RICHMOND — Just about every basketball team slumps at some point during the long season, but Madison Central has managed to play at a consistently high level for three months.
"Even the games we lost, we didn't play bad; it was just against good quality competition," Indians Coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. said.
That's why Madison Central is considered the favorite in the boys' 11th Region tournament that begins Monday at EKU. Despite playing the toughest schedule in school history, the Indians are 25-5 and rated No. 3 in the state by Dave Cantrall.
They lost to No. 1 Louisville Trinity 75-62 in a closer-than-the score-indicated game. They fell to No. 2 Ballard 88-86. They split games with No. 4 Bullitt East. They beat No. 5 Montgomery County, No. 13 Fairdale, No. 25 Lafayette, No. 20 Collins and No. 23 Covington Catholic.
Feldhaus said having veterans such as Dominique Hawkins, Ken-Jah Bosley and Quan Taylor is the key to Madison Central's success.
"This is a team I could challenge with a good schedule because these guys have been here a long time and know the 'ins' and 'outs'" of what I expect.
"To tell you the truth, we play better against good teams. Against team's we're more athletic and talented than, we play down to the level of the competition."
Madison Central's senior backcourt is its strength. Hawkins and Bosley average 19 points and about five rebounds apiece. Both are hitting better than 35 percent from three-point range, and 75 percent from the foul line.
Taylor, a 6-foot-4 leaper, averages 12 points and 7.5 rebounds.
The Indians were No. 5 in the state going into the region last year, but lost to Woodford County in the semifinals.
"That one really hurt," Feldhaus said. "We don't talk about it much, but if we have one of those days in practice where we don't work hard, I'll bring it up and the kids' eyes light up. They remember that loss and don't want to feel that way again."
Madison Central is shooting for its first region title since 2006.
Defending champ and No. 10 Scott County is trying to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in seven years.
Lexington Catholic has won the region three times in the past five years.
Henry Clay hasn't made it to Rupp Arena since 2005, and Dunbar hasn't been there since 1997, when it upset No. 1 Lexington Catholic in the region finals.
Henry Clay and No. 8 Dunbar clash in a first-round game on Tuesday. They split their regular-season games.
Henry Clay Coach Daniel Brown said Dunbar "is playing with a lot of confidence. They're real athletic, and when their guards get going they're really good."
But Brown thinks the Bulldogs' 6-foot-5 senior E.J. Floreal, who moved to Lexington last summer when his dad was hired as UK's new track coach, may be the key to their recent surge.
"He's found himself," Brown said. "Early in the year he was still adjusting to a new place, but he's playing well now."
Dunbar Coach Scott Chalk thinks rebounding will be crucial against Henry Clay.
"They're so long and athletic, you have to do a great job on the backboards against them," he said.
Lexington Catholic faces Woodford County in the first round of the region, just like last year when Woodford County upset the Knights 51-49 in overtime. The Yellowjackets also knocked off Lexington Catholic 69-68 in December.
Woodford County is missing starter Landon Young, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last month. Lexington Catholic starter Tanner Johnson hurt his ankle in the district finals last week and his status for the region is up in the air.
At Eastern Kentucky University
Monday: Woodford Co. (16-14) vs. Lexington Catholic (20-10), 6:30; Scott Co. (23-7) vs. Madison Southern (17-11), 8:15
Tuesday: Paul Dunbar (19-9) vs. Henry Clay (22-9), 6:30; Madison Central (25-5) vs. Franklin Co. (9-16), 8:15
Friday: Semifinals, 6:30 and 8:15
Saturday: Finals, 7:30
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com