The 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen state basketball tournament tips off Wednesday at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
There is no shortage of storylines entering this year’s event. Here are five points of intrigue surrounding the first round of the Sweet Sixteen.
1.) The one we wanted to see
Social media was afire with folks clamoring for a Scott County-Trinity matchup as soon as it was revealed during the blind draw that the 7th and 11th Regions would play each other in the first round. We got it, meaning the No. 1 (Scott County) and No. 3 (Trinity) teams entering the tournament are guaranteed to face off in the Sweet Sixteen. During the season each of them were ranked first in the Cantrall Ratings, along with No. 2 Covington Catholic, which is on the opposite of the bracket and couldn’t meet either team until the finals.
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It’s a hellacious first-round matchup for both, but the consolation is that the winner will be heavily favored to make Sunday’s title game. Corbin and Estill County, the potential quarterfinals opponents, are ranked ninth and last, respectively, coming into the tournament. Based on rankings, John Hardin would be the most-likely semifinals opponent for the Scott County-Trinity winner; the Cardinals, who haven’t lost to a Kentucky opponent, defeated John Hardin, 84-59, in the Jock Sutherland Classic. Trinity’s only in-state losses this season were to No. 4 Fern Creek (whom it couldn’t meet until the finals), Madison Central, a top-three team that was knocked out in the 11th Region semifinals by Lexington Christian, another top-five team that beat the Shamrocks.
Apollo, Estill County and Southwestern weren’t expected to win their respective regions but managed to shock the state last week.
The Eagles at one time during the season lost seven straight games but rallied in time for the postseason. It’s the second straight year the 3rd Region yielded an unexpected champion; Meade County came out of the region with a losing record last season.
Estill County made the tournament for the first time in its history after knocking off title-favorite Knott County Central, an All “A” Classic quarterfinalist, in the 14th Region finals.
Southwestern had the wildest ride to a Sweet Sixteen berth: The Warriors lost five of their last six games coming into the 12th Region Tournament, four of those losses to teams it ended up knocking off in the regional. A game-winning layup off a steal at the buzzer sealed their second Sweet Sixteen trip.
3.) No east-coast bias
Eastern Kentucky is guaranteed at least one quarterfinalist this year thanks to a matchup of Corbin and Estill County, the 13th and 14th Region champs, in the first round. It is the second year in a row that mountain teams have met in the first round.
The tournament hasn’t been kind to the mountain regions in recent seasons. Only four teams in the last 10 tournaments have advanced past the quarterfinals. Elliott County reached the semifinals in 2009, Rowan County made the finals in 2011 and South Laurel got to the semifinals in 2016.
Shelby Valley won the state title out of the 15th Region in 2010; Elisha Justice, now Pikeville’s head coach, was the star player for that squad.
4.) Title totals
Ten schools will be looking for their first Sweet Sixteen championship: Apollo, Boyd County, Campbell County, Estill County, Fern Creek, John Hardin, McCracken County, Oldham County, Pikeville and Southwestern
Scott County has won two state titles out of two different regions. The first in 1998 as an 8th Region member and again in 2007 as an 11th Region champ.
Corbin, Covington Catholic, Trinity, University Heights and Warren Central have won one title apiece. The Redhounds have had the longest drought as their championship came in 1936. CovCath’s 2014 trophy is the most recent among the quintet but Warren Central (2004) and Trinity (2012) won theirs in the last 15 years. UHA took it home in 1992.
5.) Repeat bids
Fern Creek, Pikeville and Scott County are the only teams in this year’s Sweet Sixteen field that were in the tournament last season.
The Tigers’ trip last year was their first in program history. Pikeville is here for the 15th time (as is Corbin) in program history, second among participants behind Oldham County and Scott County, who’ve each been to state 16 times.
Boys’ Sweet Sixteen
When: Wednesday through Sunday
Where: Rupp Arena
At stake: Boys’ state high school basketball championship