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Sweet 16 set to begin

Madisonville-North Hopkins forward Jon Hood is the Associated Press Player of the Year. The 6-6 swingman has signed to play with the University of Kentucky. (AP Photo/The Messenger, Jim Pearson)

Madisonville-North Hopkins forward Jon Hood is the Associated Press Player of the Year. The 6-6 swingman has signed to play with the University of Kentucky. (AP Photo/The Messenger, Jim Pearson)

There seems to be one thing missing from this week’s Boys’ Sweet 16.

More accurately one team, the No. 1 team in the state: Scott County.

The Cardinals, who began the season as heavy favorites to roll to a state title, will be noticeably absent from Rupp Arena this week for the 92nd Boys’ State Basketball Tournament.

Scott County lost star center Richie Phares to a knee injury late in the year, then lost to Lexington Catholic 68-67 in the 11th Region final. That leaves the tournament wide open when it begins Wednesday.

“If (Scott County) got in, I think everybody else is playing for second,” said Shelby Valley coach Jason Booher. “But them getting beat has made everybody else say, ‘We got a shot at this thing.’ We’ve got a shot at it, but we’re one of a handful of teams that does.”

Among those are the four teams that followed Scott County in the final poll. They are last year’s runner-up, No. 2 Holmes, thirdranked Louisville Eastern, No. 4 Elliott County and fifth-ranked Shelby Valley.

Also in Lexington will be No. 8 Corbin, defending state champion Mason County as well as LexCath, one of six teams returning from last year (Holmes, Mason County, Elliott County, Louisville Central and Hazard are the others).

Here is a look at the first-round matchups, as well as each team.

West Jessamine (26-8) meets Hazard (26-8) in the tournament’s first game.

The Colts, who are making their first Sweet 16 appearance, have won nine in a row and 16 of their last 18 games. They are led by junior guard Jarrod Polson (19.9 ppg).

The two-time state champ Bulldogs (1932, ’55) have won eight of their last nine. Hazard, which was fourth in the state in scoring defense during the regular season, is led by junior guard Josh Whitaker (15.6 ppg).

In Wednesday’s second game Grayson County (25-6) battles Adair County (26-7).

The Cougars have won nine in a row and are led by junior guard Travis Johnston (16.8 ppg).

The Indians, who have won 12 of their last 13, have a balanced attack led by 6-7 senior frontliner Darren Ballou (19.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg). They ranked among the state leaders in scoring defense and free throw shooting during the regular season.

In Wednesday evening’s first game Louisville Central (16-14) takes on Graves County (23-9).

The Yellowjackets, who have won two state titles (1969, ’74), lost their first eight games of the season while awaiting the return of several key players off the school’s successful football team. Central has won eight of its last nine. The Yellowjackets are led by 6-foot-4 senior center Ridge Wilson (16 ppg, 14.8 rpg), who has signed to play football at the University of Kentucky.

The Eagles lost four straight in the middle of the season, but have won 10 of 11 since then. They are balanced offensively, four starters average 8.8 points or more, and dogged on defense (50.2 ppg).

Wednesday’s final game is a battle of Top 10 teams as Louisville Eastern (30-2), which won the 1997 state title, takes on Corbin (29-3).

The Eagles have won 16 of their last 17 and their only two losses this season were to Jeffersontown, which they beat in the Seventh Region final.

Fast-paced Eastern boasts a balanced attack – four players average double digits led by senior guard Chris Dowe (14.2 ppg) – and was third in the state in field goal shooting during the regular season.

The Redhounds started the season 3-2, but have won 26 of 27 since then, including their last 11 in a row. Corbin, which led the state in field goal shooting during the regular season, is led by 6-4 junior guard Madison Johnson (16.1 ppg) and 6-5 senior swingman Josh Crawford (14.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg).

Thursday’s first game features 2002 state champ LexCath (25-7) against Bowling Green (26-6).

The Knights, who graduated nine seniors from last season, have won seven in a row and are led by 6-3 senior guard Vee Sanford (22.3 ppg).

The Purples have won eight of nine, including a triple-overtime game in the first round of the Fourth Region Tournament, and are led by 5-10 senior guard Tevin Barksdale (14.2 ppg, 8 rpg).

In Thursday’s second game Holmes (32-2) meets Christian County (21-6).

The Bulldogs, who have won nine in a row and 31 of 32 since losing their second game of the season, are led by 6-7 junior forward Elijah Pittman (14.2 ppg).

The Colonels have won 12 of their last 13. They have five players averaging 9.6 points or more, led by senior guard Corey Wilford (17.6 ppg).

Defending champ Mason County (24-6), which also won the 2003 title, meets Shelby Valley (30- 4) in Thursday evening’s first game.

The Royals, who have won 10 of their last 11, are led by 6-4 senior guard Russ Middleton (15.9 ppg). The Wildcats, who were 7-4 through December are 23-0 in 2009, including winning the All “A” Classic. They are led by 5-11 junior guard Elisha Justice (17.1 ppg, 5.1 assists per game).

The final first-round game should be one of contrasting styles as Anderson County (24-5) meets Elliott County (30-2).

The Bearcats have won 15 of their last 16, including the Eighth Region final won on senior C.J. Penny’s buzzer-beating 30-footer. Penny, a 6-5 swingman, leads Anderson County in scoring (22.3 ppg) and rebounding (10..9) while 6-3 junior forward Jacob Russell (15.7 ppg, 10 rpg) isn’t too far behind. The Bearcats were seventh in scoring defense during the regular season.

The Lions, meanwhile, led the state in scoring during the regular season and were also third in foul shooting and fourth in field goal shooting. They have won 11 in a row, their lone in-state loss this season was to Shelby valley, and beat Anderson County 76-72 on Jan. 10.

“It’s as wide open as it’s been,” Booher said. “It helps to have one of those guys who takes over like (past Sweet 16 MVP’s) Antwain Barbour, Rick Jones, Chris Lofton, Darius Miller and Richie Farmer, there’s always one of those players that gets on a roll.”

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