Photo slideshow: Covington Catholic defeats Madison Central 57-45
The Kentucky high school basketball postseason tips off Monday. Are you ready for it?
Don’t worry if you’re not — here are 64 things that will help you get familiar with Kentucky’s postseason and experience it to the fullest over the coming weeks.
1. There are 64 boys’ district tournaments and 64 girls’ district tournaments to be played, many starting Monday. Barring inclement weather or some other unforeseen circumstances, the champion and runner-up in each will be decided by Saturday evening.
2. Both the district champion and its runner-up advance to one of 16 region tournaments. District winners are paired (somewhat) randomly with district runners-up from one of three other districts that comprise a region — the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th districts make up the 1st Region, the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th districts make up the 2nd Region, and so on. District champions cannot meet the runner-up from their district until the region finals.
3. The 102nd Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen is slated for March 6-10 while the 58th KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen will be held March 13-17. Both tournaments will be held at Rupp Arena in Lexington, and both championship games are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sundays.
4. This is the first time in history that Rupp Arena will host the girls’ state basketball tournament; the event was staged at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena each of the last three years. Lexington last hosted the girls’ state championship in 1932 at the University of Kentucky’s Alumni Gym in 1932; that space was recently revamped as a state-of-the-art fitness center for students and faculty.
5. Rupp Arena has hosted the boys’ Sweet Sixteen each year since 1995 and 35 times previously. It is slated to host the boys’ tournament through 2028 and the girls’ tournament through 2022.
6. Scott County — home to the state’s top-ranked boys’ and girls’ team in the latest edition of Dave Cantrall’s Rating the State — does not yet know its first opponent in either 42nd District tournament, hosted this year by Henry Clay. Frederick Douglass and Sayre will square off in both 4-5 games for the opportunity to play David to the Cardinals’ Goliath.
7. Burgin — the 29th smallest school in the state by enrollment — will host the boys’ and girls’ 46th District tournament for the first time since its gym was built in the early ‘70s. It seats about 500 people and ought to be packed — the boys’ tournament could feature the final game coached by small school titan Don Irvine, who’s retiring following Burgin’s final game after 40 years coaching the sport, when the host takes on defending champ Mercer County, and both tournaments boast 2-3 matchups featuring crosstown rivals East Jessamine and West Jessamine.
8. Intracounty foes Hopkinsville and Christian County — ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in Dave Cantrall’s 2nd Region ratings — will square off in the boys’ 8th District semifinals. Between them they own nine of the last 10 2nd Region titles (University Heights, home to superstar Xavier signee KyKy Tandy, snapped the streak). They split their regular-season meetings but neither toppled UHA, the favorite win the 8th District and repeat in the 2nd Region.
9. Breckinridge County’s boys and girls will each open the 11th District tournament against Frederick Fraize at the Cloverport Sports Center. The Fighting Tigers are one of two programs (Scott County is the other) with both a Mr. and Miss Basketball candidate this year: Kobe Poole (20.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game) and Kayla Young (14.9 points, 11.7 rebounds) are on the official ballot.
10. Murray’s girls, led by Miss Basketball finalist Elizabeth Curtis (the state’s leading three-point shooter with 110 makes on the season) will bid for their sixth straight 4th District championship. The Tigers, ranked third in the 1st Region behind Graves County and fellow 4th District contender Marshall County, played in the last three Sweet Sixteen tournaments, losing to the eventual champ each time.
11. Bowling Green and Warren Central, who’ve combined to win the last 10 4th Region boys’ titles — six for the Purples, four for the Dragons, including last season’s — are neck-and-neck in this year’s rankings and favored to meet in this year’s 14th District finals. Central holds the top spot in the region by just 2.2 points over the Purples, with whom they’ve split two meetings this year.
12. Might the Dragons go from region champs to non-participants in the region? Greenwood, with whom they’ve also split two meetings, is ranked third in the region and is Warren Central’s opponent in the district semis. Ben Carroll (16.4 points) and Jack Roberts (15.3) lead the Gators.
13. Lexington Christian, which had never won the boys’ 43rd District tournament before 2017, is the two-time defending champ. It’ll have to knock off rival Lexington Catholic — which got the better of it twice this season by the exact same score, 54-49 — and then one of either Lafayette, Paul Laurence Dunbar or Tates Creek in the finals to secure a three-peat.
14. Maybe no team coming into the boys’ 43rd District should feel better than Dunbar: the Bulldogs upset Scott County in the penultimate night of the regular season, becoming the first in-state team this season to defeat the Cardinals. Jared Gadd, who came off the bench as a freshman for Dunbar during its run to the 2016 Sweet Sixteen title, averages 13.1 points to lead this unit as a senior.
15. The girls’ postseason in Louisville probably won’t be too spicy until the region tournaments get underway, but the 24th District could produce one of the more intriguing finals in the state if Bullitt East and top-seeded Mercy, who’ve split two meetings, both qualify. Bullitt East is ranked 12th statewide and Mercy is 22nd; they’re No. 1 and No. 3 in the 6th Region, with likely 22nd District champ Butler in between them.
16. A likely 33rd District championship between Conner and Ryle would pit the state’s No. 2 and No. 4 teams against one another for the second time in as many weeks. Conner won the latest showdown at Ryle but the Raiders bested the Cougars earlier this season on the road. Courtney Hurst leads Conner, which has won 25 straight since falling to Ryle, with 17.7 points.
17. Ryle has a Miss Basketball finalist in Lauren Schwartz, who’s headed to Rice University and is the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. The Raiders also boast a probable 2020 Miss Basketball finalist (and, perhaps, frontrunner) in Maddie Scherr, an ESPN four-star recruit whose long list of offers includes UK, Louisville, Oregon and Georgia.
18. Middlesboro has a score to settle with Harlan County, the four-time defending boys’ champ in the 52nd District. The Yellowjackets lost both meetings with the Black Bears this season by two points. Middlesboro also fell in overtime to Harlan County — against whom it’s lost 14 straight —in last year’s tournament opener.
19. Barren County, the top-ranked girls’ team in the 4th Region, opens the 15th District tournament against Allen County-Scottsville, the fifth-ranked team in the region and with whom it split two regular-season meetings, both decided by single digits. Bailey Pedigo (13.8 points) and Elizabeth Bertram (13.4) lead the Trojanettes; Murray State signee Sarah Sutton leads the Patriots with 22.7 points.
20. The 58th District tournament almost every year from 1937-2018 — the only exceptions were 1943-1945 when the state was split into more than 100 districts during World War II — was held within the confines of Floyd County. The county’s 73-year streak will come to an end when Betsy Layne and Floyd Central’s girls tip off at Lawrence County on Monday.
21. Somerset’s boys went unbeaten in regular-season district play for the first time this century. Sophomore Kade Grundy averages 18.5 points to lead the Briar Jumpers, who open the 47th District tournament against Casey County. A district title would be Somerset’s first since 2002.
22. Casey County went 1-5 in 47th District play but boast one of Kentucky’s top scorers: senior Max Reyes averages 24.2 points — 11th in the state — eight rebounds a night and shoots about 38 percent from the three-point line. He had 35 and 27 points in the Rebels’ two meetings with Somerset this year.
23. Cody Messer, the first-year head coach of Barbourville’s boys, played for Dinky Phipps when the latter coached the Tigers. Student will try to get the better of teacher when Barbourville meets Lynn Camp — coached by Phipps — in the 51st District tournament at Pineville. The Wildcats won the only regular-season battle, 57-54.
24. Isaiah Cozart, a Mr. Basketball finalist who has signed with Western Kentucky University and earlier this season became the state’s career leader in blocked shots, will anchor Madison Central’s defense of its 44th District title. The Indians have history on their side: They’ve claimed 22 of the previous 23 championships.
