By RICH STEVENS
During the early season boys basketball meeting between Woodrow Wilson and Nitro at Nitro High School, I saw Huntington coach Ron Hess, whose Highlanders will begin a considerable quest when the postseason gets underway the last week of February.
I told him, “If you guys win (the state title), you’ll be right up there with the team that had O.J. Mayo, Patrick Patterson and them.”
Ron and I chuckled.
Our simultaneous laugh perhaps confirmed what most believe: the Lloyd McGuffin-coached teams which won three consecutive titles (2005-07), had two future NBA players and raked in tens of thousands of dollars for the school, has no equal.
Then again, they could share at least one portion of the record books.
With a Class AAA state title next month, this Huntington team will be the second big school program since the state went to three classes in 1959 to win three straight crowns, matching the Highlanders of nine years ago.
Comparisons notwithstanding, this group has a chance to match the streak of championships as the postseason gets underway for some teams on Friday, Feb. 26, and most on Monday, Feb. 29.
Coaches’ sectional ballots were due at the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission offices in Parkersburg by noon today.
Just what kind of chance does Huntington have to achieve its goal?
I’m throwing in my two cents all the way to the state tournament seeding. As it is with March Madness, an early mistake can hijack my bracket.
Last season at this time (as I prepare to post this blog), I was in front of my computer with my email open as sectional tournament schedules rolled in. I posted them on Twitter one by one. I don’t have that advantage this year, so everything here is what some might consider an educated guess.
Let’s call it a semi-educated guess.
OK, a moderately semi-educated guess.
Let’s take a look:
Projected seeds: 1. Parkersburg South (13-6), 2. Wheeling Park (13-7), 3. Parkersburg (11-9), 4. Brooke (6-13)
Projected survivors: 1. Parkersburg South, 2. Wheeling Park.
Coach Mike Fallon’s Patriots have beaten every team in the section, while splitting with Wheeling Park. Coach Michael Jebbia’s Patriots have problems stemming from an Jan. 26 incident on a bus that will serve as a cautionary tale and a distraction into the postseason. Multiple players served suspensions from school and the team, although none of the names have been released. Wheeling Park should stay around for the regional co-final, but there are no guarantees. It’s unlikely Brooke will forget the forfeit Park took on Feb. 2, seven days after the incident. According to statistics the Patriot staff files on MaxPreps.com, Park won a home game against Preston on Feb. 6 without four of its top players — seniors Phil Bledsoe (29.3 minutes, 23.4 points, 14.5 rebounds per game), Elijah Bell (27.9 mpg, 17.1 ppg, 4.5 apg), Tre Saunders (30.4 mpg, 11.4 ppg) and Jamez Coles (20.4 mpg, 3.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg). In three of the five games without those players, the Patriots lost to University, Steubenville, Ohio and Zanesville, Ohio by an average of 28 points. Upon their return, the Patriots scored eight first-half points in a 63-39 loss to Morgantown, but bounced back with a road win against University. Park has a week to fix what is ailing it. As for Parkersburg, I’m not sure what to make of coach Jeff Mennillo’s Big Reds. A Wheeling Central graduate and member of 1984 Maroon Knights team that lost to Northfork in the 1984 state title team, Mennillo was playing across town when I was a junior at Wheeling Park. My former co-worker at the Daily Mail, Derek Taylor, was spot on when he told me that Mennillo is really good when he has time to prepare for an opponent (as evidenced by last year’s upset of Morgantown in the region co-final). The top three make this section a bit tricky.
Projected seeds: 1. Morgantown (20-0), 2. University (12-7), 3. John Marshall (5-14), 4. Preston (3-16)
Projected survivors: 1. Morgantown, 2. University
This one isn’t so tricky. The Mohigans have met every challenge and won’t be denied hosting the Region 1 co-final or reaching the state tournament, for that matter. The Hawks aren’t at the Mohigans’ level and John Marshall and Preston are far back of the Morgantown-based programs. Coach Dave Tallman’s team might have the best team defense in the state. Tallman’s team is giving up the second-fewest points per game (45) among Class AAA teams with the largest margin of victory (29). The Mohigans held Capital to its lowest point total of the season in a 63-45 win at the Charleston Civic Center, three hours from Morgantown. And, losing in last year’s region co-final adds to its motivation. This one is easy.
