Scobey boys v Manhattan Christian

Scobey’s Reagan Machart blocks a shot against Manhattan Christian in a Class C State boys semifinal last week.

BOZEMAN — Follow the bouncing basketball with me here: Class C boys champion Scobey routed runner-up Twin Bridges … which defeated third-place Manhattan Christian … which defeated Class B state runner-up Manhattan … which defeated a Butte Central squad that made it to the final day of the Class A state tournament …

Or check out this one degree of separation: Class C girls state champion Fort Benton nearly "Hoosier-ed" eventual Class A champ Havre last month, falling by five points after leading by one after three quarters.

For good measure, let’s crunch some Fort Benton final-score numbers: 87-15, 62-18, 88-6, 75-25, 63-18, 68-5, 67-24. And Scobey: 68-20, 82-21, 74-29, 73-24, 81-21, 66-27, 68-13.

Even more to the coming point, here's one more for the Spartans: 70-24, over Class B Glasgow.

Oh mercy, as in running-clock mercy rule.

Scobey played 26 games and the starters could’ve been on the bench before breaking a serious second-quarter sweat in most. Ditto for Fort Benton, which had a mere five of 24 games decided by fewer than nine points.

And they weren't alone in their small-school dominance.

What in the name of Willie Weeks is going on here?

In dovetailing news, two more numbers to ponder: 33-31.

That's the final score of Helena Capital’s victory over Missoula Hellgate for the Class AA girls crown. That's right, two points per minute combined from the state's two best teams.

An outlier? No. Hellgate scored than 55 points once this season. Capital averaged 42.7 points in winning three games at state.

Perhaps I'm the outlier, but I'm not inspired by watching dynamic talents such as Paige Bartsch, Dani Bartsch, Mara McGinley, Audrey Hofer, Baylee Sayler, Alex Covill, Addy Heaphy and Lauren Dick rope-a-dope for 32 minutes. 

Sure it was dramatic. Sure there was solid defense. Sure there was solid coaching.

In fact, this isn’t an indictment of the coaching at all, though nary a year passes without at least one complaint lodged publicly and many others mumbled privately about lesser-talented teams employing watching-paint-dry offenses in pursuit of upsets. These coaches and players delivered the top two spots in the state, and did so within Montana's current high school basketball construct.

Therein lies the issue.

I wish 33-31 was an aberrant convergence of cold shooting and title-game jitters, but night after night of squeezing highlights from similar affairs for 406mtsports.com's Full Court Press exposed such outcomes as more the rule than the exception. The aberrations are the controlled-chaos track meets routinely produced by the tribes and a few other programs.

What in the name of Jonathan Takes Enemy and the Ferch brothers is going on here?

To be sure, Montana high school basketball isn't broken. We've seen the passion for it in our rabid readership numbers.

So I'm not advocating wholesale renovation — just two upgrades, basically from comfort class to first class.

One offers a carrot for the rarely challenged great small-school programs such as this year's Scobey and Fort Benton. The other is an overdue antidote for plodding basketball at all levels.

Let's restore The Big 32 — as a single-elimination invitational tournament including all classes — and use the proceeds from a surefire winner to defray the costs of shot clocks in our schools, a la our Dakota neighbors.

For the unfamiliar, Montana's Big 32 was created in 1963 as a league comprised of 30 Class AA and A programs, soon to become 32.

For six years, great teams/athletes riveted the state, most famously Weeks and his 1968 Class A Wolf Point Wolves, who defeated schools four times their size to win the title.

Regrettably, the Big 32 gasped its last in 1969, after Laurel outlasted Kalispell Flathead in overtime to finish unbeaten in front of 10,700 at Bozeman's Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

It’s still the largest crowd ever to watch a Montana high school basketball game.

My tweak: Take the top 24 Class AA and A teams from the regular season. Add the top four teams from Class B and C.

Picture this year’s Scobey boys squaring off against Billings Central. Or Class B champion Lodge Grass against Class AA winner Billings Skyview. Or Class B girls champion Big Timber against Capital.

Imagine the sense of accomplishment in winning a 32-team tournament compared to today’s 20-team Class A or 16-team Class AA, the latter the equivalent of winning a league crown twice.

Complicated? Sure. But history tells us it’s doable.

The payoff: Besides statewide buzz like we had a half-century ago, gate and sponsorship funds could help remedy the argument that shot clocks are unaffordable.

Back in the day, when Hardin’s Takes Enemy and Livingston’s Kral and Shann Ferch were exhausting packed houses to the tune of 104-102 and 99-97, shot clocks were superfluous.

Not today.

The seasons are too short, the minutes too precious, to spend them in slow motion.

Would the big schools have an even greater edge than they did in The Big 32 era? Probably.

Then again, we could queue up "Hoosiers" and remember that Lodge Grass defeated Class A Hardin … which defeated Havre ... which defeated Lewistown … which defeated state champion Billings Central …

406mtsports.com executive sports editor Jeff Welsch can be reached at jeff.welsch@406mtsports.com or 406-670-3849. Follow him on Twitter at @406sportswelsch

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