Nov 29, 2013 - By Randy Tucker, Sports WriterHigh school basketball is just a week away, and scheduling changes are evident across the four classifications in Wyoming.
December used to be reserved for non-conference games or perhaps a chance for rivals from another division to play each other. For years Class 2-A Lovell played home and away with 3-A Powell and 4-A Cody, with that cross-classification trend trend shared by rivalries such as Riverton/Lander, Sheridan/Buffalo, Lusk/Newcastle and Cokeville/Mountain View.
The rise of tournament play has eliminated many of these old rivalries. Just a few remain thanks to scheduling by athletic directors who stress pre-conference tournaments to increase the number of games early in the season
Wyoming Indian has just a single non-tournament game prior to January when the Chiefs play at Lovell on Dec. 12. The WIHS boys and girls have made the Thursday night appearance in Bulldog gym a regular occurrence on the way north to tournament play in Billings.
The Chief boys should be the odds on favorite to take state this season with a tall talented team and myriad experience. The Wyoming High School Activities Association granted 6-6 post player Trevor Williamson a fifth year of eligibility. Along with 6-4 senior Joseph Howell, the Chiefs have the best front line in Class 2-A. Add the speed and athletic ability of Wilson Clifford and the outside shooting of Tristan Gardner, and the Chiefs will be hard to match.
The Wyoming Indian girls will be vastly improved as well this season on a squad laden with talented sophomores.
Lovell's boys and girls will still be formidable. The defending state champion Bulldog boys will make the best of their last year in Class 2-A with a big, powerful lineup that will challenge the Chiefs in paint. Lovell departs for Class 3-A after this season.
Other west teams that will vie for honors are the Big Piney Punchers, who should have their best team since 198. The young Wind River boys could create problems for many teams with their quickness and wide-open offense.
Greybull's boys and the Thermopolis girls also should be in contention.
Wind River's girls qualified for state a year ago and played some exciting basketball. They should be even better this season and are one of the favorites in the division for a regional and, possibly, a state crown.
On the east side of the state you can't argue with the success of the Tongue River and Big Horn girls' teams. They will again be the teams to beat on that side of the state.
The Burns and Lusk boys will be strong contenders as well. Burns has size and experience and will be very physical. Lusk, under head coach Rich Murray, is always one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the division. With a talented team ranging from 6-0 to 6-2 across their starting lineup, the Tigers will be tough to match up against.
Fremont County's Class 1-A and 2-A basketball teams take different approaches to the pre-conference portions of their schedules, with Wyoming Indian, Wind River and St. Stephen's competing in the toughest tournaments they can find. In the recent past the Chiefs played in Class 4-A tournaments and all three boys' teams won the Fremont County Shootout at least once when it still contained Riverton and Lander's varsity teams.
Dubois doesn't play in so many tournaments, partly due to distance and partially because of declining enrollment. Many years ago Shoshoni hosted an annual tournament with Class 3-A and highly ranked 2-A teams, but the Wranglers now play almost exclusively against 1-A teams in their pre-conference schedule.
With the temperature dipping below zero it's time to hit the hardwood and begin the hoop season. Good luck, teams.
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