16 Things to Know About the Sweet Sixteen

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.

The Dream of Many Will Become Reality After Regionals for Only a Few

Growing up in Kentucky whether it be the small towns such as Paintsville, Pikeville, Hickman, and Fulton or in the bigger metropolitan areas such as Lexington, Louisville, Owensboro, Bowling Green, and Florence, the dream of many children is to one day play in the KHSAA Sweet 16.

Many of those kids are playing on makeshift hoops without a net only to possibly one day cut the net off of the rim after a regional championship and, maybe, even a state championship.

Photo courtesy of Bob & Ted Jackson.

Regardless of what region or gender is playing on any given night, teams know that it is lose and go home from here on out. The field for the Mingua Beef Jerky/KHSAA Girls’ Basketball Sweet 16 will be finalized on Sunday, March 8, and the entrants into the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Basketball Sweet 16 will be set on Tuesday, March 10.

Regional games are already underway as the 4th Region girls tournament started this afternoon at E.A. Diddle Arena on the campus of Western Kentucky University with Russell County defeating Glasgow 40-36 and Bowling Green trouncing Russellville 61-29.

Photo courtesy of Bob & Ted Jackson.

Last week, I posted an article where we went ahead and selected our thoughts on who the regional winners will be, but this article will now include my selections on who will be playing in the finals of each regional tournament as well as who will be punching their tickets to Rupp Arena.

Just like how it should be in real life when entering a building, ladies are first.

Please note that the times listed for the championship game for each regional is local to the site.

1st Region – March 7 at 6 p.m. – Calloway County over Marshall County at the CFSB Center on the campus of Murray State University.

2nd Region – March 7 at 6 p.m. – Madisonville-North Hopkins over Henderson County at Christian County High School.

3rd Region – March 8 at 3 p.m. – Owensboro Catholic over the winner of the Muhlenberg County/Apollo matchup at the Owensboro Sportscenter.

4th Region – March 7 at 7 p.m. – Bowling Green over Barren County at WKU’s EA Diddle Arena.

5th Region – March 7 at 7 p.m. – Bethlehem over Elizabethtown at Thomas Nelson High School.

6th Region – March 7 at 1:45 p.m. – Mercy Academy over Bullitt East at Valley High School.

7th Region – March 7 at 12 p.m. – Sacred Heart over Christian Academy of Louisville at Valley high School.

8th Region – March 7 at 7 p.m. – Simon Kenton over Walton-Verona at Collins High School.

9th Region – March 8 at 2 p.m. – Ryle over Notre Dame Academy at NKU’s BB&T Arena.

10th Region – March 7 at 7 p.m. – Bishop Brossart over Campbell County at Campbell County Middle School.

11th Region – March 6 at 7 p.m. – Scott County over Franklin County at EKU’s McBrayer Arena.

12th Region – March 7 at 7 p.m. – Rockcastle County over Southwestern at Lincoln County High School.

13th Region – March 7 at 7 p.m. – South Laurel over North Laurel at the Corbin Arena.

14th Region – March 7 at 7 p.m. – Wolfe County over the host Letcher County Central.

15th Region – March 7 at 5 p.m. – Shelby Valley over Pikeville at the Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville.

16th Region – March 7 at 7 p.m. – Russell over Boyd County at Morehead State University’s Ellis T. Johnson Arena.

Now that the girls regional championship games have been picked, I will turn my focus over to the boys tournaments. While there are plenty of people that have been to far more games that I have been, there has been one team that has stood out, to me, as being my favorite to win it all and that is none other than the Colonels of Covington Catholic High School so the below picture will be the smallest of trophies that I think that they will win this postseason.

Photo courtesy of Bob & Ted Jackson.

Below will be my region-by-region championship game picks as well as those who will earn the right to represent their school, town, and region at Rupp Arena:

1st Region – March 8 at 3 p.m. – McCracken County over Marshall County at Murray State University’s CFSB Center.

2nd Region – March 10 at 7 p.m. – Madisonville-North Hopkins over Lyon County at Hopkinsville High School.

3rd Region – March 10 at 7 p.m. – Owensboro over Owensboro Catholic at the Owensboro Sportscenter.

