Winners of the boys and girls 16th Region basketball tournaments will play first-round afternoon games in their respective state tournaments.
Pairings for both Sweet Sixteens were unveiled Friday afternoon during the annual televised Draw Show on CWKYT.
The Boys State Tournament is March 6-10 at Rupp Arena. In a change from tradition, the champion will be crowned Sunday rather than Saturday night.
The 16th Region boys champion will meet the Fifth Region winner on March 7 (Thursday) at 1:30 p.m.
Fleming County leads a pack of contenders for the top spot in the 16th Region.
The Panthers, who opened the season with Mark Starns as their new head coach, are currently 16-3 including a 9-0 mark against region opponents.
Not that the Flemingsburg team has been without challenges inside the 16th. Early in the season, the Panthers prevailed in tight battles against Rowan County and Russell to win the Eastern Kentucky Conference Tournament. Rowan County is the two-time defending region champion, while Russell leads the region with 19 wins (heading into Friday night).
Earlier this month, Fleming County had close calls against Morgan County and Boyd County in a span of three days.
Ashland, region runner-up the past two years, is again in the mix after beginning the season with four new starters.
Awaiting the 16th Region champ in Lexington could be John Hardin, ranked 11th in the latest Kentucky Associated Press poll.
Other top teams in the Fifth Region include North Hardin, Elizabethtown and Bardstown.
The winner of that Sweet Sixteen first-rounder advances to the quarterfinals against the winner between Regions 4 and 10.
The tournament favorite likely will come from the Seventh Region, home of top-ranked Trinity — the defending state champion — and No. 2 Ballard. The Seventh Region survivor faces the 15th Region on March 7 at 6:30 p.m. Johnson Central is rated No. 1 in the 15th.
The Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls Sweet Sixteen, set for March 13-16 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, has a second-game matchup of regions with familiarity.
Regions 16 and 10 will go head to head March 23 (Wednesday) at 1:30 p.m. (CST).
Ashland, trying to repeat in the 16th, has beaten three of the 10th Region’s top challengers this season — Montgomery County (60-55), Clark County (66-57) and Campbell County (82-66 in the Boyd County Roundball Classic).
“We typically play two or three of the top teams in the 10th Region every year,” Ashland coach Bill Bradley said. “This season, we had real good success against three quality teams. I think our region, as tight as it is with us, Boyd County and East Carter, can hang with anybody in the 10th. I’m sure their region feels it was a decent draw for them, too.”
East Carter (17-5) came up short against Montgomery County, 49-46, in Ashland’s Kitten Shootout.
Ashland is 14-4 so far despite top-caliber competition. The Kittens also have wins on the road over No. 7 (AP poll) Mercy — the frontrunner in the Sixth Region — Lafayette and Southwestern, top contenders in the 11th and 12th regions, respectively.
“It’s definitely the toughest schedule since I’ve been at Ashland,” Bradley said.
The Kittens beat East Carter and Boyd County early in the season, but fell to Boyd County 57-39 last Saturday.
Ashland bounced back Monday by crushing 14-game winner Wheelersburg, Ohio, by 37 points. Wheelersburg’s only other loss this season came against Boyd County.
Ashland agreed to play two games today after a weather postponement Friday night. The Kittens are scheduled to go up against undefeated Fairland (Ohio) at 2 p.m. in the Ironton Hall of Fame Showcase, then head to Fairview for a makeup game at 6.
Bradley said his team will be without starter Allie Slone (knee) and sixth-man Maddy Jones (finger).
If the winner of the 16th Region Tournament in early March advances past the first round in Bowling Green, the prize figures to be a meeting with powerhouse Marion County from the Fifth Region.
Marion County, 22-0, is No. 7 in USA Today’s Top 25 national rankings. Before Christmas, the Lady Knights rolled past East Carter 60-25 on their way to a championship at Lexington Catholic’s Republic Bank Classic.
“They are probably the heaviest favorite to win it all since I’ve been at Ashland,” Bradley said.
The 15th Region also landed in the top bracket and will play the 13th Region winner.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.