BUTTE — With two-time champion Bigfork not making a return appearance, the Class B Boys State Basketball Tournament field is wide open.
The Vikings quest for a third-straight title ended at the Western B divisional, and though there will be no three-peat bid in the making when the state tournament kicks off at the Butte Civic Center on Thursday, there will still be a wealth of intriguing storylines.
It’s been 13 years since a team from the Southern B hoisted the first-place trophy, but even after a grueling divisional tournament that saw No. 1 Huntley Project—the last team from the division to win it all—eliminated from state contention, the Southern B is still primed to make a title run with Lodge Grass, Colstrip and Three Forks occupying the second through fourth spots respectively in the final 406mtsports.com boys basketball rankings.
In its debut season as a Class B team, Arlee has overcome a rough start and silenced any doubt with the Warriors now stepping into the state tournament as divisional champions. The former Class C powerhouse will be joined out of the Western B by Deer Lodge which is making its first state trip in eight seasons.
Outside of Bigfork's trio of championships over the past six seasons and the Red Devils' 2007 crown, the Northern B has owned the past two decades and its top team, Fairfield, is in position to help send the title back near the Hi-Line.
The tournament tips off at noon on Thursday and runs through Saturday, with the championship game slated to begin at 8:30 p.m.
Teams: Lodge Grass, Shelby, Arlee, Rocky Boy, Fairfield, Colstrip, Three Forks, Deer Lodge
Top seed: Right on the heels of the Southern B’s trio of Top 4 teams is No. 5 Fairfield which has so far stormed through the postseason. The Eagles went 2-0 on their way to claiming the District 1B championship after falling to Rocky Boy by 3 points in the district title game the previous season. Fairfield followed that up with three straight victories at the Northern B divisional tournament in Malta last weekend, including a convincing 54-34 win over Shelby in the championship. The Eagles will face Colstrip in the opening round.
Other qualifiers: Shelby has advanced to the state tournament five years in a row, including a runner-up and third-place finish. The Coyotes, who slipped into the Top 10 in the final poll after being unranked, opened both the district and divisional tourneys with wins in the opening round and semifinals before falling to Fairfield in the title games…Rocky Boy enters state for the third-straight year as the Northern B’s third seed and will take on Arlee in the quarterfinals. The Stars were beaten by Harlem in the divisional opening round but responded with three consecutive wins to win the consolation final and claim the third and final state ticket out of the Northern B.
Top seed: No. 2 Lodge Grass rolled past No. 4 Three Forks 73-50 in the Southern B championship to win its first divisional crown since 2012, earning a measure of redemption after falling to the Wolves at the previous two divisional tournaments. Lodge Grass finished up the regular season with a 14-4 record and went undefeated at the district and divisional tournaments. The Indians now head back to state for the first time since 2018 looking to rekindle former glory. The 80s belonged to Lodge Grass with the Indians making seven title game appearances during that span and claiming five championships between 1980 and 1990 including a three-peat between 1988-90.
Other qualifiers: All eyes will be on the shooting hand of Three Forks’ Micaiah Hauser as the second-seeded Wolves, making their third-straight trip to state, take on Deer Lodge in the opening round. The star player injured his hand against Lodge Grass in the divisional championship, limiting his damage as he was held to 15 points…No. 3 Colstrip gutted out at 54-53 over Columbus in the consolation final to claim the final Southern B state ticket by the slimmest of margins. The Colts are now headed to state for the third-straight year.
Top seed: Arlee has certainly risen to the challenge in its first season as a Class B team, despite not earning a win in conference play during the regular season. The Warriors were defeated by Missoula Loyola in the District 6B consolation final to stumble into the Western B divisional but turned on the jets from there. Arlee topped Eureka in the opening round and then beat Bigfork by double digits in the semifinals to send the two-time champs into the consolation bracket and all but end the Vikings three-peat quest. The Warriors, who have advanced to the previous four Class C title games and claimed two championships, then topped Deer Lodge in the divisional championship game to enter state as a No. 1 seed.
Other qualifiers: Deer Lodge, making its first state appearance since 2012, conclude the regular season with a 13-5 record and at No. 7 in the 406mtsports.com boys rankings. The Wardens, who have never made it to a state title game, entered the Western B as district championships and knocked out Missoula Loyola, last season’s state runner up, in the semifinals before falling to Arlee in the championship.