MCCULLERS COLUMN: Unanswered questions abound as hoops season hits full stride

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The Montana basketball season is built to leave us hanging in suspense.

A tantalizing number of games before an extended break leaves us trapped somewhere between thankfulness that hoops season is upon us and madness that there are only enough games to whet our appetites before the holiday hiatus.

We’ve seen enough to develop a cursory idea of what the season holds for each team, but answers to many questions are still outstanding.

Those questions will be answered on the court in the coming months, but who likes to wait on Father Time? Let’s dive into a few.

Can the Braves take the next step?

The Flathead boys are off to a solid start to the season at 4-2. What remains unclear is if the Braves’ effective combination of experience, relentless pressure defense and at-times-explosive offense will be enough to lift them from a state tournament qualifier to a state tournament contender.

Tyler Johnson is among the state’s most prolific scorers. Not coincidentally, his worst performances came in his team’s two losses.

For now, I’m sticking with my preseason prediction that the Braves will be a force come tourney time. But they’ll need their talent around Johnson — co-stars like Sam Elliott and Eric Seaman and role players such as Anthony Jones and Dawson Smith — to step up if that prediction is to be proven right.

Are the Glacier girls for real?

Among the biggest surprises of the pre-Christmas slate of games was the success of the Wolfpack girls, who started the season 4-0.

Glacier struggled to score last season, averaging just more than 40 points per game, but it’s upped that average significantly this year while maintaining the stout defense that kept it in most games a year ago.

The Pack’s weaknesses were exposed in a 56-34 loss in Post Falls, Idaho, and I’m still skeptical about the offense despite its early-season success. Glacier has two big opportunities to prove itself this weekend with games against Helena Capital and Helena High, two of the state’s best teams.

Who emerges from

Northwest A?

Unlike the girls’ side, where defending state champ Columbia Falls looks poised to again dominate the conference, the boys Northwest A is a jumble of teams that could all beat one another on a given night.

Browning, currently undefeated in conference play, is the favorite. But watch out for Polson, whose one conference loss is to Browning, and Ronan. Both have the talent to knock the Indians from the top spot.

Is Bigfork a legit state title contender?

The easy answer — yes.

Bigfork barely missed out on the state tournament last year. They won’t fall short again, not with elite scorers like Beau Santistevan, Anders Epperly and Logan Gillard.

Take the Vikings lightly at your own risk.

Evan McCullers is a sports reporter and columnist for the Daily Inter Lake. He can be contacted by phone at (406) 758-4463 or by email at emccullers@dailyinterlake.com.

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