By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
The road to the Final Four for 24 of the state’s best boys basketball teams will run through Wallace State once again, with the Northwest Regional Tournament taking place today through Saturday at the Tom Drake Coliseum.
Real-time stats and scores from every game this week will be available on www.wallacestate.edu and www.ahsaa.com.
Check out a primer of the entire field:
% No. 5 Hoover (29-4) vs. Hazel Green (23-9), Wednesday at 10:30 p.m.
% No. 9 Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (23-8) vs. Sparkman (26-7), Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
% Hoover: The Buccaneers won their first 17 games of the regular season but dropped their last three to top-tiered talent in Vestavia Hills, Gadsden City and Wenonah. They've since righted the ship, besting Hueytown, Minor and Tuscaloosa County in the postseason to earn a trip back to Wallace.
% Hazel Green: Lewis Sullivan and Austin Dempsey have the Trojans playing their best basketball just in time for the playoffs for a second straight year. The squad made a magical run to the state title game in 2012 and will look to finish the job this time around after upsetting No. 6 Austin 63-55 in last Friday's sub-regional.
% Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa: The Patriots surely haven't forgotten last year's 53-52 regional semifinal heartbreaker against Hazel Green on this very same floor. They'll look to avoid a similar fate against Sparkman after cruising to the postseason with easy matchups versus Minor, Tuscaloosa County and Northridge.
% Sparkman: Devin Hankins went off for 20 points, and Lamonte Turner pitched in three first-half 3-pointers to help the Senators eliminate James Clemens and end their run of seasons without a regional appearance at three. Sparkman was 9-1 in tourney play on neutral courts this season. Its lone loss came in the championship game of the Huntsville Times Classic.
% No. 7 Athens (24-7) vs. Parker (17-7), Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
% No. 1 Wenonah (31-2) vs. East Limestone (19-11), Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.
% Athens: Nathaniel Potts (16 points and 11 rebounds) and Jackson Pettus (20 points) brought their big-boy brand of basketball in their last game to send Cullman home for the season. The Golden Eagles, riding a 16-game win streak, were 2-1 in three games at Wallace State for the Yule Tide Classic.
% Parker: The Thundering Herd came within two points of upsetting Wenonah in the Area 13 championship game. All three of their postseason games have been relatively close. Parker's largest margin of victory was 12 against a speedy Mortimer Jordan squad at the sub-regional stage.
% Wenonah: The two-time defending champs exploded into the Northwest Regional with a dumbfounding 128-42 blowout versus Walker last Friday. One Dragon — Justin Coleman — picked up a triple-double, while three others — De'Runnya Wilson, Raymond Richardson and Artis Cleveland chipped in double-doubles. Isaiah Maston and Cedric McGinnis also scored in double figures.
% East Limestone: The Indians haven't won by much in the playoffs, beating Hartselle and Cullman by seven points apiece and overcoming a late seven-point deficit to defeat 11-16 Russellville by just five. Jordan Ganby is coming off 30- and 18-point outbursts.
% No. 7 J.O. Johnson (19-11) vs. West Limestone (23-9), Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
% No. 8 Brooks (26-7) vs. Butler (15-11), Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
% J.O. Johnson: The athletic and insanely quick Jaguars don't make life easy on opposing offenses. They smothered Oneonta with their press to force 19 Oneonta turnovers in a 58-41 sub-regional victory. Lionel Love took care of matters on the other side of the court with a team-high 15 points.
% West Limestone: The squad's 2-3 start is only a distant memory following a trio of postseason wins versus East Lawrence, Wilson and Central-Florence. A double-double from Caleb McConnell, as well as 18 points and nine rebounds from Nathaniel Adams were crucial in the Wildcats' victory over Wilson.
% Brooks: Coach Brian Wright has already shown he means business in his first season with the Lions, leading the team to Wallace for the 11th time in school history. Holden Corum, Brady Bedingfield and Skyler Beck all cracked double figures in Brooks' sub-region rout of Wilson.
% Butler: The Rebels snuck their way to the Tom Drake Coliseum with two-point decisions in all three postseason games. Butler sandwiched a 47-45 loss to J.O. Johnson with 40-38 and 38-36 stunners against Pope John Paul II and Fairview. The Rebels took out the Aggies on a last-second layup by C.J. Mastin.
