Boys High School Basketball

4A boys basketball preview: Bishop Kelly, Vallivue set to battle for SIC crown

Bishop Kelly’s Max Rice navigates through the Minico defense for a shot in the 4A state semifinals last year at Borah High.
Bishop Kelly’s Max Rice navigates through the Minico defense for a shot in the 4A state semifinals last year at Borah High. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Little has separated teams in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference the past two years.

In 2014-15, three different teams won the regular-season title, the district title and reached the state championship. Last year, all six teams finished within two games of each other in the final conference standings.

The league is set up for another yearlong battle.

Bishop Kelly, which has finished second at state two years in a row, starts the season as the favorite with a bevy of guards perfect for its high-pressure game returning. But the league expands to eight teams this year, adding new obstacles, including a Vallivue squad ready to challenge the Knights right away.

The two meet for the first time at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Bishop Kelly with the Knights No. 1 in the first state media poll of the year, while Vallivue is No. 2.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Max Rice, jr., G, Bishop Kelly

The 6-4 guard comes off a year that saw him earn first-team all-conference and All-Idaho honors as a sophomore. Primarily a shooter as a freshman, he added a knack to get to the hoop, a midrange game and a nose for rebounds to lead the Knights’ last year in scoring (13.3 ppg) and rebounds (5.4).

The second of Boise State coach Leon Rice’s three sons can still heat up behind the 3-point line. But the rest of the conference is now left devising ways to contain an all-around threat for the next two years.

“Max is a pure shooter with a high basketball IQ, great vision and is a team player,” Caldwell coach Trent Harrison said. “Look for him to have a breakout year where he really separates himself from the pack.”

TEAM CAPSULES

BISHOP KELLY KNIGHTS

Coach: Ryan Kerns, third season

Last year: 16-6, 6-4 4A SIC

Returning starters: Dan Sabala, sr., PG; Max Rice, jr., G; Bronson King, sr., G

Outlook: The Knights return the bulk of the lineup that led BK to a district title and a state runner-up finish last season. The guard-heavy lineup, which also returns sixth man Jacob Russell, will continue to pressure and wear down opponents with its pace in the fullcourt. Opponents will need to protect the ball and work it down into the post to avoid getting drawn into a shootout with a team full of deadeye shooters.

CALDWELL COUGARS

Coach: Trent Harrison, second season

Last year: 14-14, 4-6 4A SIC

Returning starters: Corbin Beets, sr., G/F

Outlook: The Cougars made history last season, qualifying for state for the first time since 1999 and the third time in 29 years. But Caldwell lost 10 of its top 12 players from that team, including second-team All-Idaho pick George Tarlas to Borah. While inexperienced, Harrison said the Cougars are fast, will ratchet up the pressure and can shoot the 3.

EMMETT HUSKIES

Coach: Dave Dust, first season

Last year: 14-11, 8-2 3A SRV

Returning starters: DJ Crump, jr., G; Luc Overton, sr., P

Outlook: The Huskies return to 4A after winning the 3A SRV district title last season, their first district championship since 2002. The Huskies return their top two scorers in Crump (12.6 ppg) and Overton (11.2 ppg, 6.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists) to a lineup loaded with speed but little size. Dust, a former Boise State player, said point guard Max Gleim is a potential breakout player.

MIDDLETON VIKINGS

Coach: Alex Maxwell, first season

Last year: 11-15, 6-4 4A SIC

Returning starters: Ethan McPherson, sr., PG; David Kofoed, sr., G; Tyler Wilson, sr., F; Reece Robinett, sr., F

Outlook: Maxwell joins the Vikings’ boys program after assisting the school’s powerhouse girls teams the past eight years. He inherits an experienced and physical squad that will pose matchup problems in the paint around the conference. If the backcourt can hit enough perimeter shots to keep opponents from clogging the lane, Middleton will contend for its second district title in three years.

MOUNTAIN HOME TIGERS

Coach: Brion Bethel, fifth season

Last year: 12-11, 4-6 5A SIC

Returning starters: AJ Woodruff, sr., G; Marcus Egusquiza, sr., W; Chris Wright, sr., G

Outlook: The Tigers field the most experienced team in the conference with three guards entering their fourth year on varsity — Woodruff, Wright and Brion Bethel Jr., who is recovering from a dislocated shoulder. Egusquiza is also entering his third year on varsity. Bethel said this is Mountain Home’s most athletic squad in years, but it will have to stay under control and limit turnovers.

RIDGEVUE WARHAWKS

Coach: Neil Stutzman, first season

Last year: 0-0

Returning starters: None

Outlook: Stutzman moves over to the new school in the Vallivue School District after leading the Vallivue girls to a 15-52 record the past three years. He said the Warhawks feature impressive length, as well as quickness in the backcourt. But the roster has next to no experience at the varsity level, so Stutzman sees Year 1 as a building block for the program.

SKYVIEW HAWKS

Coach: Aaron Sanders, eighth season

Last year: 12-12, 5-5 4A SIC

Returning starters: Kyle Pierce, sr., F; Cayden Wright, jr., G; Jayson Hibbard, jr., F

Outlook: After qualifying for state 10 years in a row, the Hawks missed out the past two years. But a young, inexperienced lineup last season has turned into a veteran group this winter with 10 returning varsity members. Sanders said that experience and depth in the front and backcourts should shore up the inconsistent scoring that plagued Skyview last season.

VALLIVUE FALCONS

Coach: Ryan Lundgren, second season

Last year: 11-13, 7-9 5A SIC

Returning starters: Tyas Kitchen, sr., F; Landon Cain, sr., F; Hunter Sedillo, sr., C

Outlook: The Falcons drop down to 4A poised for their first winning season and state tournament berth since 2009-10. Vallivue returns its entire frontcourt, including leading scorer Kitchen (11.1 ppg). And it adds Melba transfer Nick Fitts, a deadly shooter who scored 23.4 ppg last year to earn first-team 2A All-Idaho honors. The Falcons’ largest improvement under Lundgren lies on defense, where they dropped their opponents’ scoring average by 10.2 points last year to 50.4. Expect it to drop even further during a second year under the former Boise State assistant.

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama

4A SIC preseason coaches’ poll

Team (1st-place votes)

Last year

Pts

1. Bishop Kelly (5)

16-6

60

2. Vallivue (2)

11-13

56

3. Middleton (1)

11-15

52

4. Skyview

12-12

39

t-5. Emmett

14-11

26

t-5. Mountain Home

12-11

26

t-7. Caldwell

14-14

15

t-7. Ridgevue

0-0

15

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