For long-time fans of the Class C basketball tournament, this year’s iteration might just look a little different.
Traditionally starting on a Thursday, the boy tournament starts on Wednesday this year, with an entire slate of first-round games on deck. The girls tournament begins on Thursday and both state championships will be held on Saturday evening.
Due to success Class C tournaments have had starting on Wednesday and staggering the games through district and divisional play, the Montana High School Association opted to try it at the state tournament this year.
Class C is the first classification to expand its tournament to four days.
The tournament looks to be wide open, though defending champion Manhattan Christian is still in the field. There will not, however, be another matchup between Arlee and the Eagles, as the Warriors moved up to Class B this season.
Teams: Jordan, Fairview, Fort Benton, Twin Bridges, Scobey, Belt, Manhattan Christian, Melstone.
Top seed: Scobey, third-place a year ago, had its championship hopes ended with a first-round loss to Arlee, which ended up as the Spartans only loss of the season. Caden Handran, a 6-foot-4 forward, and Aidan Fishell are two names to watch for Scobey, which is undefeated so far this year.
Other qualifier: Fairview comes into the state tournament in a familiar position — coming off a loss to Scobey in the Eastern divisional championship. It was the same story last year and the Warriors will look to reach the title game for the first time since 2015.
Top seed: Fort Benton is fresh off a 47-39 win over Big Sandy in the divisional champion, the Longhorns’ first-ever Northern C title. They’ll face a tough Twin Bridges team in first round that has its own aspirations of a state title. It’s the first time since 1992 that the Longhorns have been in the state tournament field.
Other qualifier: Belt got into the tournament the hard way, handily beating Big Sandy in a challenge game. Aidan McDaniel, Kaimen Evans and Bridger Vogl are all names to watch for the Huskies.
Top seed: Jordan is something of a family affair on the basketball court, starting five Murnions in its lineup. Last fall the group won the Class C 6-man football title after being runner-up the year before, pushing the Garfield County school to new heights. Jordan downed Plenty Coups 58-51 in the Southern C title game.
Other qualifier: Melstone lost to Jordan in the divisional semifinals, but bounced back to down Plenty Coups in a challenge game on Monday. The Broncs are making their third-straight appearance in the Class C state tournament and were bounced early last season, but took third place at the 2017-18 tournament.
Top seed: Manhattan Christian is back in the hunt for another state title, following a breakthrough last season. Caleb Bellach is now a freshman for the Montana State men’s basketball team, but the Eagles have pretty much picked up where they left off last year. Sam Leep, who made a state-record 14 3-pointers in a gamer earlier this season, is one of several weapons head coach Jeff Bellach has at his disposal. The Eagles have made three-straight state title games, but won’t be able to meet their rival Arlee this year.
Other qualifier: Twin Bridges has been close to breaking through on the boys side after head coach Josh Keller took over two years ago. The Falcons will be without star Nate Konen, who is injured. Look for Bryce Nye and Charlie Kruer to lead the team. Twin Bridges had to down Gardiner in a challenge game to make the tournament.
Jordan Hansen covers a bunch of stuff for the Missoulian and 406 Sports. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com