By Matt Harris
If anything comes close to what last year’s 2A state playoff turned out to be, we are all in for a treat.
The 2020 2A State Championship threw RPI rankings to the wind in an unimaginable flurry of upsets. The close finishes were so chaotic that previewing the top four teams in the bracket this year just feels like sticking a hand into a beehive.
In case you missed it, all that happened in 2020 was the top five teams were eliminated in the quarterfinals, and the seven seed Beaver claimed the title against eight seed Enterprise. 12 of the 26 games played were decided by less than 10 points. Both the 12 and 14 seeds made it from play-in games all the way to the quarterfinals.
In this segment, we’ll look at the top four teams in this year’s playoff bracket, and give a one-word answer why each team is destined to win the state championship or go home early.
NO. 1 Beaver – 15-3 – First in Region 18
Why They Will: Improvement
As mentioned before, the Beavers did the dirty work last year and won a championship as a seven seed, beating the two seed Parowan Rams along the way. They’re even better this year as the top seed in the tournament. The Beavers are the absolute best at low-scoring games, having not allowed 60 points in a game and only allowing over 50 points four times. One of those games was an overtime game. While not necessarily explosive on the offensive end, the Beavers have a deep roster in that they’ve managed their region title while not having a single top-15 scorer in 2A. Beaver also has the benefit of having wins in the regular season over nearly all of the projected field on their path to the title game.
Why They Won’t: Scoring
Beaver is nearly unbeatable in low-scoring games, but when their opponents manage over 50 points, they have a tough time keeping up. Enterprise beat them convincingly in the last game of the regular season, 54-37, and in the other four games, they were all decided by seven points or less. Particularly considering that Enterprise or North Summit are highly likely to be the Beavers’ quarterfinal matchup, relying on defense alone won’t be enough to make it far.
NO. 2 Layton Christian – 15-6 – 1st in Region 17
Why They Will: Resume
The Eagles not being the top seed is more a product of the toughness of their schedule than anything else. Layton Christian’s wins this season are against just about every classification in the state, including four different 3A squads, a 5A team, and a 6A team. Layton Christian’s program is a perennial contender based on the natural athletes that make their way into the school. Against a field of 2A teams, LCA can come into the playoff with a feeling of “seen better, beat better.”
Why They Won’t: Unfamiliarity
Sure, the Eagles have spent the season taking shots against some of the state’s best, including nationally-ranked Wasatch Academy. They have no experience this season going against the upper-tier blue-collar squads in 2A. The highest seed out of Region 17 besides Layton Christian is Rowland Hall, an 11-seed that had to play their way out of the first round. It’s a common theme to see polished private school teams be frustrated when up against the public school squads that do the dirty work to win.
NO. 3 Parowan – 9-6 – Second in Region 18
Why They Will: Battle-Tested
The Rams have the least impressive record of the top four teams, but look closer. It is arguably accurate to say their matchup in the second round against a 19-seeded UMA-Hill Field team will be their easiest game of the season so far. In the regular season, their region slate was unmatched with games against Kanab, Enterprise, and Beaver (twice). They spent most of their non-region slate against 3A contenders, including Grantsville and Grand County. The Rams have a lot of wounds from the regular season. If they have learned their lessons, they’ll be scary.
Why They Won’t: Beatable
Frankly, Parowan’s tough schedule may have been too tough, because now there are six losses on their schedule showing how to beat them. The Rams bring the same defensive intensity in each game. Against an easy side of the playoff bracket, they’ll have a solid path to the semifinals, but once there, they’re likely to run into one of a couple teams that have already had the upper hand on them this season.
NO. 4 Enterprise – 12-8 – Third in Region 18
Why They Will: Scoring
The Wolves are able to put the ball into the basket. That much is clear. Despite finishing in the middle of the pack in a stacked region, Enterprise showcased the best ability to score the ball by a country mile. They scored nearly 60 total points more than the next-best team in the region. They are led by a senior in Tyler Hiatt with 17.1 points per game, and he’ll be critical to the success of Enterprise in the next week.
Why They Won’t: Defense
The Wolves are up against a field of teams that are defensively suffocating, and they are not. Enterprise allows more than 50 points per game, the third of five teams in Region 18. As the saying has gone for years across multiple sports, defense wins championships. The Wolves are on the side of the bracket more populated by defense-oriented teams like Beaver. Allowing teams breathing room to score in the playoff is a recipe for disaster, so Enterprise will need to get a lot stickier on defense to survive, and soon.
Featured image provided by Gary Czenkus, Deseret News