by Matt Harris
In a season of complexity, a little simplicity always helps to smooth things over.
The 3A Utah State Championship tournament begins this week with several play-in games. Despite the complexity of a pandemic-restrained season, the miracle of RPI made this year’s bracket just as intriguing as the last few years of 3A boys hoops.
The top four seeds of Grantsville, Juab, Manti, and Grand County each present the best possible shots in a wide-open field. In a one-word answer, we look at why the best four teams in the bracket are destined to claim the hardware, and conversely, why their hopes may be derailed before getting there.
No. 1 Grantsville – 15-2 – First in Region 13
Why They Will: Defense
Grantsville wasted absolutely no time at all in announcing their arrival to the ranks of the elite in 2020. The Cowboys dispatched defending champion Manti in the first game of the season, 65-61. In that game, they held the normally-fiery Templars to 35 percent overall shooting and 24 percent from three. From there, Grantsville was nearly unbeatable, their only loss in 15 games being an overtime affair against a top 4A team in Logan. For the season, the Cowboys have only allowed more than 50 points five times. They held their opponent to 40 points or less six times. No one on their schedule managed more than the 65 points Summit Academy scored on them, and that was a 92-65 win for the Cowboys.
Why They Won’t: Bracket
You’d think that the path for a one-seed in the playoff would be the one of least resistance, but the Cowboys just aren’t getting that kind of luck. Up to the semis, Grantsville’s plate will be full of formidable opponents, with the winner of North Sanpete/Carbon waiting in the quarterfinals. North Sanpete has been inconsistent, but they’ve also beaten or narrowly lost to a number of the top teams. After that, it’s either the offensive firing squad of Grand County or it could possibly be Summit Academy, Grantsville’s only 3A loss. Frankly, the nature of 3A basketball makes a top seed largely a moot point when there are legitimate contenders for the throne going down to about the 7-seed.
No. 2 Juab – 18-3 – First in Region 14
Why They Will: Ty
No, that’s not an anagram for “Thank you” or “Trash yams.” It’s a well-earned nod to the driving force and dominating physical presence that is Ty Allred. The 6’8” senior burst onto the scene this year, and has been putting up numbers reminiscent of a smaller Anthony Davis. He has been scoring 18.0 points per game while averaging 9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. Allred is the fourth-best scorer in 3A even while his team is only averaging 57 points per game. His 215-pound frame is a nightmare to contain, which is why Juab crashes the boards in most of their games. Having already committed to Colorado-Mesa University, he may prove to be a steal at the college level.
Allred will be key to the success of the Wasps in the postseason as the focal point of Juab’s best basketball team in years.
Why They Won’t: Ty
Don’t complain about me breaking rules that never existed. The Wasps have been a physical team on defense, but in order to keep up in the playoffs, they’ll have to score with the hotter-shooting teams of the field. That is why Allred’s creativeness is so critical. A handful of teams honed in on the necessity of stopping Allred early to much success. While Allred was a revelation for Juab this year, most teams have now unearthed the secret, and Juab has struggled to create in plays where Allred doesn’t score or distribute. Juab has only once scored more than 66 points in a game against a 3A opponent that wasn’t Maeser Prep.
No. 3 Manti – 16-5 – Second in Region 14
Why They Will: Experience
Since last season, the defending champion Manti Templars are the only team with a top-four seed in the playoffs both last season and this season. With three titles in seven years all under head coach Devin Shakespear, Manti’s not going to be afraid of the limelight. It has shown in a big way over the past several years as the Templars have won in the postseason in a plethora of ways: from star performances, to defensive shutdowns, to dramatic comebacks, to fiery shootouts. This year, Manti’s not looking the part of dominating force like in the past, but only one of their last three titles came as a top seed. Manti will still have the credit due to them by other teams. They are perhaps the scariest playoff team in the bracket.
Why They Won’t: Length
Manti really hasn’t ever had to lean on physical gifts to succeed with their recent history of small-ball lineups and aggressive three-point shooting. The problem this year is the Templars are struggling to defend in the paint due to being criminally undersized. Senior Grady Thompson, Manti’s tallest varsity player at 6’2”, is typically the on-ball defender at the top of the key. Lengthy teams like Grantsville and Juab have exposed the shorter (and frankly, thinner) interior defenders. The Templars have thrived off of fast-paced games where they can outrun and outgun their opponents. In slow-paced matchups, Manti’s lack of physicality and strength has been exposed already a few times this season. They’ll be hard-pressed to shoot their way out of a handful of those kinds of games.
No. 4 Grand County – 19-3 – 1st in Region 12
Why They Will: Scoring
On the back of sophomore sensation Moroni Seely-Roberts, the fourth-best scorer in the state, the Grand County Red Devils are red-hot, scoring the ball better than anyone else in the state at 77.1 points per game. Along with his brother, Malachi Seely-Roberts, these siblings are averaging nearly 39 points per game together. Grand’s squad plays faster than just about anyone in Utah, and they crash the boards statistically better than anyone else in 3A. That makes it a tall task to stop Grand on any given possession from getting a bucket eventually. While defense is going to need to be a focus in practices this week, Grand is looking like the quintessential “best defense is a good offense” team.
Why They Won’t: Schedule
The Devils earned the best record in 3A and won the Region 12 title and all that gave them was a 4-seed in the playoffs. That tells a lot about how much Grand has actually been tested this season. Grand’s only matchup with a top-5 RPI team was a back-to-back against San Juan where they split a pair of blowouts. Against other teams in the top 10, the Devils have had to just scratch by on a multitude of occasions, having won three games decided by less than five points. Even more concerning is the look of their three losses. An off-day against San Juan is understandable, but a loss against South Sevier is worth a sideways glance. A six-point loss to Monticello, a below-average 2A team, is downright appalling. Getting anywhere in the playoffs in Grand County’s bracket will involve either beating San Juan again, or contending with an underrated Summit Academy team. After that, Grantsville will be waiting in the wings.
Featured image courtesy Grantsville team site