Will anyone make a state-ment?

This is unbelievable.

There are three state basketball tournaments beginning Thursday, and no local teams will be in action.

And next week, aside from the Class AA tourneys, there may be another absence of locals – though not if the teams in this week’s Southern B girls divisional have anything to say about it. (Keeping with the theme, Manhattan Christian dropped its first game in Red Lodge Thursday afternoon in Southern B).

The only nearby team guaranteed to be playing at state next week is the Bozeman girls. The Hawks, with an 18-2 record, will play Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Billings Metra against the fourth seed out of the West, which looks right now to be the winner of Friday’s Hellgate/Big Sky playoff game.

Aside from that, there are no guarantees.

Bozeman’s boys are at home Thursday for a play-in game against Billings Skyview. This one is a toss-up. Especially when you consider that Jake Owsley is out and the Eastern Conference is much tougher than the West; just getting to state requires a battle.

The top four seeds in the East have at least 15 wins. Out West, the top seed – Missoula Sentinel – won just 13 games. Sentinel’s record against the East was 0-4 and the Spartans also lost to Class A Columbia Falls.

As for Skyview, the Falcons weren’t great against the East either. The Falcons went 4-8 in conference and lost to last-place Butte on Feb. 19.

But … Skyview defeated Bozeman earlier this season, holding the Hawks, who average 66 ppg, to a season-low 43 points. That alone makes Thursday’s winner-goes-to-state game hard to predict. Plus, Bozeman has had trouble putting in four solid quarters of basketball this season.

Other than Bozeman, you’re likely to see a couple of District 5B girls teams playing at state next week. And if so, they’d be playing close by in Belgrade.

Manhattan Christian and Three Forks – who met for the 5B championship two weeks ago – are the likeliest candidates, though neither made it to state last year in Hamilton. Christian, the 5B champ, has never made state as a Class B school.

One big reason why the state tourneys are devoid of locals is the always-unpredictable challenge game. Shields Valley’s boys and Livingston’s girls appeared to be cruising toward state appearances, but both lost in their divisional championship games, then had to come back and play challenge games, and both lost again.

Challenge games bring a unique dynamic to the sport: no other in Montana uses such a means to fill out a state tournament bracket.

They may seem to provide unnecessary extra games, but challenge games are quite exciting. They also make all games during the tournament important.

A challenge game is only used for tourneys that advance two teams. And the prospect of a challenge game makes all those late Saturday games more meaningful than they appear.

Without challenge games, the championship game would be useful for seeding purposes only. And who would care who won the consolation game.

The champion automatically moves on, but the runner-up has no such luxury. And the winner of the consolation game can still hope for something more than a third-place trophy.

Will anyone else in the Gallatin Valley join the Bozeman girls next week? We’ll know Saturday night.


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