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January 14, 2014

TALKIN’ PREP BASKETBALL: County tournament likely to exceed expectations

CULLMAN — This year’s Cullman County Basketball Tournament reminds me a lot of those irksome instruction manuals that come with many do-it-yourself home projects.

On paper, it often seems rather simple.

Hammer in a few nails, tighten up a couple screws, throw on a fresh coat of paint and voila, you have a perfect interpretation of what’s on the outside of the box.

However, anyone who’s ever tried to put together a grill or a child’s playset knows the task at hand is never that easy.

Midway through the build, you might realize you’ve started it out all wrong or that there’re parts missing or that maybe even you need to go pick up some glasses to view the small print.

As I sit and try to figure out just who’s going to take home the boys’ county crown next week, I find myself dealing with most of the problems I just outlined — and then some.

On paper — and on my mind’s box — it seems as though the clear-cut winner would be top-seeded Holly Pond.

The Class 3A, No. 2 Broncos tore through their county schedule with a salty 6-0 record in games that were counted toward seeding. They stand at 8-1 overall with their only defeat coming on the road in an 82-80 nail-biter against Cold Springs.

However, in Holly Pond’s eight victories, it scored at least 69 points and won by an average margin of 22.2 points.

To put it simply, that’s dominance, and teams standing in the Green and White’s way should be worried.

On the other hand, we’ve also seen first hand how a top-tier squad at the peak of its game can fall on hard times. Look no further than last season when the Broncos held the No. 1 seed in the tournament only to fall to eventual runner-up West Point during the second round of play.

Combine the pressure of the No. 1 spot with their loss to the Eagles and another close call against Hanceville — a potential second-round matchup for the Broncos — and there is just enough trouble on the horizon to have Mitch Morris’ squad looking over its shoulder come game time.

Despite what I just said, there is no doubt in my mind that Holly Pond enters next week’s tournament as the prohibitive favorite once again.

Looking past that, however, I can see plenty of madness in the works because the 2014 rendition of this annual tourney has a robust amount of parity spread out among the seeds.

The Bulldogs will try to get another shot against the Broncos but will first need to dispatch Good Hope in the opening round.

Although Hanceville won the only matchup between the two quite handily, the Raiders weren’t the same team then that they are now.

Mike Jones’s squad has come on strong recently, collecting a nice win over Cold Springs just last week. Meanwhile, Hanceville (15-4) is just one spot under the Broncos in the 3A polls and looking to make some noise of their own after bowing out in the first round a year ago.

The Eagles and West Point sit in the No. 2 and 3 spots and will play Fairview and Vinemont, respectively, in the first round.

The Aggies gave Cold Springs all it could handle and more in an early-December contest, a 50-46 Eagle win. Although the Purple and Gold — last year’s champion — are the winless bottom seed, three of their losses to county teams have been by just four points or fewer.

In the final matchup, the Warriors look to make it three-in-a-row versus Todd Johnson’s Vinemont group. West Point already has 77-64 and 65-54 wins over the Eagles. However, ask any coach and he’ll tell you just how hard it can be to defeat a team three times in one season.

With that, I put the Warriors on upset alert.

Since this is a preview column, I feel like I should make some kind of prediction as to next Saturday’s outcome.

In the title game, I have Holly Pond meeting West Point and the Broncos finally capturing that elusive county tournament crown that’s slipped from their grasp the past couple of years.

At least I think that's what my instruction manual.

We won’t know just what’s inside the box until it’s all put together on Saturday evening.

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.

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