It was a first for each of the current coaches on the boys’ basketball side of the Southeast Conference, not knowing who won Region V outright on the final night of the regular season. But when it came to tournament seeding, even one of the conference’s top team needed a little luck.
Ketchikan, Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain begin their final runs at the conference’s lone state opening following a weekend that saw the Crimson Bears nab the No. 1 seed by way of a blind luck draw after the tiebreakers in place could not determine the top spot in the Southeast Conference Tournament.
Juneau-Douglas fell twice in Ketchikan over the weekend, giving the two schools an outright tie Saturday night. The Bears might have gotten lucky to grab the top spot, but coach Steve Potter said being the No. 1 seed isn’t crucial in this scenario.
“We still have to play the same teams. In a different setting it might be huge, but we know we have to play Thunder Mountain and Ketchikan no matter what,” he said. “But it helps us in that we don’t have that extra game.”
Despite coming off the two losses in Ketchikan, Potter said he feels confident in the way his team performed.
“I think we played pretty well on Saturday. We had a plan and we executed it,” he said. “But in a game where there were fewer possessions because of the tempo of the game, when we made mistakes they were highlighted. Obviously, there are some things we need to shore up, but I don’t think there are any major things we need to change.”
On the other side of the ledger, Kings coach Eric Stockhausen said he felt his team could have been better despite the victories. Still, he believes his group is ready for the chance to come back to Juneau to try and avenge the loss to the Bears in the final game of last year’s conference tournament.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity knowing we have to play better than we did last weekend,” he said. “We’re just happy everybody is healthy and we’re excited to go.”
And while Potter seemed somewhat indifferent about being the top seed, Stockhausen said he’d almost rather it be this way.
“To me it’s no big deal. Last year, sitting around waiting to play on Wednesday wasn’t good for us,” he said. “With the tournament going on it was hard to get quality practice time. So, for us to get out and get some blood flowing through our legs, I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Saturday’s 44-42 Kings victory was a slow-paced, low-scoring tilt, but when asked if he’d prefer a game with a faster tempo, Potter said it didn’t matter as long as his team played the kind of defense he wants.
“At this stage of the game I’m just hoping for a game where we’re locked in defensively and don’t have lapses,” he said. “Slow pace, fast pace, it doesn’t matter as long as we’re guarding people.”
The Bears’ two victories over the Kings this season came when Ketchikan was less than fully healthy. But a full-strength Kings team that just defeated Juneau-Douglas twice in two nights will be ready to try and do what they couldn’t do a little more than two weeks ago: win at Juneau-Douglas High School.
“(Friday) was the first time we played (JDHS) at full strength, so we’re kind of where we thought we’d be,” Stockhausen said. “I don’t think we played particularly well last weekend, and a lot of credit goes to Juneau(-Douglas) for what they did defensively to us.
“We’re just hoping to be a little sharper next game out and try to build on that.”
The Bears will sit and watch as the first round of games is played out, but the Kings must match up with Thunder Mountain today at 6:25 p.m. at JDHS gym for the chance to play Juneau-Douglas on Wednesday night. Falcons coach John Blasco said he hopes is young team can have its best run of the season with so much at stake.
“Everybody is going to be elevating their game because everybody wants to go to state. Even though we’ve seen these teams four times each, we can’t underestimate anything they may or may not do,” he said. “I fully expect both coach Potter and coach Stockhausen to make some adjustments that could potentially catch us off guard, and we have to be ready for it.”
Though Thunder Mountain’s young group is relatively inexperienced when it comes to Southeast Conference Tournament play, Blasco said his kids are preparing with the focus of keeping the game close from the start. If they can do that, he said, there just might be a chance at an upset this week.
“With a young group like this we’ll break down the opponent for each game, but the focus for us is purely on what we’re trying to do as far as getting ourselves established in the game from the tip: keeping our defense strong but also getting our offense going early because that seems to be a lagging point for us,” he said. “There will be small adjustments, but at this point in the season you can’t throw in anything off the wall because there’s not enough time to prepare.
“So there’s no time to try anything brand new, but you can tweak what you have going. I just want my guys to be ready to compete for 32 minutes, and if we do that we’ll give any opponent a good challenge,” he continued. “You never know what can happen in a tournament like this because everyone’s playing for their lives, essentially.”
As for the girls’ bracket, Juneau-Douglas looks like a lock to make it to the state tournament in a bid to repeat as Alaska state champions. While nothing is certain, the Bears have been a dominant force all season in conference play.
Juneau-Douglas has lost only once all season — and that was to one of the state’s top teams, Wasilla — but its conference record is unblemished. The Crimson Bears are 8-0 in conference with an astronomical margin of victory. In those games, JDHS outscored its Southeast opponents by an average of 44.25 points and never won a game over Thunder Mountain and Ketchikan by less than 37 points.
Southeast Conference Tournament action begins today at 4:25 p.m. with a clash between the Thunder Mountain (7-16, 1-7) and Ketchikan girls’ teams for the chance to play the Crimson Bears in the second round of the double-elimination tournament. The Falcons (4-20, 0-8) and Kings boys’ teams square off at 6:25 p.m. following the early game, also for the right to challenge the top-seeded Bears.
Check page B2 for a full Region V 3A/4A tournament schedule of events.