Regional co-finals: Wheeling Park at Morgantown; University at Parkersburg South
State tournament qualifiers: Morgantown, Parkersburg South
Projected seeds: 1. Martinsburg (18-4), 2. Hedgesville (16-4), 3. Musselman (15-4), 4. Spring Mills (9-12), 5. Jefferson (8-12), 6. Washington (4-17)
Projected survivors: 1. Hedgesville, 2. Martinsburg
I guess you never know, especially in the state’s only six-team Class AAA section, but Hedgesville and Martinsburg should be the winners here — although Musselman gave the Eagles everything they would want in a five-point loss. While all the focus is on Huntington, Capital, Woodrow Wilson and Morgantown, this region cruises along without attention as a distraction. Don’t sleep on Region 2 and don’t forget, Hedgesville and Martinsburg have combined for three Class AAA titles since 2008 and Hedgesville coach Kelly Church thrives on motivating his team with a perceived lack of respect. Two teams from this section will represent Region 2 at the state tournament.
Projected seeds: 1. Lewis County (12-8), 2. Hampshire (10-11), 3. Elkins (2-19), 4. Buckhannon-Upshur (4-15)
Projected survivors: 1. Lewis County, 2. Hampshire
I see no scenario that has this section ending any other way. Then again, the Minutemen are an enigma, losing to Class AA power Bridgeport by four on Jan. 15, yet defeating Elkins by only six last week. If a team from this section reaches the state tournament, it’ll be a major upset.
Regional co-finals: Martinsburg at Lewis County; Hampshire at Hedgesville
State tournament qualifiers: Martinsburg, Hedgesville
Projected seeds: 1. Capital (18-3), 2. South Charleston (14-6), 3. Ripley (14-7), 4. George Washington (10-9), 5. Riverside (13-8)
Projected survivors: 1. Capital, 2. South Charleston
The Cougars are the clear favorite, but the rest is a crapshoot. Capital coach Matt Greene has his team playing hard on a regular basis. South Charleston’s Brandon Knapper is the only player in this section able to singlehanded lead his team to victory. Riverside would have been higher with a successful stretch run, but tumble to the bottom of the pack without Valley-Fayette transfer Zac Warden, who is no longer with the team. Ripley’s bigs — 6-8 Luke Layhew and Chase Johnson — are intriguing but the backcourt is overmatched in this section. George Washington continues to search for an identity without its top two rebounders — Anthony Dean (knee) and Larry Bryson (off the team). Sophomore guard Justin Phillips still seems to be figuring out his role.
Projected seeds: 1. Woodrow Wilson (18-2), 2. Greenbrier East (11-8), 3. Princeton (8-8), 4. Shady Spring (9-10), 5. Oak Hill (7-12)
Projected survivors: 1. Woodrow Wilson, 2. Greenbrier East
The race toward the Class AAA title is a wide-open race that includes the Flying Eagles. While Woodrow goes through stretches in games that leave you scratching your head, they have more than enough left over here. There are two showdowns on tap for the regional co-finals. The Flying Eagles have too much depth, even against a determined Brandon Knapper, who has not won a state tournament game as the South Charleston starting point guard. I don’t expect Capital to cruise past the Spartans after sweeping them by a combined 16 points, but there are enough players back from last year’s upset loss to East in the regionals with a long memory. How much fun would it be to have a Capital-Woodrow Wilson co-final?
Regional co-finals: South Charleston at Woodrow Wilson; Greenbrier East at Capital
State tournament qualifiers: Woodrow Wilson, Capital
Projected seeds: 1. St. Albans (10-11), 2. Winfield (7-14), 3. Hurricane (8-13), 4. Nitro (7-14), 5. Point Pleasant (3-17)
Projected survivors: 1. St. Albans, 2. Hurricane
I flipped a lot of coins to come up with the seeds and the survivors, except for the Red Dragons. They have won three straight games and lost to Huntington by only seven points two weeks ago. Six of St. Albans’ in-state losses have come to the Highlanders, Riverside, Capital, Woodrow Wilson, South Charleston and Ripley. Hurricane sneaks into a regional co-final on the strength of its recently acquired postseason experience.