% No. 2 Mars Hill Bible (26-5) vs. Winfield (21-8), Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
% Hanceville (16-13) vs. Madison Academy (19-10), Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
% Mars Hill Bible: The Panthers have every reason to be confident as they make their way to Hanceville. Despite allowing 37 points to standout Brandon Roberts, the state's second-ranked squad had no problem smashing No. 4 West Morgan 79-54 last Friday. Harrison Chastain came through with 27 points for Mars Hill in the top-five showdown.
% Winfield: The Pirates are yet another team that's had to survive a few scares to punch their ticket to Wallace State. Winfield just barely managed to eke by Danville 53-52, one game after holding on for a 58-53 win over Hamilton.
% Hanceville: The Bulldogs have found their way back to their homecourt at the Tom Drake Coliseum, guided by the strong play of Brontae Harris. The sophomore stud’s 28-point outburst helped Hanceville slide past Hamilton 55-50 in sub-regional play. The Bulldogs have a solid starting core with Harris, Chris Smith, Dont’e Reese, Keith Twitty and Tyler Tankersley. Matt Burns has been helpful off the bench as of late, as has Sheldon Lewis, the team’s enforcer in the paint. Hanceville, however, is playing its best team basketball of the season, and the Bulldogs will need to continue that trend against a very tough Madison Academy squad.
% Madison Academy: The Mustangs are mainstays at the Northwest Regional, earning a spot at the tourney for a seventh straight season with a 73-56 drumming of Deshler at the sub-regional level. Nick Haas, Josh Langford and Zach Bogardus had 20, 18 and 16 points, respectively, in the win.
% Cold Springs (18-10) vs. Hatton (18-9), Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
% No. 3 Tanner (24-4) vs. No. 4 Vincent (23-6), Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
% Cold Springs: With the solid play of senior Chayse Elliott and emergence of freshman Triston Chambers, the Eagles are poised to make a run in regional play. Cold Springs is playing some of its best ball of the season, securing its spot at Wallace with a down-to-the-wire 61-58 victory over Altamont last Friday night. The Eagles receive solid contributions from sophomore Josh Freeman, junior Layne Rice and seniors Brandon Whaley, Mason Harris and Terry Campbell.
% Hatton: Returning to the Northwest Regional for the first time since 2004, the Hornets are a strong rebounding squad that generally keeps opponents from piling on too many points. Colbert Heights found that out the hard way last Friday, allowing 35 total rebounds in a 44-28 loss to Hatton. Laron Cooper led the charge with 15 boards to go along with his 10 points.
% Tanner: The Rattlers can rest assured knowing Mars Hill, the team that denied their trip to the Final Four in 2012, is now wreaking havoc in 3A, but they'll still have the toughest of tests to pass with a first-round matchup against a fellow top-five opponent. Three of Tanner's losses were to 5A (Cullman) and 6A (James Clemens and Austin) foes.
% Vincent: A second consecutive Final Four appearance is at stake for the Yellow Jackets. Their path to Wallace has been fairly smooth, with effortless playoff victories over Sulligent and Altamont following a six-point squeaker versus Holy Family. Tanner is likely to put up much more of a fight.
% No. 8 Marion County (24-6) vs. Shoals Christian (15-13), Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.
% No. 3 Parrish (27-1) vs. R.A. Hubbard (17-7), Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
% Marion County: Without Pickens County in the mix, the Red Raiders are hoping to escape the Tom Drake Coliseum and earn a shot for the state title in Birmingham. Marion County advanced by hammering Falkville 77-55 in sub-regional competition.
% Shoals Christian: The Flame don't have the most impressive record, but they do come in already touting a respectable postseason win over bracketmate R.A. Hubbard. Daniel Wood, Tanner Traglia, Matthew Russ and Will Bishop were scoring machines in Shoals' easy sub-regional victory against Belgreen.
% Parrish: The Tornadoes have won 11 straight games, with all but one of those wins decided by double digits. They won their county and area tournaments in record fashion, avenging their lone loss of the season — to Carbon Hill — in the county championship. Keep an eye on Parrish's Jermichael Harris, Tyler Sims and Barry Hill.
% R.A. Hubbard: The Chiefs lost their area title matchup to Shoals Christian but extended their season with a tight, sub-regional victory over Phillips. Deonta Carter, John Owens, Jimique Jones and Tevin Ray all reached double figures against the Bears.
% The Times’ sports writer Jake Winfrey contributed to this report.