Boys' Sweet Sixteen: Tourney favorites Scott County, Trinity and Hoptown in loaded upper bracket

mfields@herald-leader.comMarch 18, 2014 

Trinity, Scott County and Hopkinsville are rated the top three teams in the 97th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys' Sweet Sixteen that will play out in Rupp Arena this week.

But if you think they're the only contenders in this tournament, then your brain isn't wired for basketball.

"I don't see anybody that can't be beat," said Scott County Coach Billy Hicks, whose state-record 861 victories should qualify him as an expert bracketologist.

Hopkinsville Coach Tim Haworth, whose Tigers are 27-0 against Kentucky opponents, agreed with Hicks.

"I think a number of other teams besides those three can win it," he said. "When you get this far, one bad game can send you home. You've gotta have some luck and you've gotta have some calls go your way."

Some other team is guaranteed a shot at the championship because Trinity, Scott County and Hoptown are lumped in the upper bracket. If there aren't any shocking upsets, Trinity will play Hopkinsville in the quarterfinals, and the winner will see Scott County in the semifinals.

Wayne County and Covington Catholic are rated the teams most likely to meet in the lower-bracket semifinals.

Knott County Central, three-peat champ of the 14th Region, can't be overlooked. Neither can Pleasure Ridge Park, which won the Louisville Invitational Tournament.

That said, Trinity, which won the 2012 state title, is No. 1 for a reason, although Coach Mike Szabo said his team doesn't pay attention to the rankings.

"I know for a fact just how good this field is," he said. "I know we're going to have to play well to get through it."

If Trinity does play well, its defense will carry it a long way. Nobody guards like the Shamrocks. They're giving up only 47 points a game. They've got an inside presence in 6-foot-10 junior Ray Spalding, and he's surrounded by tough, athletic guys who are willing to grind.

"We feel we can defend people and stop them from scoring," Szabo said matter-of-factly.

But the Rocks got rolled by Scott County in the Jock Sutherland Classic last month. The Cardinals built a 20-point lead on Trinity in the first half en route to a 70-65 victory.

"If Scott County plays like they did in that first half, gee whiz, nobody's gonna touch 'em," Wayne County Coach Rodney Woods said.

Hicks downplayed that performance by his Cards. "Every team has those magical moments when everything goes right," he said. "Can we do it again? Shoot, I don't know."

Scott County is led by Mr. Basketball finalist Trent Gilbert, one of the state's top shooters and scorers.

Hopkinsville is in the state tournament for the third year in a row. It's led by senior point guard Tra Edwards and junior star Jaqualis Matlock.

"Our team chemistry is great and everything has gone right for us," Haworth said. "It's been one of those dream seasons so far."

The same can be said for Wayne County. Led by junior Peyton Woods and sophomores Trey Blevins and Corey Stearns, the Cardinals have won 31 of 32 games.

"I never really felt we had a bad game the whole season," Rodney Woods said.

"We had some bad halves and bad quarters, but we never had a game where we were just awful. Our intensity level was high all season. I don't remember a single game that when it was over I felt we weren't engaged and ready to play."

Covington Catholic had very few bumps on its road to Rupp. The Colonels, led by senior guard Nick Ruthsatz, went 29-2 and beat state powers Holmes and Newport Central Catholic to win the 9th Region.

"(CovCath) is like Trinity. They're smart as whips, and they're strong and ornery," PRP Coach Dale Mabrey said.

Knott Central boasts one of the state's top scorers in junior guard Camron Justice and an agile inside player in junior Evan Hall.

Patriots Coach B.B. King said he'd put Trinity, Scott County, Hopkinsville and CovCath among the favorites, but he thinks other teams could be in the mix.

"I'd rather be lucky than good," he said. "I've seen a lot of teams that were supposed to win that don't."

Mabrey gave a shout-out to mountain teams Johnson Central and Knott Central. His Panthers had a tough time beating both of them.

Johnson Central's Shane Hall, a Mr. Basketball finalist, had 38 points and 19 rebounds against PRP.

PRP star Lamontray Harris won't play in the first round against Bardstown. He picked up two technical fouls in the 6th Region semifinals and must sit out two games.

Six schools in the Sweet Sixteen own state titles: Owensboro (1949, '72, '80); Scott County (1998, 2007); Clay County (1987); Hopkinsville (1985); PRP (1989), and Trinity (2012).

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.

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