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New format for 4A, 5A playoffs

Which teams are actually in the 4A and 5A boys basketball tournaments isn't nearly as big of a story as who won't be there when the first round begins tonight.

For the first time in three years, not every team in the state's largest classifications received an invitation to play in the postseason. This year teams actually had to earn - to some degree - their way into each 16-team tourney.Kearns coach Alan Nakagama, for one, isn't shedding any tears over the fact that his 1-19 team will have to buy tickets to get in to watch the playoffs.

"I know the intentions were good on that, but it's a tough situation," he said of the previous format which allowed every school to make state. "I would definitely rather not do it."

Kearns was clobbered by Mountain View after going winless in the regular season last year, and the Cougars were thumped by View-mont in the playoffs the year before that. Nakagama, who was Weymie Anderson's assistant during that time, said the lower-echelon teams can take some good and bad from being handed an automatic spot.

"The positive thing is you get to play the best teams and best players in the state and see how you stack up," Nakagama said. "But it can be awfully degrading also."

Mountain View coach Rob Cuff said he would prefer if there were four regions in each classification, and then have the top four teams from each league qualify. But he does like the "all-comers" format.

"I think we need it," said Cuff, mentioning that teams like North-ridge and Alta deserve to be in the postseason. "It's a shame that those types of teams have to sit home from the tournament. . . . It's embarassing to be that one team that doesn't go."

Alta finished in last place in Region 3 at 4-8, but the Hawks were only three games behind co-league champs Orem, Mountain View and Brighton who had 7-5 records.

Coaches who favor the limited field do so mostly because it puts more value on the regular season schedule.

Northridge just about made the playoffs this year, but the Knights lost a tight 57-53 tiebreaker game to Viewmont to miss out on the fifth and final spot from Region 1.

Even with that in mind, Jorgensen wasn't complaining about the switch or that the region bracketing was tinkered with a couple of times.

If original plans for the 5A tournament had stayed in place, Northridge would be playing tonight. The first bracketing had given Region 1 six spots in the tourney, but principals on the Executive Committee changed it around a bit last year.

Their third revision rotated the amount of teams each region qualified for state. So, since Region 1 got six playoff teams for football and volleyball, the principals gave Region 3 the extra team for basketball and soccer. Region 2 will get the bonus playoff team for baseball and softball.

Another new wrinkle in the playoffs this year is that the first round games are being played at school sites rather than the Huntsman Center or another college venue. The six 4A and 5A region champions and two second-place teams play host to two games at their site tonight.

Cuff, who's the president of the Utah Basketball Coaches Association, said the days of a 16-team tournament at the Huntsman Center are probably over. But he sees some advantages of having the first-round games at schools.

There are also some drawbacks. For instance, it might be hard to jam students and fans from four different schools into one gymnasium. There are also some teams who are forced to travel long distances to get to their venues. That's especially prevalent in 4A as American Fork, Murray and Judge have to travel up to Mountain Crest in Hyrum for tonight's games.

"With the snow, I think we'll have to leave about 10 a.m.," said Murray coach Gordon Kener, "and then we still might not make it before tipoff."

Next year the Utah High School Activities Association hopes to have the first round games at SLCC and/or UVSC.

No. 1-ranked Layton is an obvious choice to be the 5A favorite, but parity still seems to be the most common word thrown around for tonight's 5A first round.

"There is so much parity that it's fun. Every night is a dogfight," said Timpanogos coach Mark Hardman, whose team is the Region 3 No. 6 seed. "I don't know if we have this attitude of being the underdog, but we don't mind if we wear the silver slipper."