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Marion County coach Montrell Irvin has had a first-hand look at the top four teams in the 17th District.
It hasn’t been a pleasant experience for Irvin’s Knights, who lost twice to Elizabethtown, once to Central Hardin in the Campbellsville University Holiday Classic, once at North Hardin and once on their home floor to John Hardin.
So which team stood out to Irvin? He didn’t have to ponder the question too long before making an emphatically case for the district’s top seed.
“By far, John Hardin is the most complete team,” Irvin said. “They have a strong inside game and their shooting from the outside is really good. They have speed and quickness at every spot. They keep coming at you defensively. They’re the complete team.”
That seems to be the consensus among coaches heading into the Boys’ 17th District Tournament.
John Hardin, which is ranked seventh and on a 15-game win streak, is the clear-cut favorite, especially after going 8-0 in district play this season.
“John Hardin is definitely the favorite, but I wouldn’t put all my money on one team,” Elizabethtown James Haire said.
Strange things have happened in the past. No. 1 seeds have lost in the semifi-nals. No. 2 seeds haven’t made the 5th Region Tournament.
Last year, the top-seeded Panthers lost to fourth-seeded North Hardin, 61-58. It should come with an asterisk as the Trojans weren’t a typical No. 4 seed. The Trojans returned three players from suspension prior to the postseason, which sparked a late-season run.
In 2011, third-seeded Elizabethtown blitzed the second-seeded Trojans, 58-44 be-fore going on to win the district tournament in a quadruple-overtime thriller. The Panthers did the same to second-seeded North Hardin in the 2008 district semifinals.
The 2007 tournament saw upsets in both semifinals. Fourth-seeded North Hardin, which won the tournament, stunned top-seeded Elizabethtown, while third-seeded John Hardin knocked off second-seeded Central Hardin.
“It’s one game and anything can happen on that night,” Central Hardin coach J.C. Wright said. “I don’t think you can be too comfortable playing in the 17th District. We’ve seen the last few years that anything can happen. It should be a great tournament.”
Prior to this recent stretch, getting one of the top two seeds used to be a benefit. Now coaches approach this tournament with a certain uneasy feeling.
“Strange things happen in basketball, especially this time of year,” North Hardin coach Ron Bevars said. “The seeds had held pretty consistent before 2007. Strange things happen. But you still try to treat it like other games you’ve played.”
Bardstown coach James Brewer played against the top four teams in the district, posting a 1-3 record. In an eight-day stretch, the Tigers lost to Elizabethtown, beat Central Hardin and fell to North Hardin.
“They’re all similar,” Brewer said. “They all play the 1-3-1 zone. That’s the first time we’ve seen that. They all play good defense. They are a lot alike in that regard.”
John Hardin coach Mark Wells said the teams are similar in another regard as well.
“There are quality coaches in this district,” Wells said. “Every night I’m coaching against someone who has been coaching longer than me. The coaches are well-organized and they utilize their strengths. And we have a lot of skilled players in this area.”
Wells certainly would know since the Bulldogs (23-3) seem to be holding the cards going into the postseason. Senior point guard Brandon Price and senior forward Daveon Greene are two of the district’s top three scorers. Junior forward Keon Williams and junior guard Patrick Anderson both are averaging more than 10 points.
“They mirror us the most,” Brewer said. “They put a lot of pressure on the ball. They play great defense. Greene is a force inside and Price is one of the two best players in the region. He can control the game, and when he does that, they are really tough to beat.”
Having won seven straight, North Hardin (21-7) is on a roll going into the postseason. The Trojans have a dynamic scorer in senior guard Ruben Gosa and a dominant post player in senior Tyler Landry. Add in senior guards Nick Lewis and Scotty Sterusky, junior forward Khalil Rasheed and sophomore guard Tyronn King and the Trojans are a scary team.
“North hits the offensive boards harder than any team,” Irvin said. “They have a lot of guys, even their guards, crashing the offensive glass. They are a good offensive team, but they get you with their offensive rebounds.”
Central Hardin (12-12) has been inconsistent, never winning more than two straight or losing more than four in a row. Wright has had to deal with injuries to seniors Alex Crowder and Tyler McCullough. That has given juniors Dillon Glenn and Jacob Barnes and senior T.J. Gordon a chance to showcase their skills, adding depth to the Bruins.
“We’ve played teams like Bardstown and (Louisville) Eastern down the stretch,” Wright said. “We did that because those teams are similar to John Hardin and North. I feel overall I like where we are as a team. I think we’ve shown good improvement throughout the year.”
Elizabethtown (15-13) has played a challenging schedule, including No. 1 Louisville Trinity and No. 2 Bullitt East in the final week of the regular season. The Panthers have also dealt with injuries. Senior Chas Jones and juniors Nic McDonald and Ja’Von Cotton all have missed time.
“E’town is a big team,” Irvin said. “Outside they didn’t hurt us as much. They killed us more inside. They had a field day on us. And they are well-coached. Coach Haire does a great job with them.”
Fort Knox (11-15) won three straight games to close out the regular season, giving the Eagles hope they can snap an 11-year winless drought in the postseason.
With so much parity between the teams, the coaches know it’s going to be one interesting week.
“I know I’ve been around long enough to see a lot of things happen,” Wells said. “Seeding doesn’t mean much. You’re going to have to play a good opponent. I don’t think any coach goes into a game thinking, ‘that’s a winnable game.’ Every game is a tough game in this district.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.