CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- WHAT A WEEK it was. Thanks to an accommodating schedule, I was able to catch up with all four of the Kanawha Valley's ranked boys basketball teams in a span of less than 72 hours last week.
Those four teams - Class AAA Capital and South Charleston, AA Poca and single-A Charleston Catholic - probably comprise the area's four best bets at doing something memorable during the March 19-22 state tournament at the Civic Center.
Of course, some longer shots could very well put on a late-season run to get to the big show - maybe Hurricane, George Washington, Winfield or Buffalo - but for now, let's take a look at those four squads that have been state-ranked much of the season and handicap their chances come tournament time (includes most recent rankings and current records).
No. 3 Capital (7-2) - Strength: No one plays the helter-skelter game better than the Cougars, who can force 20 turnovers against just about anybody - including SC, which had 22 against Capital in its lone loss. The Cougars can mask their deficiencies inside (with just two true post players) by making it a 94-foot game, fueling their fast break with steals and layup attempts. They can employ as many as 10 players a night without a perceived dropoff in results.
Weakness: Unfortunately, Capital is likely to commit 20 turnovers itself on a given night. That unbridled play, combined with the fact the team has missed eight to 10 practices and has played just nine games as the calendar flips to February, isn't a good combination. A propensity for getting into foul trouble (due to relentless pressure defense) raises the potential for low posts Brad Grose and Bryce Goldsmith sitting out stretches, making the Cougars play what amounts to five guards. That definitely hurts against teams with standout big men, say, Huntington's 6-foot-4 Arick Nicks (15 points, 11 rebounds per game), Washington's 6-5 Kendell Smith (third-team all-state last year) or Musselman's 6-4 Trevon Wesco (25 points, 12 rebounds) - all possible state tournament opponents.
Quote: "Not practicing has hurt us. The kids were doing well, and then they got away from it. They start ripping and running - sandlot ball - and it's a job getting them back. They were successful doing that some, but against good teams, you can't do that. We're trying very hard to get them back to playing organized ball.'' - Capital coach Carl Clark.
Outlook: If the Cougars can keep Grose (who's also battling a knee injury) and Goldsmith on the floor, if top gun Carrington Morris continues his unselfish play, and if the team buys into the concept of rotating nine or 10 players to keep their legs fresh from a lack of conditioning - without losing their attitude or intensity - they can do some damage. Tournament chances: Good.
No. 5 South Charleston (12-1) - Strength: Supremely athletic and, like Capital, at its best in a full-court game where its changing, trapping defenses can force turnovers and quick runouts for easy buckets. Unlike past years, the Black Eagles sport a true low-post threat in 6-5 senior Anthony Billings, who's capable of a double-double any night.
Weakness: If the 3-point shot was eliminated from the game, SC's chances would go up considerably. Take last week against Huntington, when the Highlanders canned 10 3s and nearly knocked off the host Black Eagles without their best player, Nicks. In the same game, SC was 2 of 13 on 3s. When those shots drop, SC can be devastating to deal with on the offensive end because its halfcourt attack doesn't always dazzle as much as its turnover-fueled transition game.
Quote: "We hope Capital wins the [MSAC] East and we're lucky enough to play Capital again and beat them [in the Night of Champions]. Then when the sectional seeding comes out, we've got a better chance [in the postseason].'' - SC coach Vic Herbert.
Outlook: Losing a player out of the current eight-man rotation for any reason would cut into the effectiveness of the team's preferred quick pace. Another bugaboo is how closely game officials (often from other parts of the state and unfamiliar with SC's style) call postseason contests: if they sport quick whistles, the Black Eagles' rotation will suffer with foul problems. Tournament chances: Very good.