CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Now that the pleasantries and unpleasant items of the 2013-14 girls basketball season are out of the way, a few things are apparent as sectional tournament play gets into full swing today and Wednesday.
Sectional play actually began Feb. 21 with several play-in games taking place in larger sections across the state. But all teams won't have played their initial sectional contests until Wednesday. To put it simply, Parkersburg South and Spring Valley look like the head of the Class in triple-A, with few - if any - teams truly on their level. It would be considerable upset if the defending champion Patriots (20-0) and fourth-ranked Timberwolves (19-3) don't meet for the state title on March 15.
It's not to say that neither South nor Spring Valley can be had in their journey to the Charleston Civic Center, much less once they get there. It's simply that after those teams there appears to be a significant drop-off in depth of talent on tournament contenders. Greenbrier East (20-1) is ranked second, but the Spartans have played less than half their games against Class AAA opponents, and have not exactly overwhelmed anyone.
Thus, they cannot be placed in the same category as the aforementioned powers, regardless of their cache that comes with being coached by billionaire Jim Justice.
Around the state, the second bid from Region 1 should be settled Friday night in a game that should pit No. 9 Morgantown (12-8) against its arch-rival, third-ranked University (18-3). I'll be in attendance for that one to get a better idea if either are contenders to make a title run, or if the Hawks' win over No. 8 St. Albans in overtime during the Big Atlantic Classic last month was a better indicator of University's ability.
That should not be taken as a slight toward the Red Dragons (17-5). Scott James' defensive-minded team has enjoyed a remarkable year that many thought was another 12 months in the making. Their overtime win over perennial power and No. 5 Huntington (18-4) in early February made them a bona-fide contender to grab one of the two spots from Region 4, with Spring Valley heavily favored to grab the other.
However, SA's youth and inexperience in big-game, championship-deciding environments could be a hindrance in its even reaching the Civic Center. The Region 4 field is beginning to resemble the region's comparable strength in softball, and four of the top 10 teams in the final regular-season poll - Spring Valley, St. Albans, Huntington and Logan - all call it home, not to mention Cabell Midland and Nitro, which were ranked for the better part of the season.
Based on its strength in Section 1, however, St. Albans should be favored to win a game against whatever team falls in the Section 2 finale, unless that team is Spring Valley. No. 10 Logan (12-7) reached the state title game last season and has played a brutal schedule but at the same time has precious few wins against any of the tougher teams on that schedule.
Region 2 is abysmal, to put it simply. No. 6 Martinsburg (16-4) has the only ranked team, and is one of few teams in the region with a .500 record. The Bulldogs should cruise to a state tourney berth, with first-year school Spring Mills (14-6) to get the region's other bid.