That time has arrived.
Six area district tournaments will begin this week, starting today with the 1-AAA event at Viking Hall in Bristol. The 1-AA tournament starts Wednesday at Happy Valley in Elizabethton while the 1-A district is scheduled to begin Friday at Daniel Boone.
Here’s a brief look at each of the tournaments, where it takes a top-four finish to earn a spot in the regionals:
Usually this is about Science Hill, and who has the best shot at beating the Hilltoppers.
This year, Dobyns-Bennett and Tennessee High are on center stage. The Indians have clearly established themselves as the team to beat. They capped off a 10-game winning streak with a double-digit win over a Jefferson County team that had won 19 of 20 with the lone loss coming against undefeated and No. 2-ranked Murfreesboro Siegel.
Meanwhile, Tennessee High has won 9 of 10 with the lone loss a two-point setback against D-B.
So where does that leave Science Hill? The Hilltoppers are about in the same boat as David Crockett. Either team could be a factor in tournament, or lose in the first round.
The Hilltoppers beat first-round opponent Volunteer by seven points the first time, and then needed overtime at home to win by six points last week. On a neutral court, it’s probably a coin-toss game — where a loss could give Science Hill its first non-20-win season probably since the 1980s before coach George Pitts arrived.
As for the Pioneers, they’ve enjoyed a terrific season — including a win over Science Hill. But they’ve beaten Daniel Boone twice in close games, and a third win against a big rival who has played tough can be difficult to achieve.
Predicted champion: Dobyns-Bennett.
Best matchup: Boone vs. Crockett in quarterfinals.
Unicoi County started hot, then looked a bit lost, then got hot again, then suffered a crucial controversial late-season loss, and then regrouped to get the top seed anyway.
What those things add up to is a team that perseveres. Such teams are dangerous in the postseason — as the Blue Devils gave a preview of in the final seconds of Saturday’s buzzer-beater-special win over Class A power Hampton.
Sullivan South beat Unicoi recently, and Elizabethton owns a 22-point win over the Blue Devils. Any of those three teams has the physical makeup to win the tournament.
Still, Unicoi has the intangible edge. South enters on a three-game losing streak, something hard to recover from this late in the season.
Elizabethton is very difficult to beat when Zeke Clark and Tyler Nichols bring their both-ends-of-the-court A games, and the role players roll.
Wait, there’s more. Johnson County and Sullivan East play in the first round and the winner is capable of getting hot and stringing together some postseason upsets — especially the Longhorns.
Predicted champion: Unicoi County.
Best potential matchup: Elizabethton or South vs. Unicoi in finals.
Hampton ruled the roost in this league, and shouldn’t have a great deal of trouble repeating the feat in the postseason.
One thing to notice about the Bulldogs is they have come back to the pack a little bit. They’ve lost two of their last five games, and only beat Cloudland by 12 points at home after thumping the Highlanders by 39 at Roan Mountain.
South Greene and Cloudland could make things a little interesting while University High is a sincere darkhorse.
Predicted champion: Hampton.
Best potential matchup: Cloudland vs. South Greene in semifinals.
Line up and play, but this tournament title will almost surely go to Science Hill.
The closest any league team got to the Lady Hilltoppers was Daniel Boone, which lost by 23 and 16 points. If Science Hill is as focused throughout the lineup as it was Friday against Greeneville, it’s going to be a long, long night for Lady Hilltoppers’ opponents.
Volunteer has enjoyed a superb season while Dobyns-Bennett has been very good down the stretch, winning 13 of its last 15 games.
Predicted champion: Science Hill.
Best matchup: Tennessee High vs. Daniel Boone in quarterfinals.
Elizabethton ran away from league competition this season, so the Lady Cyclones are well entrenched as the favorite.
Depth, scoring, length and good defense make the Cyclones a tough team to handle.
Meanwhile, Sullivan East has put together a very impressive season. Earning 25 wins hasn’t happened for the Lady Patriots in quite a while.
Sullivan South suffered through an eight-game losing streak before winning five in a row and then ending with two losses. The Lady Rebels can’t be dismissed, and the same thing can be said about Unicoi County and Happy Valley.
Predicted champion: Elizabethton.
Best matchup: Unicoi County vs. Happy Valley in quarterfinals.
When South Greene dropped into the smallest classification, Lady Rebels’ fans surely envisioned a return to state-title-threat status.
But North Greene showed South Greene it has a few Murfreesboro dreams of its own.
And while those teams pushed Cloudland into the background, the Lady Highlanders are still very dangerous.
Hampton is also a team that cannot be overlooked.
This could be one of the most competitive of the six area tournaments.
Predicted champion: South Greene.
Best potential matchup: South Greene vs. Cloudland in semifinals.