Will it be more of the same as the Region 7 tournament continues on Monday?
Since the start of the decade, two area programs have had a stranglehold on Region 7 supremacy: Dickinson Trinity and Beulah.
With each school earning four trips to the state tournament, it should come as no surprise that on Monday, March 4, the Titans and the Miners enter the quarterfinal portion of the Region 7 Tournament as the top two seeds.
Will another regional title be covered in Titan red or Miners blue? Well, there are a number of capable squads who are hoping the last Region 7 tournament of this decade doesn't end like so many others have.
Making its first appearance in the quarterfinal bracket since the mid-2000's is Glen Ullin-Hebron, who has undergone a fantastic turnaround under Greg Pruitt in his first year with the team.
"I'm very proud of the boys and how they handled a new coaching staff coming in and the challenges that we put in front of them," Pruitt said. "Looking at the beginning of the season, we were going one game at a time, and one of our goals was to get into the regional tournament. I thought the kids adapted really well and they did a great job of listening to us and believing in the system."
With an overall record 17-4 and a conference mark of 9-2, the Bearcats enter the tournament as the No. 3 seed, but they're 0-2 against the top two teams. Limited to a 46-36 loss to Beulah on Jan. 28 before falling 43-37 at home to Dickinson Trinity on Feb. 8, Glen Ullin-Hebron emerged out of the two defeats with high spirits.
"It was a confidence booster for the kids. The big thing that we took out of it was experience, learning that we could play with those top-quality teams," Pruitt said. "As the year went on, we just tried to get better on the defensive side, but the games that we lost, we didn't do a really good job scoring the basketball. ... We've made some adjustments and we'll see if that will help us for the regional tournament."
If the Bearcats are fortunate enough to get another shot at either team, they will have to get by a school that they split a pair of games with this season: No. 6 Bowman County.
It's been an interesting Bulldogs season with first-year head coach Nick Walker at the helm. Bowman County began region play 0-3, but is the only team seeded third or lower to earn a victory over the Titans or Miners. Entering the regional tournament on a five-game winning streak, the Bulldogs are a team to watch.
"Going into this year, we had three that never played varsity basketball before, so (there's) going to be growing pains, especially when we play on the road," Walker said. "The Trinity game, we played very well and now we've won five in a row at the end of the year here. (We) played very well against Beulah on our home court, so our last loss was against a very good team. To win 14 games and having as little experience as we had returning, we've had a great regular season and we're excited for the opportunity to play in the Region 7 tournament."
Juxtaposed to Bowman County's youth, No. 5 Hazen is one of the more experienced teams in the area. The Bison will face No. 4 Mott-Regent, another team playing well with a first-year head coach.
Pat Perkins guided the Wildfire to wins in nine of their last 11 games. That stretch includes a 56-48 victory at home over Hazen on Jan. 22. Mott-Regent features two great athletes in senior forwards Cody Perkins and Asad Watson-Buffalo, but the team recognizes its opponents' athleticism as well.
"They are definitely not a team that we are overlooking. We realize and understand that they are a hard matchup because they got some length," Pat Perkins said of the Bison. "They crash the boards really hard, they got three or four guys that can shoot, they like to dribble, penetrate and kick it back out. ... They're a challenge for us, but hopefully we are up to the challenge. We're doing all the little things to get prepared for Hazen because they're a good team and are well-coached."
Toward the bottom of the bracket, No. 7 Beach features arguably the toughest offensive player to cover in versatile junior forward Gage Swanson. That defensive test falls to the hands of Beulah, who is the tournament's No. 2 seed.
Ranked tenth in the state, the Miners carried the league's best defense, holding teams this season to 44.1 points per game. Also, they have a point-differential at 14.1 points per game, good for tops in Region 7.
Beulah finished tied atop the conference standings with a 10-1 mark, but dropped the tiebreaker following a 58-46 defeat at Trinity on Jan. 31, as the team had several players out of action due to illness.
Last year, the defending region champion did not have the services of senior forward Chad Morsette Jr. in its run to state. With the team in full health, the Miners hope to make another deep run, and will rely on its strength to do so.
"I think, defensively, we need to be like we've been all year. We need to be steady and consistent. We need to defend," Beulah head coach Jeremy Brandt said. "There's going to be some nights or some spurts in games where the ball isn't going in the basket, so defense has to be a constant. ... The level of intensity and our effort has got to be consistent for us to have an opportunity to move on starting on Monday."
No. 8 Heart River advanced to the quarterfinals following a 67-56 win over No. 9 Richardton-Taylor on Monday. Winners of four of their last seven contests, the Cougars have gotten a boost since the return of 6-foot-2 junior forward Lane Chruszch, who was injured during last season's regional tournament.
Awaiting Heart River is No. 1 Dickinson Trinity. The Titans began the year ranked second in the state, but, hampered by the loss of a number of seniors from a 2017-18 squad that ended the year as the region runner-up, Trinity fell flat against some of the tougher teams on their schedule.
With three double-digit losses to Thompson, Four Winds-Minnewaukan and Bishop Ryan, who have a combined record of 57-7, the Titans were unranked by the middle of the season.
"People talk about the number of seniors that we lost, much like the rest of the region, so we had to replace quite a few kids," Dickinson Trinity head coach Gregg Grinsteinner said. "We had some success early, got too much confidence and ran into a couple of buzzsaws. ... After going to the Oak Grove (game), our kids finally started to buy into the process that it's not going to happen overnight, it's a learning experience. You've got to learn that teams are going to take away your strengths and you've got to adjust to that."
Since dropping a 54-51 affair to the Grovers in early January, the Titans are ending the season victorious in ten of their last twelve contests. More importantly, they took care of business in the region, clinching the tournament's top seed with a 48-25 win over Killdeer on Feb. 22. But even with momentum and the top seed on his team's side, Grinsteinner believes anyone can advance.
"It's a toss-up. People can say Trinity and Beulah are the favorites, but when you get to the postseason, if you have one kid that can get hot and have role players that do their job, you have a chance to win every game," Grinsteinner said. "All eight teams that are in this tournament have that capability. .... Anybody is capable of beating anybody, that's not coach-speak. That's the truth in this region this year."