The drop from Class AAA to Class AA by five schools in North Central West Virginia will have a dramatic effect on the State Tournament field. That traditional middle-class powers such as Ravenswood (2-7), Keyser (1-6) and Weir (0-10) are struggling this year will further change the complexion, as will the drop to Class A by defending state champion Tug Valley (7-1) and Magnolia (8-2).
Bluefield's 7-1 mark and a 75-56 road win last week over No. 4 Wyoming East (7-2) have earned the Beavers the No. 1 ranking in Class AA, but the team's experience - junior Anthony Eades and senior David Woodrum were keys to the Beavers' runner-up finish in 2012 - make them the favorite.
Robert C. Byrd Coach Bill Bennett has perhaps the best team of the bunch that made the drop from Class AAA, and Bennett - to his credit - is one who likes to challenge his program regularly. The Eagles (8-2) will make the trip to Beckley later this month to take part in the Big Atlantic Classic with Bluefield, Wyoming East and Westside (6-4).
The Eagles and Warriors face each other Jan. 29.
Here's how the Class AA field could look in March at the Charleston Civic Center:
First round exits - North Marion, Bridgeport, Tolsia, Poca
Semifinals - Bluefield over Fairmont Senior, Robert C. Byrd over Wyoming East
Champion - Bluefield
Charleston Catholic Coach Bill McClanahan has reason and right to be concerned about the progress - or lack thereof - of his top-ranked team through eight games. After all, in order to successfully defend their state title from 2012, the Irish have to navigate a field that also includes the Class AA champ from a year ago, Tug Valley.
The Panthers have 6-1 senior point guard Austin Brewer and 5-11 senior shooting guard Mikey Newsome, likely giving them the most dangerous backcourt in the state, and one that would challenge for that moniker among Class AA duos. Tug's only loss this season came in an 80-76 heartbreaker at Belfry, Ky. (7-4), a school that would be a mid-level Class AA school in West Virginia.
Magnolia is led by 6-6 senior center Mark Winters, who has averaged close to 30 points per game.
However, while the Blue Eagles have lopsided victories to their credit over Nitro, Logan and Dayton (Ohio) Chaminade, they also fell by 18 to Clay-Battelle when senior defensive specialist Stephen Rogalski was out of the lineup.
Here's how the Class A State Tournament should shake out:
First round exits - Moorefield, Greater Beckley Christian, St. Marys, Tucker County
Semifinals - Tug Valley over Parkersburg Catholic, Magnolia over Charleston Catholic
Champion - Tug Valley
With two months left of the season, there's plenty of time to get absorbed with basketball. Thanks to the combination of the 100th anniversary celebration planned at the Civic Center for March and the shakeup within classes thanks to the comings and goings of perennial powers, March should be worth waiting for.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at derek.tay...@dailymail.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT