by Daniel Olsen
When it comes to RPI rankings, Washington County on the south border of the state reigns supreme. Is a team down there likely to win the 4A high school basketball title or is the field further north going to pull off an upset? It’s time to take a look at the top four teams in 4A as well as some sleeper picks.
1. Juan Diego
This team enters with the motivation to avenge last season’s two-point loss to the eventual champion Dixie Flyers in the semifinals. It is possible that the two squads will face off again in the semifinals if they can both advance to that point.
The Soaring Eagles are 20-2 on the season but their easier strength of schedule in Region 10 is the main reason they only recently earned the top seed in the playoffs. They are 12-0 in region play and have proven to be the dominant 4A team along the Wasatch Front.
The only losses for Juan Diego were against top teams from higher divisions in Timpanogos and Westlake respectively. Neither of those games were close so it’s tough to say whether this team is unequivocally better than the teams ahead of them. They will have the chance to prove it in the state playoffs.
Talon Valdes leads the team with 20.7 points-per-game. In order for the Soaring Eagles to win a championship, this team leader will have to be firing on all cylinders.
With three of the top four teams in the RPI rankings residing down south, Dixie tops them all. They might even be able to give the 8-11 Dixie State University team a run for their money. All joking aside, the Flyers are the team to beat in 4A. They take on a losing Bear River team (10-12) in their first game. The Bears hope they might have a little more luck on the bus ride this time. They made a similar trip down south in the football state playoffs and got wrecked by another team from the city of St. George in the Pine View Panthers.
Isaac Finlinson leads the Flyers with 21.2 points per game. This 6’6” player has plenty of athleticism. This poses a problem for opposing defenders. The defending 4A champions have the best shot at a title.
3. Crimson Cliffs
The next team from the Utah Prep Basketball Premier League, otherwise known as Washington County School District, is the Crimson Cliffs Mustangs. They are also 18-4 with all losses also being in Region 9. They split the season series with Desert Hills but got swept by Dixie. They still got the nod over Desert Hills in the playoff seeding.
While the Mustangs just became a school in 2019, they will look to make a run for their first boys basketball title in their young program’s history. They lost to Juan Diego in the first round the previous year as an 11 seed, so they are a much improved team. If this goes chalk, I like the chances for the Mustangs to advance to the semifinals. I wouldn’t pick them over Dixie, so they might hope for an upset for the Flyers in the earlier rounds.
The Mustangs don’t have one dominant scorer but they do have three guys averaging double figures. These players are Trei Rockhill (17.0), Hudson Hawes (11.8) and Cole Sampson (14.2). None of these stars are over 6’3” which makes it important for their few bigger guys to help crash the boards. In all but one of their losses, the Mustangs were out-rebounded.
4. Desert Hills
Another team down south comes into the state playoffs with an 18-4 record. While they split the season series with Dixie, they ended up in a three-way tie for second at 10-4 in Region 9. Dixie only had two losses region play so that could explain why they got the nod in the RPI.
Desert Hills should win their first few matchups but the pathway isn’t as easy. The Cedar Valley Aviators at 12-7 are no picnic and the two face off in the first round matchup for the Thunder. The Aviators already warmed up with a 49-34 win over Mountain Crest in the play-in game so they should be ready to give the Thunder a stiff test. This is a Thunder team they might actually have a chance against as their neighboring Westlake Thunder is killing it in 6A.
Mason Landdeck leads the Thunder with just over 23 points per game.
Sleepers: Anyone from Region 11
After tough non-region games and beating up on each other, none of the teams on the far north side of the state are seeded particularly high. Sky View at 15-5 is ranked the highest of the group as the six seed despite not winning the Region 11 title. This could be due to a better non-region record. Their only region losses were to Ridgeline and Green Canyon. All of Sky View’s losses have been within single digits.
Ridgeline is ranked just below as the seven seed with just one region loss. They just lost to Sky View by two points at home. However, they have a record of 14-8 total thanks to a poor showing in non-region play. Many of the losses were to teams from higher divisions but they did also lose to Desert Hills by 11 points to start the season.
Logan has perhaps the toughest path as the nine seed. They have to try to avenge their loss to Snow Canyon in football in the state playoffs in an even 8 vs 9 matchup. After that, they would likely have to make the trip back to Saint George to take on the top seeded Dixie Flyers. The Grizzlies were swept by Sky View and Ridgeline. However, they won every other game in Region 11.
Mountain Crest lost a play-in game and Green Canyon (11 seed) and Bear River (15 seed) aren’t likely to make much noise as they are significant underdogs. That means for these sleeper picks (Logan, Sky View and Ridgeline) to awake, they will have to catch some of the southern sleeping giants napping.
Prediction: Dixie will win their second straight championship in a rematch of last year’s semifinals game. Juan Diego will benefit off avoiding this team until the championship game and then barely lose again. The biggest upset will be only a slight one with Sky View over Desert Hills in the quarterfinals. High school tends to go more chalk than the NCAA tournament and this year is no exception.
Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News