4th Region – March 10 at 6 p.m. – Bowling Green over Warren Central at WKU’s EA Diddle Arena.

5th Region – March 10 at 7 p.m. – Elizabethtown over John Hardin at Taylor County High School.

6th Region – March 9 at 7 p.m. – Fern Creek over Butler at Valley High School.

7th Region – March 10 at 7 p.m. – Ballard over Male at Valley High School.

8th Region – March 10 at 7 p.m. – Oldham County over Collins at Henry County High School.

9th Region – March 10 at 7:30 p.m. – Covington Catholic over Highlands at NKU’s BB&T Arena.

10th Region – March 10 at 7 p.m. – George Rogers Clark over Campbell County at home.

11th Region – March 7 at 5 p.m. – Lexington Catholic over Scott County at EKU’s McBrayer Arena.

12th Region – March 10 at 7 p.m. – Somerset over the host Pulaski County.

13th Region – March 9 at 7 p.m. – South Laurel over Clay County at the Corbin Arena.

14th Region – March 10 at 7 p.m. – Hazard over Wolfe County at Knott County Central High School.

15th Region – March 9 at 7 p.m. – Martin County over Shelby Valley at the Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville.

16th Region – March 10 at 7 p.m. – Ashland Blazer over Boyd County at Morehead State University’s Ellis T. Johnson Arena.

May the best team win their respective regional tournament. To all of the players, play with the passion for the game that you have inside of you. Play for yourself, your team, your coaches, your school, your family, and your community. Leave it all out on the court so that you know you gave it your all.

Former Floyd Central Coach Kevin Spurlock Opens Up About Allegations

In early December, a small school in Langley, KY made statewide headlines. Eight players left the Floyd Central basketball team, only returning on one condition — that Kevin Spurlock wasn’t the coach. The accusations were of verbal abuse, “crossing the line” beyond cursing — Parents claimed that highly graphic language was used. One parent’s complaint was with a verbal altercation with a fan during a game. No claims of physical abuse transpired; simply that the things Kevin Spurlock said and did somehow crossed the line for their children.

Floyd Central’s administration, along with Floyd County’s Superintendent and Athletic Director, investigated the matter, meeting with each child, and ultimately deciding that Spurlock in fact broke their Zero Tolerance Policy for swearing, and the decision was made to give Coach Spurlock a 3-game suspension. Administrators did not find enough corroborating evidence to other allegations brought forth.

The kids and parents were not satisfied with that decision; Players did not return. Posts on social media continued to ridicule the investigation and Spurlock himself. It became clear that they were accepting nothing short of termination.

The administration of Floyd County Schools found no evidence of offenses worthy of firing Kevin Spurlock — yet trouble persisted. Darkness loomed over the program; Players who stuck with the program suffered through 12 losses: Spurlock knew what he needed to do.

On Friday, January 4th, 2019 — Kevin Spurlock gave his resignation to the administration of Floyd Central High School.

A local radio station, WMDJ, did an interview this morning with Floyd County Superintendent Dave Adkins who said: “When I met with Coach Spurlock… he was never forced to resign, he was not fired, he did this on his own accord and I think his concern was for the program and for the school. I think that led to his decision.”

With so many instances of Coaches fading into the background when controversies occur — taking the role of villain in silence — Kevin Spurlock is sharing his perspective on the story.

While Kevin admits guilt in a few of the complaints — the verbal altercation with a fan, the cursing at players — he also denies several of the accusations. He shared how this has affected him personally, how his family has been impacted, and how some time off may do some good.

Spurlock also acknowledges that possibly he just wasn’t the right fit for this program — and what he would have done differently if he knew then what he knows now. He admits that maybe he pushed these kids too hard — or pushed the wrong ones. He claims a level of fault in the matter but knows his style works — he has the resume to back it up.

He closed his interview with well wishes and a statement that he would still do anything for those kids despite the recent controversy — and he will prove it next week as he presents Ethan Smith-Mills with his 1000 Point milestone commemorative basketball — at Ethan’s request.

You can watch Kevin’s story at-length below.