Projected seeds: 1. Huntington (19-1), 2. Logan (9-10), 3. Spring Valley (7-15), 4. Lincoln County (14-6), 5. Cabell Midland (2-19)
Projected survivors: 1. Huntington, 2. Logan
After Huntington, this is also a coin flipper. The transition to a new coach — Alan Hatcher — hasn’t been smooth, but the Wildcats get the edge for second here. Lincoln County has the best won-loss record of teams 2-5, but its schedule features a collection of Class AA and Class A teams. The Highlanders will get the chance to defend their title. Logan will visit St. Albans in the other co-final, and their meeting won’t have fireworks, but it’ll be close. Low scoring, but close.
Regional co-finals: Hurricane at Huntington; Logan at St. Albans
State tournament qualifiers: Huntington, St. Albans
Class AAA state tournament seeds
4. Woodrow Wilson
6. Parkersburg South
8. St. Albans
The state’s middle class is typically the most competitive, but a talented group of seniors and underclassmen this season in all three classes has provided balance in the 24-team field.
Poca, which finished 27-0 last season, is favored to continue a common trend — win a second straight Class AA title. Bluefield (2013-14), Oak Hill (2010-11), and Wyoming East (2007-08) all won two in a row, accounting for six of the last nine state championships.
The Dots have two Division I recruits with Liberty University recruit Elijah Cuffee and Luke Frampton, who has received offers from Texas Tech, Marshall, James Madison and Winthrop.
Class AA is typically the most balanced, but all three classes offer tremendous star power and quality.
Projected seeds: 1. Fairmont Senior (16-4), 2. East Fairmont (9-9), 3. Weir (10-10), 4. Oak Glen (7-14), 5. North Marion (4-17)
Projected survivors: 1. Fairmont Senior, 2. East Fairmont.
The Polar Bears don’t forget losing in the state title game to Poca last season when they led the Dots 20-5 in the first quarter and 30-20 at the half. Coach Dave Retton’s team is heavily favored in the section. East Fairmont, which lost to Fairmont Senior by a combined 56 points in two meetings this season, is the best of the rest.
Projected seeds: 1. Webster County (16-3), 2. Ravenswood (13-7), 3. Braxton County (6-13), 4. Roane County (8-11), 5. Ritchie County (1-18)
Projected survivors: 1. Webster County, 2. Ravenswood
This one is not a sure thing. The Red Devils lost by only four in their regular-season meeting against the Highlanders, on the road. Webster County’s schedule might be suspect, but it hasn’t lost at Upperglade, taking an 8-0 home mark into Monday’s visit from Summers County
Regional co-finals: East Fairmont at Webster County; Ravenswood at Fairmont Senior
State tournament qualifiers: Webster County, Fairmont Senior
Projected seeds: 1. Keyser (9-9), 2. Frankfort (16-5), 3. Petersburg (10-10), 4. Berkeley Springs (10-10)
Projected survivors: 1. Keyser, 2. Frankfort
Keyser emphatically answered its only sectional loss with a 17-point victory over Frankfort. The Golden Tornado is at .500, while Frankfort owns a 16-4 record. Homecourt advantage means so much at this level of the postseason, it’s critical that the right teams get the top seeds. It should be Keyser if comparative scores are used, but there is a seven-win difference in the victory column. Frankfort, Petersburg and Berkeley Springs follow in order.
Projected seeds: 1. Robert C. Byrd (15-4), 2. Bridgeport (17-2), 3. Grafton (15-5), 4. Philip Barbour (11-9), 5. Lincoln (13-8), 6. Liberty-Harrison (4-17)
Projected survivors: 1. Robert C. Byrd, 2. Bridgeport
Odds are Byrd and Bridgeport will play in the finals of the section and, odds are they’ll be low scoring. In two combined meetings this season, they each have scored 72 points. That’s six more points than Bridgeport averages per game.
