BILLINGS — Many of the state’s best Class B basketball teams will convene at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark this weekend, playing for the chance to reach next week’s state tournament.
A couple of boys teams at the Southern B Divisional tournament hope to keep their perfect records intact, while the girls bracket is powered by parity.
The boys and girls tournaments run from Thursday to Saturday. Three teams on each side will advance to state.
This tournament features four of the top six Class B teams in the state, according to the 406mtsports.com rankings. Two of them — No. 5 Three Forks and No. 6 Lodge Grass — will face off at 8 p.m. Thursday in the first round.
Three Forks (15-5) defeated Lodge Grass (14-6) for last year’s divisional title, but the Wolves went two-and-out at state. Lodge Grass made last year’s state semifinals and lost in the consolation final.
Three of Three Forks’ losses this season have come against No. 2 Big Timber, which beat the Wolves 54-50 in overtime on Feb. 16 for the District 5B championship. The Sheepherders (20-0) will take on Joliet (11-9) at noon Thursday.
Joliet, which went 1-2 at state last season, lost to Big Timber 69-43 on Jan. 4 and 70-58 on Feb. 1.
Top-ranked Colstrip (20-0) is on the same side of the divisional bracket as Big Timber and Joliet. The 3B champion Colts, who went 1-2 at state last year, will face Red Lodge (9-13) at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
The Rams have gone 0-3 against Joliet and 0-2 against Huntley Project this season.
Huntley Project (10-10) beat Joliet 45-41 on Feb. 16 for the District 4B title. The Red Devils will take on Jefferson (8-14), the third-place team out of District 5B, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Columbus owns a 17-4 record, is No. 5 in the 406mtsports.com Class B rankings and has handled Huntley Project in the District 4B title game.
The Cougars’ reward: a first-round date with No. 4 Townsend, which was No. 1 all season until it fell to Three Forks in the District 5B semifinals on Feb. 15. It was Townsend’s first and only loss of the season.
The Cougars and Bulldogs (19-1) will play at 3 p.m. Thursday. On Friday, the winner of that game will face either No. 8 Colstrip or Big Timber, who play each other at 5 p.m. Thursday.
No. 10 Big Timber (9-11) lost to Three Forks 51-42 in the 5B title game on Feb. 16. The Sheepherders are 1-2 against the Wolves this season.
The Fillies (15-5), who lost to Three Forks in the 2018 state title game, have gone 13-2 since Dec. 14. Their most recent loss was on Feb. 16 in the District 3B title game against Forsyth, which lost two close games to Colstrip during the regular season.
No. 6 Forsyth (18-2) is on the other side of the bracket from the Fillies, and the Dogies will face 4B third-place finisher Roundup (12-8) in the first round, Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
The first game Thursday will be between Three Forks and Huntley Project at 9 a.m.
The No. 2 Wolves (10-10) struggled during the regular season, with two losses to Columbus, one loss to Townsend and a 1-1 showing against Big Timber. But the defending divisional and state champions rolled through the district tournament and look capable of beating anyone in the state.
Though the Red Devils (10-9) were smoked by Columbus in the district title game, they beat the Cougars 41-38 on Jan. 5.