Boys’ Sweet 16| Synopsis of all first-round matchups
LEXINGTON,Ky.—The Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen® Basketball Tournament gets underway on Wednesday afternoon at Rupp Arena in Lexington. As all 16 teams strive to compete for the state championship on Sunday afternoon, here’s a quick preview of all the first-round matchups:
Wed., March 14—13th Region champion Corbin Redhounds (25-7) vs. 14th Region Estill County Engineers (26-7)—12 p.m. EST
The first matchup of the tournament is between two teams from regions right next to one another: Corbin and Estill County.
Corbin is led by senior and Kentucky Mr. Basketball candidate Andrew Taylor. Taylor is ranked 7th in the state in scoring with 28.6 points per game while being the 12th-best rebounder with 10.8 boards per game.
Meanwhile the Engineers are on a roll, winners of 10 straight and 20 of their last 21. Estill County has found success with its stifling defense as the Engineers are the sixth-best defense in Kentucky by yielding just 49.5 points per night.
Wed., March 14—11th Region champion Scott County Cardinals (34-1) vs. Seventh Region champion Louisville Trinity Shamrocks (30-3)—1:30 p.m. EST
This is a game that will have a state championship game-like feel to it.
Scott County ended the season as the number-one team in the final AP poll, and the Cardinals have dominated their in-state competition. Scott County is second in the state in scoring with 79.3 points per night, and Coach Billy Hicks’ squad’s only loss was a 60-41 setback to Archbishop Moeller (Cincinatti, OH) back on Dec. 26 at Myrtle Beach in the Beach Ball Classic.
The Shamrocks finished third in the final AP poll, and Louisville Trinity is a team that lives and dies from three-point range. Trinity is ranked third in the state in three-point percentage, finding the mark on 283-of-685 attempts from downtown on the year.
Wed., March 14—Fourth Region champion Warren Central Dragons (29-5) vs. 12th Region champion Southwestern (Pulaski) Warriors (18-14)—6:30 p.m. EST
For the first time in five years, Warren Central is back to the state tournament.
Central knocked off crosstown rival Bowling Green in the Region Four Championship Game to punch its ticket to the state tournament, and the Dragons are seeking a deep run inside Rupp Arena. The Dragons are led by senior Skyelar Potter—a Wright State commit and Kentucky Mr. Basketball candidate that averages a double-double of 23 points and 12.1 rebounds per night.
Southwestern upset Mercer County to advance to the state tournament. The Warriors are led by senior sharpshooter Hunter Stevens, who pours in 24.9 points per outing.
Wed., March 14—15th Region champion Pikeville Panthers (24-9) vs. Fifth Region champion John Hardin Bulldogs (28-7)—8 p.m. EST
The nightcap of the second session on Wednesday will be an epic battle between two Kentucky Mr. Basketball candidates.
Pikeville is led by senior guard Wyatt Battalie, who is ranked 15th in Kentucky in scoring with 24.3 points per night.
Meanwhile John Hardin is led by Saint Louis University commit Mickey Pearson. Pearson averages a double-double of 25.7 points and 11 rebounds per night for the Bulldogs, who advanced to the state tournament with a narrow 48-46 victory over LaRue County in the region title game.
Thurs., March 15—Second Region champion University Heights Blazers (23-7) vs. 10th Region champion Campbell County Camels (28-5)—12 p.m. EST
University Heights returns to the state tournament for the first time since 2008, and a major reason for that is the services of junior guard Dekeyvan “KyKy” Tandy.
Tandy—a player that has drawn interest from big-name programs such as Kentucky, Tennessee and Xavier—is the 4th-best offensive player in all of Kentucky with 30.4 points per night. His explosiveness and athleticism enables him to go off for 40-plus on any given night.
The Camels have a much more balanced attack and are ranked 19th in the state in scoring with 71.8 points per game. Campbell County advanced to the state tournament with a 68-62 victory over defending Region 10 champion Scott in the region title game.
Thurs., March 15—Eighth Region champion Oldham County Colonels (29-5) vs. First Region champion McCracken County Mustangs (28-6)—6:30 p.m. EST
Contrary to most of the other teams in the field, there is on standout player on either one of these squads.
Oldham County returns to Rupp for the first time since 2011, and the Colonels are led by the duo of Jackson Gibson and Travis Henderson with 15.7 and 15.9 points per night, respectively.
The Mustangs are back in the field for the second time since Heath, Lone Oak and Reidland consolidated to form McCracken County—the other year being 2014. McCracken is led by the senior duo of Cameron Cartwright and Nathan Stonecipher with 14.5 and 14.9 points per game.
Thurs., March 15—Third Region champion Apollo Eagles (16-15) vs. Ninth Region champion Covington Catholic Colonels (31-4)—8 p.m.
When the season began nobody expected Apollo to be on this stage.
The Eagles upset Owensboro in the first round of the Ninth District Tournament before falling to Owensboro Catholic in the district title game. But Apollo would get the last laugh by handing the Aces a 51-41 loss in the region title game just a little over a week later.
The Eagles are led by senior Nathan Boyle with 15.3 points per game, and the sharpshooter has netted 73-of-201 attempts from long range for 36.3 percent on the season.
But Apollo will face a daunting task when it takes on Covington Catholic in the first round.
The Colonels have nine players above 6-4 in height, most notably 7-1 senior Jake Walter (11.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG).
Covington Catholic also has an explosive scorer in C.J. Fredrick (22.5 PPG), who has found the bottom of the net on 97-of-201 three-point attempts on the year for a blazing 48.3 percent.
Defensively the Colonels are 4th-best in the entire state, limiting opponents to just 48.3 points per game.
Thurs., March 15—Sixth Region champion Fern Creek Tigers (26-6) vs. 16th Region champion Boyd County Lions (29-6)—1:30 p.m. CST
Boyd County is finally back.
Led by Gunner Short’s 17.9 points per game, the Lions have returned to Rupp Arena for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
But that stay may be short if Boyd County is unable to handle Fern Creek’s relentless pressure.
The Tigers are in the state tournament for the second consecutive year and will most likely impose a full-court style of play on Boyd County. Fern Creek is led by Ahmad Price with 16.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.