You can be sure that which team survives this year’s 13th Region Tournament and advances to Bowling Green for the Sweet Sixteen will have to earn it.
This is one of the best seasons for girls basketball in the 13th Region that I’ve seen — and that goes all the way back to the first season of 1974-75.
A look at the Cantrall Ratings reveals how well the 13th Region’s elite teams compare to the rest of the state with five squads — Bell County, Whitley County, Corbin, Harlan County and Clay County — with power ratings of 70 or higher.
The only region that tops that is the 11th where Franklin County, Lafayette, Dunbar, Henry Clay, Scott County and Lexington Catholic are above 70.
The 4th, 9th and 12th regions match the 13th with five teams at 70 or above.
My guess is that the region is a six-team race at this point with Harlan also very capable of beating anyone. Whether the Lady Dragons could reel off three wins in the regional tournament is another story though. The same is true for Clay County, which lost guard Talauara Mathis to North Laurel last month. That leaves Bell County, Whitley County, Harlan County and Corbin as the teams most likely to make the journey west in mid March.
You can be sure that at least four teams can make their travel plans for the regional tournament at The Arena in Corbin. Clay County, Bell County, Whitley County and Corbin will be prohibitive favorites in their first round games in the district tournaments. North Laurel, though not a serious contender for the regional title, should also make it to Corbin because they will play Jackson County in the 49th District.
The 51st District is the most wide open of the four in the region with Lynn Camp (19-5) and Barbourville (12-10) just below the region’s top six. Barbourville has the only win over a team in the top group with its victory at home over Harlan. Pineville (10-12) is also dangerous with a strong showing in the All “A” Classic that ended with two-point loss to Harlan. The Lady Lions may have peaked there though with four straight losses after edging Oneida Baptist by four following the Harlan game.
There’s no doubt that Harlan County and Harlan have the toughest road to the regional with a first-round game against each other on Feb. 25 in Middlesboro. The two county rivals split during the regular season.
Harlan County has been stronger overall against the region’s top teams with the only win over Bell County by a regional opponent, along with an overtime loss at Bell in January.
Harlan is capable of beating anyone but is also susceptible to an upset if the intensity isn’t there on the defensive end, a problem the Lady Dragons experienced briefly after the All “A” Classic. Harlan probably has the region’s best sixth man in Torri Mitchell, but depth is an issue after her.
Clay County has tradition and is currently riding a six-game winning streak. However, depth is also a concern for the Lady Tigers, especially when it comes to handling the basketball with Jaycia Cotton the only proven ball-handler on the squad.
Corbin has a senior-dominated team and looks to be catching fire at the right time, like a year ago, with a recent 65-57 win over district rival Whitley County. The Lady Hounds had to make the adjustment to a new coach, which may explain why they haven’t been quite as consistent this season.
Whitley County has been close many times, but hasn’t won the region since capturing a state title in 1985. The Lady Colonels also have a new coach in Donnie Jones and have all the ingredients with one of the region’s best post players in Kandace Craig and one of the best guards in Brandi Smith.
Bell County deserves to be the favorite after last year’s runner-up finish. All-stater Maci Morris can score inside or outside and leads a backcourt that also features Jessica Sanders and Morgan Garnett. If all three are shooting well, the Lady Cats are capable of making a long run in the state tournament. A great defensive effort will be needed to knock off Bell, and my guess is that Whitley County and Harlan County have the best shots.
My top 10 going into the final week of the regular season includes:
1. Bell County
2. Whitley County
3. Harlan County
5. Clay County
7. Lynn Camp
10. North Laurel