Derek Taylor: Martinsburg, Bluefield and Tug Valley should be top seeds for state tournament
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I said last month that Martinsburg might be able to run away and hide from the Class AAA field, but that was when Beckley was lingering around the .500 mark, and South Charleston looked like the biggest threat to the Bulldogs.
That's changed. Beckley (18-4) enters what is expected to be a rigorous Region 3 tournament on a 14-game winning streak with perhaps its best team of the Ron Kidd era.
One of Kidd's primary concerns this season has been depth, but the Flying Eagles have become deeper as the season has progressed. Sophomore point guard Corey Acord would start for more than half the teams in the MSAC, and he didn't even see the floor in Beckley's conference title game win over SC on Feb. 16.
Beckley, because of the size of its backcourt, poses a better challenge to Martinsburg (20-2), but the depth that Kidd has been seeking has been Martinsburg's calling card all year. The experienced Bulldogs are still the favorite - point guard Andrew Johnson is the only senior on the Beckley roster and the Flying Eagles missed the 2012 state tournament altogether, a rarity in the last 25 years.
South Charleston (20-2) should also emerge from Region 3, and should get the third seed behind Martinsburg and Beckley.
Washington swept defending state champion Hedgesville this season, and whichever team emerges from the other side of the Region 2 bracket is most likely to receive the No. 4 seed. My gut tells me it will be Washington, so I'll pick Hedgesville.
That leaves the western half of the state to fill out the lower seeds for the Class AAA state tournament field. The season-ending injuries to Morgantown big men Nathan Adrian and Austin Agnew derailed the Mohigans' shot at their first state title just after they handed Martinsburg its only in-state loss. It also created a free-for-all for state tournament bids in Region 1.
Parkersburg South (18-4) enters as the prohibitive favorite to grab one of those spots after winning the title in the OVAC's Class 5A, a group that includes Region 1 foes Morgantown, University, Wheeling Park, John Marshall and Brooke.
Preston (18-4) has flown under the radar all season, but with good reason. The Knights lost twice to Morgantown and twice to University and have no wins against Class AAA contenders. The Hawks (15-7) own two wins over Morgantown, and I'll take them to make a rare appearance at the state tournament. South Charleston beat University 69-35 in the Hoops Classic on Dec. 22 at the Civic Center.
Hurricane (17-5) and Huntington (15-6) appear to be the best bets to emerge from Region 4, which would give the Redskins their first Class AAA state tournament berth.
As for seeding, I'd put Parkersburg South at No. 5, Hurricane at No. 6, Huntington seventh and University eighth.
Bluefield (18-3) has dominated the season with less fanfare than any wire-to-wire No. 1 team in memory. Perhaps the move of Oak Hill into Class AAA and Westside's taking two of three games against rival and perennial power Wyoming East (15-7) in the regular season have figured into this. But suffice it to say that the Beavers are the favorite not only in the ultra-competitive Region 3, but in the quest for a state championship.
Bluefield has lost twice to Princeton and once to Greenbrier East, a pair of Class AAA teams no longer of any concern to senior standouts David Woodrum and Anthony Eades. Conversely, Bluefield owns victories against Class AAA Wheeling Park as well as Class AA contenders Wyoming East (twice), Westside (16-6) and Robert C. Byrd (16-6) by an average margin of victory of 13.4 points.
Westside, after losing to Wyoming East early in the year, seems to have the Warriors' number of late, and gets the nod for the second state tournament bid from Region 3.
As was the case in football, the drop to Class AA of North Central West Virginia schools did not result in gaudy regular-season records, but could result in deep postseason runs. For instance, the thing Princeton and Greenbrier East - the teams that beat Bluefield - have in common is athleticism.
Look no further for a Class AA team with similar makeup than Region 1 favorite Fairmont Senior (16-6). Though the Polar Bears are only the No. 2 seed - behind North Marion - Region 1, Section 1, look for them to reach Charleston and quite possibly pick up the No. 2 seed for the state tournament.
Likewise, Byrd and its nemesis Bridgeport (16-6) should emerge from Region 2 and battle Westside for the 3, 4 and 5 seeds. While Webster County has one of the best scorers in the state in Brett Morris, look for North Marion (14-7) to earn Region 1's second bid.
That leaves Region 4, which had been largely dominated by Poca (16-6) through much of the season, although the Dots have had a hard time finding a win in recent weeks. However, Poca has home-court advantage through the Region 4, Section 1 tournament and should get to host a regional game, which will be a significant boost to sophomore Noah Frampton and company.
Tolsia has a thin roster, but it is senior dominated, too. I'll go with the Rebels to take the other bid from Region 4.
As for seeding, look for Westside as the third seed, Byrd fourth, Bridgeport fifth, Poca sixth, North Marion seventh and Tolsia eighth. This would create a scenario where the State Tournament would get a nice boost in attendance for the first round, as matchups featuring North Marion vs. Fairmont Senior and Bridgeport vs. Robert C. Byrd would bring in more casual observers from each community.
Defending Class AA state champion Tug Valley (19-3), led by senior guards Austin Brewer and Mikey Newsome, is the favorite here, but the small-school field could prove to be this year's most interesting.
Not only did the Panthers - affectionately and appropriately known by fans as the "Naugatuck Nightmare" - drop from Class AA with all-staters in tow, but Magnolia (18-4) did as well. Senior center Mark Winters garnered a fair amount of state player of the year support early on, as the Blue Eagles picked up blowout wins over Nitro and Logan in the Kanawha Valley. After a midseason lull, Magnolia has won nine in a row entering the postseason, and they should pick up the No. 2 seed behind Tug Valley should both reach the State Tournament.
Perhaps strangely, defending state champion Charleston Catholic (19-3) might be the wild card in the field. The Irish have lost twice in the last three weeks, but both losses - to Tucker County and Tug Valley - have been without Coach Bill McClanahan on the bench, as he has been out of the area for work. Catholic should not have much trouble reaching the state tournament, but once there, a repeat as champion is anything but a given. The emergence of point guard Garret McCarty is the team's driving force in this effort.
Tucker (17-3), which beat the Irish 53-50 in Parsons on Feb. 8, is the overwhelming favorite to take one of the bids in Region 2, while Notre Dame (10-8) has a somewhat misleading record and should pick up the other bid there. Tygarts Valley (15-7) has a superior record but fell by 23 to former WVU standout Jarrod West's team on Feb. 15.
Elsewhere, look for former Beckley Coach Dave Barksdale to make a return to the state tournament, as an assistant coach for Greater Beckley Christian (17-4), who is led by former Oak Hill standout Javon Staunton-Bailey at guard. I'll take Valley (15-7) to take the other bid from Region 3.
The Little Kanawha Conference has been hard-hit by the movement of former Class AAA schools into Class AA, but should land a pair of teams in the Class A field. Parkersburg Catholic (19-3) is extremely young and will quite possibly enter the 2013-14 season as a state championship favorite. The Crusaders should get the second bid from Region 4 this season, with St. Marys (17-4) earning the second berth from Region 1.
After the top three seeds of Tug, Magnolia and Charleston Catholic, look for Tucker County at No. 4, Parkersburg Catholic at No. 5, Greater Beckley at No. 6, St. Marys at No. 7 and Valley at No. 8.