Favorites: Portland, Deering. The two age-old rivals made it clear in the initial season of Class AA North that the traditional KVAC schools in the league have some work to do to compete night-in, night-out with the SMAA city schools. The Bulldogs (17-1) are a younger team that the outfit that won a state title in 2014 and backed it up with another regional crown a year ago, but two double-digit wins over Deering established them as a clear favorite. Portland presents problems for everyone with its end-to-end speed on the 94-foot tournament court, specifically the Moss brothers. The ‘Dogs also are dangerous from the perimeter if somebody, somehow, goads them into a half-court battle. Deering’s high-octane attack is a mix of speed and power, and the Rams (16-2) may be the deepest and most balanced team in the field.

Dark horses: Oxford Hills, Edward Little. The Vikings (14-4) struggled against Portland and Deering, and they draw a tough matchup against longtime KVAC rival Bangor in the quarterfinals. They do have a likely Mr. Basketball finalist in Fleming, the school’s all-time leading scorer and a dunk machine who is capable of taking the team on his shoulders for a lengthy tournament run. Let’s not forget that the Vikings upset both Bangor and Brunswick on the way to a Class A North regional final berth two years ago. Edward Little (10-8) recovered from a 1-5 start, including a win at then-unbeaten Massabesic and a triumph at Brunswick that avenged a 32-point loss from earlier in the season. Coach Mike Adams never fails to get the most out of his team, and these Red Eddies, with only one senior starter, are no different.

Facts and figures: Since losing its opening game as an undefeated top seed in 2007, Edward Little is 8-0 in regional quarterfinals … Oxford Hills makes its third consecutive appearance in the tournament after a nine-year drought … Portland extended its streak of reaching at least the regional quarterfinals to 20 years, while Deering has achieved that distinction in 12 consecutive seasons … Bangor seeks its first tournament victory since the 2012 Class A North quarterfinals … Bangor and Oxford Hills split their regular season meetings, with the Vikings winning 59-53 in Bangor before the Rams returned the favor 68-59 in Paris … Cheverus topped EL in Portland before Christmas. Since then, the Eddies are 9-4, while the Stags are 4-9.

Overview: The quarterfinal bye for the top seeds will be an interesting wrinkle. Portland and Deering have little to no experience on the Augusta Civic Center floor, while Oxford Hills and EL know the environment well and would have the advantage of a win under their belts if they advance to the semis. The Bulldogs did beat Hampden in a Christmas exhibition at the ACC and played the state game there a year ago, so they aren’t completely in the dark.

Oxford Hills rallied from its late-season loss to Bangor with a pair of hard-fought wins, including a victory at EL that clinched the Vikings’ first-ever sweep of the Eddies. When the Vikings’ outside game is working, and shots from Verrier and St. Pierre are falling, they can beat anyone in the field. On the flip side, a lack of early success from the perimeter means that teams can go after Fleming with multiple defenders and attempt to lure him into foul trouble.

EL has become a more balanced bunch over the second half of the season, and the Eddies will need those contributions from throughout the lineup against tall, athletic Cheverus, which had the edge in their lone regular-season meeting. Iman has been streaky, but if he gets in a groove, he and Plourde are as good a one-two punch as you’ll find in the bracket.

Expect two closely contested quarterfinal game, replete with runs from each side, with the higher-seeded local teams finding a way to win. Form should hold in the semis, as well. Portland and Deering play at a pace that the former ‘A’ North teams simply can’t replicate for 32 minutes. That leads us to the dream matchup in the final, where we’ll go with the highly scientific “it’s hard to beat a good team three times” cliché and the “you win with seniors” credo to defend picking the upset.

Prediction: Deering.

#Tourney16

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