The field is set for the 2016 Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen State Basketball Tournament, and the first round is peppered with high-quality matchups.
The event’s opening night, March 16 in Rupp Arena, delivers a championship-level showdown at 8 p.m. as two of the teams ranked No. 1 in the state for much of the regular season collide right off the bat.
Paul Laurence Dunbar (29-6) is making its first visit to the Sweet Sixteen since 1997 as one of the favorites to win the state title but faces a daunting route to the championship. The 11th Region champion Bulldogs’ first-round opponent is 12th Region winner Mercer County (33-1). The Titans have won nine in a row since suffering their only loss of the season, 77-59 to Lafayette on Feb. 6 in Lexington, and won all three of their regional games by double digits.
With top-ranked Covington Catholic having been knocked out in regional play, Dunbar is the highest-ranked team still playing according to Dave Cantrall’s most recent ratings. Dunbar is No. 2 in the state, and Mercer County is No. 6. Joining the Titans and Bulldogs in the upper half of the bracket are No. 4 Trinity, No. 5 Bowling Green and No. 8 Newport Central Catholic.
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Seventh Region champion Trinity (29-6) and 9th Region winner NewCath (28-4) also meet on the tourney’s opening day, at 1:30 p.m.
Day 2 of the Sweet Sixteen brings a third opening-round matchup of top-10 teams when No. 6 South Laurel (27-6) of the 13th Region takes on No. 10 Christian County (29-2) of the 2nd Region at 1:30 p.m.
The 99th boys’ state tournament runs March 16-20. The opening game pits 14th Region champion Buckhorn (19-15) against 1st Region winner Murray (29-5) at noon on March 16. A new champion is certain to be crowned as 2015 Sweet Sixteen winner Owensboro did not make it back to Rupp. Only four teams from last year’s Sweet Sixteen have returned: Tournament runner-up Bowling Green, Elliott County, Doss and Taylor County.
In addition to the top-flight teams headed to Rupp Arena, fans will have a chance to check out several of the state’s top players. Mr. Basketball finalists James Boone of Murray, Tyrik Edwards of Christian County, Quentin Goodin of Taylor County, Ben Weyer of Newport Central Catholic, Darius Williams of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Caleb Taylor of South Laurel and Connor Hoskins of Buckhorn all helped lead their teams to the Sweet Sixteen
The Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen begins Wednesday, March 16 in Rupp Arena. Below are the pairings for the tournament in bracket order:
First round: Wednesday, March 16
Buckhorn (19-15) vs. Murray (29-5), noon
Trinity (29-6) vs. Newport Central Catholic (28-4), 1:30 p.m.
Paul Laurence Dunbar (29-6) vs. Mercer County (33-1), 8 p.m.
Bowling Green (30-2) vs. Elliott County (22-7), 6:30 p.m.
First round: Thursday, March 17
Lawrence County (29-4) vs. Doss (27-5), noon
Mason County (23-10) vs. Taylor County (27-7), 6:30 p.m.
South Laurel (27-6) vs. Christian County (29-2), 1:30 p.m.
South Oldham (28-5) vs. Owensboro Catholic (22-9), 8 p.m.
Quarterfinals: Friday, March 18
Buckhorn-Murray winner vs. Trinity-Newport Catholic winner, noon
Dunbar-Mercer County winner vs. Bowling Green-Elliott County winner, 1:30 p.m.
Lawrence County-Doss winner vs. Mason County-Taylor County winner, 6:30 p.m.
South Laurel-Christian County winner vs. South Oldham-Owensboro Catholic winner, 8 p.m.
Semifinals: Saturday, March 19
Friday’s winners, 6:30 and 8 p.m.
Finals: Sunday, March 20
Saturday’s winners, 2 p.m.