Prep basketball ripens for postseason

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF

   Carter County will be a basketball mecca the next few weeks.
   The Elizabethton area will be hosting both the District and Region I Tournaments in Class A and Class AA this postseason, which actually kicks off on Friday.
   The Class AA District and Region will be held at Elizabethton High School, while Milligan College will play host to the Class A District and Regionals.
   With the local schools in our coverage area traditionally giving strong support to their teams, you may want to get to these games early to find a seat.
   Even though there are a couple of conference games yet to be played, here is an early outlook on the District I tournaments in Class AA and Class A
   Boys/Class AA
   Favorite: Elizabethton
   Major Contenders: Sullivan Central, Johnson County
   Darkhorses: Sullivan North, Volunteer
   * Elizabethton has to be considered the favorite, but this district is a lot better than some people are giving it credit. It won't be easy for the Cyclones.
   Sullivan Central, Johnson County and Volunteer have all given the Cyclones a run of their money at least once this year. The Cyclones will have an advantage on their home court, but this promises to be a heck of a tournament.
   The team that could spoil the party for some of the top teams might be Sullivan North. The Golden Raiders are playing as good as anybody in the league right now, and in my opinion, John McCrary is the Coach-of-the-Year in this conference.
   Elizabethton has the tools to make it to the state, but it wouldn't surprise me if Johnson County or Sullivan Central also made it to Murfreesboro out of this extremely tough district. This will be one tournament you will not want to miss.
   Class A/Boys
   Favorite: Unaka
   Major Contenders: University High, Cloudland
   Darkhorses: None
   After winning its sixth-straight Watauga Valley Conference crown, Unaka has to be considered the favorite, but a slight one at that.
   I firmly believe Cloudland will bounce back from losses at Unaka and University High. The Highlanders were supposed to be also-rans after losing the farm from last year's team, but Ned Smith has done an outstanding job making this squad a contender again.
   The Junior Bucs started out strong, faded, then regrouped to finish well. This could be the tournament where University High plays to its potential.
   This tournament is just too close to call. Unaka gets the nod as the favorite due to winning the conference, but it's anybody's game.
   Class AA/Girls
   Favorite: Unicoi County
   Major Contender: Elizabethton
   Darkhorses: Happy Valley, Sullivan Central, Hampton
   * On paper, Unicoi County and Elizabethton should meet in the final. But there's a lot of parity in this league that makes this tournament so unpredictable as well.
   The Lady Blue Devils rolled through the regular season, but a recent close call against Hampton gives teams hope. Elizabethton seems to have the best chance of knocking off Unicoi.
   Sullivan Central has the talent to do some damage, Happy Valley proved last year upsets can happen by knocking off the top seed, and I firmly believe Hampton might be the Happy Valley of last year with a young, but talented squad.
   I believe Unicoi will win this tournament, but second place is definitely up for grabs.
   Class A/Girls
   Favorite: Cloudland
   Major Contender: Unaka
   Darkhorses: None
   The Lady 'Landers are the clear-cut favorite here, as they rolled through the regular season undefeated in conference play.
   Unaka is the only team that can scare Cloudland in this district. The Lady Rangers could give the Lady 'Landers a run for their money, but I think this trophy will end up in Roan Mountain.
   Like the 1-AA boys District, it wouldn't surprise me if Cloudland and Unaka both made the state tournament. They're both very talented and well-coached squads.
   There is one thing about this tournament that bugs me. With only four teams in the District, each team goes to the regional. The TSSAA should seriously consider revamping the District so at least five teams are in it.
   I hope this gets you ready for what's going to be an exciting month of basketball. I'm sure this article will be put on some bulletin boards, but that's what makes this game of basketball so much fun.
   I do have a special request for the fans attending these tournaments. Let's enjoy these events without using profanity and by not saying derogatory things about other teams and players.
   Play ball.