Before last year's Region 6 boys basketball tournament, it was clear that Berthold and Bottineau were on a level the rest of their region opponents couldn't match.
This season, though, there are at least three quasi-favorites and a couple more capable squads that will look to spoil those teams' plans.
No. 4 Rugby is 20-1, with its only loss coming to No. 2 North Star. The Panthers crushed Westhope-Newburg 83-50 to win the District 11 tournament.
Berthold guard Austin Lee drives to the basket against Des Lacs-Burlington junior Cole Edwards during the District 12 championship game Feb. 16 at the Minot Municipal Auditorium. Berthold won the overtime battle and is the top seed out of District 12 in this week’s Region 6 tournament.
No. 9 Berthold (20-2) edged Des Lacs-Burlington (16-4) in overtime of the District 12 championship game after losing the regular-season matchup with the Lakers. DL-B has also spent stretches of this season ranked.
"It should be a competition where you're gonna have to win three pretty tough games to get out of the region no matter what," said Rugby coach Mike Santjer, whose team matches up with Bishop Ryan today in the first round. "With Berthold and DL-B having their last two battles ... if we meet up with either one of them, it should be a pretty good battle to come out and win that one."
Once-ranked Our Redeemer's, the No. 3 seed out of District 12, and W-N also are dangerous teams, Berthold coach Brock Teets said.
Region 6 tournament at the Aud
Berthold vs. TGU, 3 p.m.
Westhope-Newburg vs. Our Redeemer's, 4:30 p.m.
Rugby vs. Bishop Ryan, 6:15 p.m.
Des Lacs-Burlington vs. Velva, 7:45 p.m.
"I think there are some possibilities for upsets this time of year," Teets said. "I think it's going to be highly competitive."
With Berthold's overtime victory against DL-B, the Bombers avoided a possible semifinal showdown with Rugby, the team Teets described as the favorite to advance to state.
"I think everybody would have to say they're the favorite coming in," Teets said. "They're probably the deepest, most athletic team in this thing. It's gonna be a dogfight. Anything can happen."
The Panthers are led statistically by Kyle Lovcik (18.5 points, 7 rebounds per game) and Brad Heidlebaugh (14.5 ppg, 10 rpg) but are dangerous because of their depth and team defense.
"We played pretty well in districts," Santjer said. "We did a great job playing defense and that's kind of been our staple all year is (to) make life difficult for the offensive side. We were able to get out and run a little bit, and I think if we can play at that caliber, we should have a pretty nice region tournament."
Powers Lake pulled a mild upset when it knocked off No. 8 Trenton 60-56 in the District 16 championship game.
Trenton had beaten the Ranchers (19-2) twice in the regular season, once by 13 points and the other time by two points.
The Ranchers and Tigers enter the Region 8 tournament at Williston State College as favorites to meet each other a fourth time - with a spot in the state tournament at stake.
But Powers Lake coach Jordan Carlson knows better than to look ahead to the championship game. He mentioned District 15 champion Watford City, which lost to Powers Lake 67-58 during the regular season, as a threat in the region.
"You never know at tournament time," Carlson said. "Watford's a good team. ... Any given night, it's whatever team shows up, really, at tournament time."
Powers Lake is led by 6-foot-3 post Levi Hoiby, who averages 19.2 points and about 11.5 rebounds per game. Collin Marden chips in 13.1 points per contest and four more Ranchers average more than 8.5 points.
Trenton is similarly balanced. The Tigers usually place multiple scorers in double figures, and all seven players in the rotation are expected to contribute offensively.
Pairings for the tournament can be found on D2.
No. 2 North Star, last season's state runner-up, enters the tournament as the favorite but No. 5 Four Winds-Minnewaukan figures to be a tough out.
All-state guards Jacob Hagler and Daniel Grande key the Bearcats, with Christian Kvilvang, Brooks Larson and Alex Weston also capable of having big nights. Weston exploded for 40 points in a 32-point win over Des Lacs-Burlington earlier this month.
FW-M (20-2) is one of the deepest teams in the state and earned a No. 1 seed by edging Carrington 54-51 in the District 7 title game.
The Region 4 tournament begins today at the Devils Lake Sports Center.
No. 7 Turtle Lake-Mercer-McClusky is the lone ranked team in the tournament, which begins today at the Bismarck Civic Center.
TL-M-M beat Washburn in the District 10 championship game to earn a No. 1 spot heading into the regional. The Trojans face District 9 No. 4 Standing Rock at 3 p.m.
Flasher is the top seed out of District 9 after a win over surprise district finalist New Salem-Almont.
Shiloh Christian (16-7) qualified for state last season and begins its repeat bid with a matchup against District 10 No. 2 Washburn tonight.
Undefeated and top-ranked Beulah squeaked by No. 3 Dickinson Trinity 56-54 in the District 14 championship game.
The Miners have several players that served key roles on the state-championship squad last season - including tournament MVP Trevor Zacher - but the Titans have the advantage of hosting the region tournament.
Beulah opens play against District 13 No. 4 Hettinger-Scranton, while DT plays District 13 No. 3 New England.
District 13 champion Heart River will battle Richardton-Taylor in the opening round.