No one event in our area brings out anticipatory excitement quite like the Cullman County Basketball Tournament.
The annual get-together — scheduled to begin Saturday at Wallace State's Tom Drake Coliseum — has provided a treasure trove of amazing performances, deserving champions, unforgettable games and everlasting memories over the years for those fortunate enough to be involved in one way or another.
I'm certainly looking forward to this year's rendition — my eighth with The Times.
And it's not just because of the free cookies. Although, free cookies remain one of the top perks of this job.
But enough about me; titles and pride are both on the line as our county schools compete for bragging rights.
Who is the best?
Only time will tell.
Until Championship Saturday concludes, everyone is just guessing.
But — having just said that — here is what I'm expecting will happen this time around.
Feel free to give me the business when these predictions are inevitably proven wrong.
I made the error of picking against Good Hope's boys last season.
Spoiler alert: That's probably not going to happen this time around.
But I have more than just a gut feeling about that particular prediction.
The Raiders are 9-0 against county opponents so far this season and 24-1 since the 2018-19 campaign began.
Pretty good, right?
It gets even better for Good Hope — on paper, at least.
The last three teams to take home the varsity boys championship have done so as the No. 1 seed.
But that's not to say this competition is over before it starts.
There's tons of parity across the board — as highlighted by every other varsity boys program sporting at least two county losses — and, as we all know, anything can happen at the Cullman County Basketball Tournament.
The Raiders, though, remain the favorites heading into this thing.
And a pair of strong outings — no matter the opponent — will likely result in them cutting down the nets.
IT TAKES TWO
Cold Springs and West Point.
The two squads have combined for a 38-7 record this season, including a 14-2 mark against county opponents.
And that makes them the co-favorites in the varsity girls bracket entering Saturday.
The Class 2A No. 1 Lady Eagles defeated the 5A No. 10 Lady Warriors 75-71 earlier this season.
However, West Point was without standout Mackenzie Carter, who returned last week from an ACL injury.
I expect (read: think) these teams will meet again in the championship. Will the outcome repeat itself?
But let's not count out the rest of the participating schools in this showdown.
Good Hope beat Holly Pond, which beat Hanceville, which beat Fairview, which beat Cold Springs.
Still with me?
As I said before, anything is possible.
Except, perhaps, people coming to the realization that Margaronas offers the best Mexican cuisine in Cullman.
The Cullman County Basketball Tournament couldn't be what it is without great players.
And make no mistake about it, there are — is it ever not the case? — plenty of those in supply.
Good Hope has Cole Maddox, Drew Maddox, Michael Lowe and Tanner Malin.
Cold Springs (Micah Calvert, Adam Hill and Brody Peppers), Fairview (Sawyer Daniel, Austin Jackson, Dow Nichols and Austin Turner), Hanceville (Tyson Bellmon and Raiden Morgan), Holly Pond (Kyler Chaney), Vinemont (Katch Johnson) and West Point (Kobe Bowers, Aubry Cleghorn, Will Cochran and Tyler White) also boast their own special standouts.
I know I'm probably leaving out other solid contributors, but that speaks to the tremendous talent in the county.
And that statement rings true for the varsity girls, too.
Cold Springs (Neely Ellison, Elizabeth Hill and Toni West), Fairview (Payton Golden and Daisy Manasco), Good Hope (Ivey Maddox), Hanceville (Cassidy Campbell and Kelly Pickett), Holly Pond (Kaylee Stallings), Vinemont (Sadie Stanley) and West Point (Mackenzie Carter, Miriam Oldacre and Lexi Shadix) bring several impact players to the table.
Again, I'm more than likely leaving out other deserving names.
But that’s one of the great — there’s that word again — things about the county tournament.
Anyone can shine on any given night, and anyone can be a hero.
This seven-day stretch is one of the most unpredictable in our local sports landscape.
The only thing more unpredictable? The Prestige — a.k.a. the greatest movie of all time. Seriously, watch it.
AND THE PREDICTIONS ARE ...
% Varsity Boys: Good Hope defeats West Point
% Varsity Girls: West Point defeats Cold Springs
% Junior Varsity Boys: West Point defeats Good Hope
% Junior Varsity Girls: West Point defeats Good Hope