It’s officially tournament time for the basketball teams in Livingston County.
The girls KLAA Tournament is already in progress and now the boys get their first taste of tournament action with the first round beginning tonight. Howell, Brighton and Pinckney join Grand Blanc as the four representatives from the West Division after each qualified by finishing league play inside the top four.
Their quest for the KLAA throne starts at 7 p.m.
“It’s going to be a challenge for sure,” Howell coach Nick Simon said, “but we’re excited.”
A challenge for Howell and Pinckney especially.
The two aforementioned teams got perhaps the worst draw of the tourney with Walled Lake Western and Walled Lake Central, respectively. The two Walled Lake teams tied atop the North Division at 9-1. Western lost one game all season to Central en route to a 15-1 record. Central finished the year 13-3, matching the second-best overall record of any team in the KLAA.
Asked what he knows about Central, Pinckney coach Tom Reason let out a laugh.
“They’re very good,” Reason said. “They have tremendous guard play. I mean, saying they are fast doesn’t even describe it. They (also) run a full-court trap pretty much the whole game. They’re one of the most athletic teams we’ll face all year.”
As good as Central is, Howell’s opponent might be even better.
“They’re 15-1 and a real darn tough team,” Simon said. “I know their coach and he’s a phenomenal coach. They’re gonna be ready to play. … We can play a really really good game and still lose.”
Both Howell and Pinckney know it will be difficult to advance past tonight in the winner’s bracket. But if nothing else, the two schools are thrilled to have reached the KLAA Tournament, and hope it provides a boost to the team moving forward.
For one, they know it will be a great advantage to have played in this tournament atmosphere come districts. Simon credited the league tournament as one of the biggest reasons for Howell’s historic run to the Division 1 quarterfinals last year.
“It (helped) for sure,” Simon said. “Just getting us ready, battle-tested. You kind of see what it takes to win and what happens if you don’t execute the right way. It opened our eyes a bit and got us a little more focused.”
Of course, the Highlanders lost in the conference tournament last year. But even a loss can help, Simon said. The loss is actually what woke them up and bit and made them realize the level they needed to play at to advance as far as they did.
“We were at a point where we needed a little bit of a reality check,” he said. “This year — and obviously we still would’ve liked to win it last year — this year it would be a huge boost if we had a couple big victories.”
Whether or not the Highlanders will get it is yet to be seen. But a win over Western would undoubtedly qualify as huge. As would a win for the Pirates over Central.
Brighton, meanwhile, drew the most favorable matchup of the area teams, although Lakeland will be no cakewalk, either. Lakeland was the third-place finisher behind Western and Central in the North. Brighton (6-4) owned a better conference record — Lakeland went 5-5 — but Lakeland’s overall record of 9-7 was better than the Bulldogs’ (8-8).
Hartland takes on South Lyon East in the KLAA Non-Tournament, the bracket for the teams that failed to make the top four.
Teams that win tonight advance to the second round on Feb. 25. For the losers, they play on the same date, but in consolation games.