CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- So what can we expect from this, the 100th state basketball tournament that tips today at the Civic Center?
After all, you can't beat the 99th state tourney for parity, at least in the Class AAA division. Last year, the only game won by the higher seed was the No. 1 vs. No. 8 first-round matchup - the lower seeds went 6-1 all told, with No. 7 seed Hedgesville capturing its first state title since 1970.
This time around, the buzzword is quality.
How often has the Class AAA bracket been stuffed with six 20-win teams - a group that might have been seven if Morgantown (19-6) had state player of the year candidate Nathan Adrian in its midst all season?
And how often has a team as dangerous as Huntington (18-6) been relegated to the No. 8 seed?
"I was shocked,'' said Lance Sutherland, coach of No. 7 seed Hurricane (20-5), which makes its state tournament debut today. "I thought we'd be the No. 8 seed. But everybody from 1 to 8 is solid, won 20 games or right around it. I know Martinsburg is stacked, loaded. But to me it's one of those deals, if anybody gets hot, they can win it.''
As if that isn't enough, three of the leading candidates for the state player of the year award will be on hand this week in Adrian (who's signed with West Virginia University), Martinsburg's Donte' Grantham (who's also getting looks from the Mountaineers, among others) and Magnolia's Mark Winters, the state's leading scorer at 28.6 points per game.
In Class AA, top-seeded Bluefield is the favorite after making the finals last year with a youthful lineup, but the Beavers could be hard-pressed to succeed against a field that includes recent AA acquisition Fairmont Senior and red-hot Westside (10 straight wins).
The double-A lineup could be billed as the Big 10 Conference against the world, or at least the rest of West Virginia.
Half the AA field represents that league from the north-central portion of the state - No. 2 seed Fairmont Senior (19-6), No. 4 Robert C. Byrd (19-6), No. 6 Bridgeport (18-7) and No. 8 North Marion (16-8). It's conceivable that the entire semifinal bracket could be filled with Big 10 teams.
In Class A, there's just as much interest, as defending champion Charleston Catholic (22-3) is back, but only as the No. 3 seed behind Tug Valley (22-3) and Magnolia (21-4). Tug won the AA crown last winter before dropping down a classification.
Also, this appears to be the best bet in a long time for state public schools to break the spell of private schools, who have captured the last 11 single-A championships. Charleston Catholic and Wheeling Central, both part of the Class A field, have accounted for nine of those 11 titles.
In conjunction with the 100th state tournament celebration, the Secondary School Activities Commission will recognize players and teams from past tournaments throughout this week's games.
Today, those who competed previous to 1940 will be saluted during the 11:15 a.m. game between Woodrow Wilson and Hurricane. Tonight, those from 1940-49 will be honored during the 7:15 p.m. game between Martinsburg and Huntington.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.