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High school boys basketball: Parity-filled 4A tourney figures to be wide open

The Bountiful Braves take on the Highland Rams in boys basketball at Highland High School in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015.
The Bountiful Braves take on the Highland Rams in boys basketball at Highland High School in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015.
Chelsey Allder,

Sixteen teams will make the trek to Weber State for the first round of the 4A state tournament on Tuesday, and incredibly, all 16 have a legitimate hope of advancing into the quarterfinals.

Sure some teams are favorites and some are underdogs, but the scale hasn’t tilted that far either way this season in a parity-filed season in 4A.

One through 16, anyone can beat anyone in the opening round.

“It’s something I haven’t seen. This is my 19th year as a head coach and I don’t remember a year being like this,” said Olympus coach Matt Barnes.

A No. 1 seed has been knocked out in the first round in the past two state tournaments, and nobody would be shocked to see it happen again at the Dee Events Center this Tuesday.

“I think it’s an exciting tournament where there’s a lot of good teams that can beat anybody. When I went down and looked through the bracket I saw a lot of different teams that have potential of making a deep run, and that adds a lot of excitement in the 4A tournament,” said Logan coach Logan Brown.

His Grizzlies are one of those region champs with a tough opener. At first glance Provo, the only team in the 4A tourney with a losing record, doesn’t look like a formidable foe, but everybody knows it’s playing with extra motivation.

After 32 seasons and eight state championships, Provo coach Craig Drury is retiring after this season. A state championship is unlikely, but Drury might have one or two more rabbits up his sleeve this week.

Logan has won 10 straight games heading into the tournament and will try and play the spoiler for Provo.

“I think we’re as confident as we’ve been all year long, and I think our kids are playing really hard and playing really well together,” said Brown. “I think we’ve got to be focused on ourselves and focused on the way we’re going to play our next game, and not necessarily outside distractions.”

Provo’s Hunter Bailey (19.7 ppg) and Logan’s Tyler Brimhall (19.2 ppg) ranked third and fourth in 4A this season in scoring, and both are key to their team’s success.

Like Logan, defending state champion Bountiful is riding a lengthy winning streak into this year’s tourney. After going 4-6 in the preseason against difficult competition, the Braves went 14-0 in Region 6.

BYU signee Zac Seljaas led 4A in scoring with 26.2 ppg, and he also led the way with 71 3-pointers.

Coach Mike Maxwell believes Austin Parkinson, however, has been the unsung hero throughout region play. He didn’t join the team until after Christmas because of an injury, but his insertion into Bountiful’s line-up changed the entire dynamic of the team.

“All those losses (in the preseason) we didn’t have that point guard we really needed,” said Maxwell. “After that, he’s just made all the difference in the world with this team, how well we’re playing right now has a lot to do with chemistry he brought in.”

Bountiful is regarded as the slight favorite based on its region success, but even it faces a tough opener against a Murray team that led 4A with 182 3-pointers this season.

Orem and Maple Mountain are the other No. 1 seeds.

The 4A runner-up to Bountiful last year, Orem’s success this year isn’t surprising despite just one returning starter. Maple Mountain’s region title, however, is a huge surprise. The Golden Eagles were pegged to finish sixth in Region 8 in the coaches preseason rankings, but went 9-3 to win the league.

Kade Poulsen led Maple Mountain in scoring at 17.4 ppg, and he’ll need to have a great game for the Golden Eagles to march past a tough opener against Mountain Crest.

Olympus shared the Region 7 title with Orem but lost a coin flip to drop to a No. 2 seed. The Titans won their last six league games after a 3-3 start to earn a share of the title, and they’re among the tourney favorites along with Bountiful and Logan.

“If you look at the last six games in our league, we had to win every game. We didn’t have much room for error,” said Barnes.

Jake Lindsey finished second in scoring in 4A at 24.3 ppg. He’s still not back to 100 percent after missing five games with a hip injury back in December and January, but he’s close, and the supporting cast around him has improved immensely throughout the season.

“It’s a long season and you’ve got to ride it out and try to get healthy, and we’ve found a way to win along the way to give ourselves the best chance going into the tournament,” said Barnes.

Several other teams are capable of making some noise this week, especially if their star players have big games. Kearns’ Bushmen Ebet is a human-highlight reel and the unofficial dunking champion of Utah. Spanish Fork’s Hunter Schofield was among 4A’s leading scorers, averaging 19.1 ppg, while Mountain Crest sophomore Jaxon Brenchley is a strong scorer too.

James Edward is the Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.