25. Elizabethtown’s girls have won 13 straight 17th District tournaments and 103 straight games against 17th District opponents; they haven’t lost a district game since Jan. 16, 2009, when they fell to North Hardin (the Panthers’ season ended in Sweet Sixteen finals that year). The Panthers have played in four of the last girls’ Sweet Sixteens.
26. Fort Knox, one of E-town’s possible semifinals opponents, is on a 160-game district losing streak, its last win coming against North Hardin on Dec. 13, 2002. The Eagles have reached two state tournaments, going back-to-back in 1978 and 1979.
27. Two-time defending 31st District champ Gallatin County’s boys have won 29 straight games against teams in the 31st District and 12 straight contests entering the postseason. The Wildcats if they reach the finals could meet host Carroll County, which nearly brought their streak to an end early in the new year before Gallatin escaped with a 69-68 home victory on Jan. 4.
28. Each game Silver Grove’s boys and girls play in the 37th District tournament (held at Campbell County Middle School) could be their program’s last; the independent school district voted last week to initiate a merge with the Campbell County school district, which will vote on the merge at its next board meeting.
29. If Silver Grove closes, it will take with it one of the state’s best nicknames — the Big Trains. Boys’ senior Spencer Macke’s stats live up to the “Big” part of that moniker for sure — he’s averaging 34.5 points and 15.4 rebounds, both state highs, and recently scored 61 points in a 102-79 win over Big Bone Baptist, a home school based in Union. He plans to walk on at West Virginia.
30. Oneida Baptist’s girls haven’t played in a region tournament since 1985, and Red Bird’s girls hasn’t played in one since 2001. The teams will play one another in the 49th District semifinals as a result of a random draw for seeds, so one of those droughts will end this year.
31. Woodford County in its final year as a member of the 11th Region will host the 41st District tournament. The Yellow Jackets were shifted to the 30th District, which is part of the 8th Region, as part of the upcoming realignment scheduled to take effect this fall.
32. History is on the line for Frankfort in its first-round opener against rival Franklin County in the boys’ 41st District. The Panthers enter at 25-5 overall this season and, in addition to qualifying for the 11th Region tournament, would set a new school record for single-season wins if they topple the Flyers, with whom they’ve split two meetings this year.
33. Delaney Enlow averages 13 rebounds a night — fourth-most in the state — for Woodford County’s girls, who open against Western Hills. She’s a junior and has committed to play softball at Louisiana-Lafayette, which has won 17 of the last 18 Sun Belt Conference championships and played in six Women’s College World Series.
34. Seneca will look to play spoiler when it meets Waggener, one of three teams tied for No. 6 in the state, in the 27th District semifinals. The Redhawks fly in with a 19-10 record, its last victory coming against a red-hot Male squad that had won eight straight games.
35. Waggener’s lost only three times this season, but twice to Trinity, its probable district finals opponent. The Wildcats have won nine straight games since falling to the Shamrocks, 44-41, in the Louisville Invitational Tournament semifinals.
36. Trinity, the state’s second-ranked boys’ squad, took a couple punches on the chin in recent weeks — they lost at No. 3 Henry Clay, 52-50, after leading most of the game and at Male, 77-74, in triple overtime — but finished the season as LIT champs and with multiple wins over top-25 teams. Louisville signee and Mr. Basketball finalist David Johnson averages 15.8 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Rocks.
37. Reigning girls’ All “A” Classic champion Owensboro Catholic has won five of the last six 9th District tournaments. The Aces, who’ve won 16 straight against their district sisters, open their title defense against Daviess County, which hasn’t defeated them since the 2012 9th District title game.
38. Owensboro Catholic, which took defending state champ Mercer County to the brink of defeat in a 67-66 heartbreaker during last year’s Sweet Sixteen quarterfinals, has won the 3rd Region in four of the last eight years and is favored to do it this year. But, the Aces have not repeated as the region’s champ since going back-to-back in 1985 and 1986.
