March 8-10, 2018
Four Seasons Arena, Great Falls
The top-5 of the 406mtsports.com rankings remained pretty static all season among Havre, Columbia Falls, Hamilton, Browning and Hardin. All five have made the eight-team tournament field to chase the Class A title, which Columbia Falls won last season for the first time since 1983.
As evidenced by their unbeaten record, Havre (21-0) has had the most consistent season. The Blue Ponies are a team drenched in fundamentals, so it will likely take a solid effort to corral them. The Blue Ponies made the semifinals last season, but bowed out with losses in their next two games. Havre has steadily made gains the past few seasons, and it could be the Blue Ponies are ready to take another step this year.
Other qualifiers: Hardin, second at state last season, put up a pretty good fight against Havre in the divisional title game. Belgrade had a tough regular season, but at times at divisionals the Panthers showed the form they had at the end of last year that made them so optimistic for this season. Glendive had to play six games at the Eastern A - winning four -- to qualify for state. It's the Red Devils' first trip to state since the 2008-2009 season.
Butte Central is charging hard into the tournament. The Maroons have won 13 of their last 15 and 9 of their last 10 in taking the Western A title two weeks ago. During that stretch, they went 4-1 against teams that eventually made the state-tournament field. Butte Central was third at last year’s state tournament.
Other qualifiers: Browning had a nice run going with five straight wins, before losing to Butte Central in the divisional title game. Two of those wins were over Columbia Falls and a third was over Hamilton. Defending champion Columbia Falls successfully retooled, winning 16 of their last 17 games. Since then, the Wildkats are 4-3 in their last seven, and they’ll open their tourney against Hardin in a rematch of the ’17 title game. Hamilton is another team that started strong, but wound up 3-4 in its last seven games. Three of those losses were by five points or fewer, however.
Contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GazSportsSchert