What I know now
Several months ago, before high school basketball teams even held their first practice, I formed the carefully thought-out opinion — which appeared in two preseason forecasts — that the McCreary Central boys and Rockcastle County girls would win the 12th Region this year.
I’d like to take one of them back now, please.
As the postseason begins, I’m still confident in the Rockcastle girls, who have won two of the last three 12th Region titles and four regional championships in the last five years in all. But I don’t feel so good about the McCreary boys, who lost 11 games in the regular season and face the most interesting elimination game in the entire region this week.
I realized even last summer that picking the Raiders was a risk, because this was a team that hasn’t even made the 12th Region Tournament since 2006, when it lost to Boyle County in the semifinals. But I thought that as the 12th took a downturn — and make no mistake, this is a down year for boys teams in the 12th — that standout Aaron Watts would give McCreary an edge in what looks like a wide-open field.
Now the field doesn’t look as wide-open as it did even a month ago, and McCreary certainly doesn’t look like the team to beat. The Raiders went just 9-5 within the region this season, and three of those losses came within their own district, the 48th. One was at home against Southwestern, the team they’ll play in their district semifinal Thursday.
McCreary could still win it, along with as many as five other teams. (Though I’m starting to think that number is too high.) But I’m looking to a familiar place as I revise my pick for the start of the postseason. I’m looking to Lincoln County.
Lincoln looks almost nothing like its team that won the last two titles, but the Patriots still look pretty good. They have the best intra-regional record at 15-3, and I’m inclined to throw out two of those losses: a holiday tournament loss to Danville in Lexington and a clunker against Southwestern that was their only regional loss in the last month.
Ethan Spurlin has shined all season for Lincoln, and players who didn’t see much action last year seem to be getting better by the week. And remember that the Patriots will be home for the regional, so they’ll be an even tougher out once coach Jeff Jackson turns up the thermostat to 80 degrees or so and the Lincoln fans turn out in droves.
As for the girls, I have pledged to stick with Rockcastle until someone takes them out. And while there are two very good teams — Casey County and Lincoln County — capable of doing so, the Lady Rockets’ depth of talent and tournament experience give them the edge in my book.
Rockcastle lost once to Casey and once to Lincoln during the season, but the Lady Rockets proved last year that such losses matter little when they defeated Casey in both the district and regional finals after losing two regular-season games to the Lady Rebels.
If any of the three aformentioned teams wins the girls 12th, the region will have a pretty good representative at the Girls Sweet Sixteen. All three were among the top 16 teams in the final Bluegrasspreps.com rankings, with Rockcastle at No. 9, Lincoln at No. 14 and Casey at No. 16.
Now that I’ve stuck my neck out in picking the regional winners, here’s who I think will fill out the regional fields next week in Somerset and Stanford:
- 45th District: 1. Lincoln County; 2. Danville.
- 46th District: 1. West Jessamine; 2. East Jessamine.
- 47th District: 1. Casey County; 2. Somerset.
- 48th District: 1. Southwestern; 2. Wayne County.
- 45th District: 1. Lincoln County; 2. Garrard County.
- 46th District: 1. Mercer County; 2. East Jessamine.
- 47th District: 1. Rockcastle County; 2. Casey County.
- 48th District: 1. Wayne County; 2. Southwestern.