morton’s layup gave GRC and 60-59 win over Campbell County in the 10th region finals. Jaxon Watt’s put back at the buzzer gave Paintsville a wild 48-46 overtime win over bitter rival Johnson Central in the 15th region finals.
9. Chaos in the 6th – Bullitt East won the 6th region despite being left out of the top 10 of the region’s preseason coaches’ poll. After knocking off region favorite DeSales 62-58 in the region semis, the Charges got by Western 69-49 in a surprise finals matchup. Western stunned Fern Creek in the other semifinal.
10. Individual Stats – Jevonte Turner (Knox Central) averages 26.3 points. Turner Buttry (Bowling Green) is shooting 94.8% from the charity stripe, while Luke Imfeld (Boyle County) is shooting 87.5% from the line. Luke Muller (Highlands) makes 3.6 treys a game (45%). Maker Bar (Ballard) is pulling down 10.8 rebounds per game.
11. Team Stats – Highlands (83.5 points per game), George Rogers Clark (78.6), Elizabethtown (76.9), and Ballard (76) are all top 10 in the state in scoring. Muhlenberg County (44.1) and Bowling Green (47.2) are top 10 in scoring defense. Highlands (54.5%) leads the Sweet 16 field in field goal shooting percentage. Highlands (75.9%) and Oldham County (75.5%) are top 10 in free throw percentage. George Rogers Clark (38.7 rebounds) is first in the state in rebounding.
12. Margin of Victory – Half of the top 10 in margin of victory are in the Sweet 16 field: Bowling Green (20.6 points), GRC (19.9), Highlands 19.5), Elizabethtown (18.7) and Knox Central 17.9).
13. My Rankings: 1. Elizabethtown 2. Ballard 3. Highlands 4. Bowling Green 5. Ashland 6. Muhlenberg County, 7. Oldham County 8. Madison Central 9. George Rogers Clark 10. Boyle County 11. McCracken County 12. Knox Central 13. Bullitt East 14. University Heights 15. Paintsville 16. Knott County Central
14. Return to old Format – In order to not conflict with Easter, the KHSAA is going back to the Wednesday – Saturday format for this year. I personally prefer ending on Saturday, but it does mean a team like Ashland would need to win 4 games in 48 hours in order to take home the trophy. The 2 P.M. start time for the second semifinal seems a bit late for a short turnaround before the 8 o’clock finals.
15. Purples Rematches: If Bowling Green is to win the state title, they may have to go through University Heights, Ballard, Elizabethtown, and Ashland, four teams that they have already played this year. Here were the regular season results.
Bowling Green 88 University Heights 50
Ballard 61 Bowling Green 45
Elizabethtown 64 Bowling Green 36
Bowling Green 83 Ashland 57
16. Bruins just Getting Started: Not only is Ballard one of the favorites this year, they will likely be the preseason favorite next season as well. They are led by juniors Maker Bar and Kennedy Hayden, and sophomore Gabe Sisk. Sophomore point guard Jack Edelen, who was lost for the year due to injury, will return next year to make the Bruins even deeper and stronger.