Let's call it the Smorgasbord Sweet Sixteen.
The 98th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys' State Tournament will offer up a basketball buffet in Rupp Arena over the next five days, with something to whet the appetite of any hoops fan.
■ An obvious favorite: Three-time champion and five-time runner-up Ballard is the team to beat. The Bruins are 31-2 (26-0 against Kentucky competition) and riding a 26-game winning streak.
■ Something old: Owensboro is in the Sweet Sixteen for an unprecedented 43rd time. The Red Devils have played 82 state tournament games (43 wins, 39 losses), and took home the title in 1949, 1972 and 1980.
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■ Something new: Collins, a five-year-old school named after former Gov. Martha Layne Collins, is making its state tournament debut.
■ Familiar faces: Hopkinsville's Jaqualis Matlock, Johnson Central's Dalton Adkins and Braxton Blair, and Knott County Central's Camron Justice, Evan Hall and Simon Christon will be in the starting lineup in the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth year in a row.
■ Repeat possibility: Covington Catholic could be the first back-to-back champ since Fairdale (1990, 1991).
■ Kings of the hills: Knott Central hopes to join Shelby Valley (2010), Paintsville (1996) and Clay County (1987) as the only mountain teams to win the state title in the last 59 years.
■ Cinderella in sneakers: Williamsburg, the smallest school in the field (a little more than 200 students), is in the state tournament for the first time since 1946, when Harry Truman was in the White House.
■ Star power: Knott County Central's Camron Justice, who's signed with Vanderbilt, could move into third place on the state's all-time scoring list this week. Taylor County's Quentin Goodin, rated the top junior in the state, is the early favorite for Mr. Basketball next season.
■ Trophy owners: Besides Ballard, CovCath and Owensboro, Hopkinsville and Lexington Catholic are also former champs.
OK, enough with the menu. Let's get down to the meat of the matter: Who'll be cutting down the nets come Sunday afternoon?
"Ballard has to be the favorite," Hopkinsville Coach Tim Haworth said. "They've got the best program in the state."
Ballard Coach Chris Renner said his team's "talent level is not where it was last year or the year before when we had Quentin Snider and Kelan Martin. There's not that big a gap in talent between us and the other teams. This tournament is wide open. I think half the field, maybe even eight teams, can win it all."
Lexington Catholic Coach Brandon Salsman said Renner "can say all he wants, but they haven't lost to a Kentucky team all season so they're the odds-on favorite and wearing a bull's-eye on their chest."
Bowling Green Coach D.G. Sherrill said he would rate Ballard and Knott Central 1-2.
"You really have to be ready to play (Ballard) because the gear they play in is pretty overwhelming."
As for Knott Central, Sherrill said "Justice and (Evan) Hall are phenomenal."
Patriots Coach B.B. King thinks his team has the right mindset to make a deep run.
"I've seen over the last few weeks how these kids have been more focused. They know it's their last shot. They've got a definite goal."
Taylor County Coach Richard Gatewood rates Ballard and Knott Central as the top two, "but look at how many times in the state tournament the favorites don't win. Anything can happen.
"Do we have a chance? Absolutely."
Calloway County Coach Terry Birdsong said "when it comes down to it, you look at the 6th, 7th and 11th regions (Doss, Ballard, Lexington Catholic), and go from there."