39. Simon Kenton’s girls have claimed the 8th Region championship in three of the last four years and they’re among the frontrunners in the region this season. The Pioneers have won 42 straight games against 32nd District competition and haven’t lost to Williamstown, their first-round opponent, since 2002 when Simon Kenton was a member of the 33rd District.
40. The Pioneers’ streak was tested early this season: Walton-Verona, the third-ranked team in the 8th Region and this year’s All “A” Classic runner-up, fell in double overtime, 63-60, at home on Dec. 8. Walton-Verona finished with a 22-8 regular-season record and the second-most wins in the region.
41. Anderson County ended the regular season with the best record — 24-6 — and the highest ranking among 8th Region girls’ teams. The Bearcats went 8-0 down the stretch — including a 22-point road win at Walton-Verona and an 11-point win over No. 10 Male — and defeated No. 4 Elizabethtown earlier this season in the Queen of the Commonwealth tournament.
42. Scott County’s girls finished 28-1, their best regular-season finish under head coach Steve Helton. The Cardinals have won 23 straight games against 42nd District foes, their last loss coming against Bryan Station in the 2016 tournament semifinals.
43. During the 42nd District tournament, Henry Clay will host a traveling exhibit recognizing 100 years of Kentucky high school basketball from the Kentucky Historical Society and Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame. Admission is free and the exhibit opens an hour before the first game tips off and closes 30 minutes after the last game ends.
44. Fern Creek (6th Region), Pikeville (15th) and Scott County (11th) are the only other boys’ teams in the running to three-peat as region champs. Of the three, only Scott County is ranked atop its region.
45. Fern Creek started its season 3-6 but won three of their final four games to finish above .500 at 14-11. The Tigers survived, 61-58, against Bullitt East — their first round opponent in the 24th District and the region’s No. 4 team — on Jan. 22. District favorites Pleasure Ridge Park (21st) and Butler (22nd) are ranked right behind Fern Creek in the region.
46. Pikeville won a triple-overtime classic against John Hardin in last year’s Sweet Sixteen before bowing out against Warren Central. Connor Roberts leads this year’s edition, which won eight of its last nine, with 19.1 points and a 40.9-percent stroke from behind the three-point line.
47. Scott County expects to have Mr. Basketball finalist Michael Moreno back on the floor during the 42nd District tournament. Moreno through 12 games averaged 17.2 points and 8.8 rebounds — both team highs — before suffering a fracture in his right foot the last week of December.
48. Boyd County’s girls, ranked third statewide, open 64th District tournament play against Fairview, whom it routed twice in the regular season. On the other side would be a championship bout with Ashland Blazer, with whom it split meetings during the regular season.
49. Savannah Wheeler, the state’s leading scorer, missed the first game against Ashland — a 52-35 loss at Blazer, the site of this year’s district tournament. Wheeler, a Marshall signee who’s averaging 30.8 points, received interest from higher-level Division I programs late in her recruitment but held firm to a commitment she made before her sophomore season.
50. Wheeler is one of the leading candidates for this year’s Miss Basketball award along with Emma King, a UK signee who’s averaging 18.2 points and 7.6 rrebounds to lead Lincoln County. Either player would be the first from their school to win either Mr. Basketball or Miss Basketball in the history of both awards.
50. Lincoln County’s girls hit a bump in the road prior to the 45th District tournament: they lost three straight before ending the regular season with a win at Casey County. It could avenge one of those losses — an 88-85 overtime defeat at Danville that forced a coin flip for the top seed, which the Patriots won — if it reaches the finals.
51. Danville’s girls will have to face crosstown Boyle County to reach that hypothetical grudge match with Lincoln County. They romped the Rebels in their two meetings this season. Ivy Turner, who’s got an offer from Presbyterian University, averages 25.2 points for the Admirals, seventh-most in the state.
