BILLINGS — Arlee and Manhattan Christian. They’re synonymous with the previous two State C boys basketball championship games. Is this the year Manhattan Christian finally gets over the hump?
Led by Montana State signee Caleb Bellach, the undefeated Eagles will try to carry the momentum of their Western division title victory — over Arlee — to their first state championship since 1984. Arlee will be trying for its fourth straight trip to the title game and third consecutive crown.
Melstone won the Southern division on the strength of Brody Grebe’s deft ability. Grebe is one of the state’s top scorers regardless of class. Chinook, champion of the North, is also unbeaten, as is Eastern division titlist Scobey.
Plenty Coups, Fairview and Hays-Lodgepole round out the field.
Teams: Manhattan Christian (23-0), Melstone (23-1), Chinook (24-0), Scobey (21-0), Fairview (21-3), Hays-Lodgepole (18-8), Plenty Coups (21-3), Arlee (22-2).
Top seed: Scobey had a different leading scorer in each of its five postseason games, and that depth has carried the Spartans to an unbeaten record. Defensively, they’ve allowed 40-plus points just twice.
Colter Linder, Aiden Fishell, Caden Handran, Parker Cromwell and Jeremy Handy have taken turns leading the scoring column. The Spartans won their five previous postseason games by an average of 40 points.
Other qualifier: Fairview had won 14 straight games before losing in the Eastern C title game to Scobey. Josh Herron, Alex Schriver and Cody Asbeck are three of the Warriors most consistent scorers.
Fairview won its only state championship in 2012 with a win over Highwood. The Warriors returned to the title game in 2015 but lost to Belt. They look to give unbeaten Manhattan Christian a run in the first round.
Top seed: Not to be overlooked is Chinook, which hasn’t faced a truly stiff test since a 49-47 win over Fort Benton on Jan. 12. Otherwise, the Sugarbeeters have rolled over everyone by double digits.
Chinook is well-balanced in the scoring column, led by Cord Schneider’s 13.1 points per game. Isaac Bell adds 11.7 a game. The Sugarbeeters are 3-0 all-time in state championship games, but haven’t gotten that far since 1986.
Other qualifier: After a run to the Northern C title game, it took a 65-56 victory over Winnett-Grass Range in a divisional challenge contest for Hays-Lodgepole to advance. The Thunderbirds face a tough test in the first round against Melstone.
Jeremy Pretty Paint has been one of the team’s more consistent scorers in the postseason. The Thunderbirds are battle-tested to this point, having already played eight postseason games.
Top seed: Melstone’s only loss was a 55-40 defeat to Manhattan Christian way back on Dec. 8. Since then the Broncs have reeled of 21 consecutive wins, including a 62-57 victory over Plenty Coups in the Southern C title game.
Melstone seeks its first state championship since 2006. According to coach Jason Grebe, standout scorer Brody Grebe is up to 2,472 career points entering the tournament.
Other qualifier: Plenty Coups gave Melstone a run for its money in the Southern C title game after falling down by 13 points in the first quarter.
One thing’s certain about the Warriors: They can score. Plenty Coups has put up 80 or more points nine times, led by the likes of Brendon Falls Down, Julian Glenn, Clarence Stewart and others.
Top seed: Manhattan Christian suffered title-game heartbreak against Arlee in each of the past two seasons. But having rolled through the regular season, as well as the district and divisional tournaments, the Eagles have a chance to turn the tables.
The 6-6 Bellach has been dominant throughout. He is complemented by Sam Leep and others.
Other qualifier: Coming off back-to-back state championships, it’s hard to characterize Arlee as an underdog, but the Warriors had to survive a divisional challenge game versus Twin Bridges to advance and face unbeaten Scobey in the first round.
Arlee, looking for a fourth straight title-game berth, is led by Greg Whitesell, who averages 21.6 points per game. But there’s plenty of depth with Lane Johnson and Isaac Fisher in the mix.