Players to watch: Sr. G Tyler Nadeau, Hall-Dale; Jr. F/C Ashtyn Abbott, Hall-Dale; Jr. G Jared McLaughlin, Winthrop; Jr. C Cam Wood, Winthrop; Sr. F Christian Brooks, Waynflete; So. G Askar Houssein, Waynflete; Sr. F Cooper Chiasson, Dirigo; Sr. G Luke Lueders, Dirigo; Sr. G Zach Small, Richmond; Sr. G Matt Rines, Richmond; Sr. G Kyle Ames, Boothbay; Sr. F Elijah Gudroe, Boothbay; Sr. G Sean Whalen, Madison; Sr. F Max Shibley, Madison; Sr. F Dalan Hubbard, Traip; So. G Will Stuart, Traip.

Favorite: Hall-Dale.

The Bulldogs matured and gained valuable tournament experience last year and proved they were the best team in the Mountain Valley Conference with their 17-1 record. They are athletic and deep. Crafty senior point guard Nadeau is surrounded by a seemingly endless line of guard/forwards who are all about 6-foot-1 and can knock down jumpers. Coach Chris Ranslow, who guided Hall-Dale to its last regional and state titles in 2005, has many interchangeable parts to put on the floor.

Dark horses: Waynflete, Dirigo.

Some MVC coaches who have scouted Waynflete (15-3) tab the Flyers as the favorite. They are on an 11-game winning streak that included victories over Class B South quarterfinalists Gray-New Gloucester and Freeport. Two other quarterfinalists, Wells and Yarmouth, beat them by three points and one point, respectively. Coach Rich Henry usually brings one of the quickest and most entertaining teams to the Augusta Civic Center, and this team fits that mold. He also has one of the biggest teams in the tournament this year.

Dirigo, with just three players on the roster over 6-feet, is most definitely not the biggest team in the tournament. But the Cougars never have been, even when 6-foot-8 Tom Knight patrolled the paint. Yet like Waynflete, the Cougars are traditionally one of the last teams standing. That wasn’t the case last year, as their rebuilding season ended with a loss to Hall-Dale in the prelims. A hungry Dirigo team at tournament time can do a lot of damage.

Overview: The depth of the MVC will be on full display starting next Monday. Defending regional champion Winthrop is a formidable No. 2 seed, bolstered by McLaughlin’s return last week after he missed three games due to a concussion. The Ramblers have the defense to keep any game close, and the tournament’s most intimidating big man in the 6-foot-8 Wood. But they will also be the first to point to the land mines in the field because their quarterfinal opponent, Madison, went into their gym and beat them (without McLaughlin) by 12 points on Feb. 1. Richmond, which became an associate member so it could face better competition during the season and be better-prepared for the tournament, more than held its own thanks to the conference’s top scorer, Small. And Boothbay will give Waynflete all it can handle in its matchup.

The grind of the MVC schedule should have all of the league’s teams fully loaded for what should be a great tournament. But Waynflete met a its fair share of challenges in the WMC, and after a slow start, appears to be playing with confidence.

Prediction: Waynflete.

Winthrop High School’s Cam Wood is surrounded by Spruce Mountain High School defenders during a basketball game in Winthrop earlier this month. (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Photo)

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