There's a holiday song that says, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!"
Personally, I think that song has to be talking about tournament basketball because it would so, so fitting.
And that most wonderful time of the year gets under way this week and kicks into full speed next week. This week, the tournament focus lies on winning the conference championship. Next week, eyes turn to the sectional and Ohio postseason.
Regardless, which level you're talking about, it's tournament basketball and the time when the teams and players will turn it up a notch.
The Wheeling Hospital OVAC Basketball Championship begins this evening with championship semifinals slated for all over the Ohio Valley with the winners earning a trip to Saturday's title games at Ohio University Eastern in St. Clairsville.
Let's take a closer look at the classes:
In Class 1A, Bishop Donahue and Conotton Valley earned the top two seeds. Beallsville squeezed into the field in the last week, but the Blue Devils, who are led by talented senior Teryn Jarrett, could very well be an extremely tough out for the Bishops.
The Rockets have been close the last few years, and I believe they'll take the next step and follow the path of their girls and get to the OVAC final. Conotton Valley boasts the best player in the class and one of the best in the entire conference in Brandon Bailey. Keep an eye on him.
In Class 2A, Steubenville Central and Clay-Battelle are the two teams hosting this evening. Steubenville Central has been around the top of the standings all season. Coach Sean Tucker is one of the best young coaches in the area. He's got a Crusaders' team that's still fairly young and getting better each game out. They'll host Cameron, which squeezed past Shadyside for the fourth seed.
Wheeling Central, who is really turning it on at the right time, has gotten hot and bolstered itself up to the third seed. It'll trek to Blacksville to meet a CeeBees' squad, which handled Magnolia earlier this season, so it's obviously no slouch. This game has a chance to be one of the best of the semi-final round.
The Class 3A field is loaded. The same four teams have been battling for positioning basically the entire season and it's refreshing to see the actual 'best' four teams in the field.
It's a hard class to get a handle on, too.
Taking a closer look at that field consider this: River beat Magnolia twice, split with Buckeye Trail and lost decisively in its lone meeting with Monroe Central.
Monroe Central just beat Buckeye Trail convincingly last Saturday and has lost twice to Magnolia, while the Blue Eagles and Warriors, who own a win against a talented Cambridge squad, don't play.
Again, that classification is wide open. It's been the most balanced all season and 12:30 p.m. Saturday could be very interesting.
The Class 4A field is balanced in the 2-4 slots. However, St. Clairsville is a clear-cut favorite. It owns a 4-0 record against the other three teams, including a blow-out victory against Martins Ferry last month.
As we've written in weeks' past, 5A is another grouping that's tough to get a handle on. Prior to the season and for much of the first two months, I would have no trouble saying Morgantown was the team to beat. But, when you take the best players, including WVU recruit Nathan Adrian out of the lineup, things get a little more interesting quickly.
If it wasn't for the lengthy trip from Wintersville to Parkersburg South, I'd have little trouble saying I wouldn't be shocked if the Redskins show up in the title game once again. The battle of Morgantown, on the other side of the bracket, could also go either way.
I am not in the business of making predictions, so I am going to hold off.
However, I will predict that there will be some quality teams and matchups at OUE on Saturday, which creates big-time crowds and atmosphere.
Let the games - and fun - begin!
TURN OF EVENTS
Last week, the OVAC Basketball Committee met to finalize the pairings for the Wheeling Hospital Boys Basketball Championship.
One of the more intriguing matchups formed that day in the consolation bracket was Bridgeport visiting St. John Central.
The two long-time, small-school rivals hadn't met during the season and, obviously, it's close in terms of distance, so it seemed like a slam dunk, right?
Evidently not to Bridgeport school officials, who respectfully indicated to the OVAC that it wished to be re-assigned to another game because of a falling out between the schools over an issue from their football game played on Wheeling Island. SJC eventually had to forfeit due to an ineligible player.
The OVAC opted to jockey the games around, so Bridgeport is making the trip to Madonna this evening, while St. John is hosting Valley.
Personally, I think the schedule should have remained the same. It's one basketball game and from all accounts the Bridgeport and St. John student-athletes were excited to play the game. Aren't prep sports supposed to be about the kids?
In a bizarre twist of events, those Bulldogs and Irish players will get their wish and a chance to meet on the hardwood this winter and no one will be able to do anything about it.
Bridgeport and St. John Central will clash in the 8 p.m. game on Tuesday, Feb. 26 in the Division IV sectional tournament at Union Local.
That should attract a large crowd and, unfortunately, for the schools, neither will benefit from the gate like they could have if they had played during the consolation round.
DON'T LOOK NOW
It's inching closer to tournament time and the Wheeling Park Patriots are starting to turn it on. There were probably several people who wrote Coach Michael Jebbia's team off as it was slow out of the gate. However, the Park started several new faces and as players have settled into and learned their roles further, the Patriots have steadily improved.
Don't believe me?
The proof is in the pudding. Look at last week, for example. Wheeling Park had a 2-1 week. Included was a win against Morgantown, which is the top seed in the OVAC Class 5A Tournament and last Saturday, the Patriots beat Ohio Division I heavyweight Zanesville, which had lost only twice all season.
Luke Sasseen has been steady all season for the Patriots, but now the younger players around him are really starting to take the next step.
Park's two OVAC games this week are at East Liverpool tonight and at home against Fort Frye on Friday.
With Jebbia at the controls, was there actually any doubt that the Patriots wouldn't get better?
Buckeye Local deserves a lot of credit for the work it's doing to make sure it gets its games in. Coach Jay Morris' team is playing more games in a 7-day span than most NBA teams.
It played on Friday night against Weir and then played an afternoon game on Saturday against St. Clairsville. The Panthers return to the court tonight against Shenandoah, trek to Barnesville on Wednesday and then host Bellaire in a make-up game on Thursday.
A lot of teams were waiting to see their sectional and OVAC draws before scheduling. Buckeye deserves kudos for making games up in a timely manner.
Staskey can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org