Regional co-finals: Frankfort at Robert. C. Byrd; Bridgeport at Keyser.
State tournament qualifiers: Robert C. Byrd, Bridgeport
Projected seeds: 1. Wyoming East (16-3), 2. Westside (11-9), 3. Summers County (9-13), 4. Independence (8-11), 5. Liberty-Raleigh (4-16)
Projected survivors: 1. Wyoming East, 2. Westside
The Warriors started the season with consecutive losses but have an eight game, and a seven game, winning streak. It includes a regular-season sweep of rival Westside. Coach Rory Chapman’s team has made eight state tournament appearances since the school opened in 1998 with two state titles (2007-08) and two runner-up finishes (2009-10). Westside’s doors opened in 2002, but coach Nick Cook’s Renegades have had significantly less postseason success with six tourney appearances, no state titles and just one runner-up finish (2005). Recent history belongs to Westside, which is chasing its fourth state tourney berth. The Warriors haven’t made the final eight since 2012 and never have both teams played in the same state tournament.
Projected seeds: 1. Bluefield (12-5), 2. PikeView (13-5), 3. River View (13-5), 4. Mount View (7-14), 5. James Monroe (6-11)
Projected survivors: 1. Bluefield, 2. PikeView
Aside from a 26-point loss at Woodrow Wilson, the Beavers have been rolling with five wins in their last five games. Bluefield gets the nod here over the Panthers. The discrepancy in won-lost record between River View and Mount View is deceiving with the Golden Knights playing a much more difficult schedule. Each team won at home in their regular season meetings in games decided by a combined six points.
Regional co-finals: Westside at Bluefield; PikeView at Wyoming East.
State tournament qualifiers: Bluefield, Wyoming East
Projected seeds: 1. Poca (18-2), 2. Sissonville (14-7), 3. Herbert Hoover (15-6), 4. Nicholas County (9-11), 5. Clay County (1-16)
Projected survivors: 1. Poca, 2. Sissonville
A late-season victory over the Huskies gives Sissonville the edge in the battle for the second spot in the sectional tournament. Poca is beating teams by an average 25 points. There will be no upset here.
Projected seeds: 1. Chapmanville (12-8), 2. Scott (10-12), 3. Tolsia (12-10), 4. Wayne (6-15), 5. Mingo Central (2-18)
Projected survivors: 1. Chapmanville, 2. Scott
Since dropping four consecutive games, Chapmanville has won four of five, including avenging a loss to the Rebels. Tolsia has lost six of its last nine games, including a defeat to Scott on Monday. The finalists here will be playing for the right to not visit Poca in the co-final.
Regional co-finals: Scott at Poca; Sissonville at Chapmanville
State tournament qualifiers: Poca, Chapmanville
Class AA state tournament seeds
2. Fairmont Senior
4. Robert C. Byrd
6. Wyoming East
8. Webster County
Projected seeds: 1. Magnolia (15-2), 2. Wheeling Central (20-1), 3. Cameron (12-8), 4. Bishop Donahue (7-10), 5. Madonna (10-9), 6. Hundred (6-12)
Projected survivors: 1. Wheeling Central, 2. Magnolia
The game that could have separated the Maroon Knights and Blue Eagles never happened. Magnolia was scheduled to play Tug Valley in the Shootout at the Big House on Feb. 10, but wasn’t permitted to travel after Wetzel County schools were cancelled for the day. Magnolia won their most recent meeting, but it doesn’t matter much. Two teams from this section will represent Region 1 at the state tournament. We could be headed for another battle between Wheeling Central’s Chase Harler and Magnolia’s Preston Boswell, winners of the last two state championships.
Projected seeds: 1. St. Marys (14-6), 2. Trinity (14-5), 3. Paden City (9-12), 4. Valley-Wetzel (13-8), 5. Tyler Consolidated (4-17), 6. Clay-Battelle (1-19)
Projected survivors: 1. St. Marys, 2. Trinity
The Blue Devils have not lost back-to-back games since December, claiming victories in 12 of their last 15 games. One of those losses came in the Hometown Invitational Tournament to Valley, but St. Marys has been more consistent than the Lumberjacks. Despite a late-season slip, the Blue Devils should reach the regional co-final. Despite the difference in won-loss records between Paden City and Valley, the Wildcats won both regular season meetings, putting them ahead of the Lumberjacks.