52. The boys at Danville finished their regular season with a 26-4 record and the program’s most wins since the 1980-81 season. The Admirals with three more wins would match the school record set by the 1967-68 team, which finished as 12th Region champs and 29-3 overall.
53. The outcome of a likely 3rd District championship bout between intracounty rivals Graves County and Mayfield could be a big difference-maker in the 1st Region tournament. The loser could draw McCracken County, which is sandwiched between the two at the top of the regional rankings.
54. McCracken County has won three of the five 1st District tournaments that have been played since the school opened and swept its district this season. Jackson Sivills, a junior forward with multiple Division I offers, leads the defending 1st Region champs with 20.9 points and 7.7 rebounds.
55. Defending boys’ state champion Covington Catholic is a much different team this season after several of last year’s stars graduated, but the Colonels are still a threat to repeat as 9th Region champs. Grant Disken, a junior who last season barely contributed, now leads CovCath with 14.3 points and shoots 40.3 percent from the three-point line.
56. Beechwood overtook CovCath for the top seed in the 35th District by virtue of a buzzer-beater by star sophomore Scotty Draud in a 49-48 win to open February. A rematch in the tournament finals is likely; both face sub-.500 teams in the semifinals. The Tigers went 25-5 in the regular season, cruising past their previous school record for wins (22 in 2008-09) and finishing with 20 or more wins for just the fourth time ever.
57. Newport before winning the boys’ 36th District last season hadn’t claimed a district title since the 1984-85 season. This year the Wildcats, the district’s top seed, have a chance to go back-to-back for the first time since 1977 and 1978. Tahj Harding — a 6-4 junior built like a rock — averages 16.3 points and 9.8 rebounds.
58. Highlands hopes to spoil Newport’s repeat bid: The Bluebirds finished just shy of 20 wins at 19-10 but went 13-2 against 9th Region foes, the only losses coming against Cooper (the twice-defending 33rd District champ) and the Wildcats, who bested them by two points, 66-64, in mid-December. That mark also includes a win over Covington Catholic early this season.
59. Avenging a 15-point road loss from the regular season won’t be the only motivator for Berea’s girls when they take the court against Madison Southern at EKU’s McBrayer Arena on Monday. The Pirates, whose 22 wins are tied with Franklin County for the second-most in the region this season, haven’t played in the 11th Region tournament since 2007 — a win would put them in — and haven’t won the 44th District tournament since 2003.
60. EKU signee Jada Higgins, a Miss Basketball finalist, leads Knott County Central’s girls with 18.1 points and 5.4 rebounds. She’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field for the Patriots, who’ve won seven straight games as they start their chase for a fourth straight 53rd District championship and third straight 14th Region title.
61. Clark County has the fifth-best record among 10th Region girls’ teams but it’s played the toughest schedule of the lot. The Cardinals also went 9-0 against their region sisters, including 54- and 48-point routs of Montgomery County, their first-round opponent in the 40th District, in January.
62. NKU commit Kennedy Igo was absent with an injury at the start of the season but has played in Clark County’s last 19 games. She’s averaging 14.7 points and shooting 47.6 percent from the three-point line for the Cardinals, who’ve won their district each of the last five seasons and played in the last two Sweet Sixteen tournaments (falling to two-time champ Mercer County in each).
63. Campbell County and Clark County’s boys haven’t played since Nov. 30 — a 57-48 win for the Camels — and that’s the only loss in the 10th Region for either this season. The Camels enter the 37th District tournament on an 11-game win streak; Clark County had won nine straight before falling overtime to Henry Clay to close the regular season.
64. The last team to beat Campbell County? Walton-Verona, which features Dieonte Miles, a 6-10 Mr. Basketball finalists who’s signed with Xavier. The Wildcats will look to win their third straight title in the 32nd District and bid for the program’s first appearance in the Sweet Sixteen since 1942.