Science Hill has already locked up 20 wins, but in the truest sense of high school basketball the season begins Friday.
Northeast Tennessee teams have played a few conference games, but from here to the district tournament it's basically all about league play. For example, Science Hill has 11 regular season games remaining and 10 of them are against Big Eight Conference foes.
Science Hill is a large favorite to win the boys' championship, and a bigger than big pick to run away with the girls' title. If either of those things doesn't happen, it would be a major story.
However, things are different in the Three Rivers Conference on the boys' side — at least until Friday. That's when strong favorite Sullivan East visits Elizabethton. A Patriots' win keeps them on a level above the rest of the league, but the Cyclones could make people rethink the issue.
Elizabethton's girls enter the “conference season” as a solid favorite. Sullivan East, Unicoi County and Happy Valley are in a jumble to see who has the best shot at pushing the Lady Cyclones.
In the Watauga Valley Conference it's a different story. With only eight league games to play, things will shake out much more slowly in January.
University High's boys have the upper hand right now. On the girls' side, things won't really come into focus for Unaka, Hampton and North Greene until the middle-to-late part of this month.
If there was any thought of Science Hill being too small to warrant serious state-title consideration, the Hilltoppers put that to rest Monday against Toronto's Father Henry Carr in the Arby's Classic.
Boasting a 7-foot-3 center and size elsewhere, the Crusaders still couldn't overcome Science Hill's quickness and effort.
The Hilltoppers also overcame size issues in a win over Virginia Episcopal.
However, the Hilltoppers must provide 32 minutes of effort to play with the big boys from Memphis and other parts of the state.
“If we are a step slow or a step off, it looks bad for us,” said head coach Ken Cutlip. “We have to be able to play with maximum effort, or we will pay a heavy price. There has to be a sense of urgency.”
It will be especially important to work on this when the competition isn't as tough as the Arby's Classic.
“We can't get into a coasting mode, and we can't get lulled into a slower pace,” said Cutlip. “We're no better than anybody else if we're not playing with maximum effort. We need to continue giving it for the rest of the season.”
Boys basketball games of the week — (Friday) Daniel Boone at Science Hill, Tennessee High at Sullivan South, Sullivan East at Elizabethton, Johnson County at Sullivan North.
The last of the aforementioned games is a really good under-the-radar matchup. Johnson County probably needs to keep North star Chase Arnold under 25 points to have a shot.
Boys pick of the week — Sullivan East 69, Elizabethton 66.
The Patriots really stood up well against tough Arby's Classic competition, and that should serve them well as they step back into conference play.
Picks record: 3-0.
The holiday tournaments provided quite a few shakeups for this week's Prep Top 10.
Team W-L Prv
1. Science Hill 20-2 1
2. Sullivan East 14-6 4
3. Elizabethton 11-4 5
4. Dobyns-Bennett 9-4 2
5. Tennessee High 9-6 6
6. Daniel Boone 9-5 8
7. Cloudland 10-5 7
8. Greeneville 10-6 3
9. University High 12-3 9
10. Hampton 11-5 10
Prep signings: Daniel Boone's Jordan Roth has made his college decision.
The senior cross country and track standout will make it official Feb. 6 with Tennessee Tech.
Roth led Boone to two top-five finishes, including second place this season, at the state cross country meet. Roth was also a member of last year's 4x800 relay team that broke a 32-year-old school record.
Girls basketball games of the week — (Friday) Dobyns-Bennett at Volunteer, Tennessee High at Sullivan South, Happy Valley at Unicoi County, Sullivan East at Elizabethton, Cloudland at North Greene.
Tennessee High will try to prove its No. 2 status in the Big Eight Conference with a tough road challenge. …
Happy Valley seeks a conversation-starting victory. …
Struggling Cloudland faces a major task, but also a good opportunity.
Girls pick of the week — Unicoi County 62, Happy Valley 59.
This one should be tightly contested from start to finish with plenty of momentum swings, but the Lady Blue Devils should be able to protect their home court.
Picks record: 3-0.
Dobyns-Bennett and Hampton use the momentum from holiday tournament success to move up in this week's girls rankings:
Team W-L Prv
1. Science Hill 14-2 1
2. Elizabethton 12-3 2
3. Tennessee High 11-3 3
4. Dobyns-Bennett 11-3 5
5. Hampton 13-4 7
6. North Greene 13-4 6
7. Sullivan South 12-4 4
8. South Greene 12-5 8
9. Daniel Boone 9-7 nr
10. Unicoi County 9-6 9