Every basketball team across the state faces a pair of elimination games over the next five days.
Win both contests, and a sectional berth — with a one-game shot at reaching the state tournament — is in hand.
Regional tournament action for the boys begins Saturday with quarterfinal contests, each beginning at 7 p.m. Those are home-site games, earned by finishing first or second in the district.
Included in the mix in Class AAA is Science Hill visiting Jefferson County and David Crockett traveling to play Sevier County. In Class AA, Johnson County is at home to take on Claiborne, Elizabethton plays host to Grainger, and Unicoi County hits the road to battle Chuckey-Doak.
As for Class A, Hampton has a home game against Tennessee School for the Deaf while Unaka is at Cosby.
On Tuesday, semifinal action shifts to Jefferson County’s gym in Dandridge (1-AAA), Hal Henard in Greeneville (1-AA) and Chuckey-Doak Middle School in Afton (1-A). Championship games are scheduled for Thursday.
In our little corner of the state, there are two teams who face reasonable stretches of highway for navigating a trip to Murfreesboro. Five others can make a case for having a chance, and two others fit more into the major longshot role.
Here is how these teams rank, in order of the likelihood of reaching the state tournament (see region tournament predictions at end of story):
1. Hampton — The Bulldogs have a clear path to the Region 1-A finals, and would be a strong favorite over Cosby or South Greene.
Winning the title is a necessity. A road trip to Meigs County (26-4 with no questionable losses) likely awaits the Region 1-A runner-up in the sectional round.
Hampton (25-5) has a complete package as a team, and tons of experience. This is the Bulldogs’ year to make some serious noise at the state level.
2. Dobyns-Bennett — For a team that started 6-8, it’s hard to imagine being in this spot. It’s also important to recognize Class AAA is no bargain, and the Indians being No. 2 in this list says something about Northeast Tennessee’s overall chances of getting a boys’ team to The Boro.
Oddly enough, the Indians could actually use a little help from a favorite. Getting Sevier County to beat David Crockett could help the Indians’ cause because D-B is still searching for a way to contain Pioneers’ standout Patrick Good, who has lit D-B up like New York City on New Year’s Eve: scoring 35, 41 and 39 points in three games versus the Tribe.
If the Indians get a home sectional game, they would at least have a 50-50 shot against likely Region 2-AAA survivors Oak Ridge or Maryville.
3. Greeneville — Folks, this is where the water gets really murky. It’s conceivable the Greene Devils could lose in the quarterfinals to Sullivan South.
A potential semifinal matchup with Grainger or Elizabethton (a 50-50 game) could go either way. And there’s no guarantee the Greene Devils could take down Unicoi County or Johnson County in the finals.
And then the next step pretty much depends on Christian Academy of Knoxville or Gatlinburg-Pittman knocking off Knox Fulton. If that doesn’t happen, Region 1-AA finalists will likely get Fulton and Austin-East in the sectional. History says Region 1 teams should not to make reservations for The Boro when A-E and Fulton are in the way.
Any hope of Strawberry Plains Carter knocking off A-E doesn’t hold much water. Teams who consider defense a nuisance that interferes with offensive fun generally don’t survive tough postseason games. Such a team is Carter, which has lost three games this year where it scored 100 points — giving up 115, 102 and 107 in those contests. The 102 points were to a Seymour team that scored less than 40 points nine times this season.
4. Unicoi County — The Blue Devils’ loss to Johnson County in the district semifinals was their first to the Longhorns in a decade. It was kind of like the perfect storm for Johnson County.
Putting the Blue Devils ahead of the Longhorns is banking on a healthy ankle for Blue Devils’ post Connor Simpson.
5. Johnson County — Scrappy and tough and always in the mix, do not count the Longhorns out. They certainly peaked at the right time, playing inspired basketball in the district. Repeating that feat will not be easy.
Then again, playing hard wins a lot of postseason games.
6. David Crockett — It’s a new world for Pioneers’ basketball, and they can no longer be an afterthought.
Patrick Good cannot take them to Murfreesboro single handedly, so it would take four games of a role player here or there playing above their capability.
7. Elizabethton — The Cyclones hurt their region chances in the district final. If they get past a solid Grainger team, they potentially would have a matchup problem with Greeneville in the semifinals.
The good news is the pieces are in place for a surprise run. If Zeke Clark and Tyler Nichols play at the top of their games, and two role players go above and beyond in the scoring column each game, the Cyclones have a chance.
8. Sullivan South — There have been parts of games this season where the Rebels looked like a team that could make postseason noise. It just hasn’t been a 32-minute deal consistently enough.
9. Science Hill — It has been a tough season for the Hilltoppers, and ranking them this low basically amounts to counting them out.
But with a coach like Ken Cutlip, and the potential of lighting it up from 3-point land on a given night, the Hilltoppers could pull an upset of Jefferson County. It’s hard to imagine reaching those heights several games in a row when it really hasn’t happened much this season.
Runner-up: Tennessee High
Runner-up: Unicoi County