Regional co-finals: Magnolia at St. Marys; Trinity at Wheeling Central
State tournament qualifiers: Magnolia; Wheeling Central
Projected seeds: 1. Notre Dame (14-3), 2. Tucker County (15-3), 3. Tygarts Valley (11-10), 4. Union (17-5), 5. South Harrison (5-15), 6. Harman (2-11)
Projected survivors: 1. Notre Dame, 2. Tucker County
The Irish aren’t deep and lean heavily on guard Jarrod West, but that should be enough to carry Notre Dame. In two meetings this season, the Irish defeated the Mountain Lions by double digits. There are a handful of marquee players in the state’s smallest class and West is one of them.
Projected seeds: 1. Pendleton County (11-7), 2. Pocahontas County (12-7), 3. Paw Paw (10-9), 4. Moorefield (5-13), 5. East Hardy (4-16), 6. School for Deaf (3-8)
Projected survivors: 1. Pendleton County, 2. Pocahontas County
Regional co-finals: Tucker County at Pendleton County; Pocahontas County at Notre Dame.
State tournament qualifiers: Tucker County, Notre Dame
Projected seeds: 1. Tug Valley (14-3), 2. Van (18-3), 3. Man (14-7), 4. Sherman (8-13), 5. Greater Beckley Christian (4-18), 6. Montcalm (1-14)
Projected survivors: 1. Tug Valley, 2. Man
Upon a mass exodus of players to Woodrow Wilson, Greater Beckley Christian has dropped considerably and last year’s battle over sectional seeding and competitiveness is a memory. Or maybe just the teams changed. Tug and Van haven’t played each other this season, but it’s enough to see the Panthers beat the Crusaders by 37 and Van defeated GBC by nine. Don’t count out the Hillbillies, whose schedule will pay dividends. Man hasn’t reached the state tournament since 1998, when it was a Class AA program.
Projected seeds: 1. Fayetteville (15-2), 2. Midland Trail (11-8), 3. Meadow Bridge (10-8), 4. Greenbrier West (7-12), 5. Valley-Fayette (4-12), 6. Richwood (1-17)
Projected survivors: 1. Fayetteville, 2. Midland Trail
The Pirates’ only loss to a Class A team is Van in the Big Atlantic Classic on the neutral court at the Beckley Raleigh County Convention Center. They don’t play a particularly daunting schedule, but should survive the section.
Regional co-finals: Man at Fayetteville; Midland Trail at Tug Valley
State tournament qualifiers: Man, Tug Valley
Projected seeds: 1. Williamstown (19-2), 2. Gilmer County (11-7), 3. Calhoun County (11-8), 4. Parkersburg Catholic (11-11), 5. Wirt County (11-11), 6. Doddridge County (12-8)
The Yellowjackets haven’t lost to a Class A team this season and are on a five-game winning streak, but after coach Scott Sauro’s team, it’s a virtual tossup. Gilmer defeated Calhoun 37-28 back in mid-January and gave a decent Class AAA Lincoln County team a run for its money at the Charleston Civic Center in early February.
Projected survivors: 1. Williamstown, 2. Gilmer County
Projected seeds: 1. St. Joseph (15-6), 2. Charleston Catholic (10-9), 3. Wahama (8-12), 4. Buffalo (6-15), 5. Hannan (5-13)
Projected survivors: 1. St. Joseph, 2. Charleston Catholic
Williamstown will be one of the teams from this region to make the state tournament and St. Joseph is the other, but Charleston Catholic tends to thrive this time of the year.
Regional co-finals: Gilmer County at St. Joseph; Charleston Catholic at Williamstown
State tournament qualifiers: St. Joseph, Charleston Catholic
Class A state tournament seeds
1. Wheeling Central
3. Tug Valley
4. St. Joseph
5. Notre Dame
7. Charleston Catholic
8. Tucker County