Loaded Sweet 16 will start, finish with a bang

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By Todd Martin

This 2008 edition of the National City/KHSAA Boys Sweet 16 is a star-studded event.

Several of the top teams and top individuals will be in Lexington starting today, and it gets going fast and furious with the first tip-off. No. 1 ranked Lexington Catholic will face No. 19 University Heights in the opening game at noon today.

While LexCath is the top team, University Heights has perhaps the top player in Scotty Hopson, a McDonald's All-American and highly-touted recruit.

"Obviously, the winner of the 11th Region (Lexington Catholic) has to be a favorite," SCHS head coach Mike Clark said. "That's the toughest region in the state. "But they've got to face University Heights in the first round and that's not an easy game. Then you've got Mason County and University of Kentucky signee Darius Miller. And Holmes is a team that nobody is really talking about. They're 31-2 and a very, very good team. I know their coach thinks this is their year. The winner of that (potential) Jeffersontown and Holmes game will be tested and ready."

The top-half of the bracket appears to be the toughest with University Heights, LexCath, J-town, Holmes and an Owensboro team that has only lost four games since the calendar switched to 2008.

Although most are penciling Mason County in as the winner in the bottom half of the bracket, Elliot County might have something to say about that. The Lions are 26-3 on the season and have won 16 of their past 18 games. They also have the revenge factor working for them. Mason County whipped Elliot County 90-61 on Feb. 16.

The third marquee match-up will pit No. 9 J-town against No. 20 Paintsville. The Chargers won state two years ago, but Paintsville is averaging 81 points per game.

While Clark was reluctant to name a favorite, he noted that several teams are capable.

"My head and my heart are with the Rockets, but if you take us out, I think there are four or five teams with a legitimate shot to win it," he said. "LexCath and Mason County are the obvious front-runners, but nobody is talking about Elliot County or Holmes. And J-town is a good team that knows what it takes. And University Heights, you never know, Scotty Hopson could put them on his back and take them all the way."

Hopson led UHA to the All-A Classic title.

While Clark knows the road to the title is tough, and the field is loaded, he did have one more comment.

"I think one team people need to leery of is the Shelby County Rockets, and that's not just because I'm the coach," he said. "If you look at what we've done, our guys are not going to quit. A team is going to have to play well for 32 minutes to beat us. Now, that may happen Thursday, Friday, Saturday morning or not at all. Because of the way we play, and how hard our guys play, a team has to give its all from start to finish to beat Shelby County."