How's this for the 3A boys basketball ranks? A clear favorite.

After sneaking up on everyone last year, defending state champion Cedar City sits atop most every coaches' hit list. And with good reason."I think we have a legitimate shot to win it, but I don't think you can discount anybody at this point," said Cedar City coach Steve Hodson, who speaks from experience after his Redmen took state despite a third-place region finish and eight losses. "This year being the favorite is going to be harder. It takes a lot more work."

However, all things considered. . .

"Given the opportunity, I'll take this role every year," said Hodson. "It's a harder role, as we've found out, because teams get ready for you."

No longer a secret, the Redmen are just plain talented. A 7-2 preseason mark has kept Cedar atop the Deseret News rankings so far this season.

"But, there's still a lot of basketball left to be played before you start talking about state championships," cautions Hodson.

All-state honorees David Evans (second team) and Todd Garrett (honorable mention) both average double-figures and are the top scoring seniors, while center Karl Bohman and forward Denton Robinson are other 12th-graders of note. Aaron Miles, who led the Redmen JV in scoring last season, is the top junior.

Region 9

Though lacking volume-wise in recent state championships, this southern Utah circuit has three legitimate title contenders in Cedar City, Pine View and Dixie. The trio placed in the top five at last year's state tournament with more of the same expected in 1995.

Cedar's greatest challenge will likely come from Pine View. The Panthers return a host of starters and a veteran bench. Meanwhile, always-tough Dixie looms on the horizon.

Hurricane and surprising Snow Canyon will likely play second fiddle to the talented trio.

COACHES STRAW POLL (Projected order of finish with current records) - 1. Cedar City (7-2), 2. Pine View (8-3), 3. Dixie (4-4), 4. Hurricane (2-7), 5. Snow Canyon (5-5).

Region 10

After placing just one team (Lehi, sixth) at state last February, this league's tournament hopes are not all that high. The Pioneers, who have won five state titles since 1976, may be the team to beat with a deceptive record that includes preseason battles with larger schools. However, league coaches have tabbed Wasatch as the frontrunner. Uintah and Union have been pleasant surprises, while Park City will likely continue to struggle.

COACHES STRAW POLL (Projected order of finish with current records) - 1. Wasatch (3-4), 2. Lehi (3-7), 3. Uintah (6-6), 4. Union (5-4), 5. Park City (0-8).

Region 11

Sporting two of the top three postseason finishers from a year ago, optimism is in no short supply here. All five teams are competitive and deserving of reaching the next step. However, just three can advance.

Emery, Carbon and Richfield are the coaches' choices to lead the way with North Sanpete and Delta in close pursuit.

COACHES STRAW POLL (Projected order of finish with current records) - 1. Emery (3-6), 2. Carbon (7-3), 3. Richfield (5-4), 4. North Sanpete (6-4), 5. Delta (4-3).