Last year, there were grumblings around the state when the Lynden boys basketball team came into the 2A state tournament as the top-seeded team … with six losses. The Lions promptly won three straight in Yakima to claim their ninth state championship.
This year, there are no grumblings about the Lions being seeded No.1.
That’s because the defending state champions have only one loss and have pretty much demolished everyone in making themselves the favorites when the tourney tips off in the SunDome on Wednesday.
Lynden will see its first action Thursday at 10:30 a.m. when they take on the winner of Wednesday’s Columbia River-Anacortes game.
For a preview of the 2A state tournament and all the state tournaments involving our Whatcom County teams, be sure to keep checking www.whatcomhoops.com.
“I like where we are,” said Lynden coach Brian Roper. “The guys have been here before. We have talented players. It’s a close-knit group. I feel as good as I can.
“But once the ball is tipped, anything can happen. You’ve got to go play the game.”
Of course, no 2A team has played as well as the Lions this season. Not only have they won 23 of 24 games — the only loss coming to cross-town rival Lynden Christian, the top-ranked 1A team — but they have destroyed and demoralized teams.
This is against the tough Northwest Conference competition and a non-league schedule that includes some of the best teams from around the state. And the Lions seem to be playing their best in the playoffs winning by an average score of 67-33.
Here’s a look at the Lions and the teams they could meet:
Lynden opponents’ scouting report: Second-seeded Columbia River (21-3) is one of the tournament favorites, so the Chieftains are definitely favored over Anacortes (16-8). Having said that, be careful about looking past a Northwest Conference school, especially one with the history and shooters that the Seahawks have. Columbia River, however, is talented and matches up well with the Lions. The problem is CR keeps running into the Lions — and into Selah — having lost three times in the playoffs to the Vikings last year and this year and once to Lynden in last year’s quarterfinals.
Lynden scouting report: The scouting report for the Lions hasn’t changed all season. All-state forward Clayton Whitman (19.5 points a game) and all-state guard Christian Zamora (19 points a game) can score on you by dunking, driving or firing up a 3. Point guard Kobe Elsner and shooting guard Blake Silves give the Lions a backcourt that can beat you with an assist, steal or 3-pointer. And starter James Marsh and super subs Brock Heppner and Dakota Baar will beat you on the boards or block your shot. Oh, and there are 10 seniors almost all of whom have been to state before so they won’t be getting the jitters.
Lynden coach Brian Roper: “We’re playing well. But every time you take another step, you start the game 0-0. You can’t bring your record or any of your points with you to the next round.”
Game outlook: With Selah’s “upset” of Columbia River in regionals, there’s a good possibility it will be No.1 vs. No.2 in Thursday’s quarterfinals. And despite the regional loss, the Chieftains are one of the few teams with the talent to play with the Lions. But Lynden seems to be playing at its free-wheeling, just-having-fun best, and barring an injury or a cold-shooting night, it’s hard to imagine the Lions not reaching the title game again.
CLASS 2A BOYS STATE TOURNAMENT
(With RPI seedings)
Regionals (Friday, Feb. 22)
#3 North Kitsap 59, #6 Clarkston 51
#10 Anacortes 44, #15 Black Hills 38 (loser out)
#14 Liberty (Issaquah) 49, #11 Steilacoom 48 (loser out)
#13 Renton 55, #12 Mark Morris 53 (loser out)
Regionals (Saturday, Feb. 23)
#9 Fife 51, #16 Olympic 45 (loser out)
#7 Selah 68, #2 Columbia River 61
#5 Pullman 69, #4 Burlington-Edison 68
#1 Lynden 71, #8 Franklin Pierce 34
At Yakima SunDome
State play-in games (Wednesday, Feb. 27)
Liberty (Issaquah) (16-9) vs. Clarkston (15-8), 9 a.m. (loser out)
Anacortes (16-8) vs. Columbia River (21-3), 10:30 a.m. (loser out)
Renton (19-8) vs. Burlington-Edison (19-7), 12:15 p.m. (loser out)
Fife (20-7) vs. Franklin Pierce (23-4), 2 p.m. (loser out)
Quarterfinals (Thursday, Feb. 28)
Pullman (20-5) vs. winner of Liberty (Issaquah) vs. Clarkston, 9 a.m.
Lynden (23-1) vs. winner of Anacortes vs. Columbia River, 10:30 a.m.
North Kitsap (22-4) vs. winner of Renton vs. Burlington-Edison, 12:15 p.m.
Selah (18-5) vs. winner of Fife vs. Franklin Pierce, 2 p.m.
Consolation semifinals (Friday, March 1)
9 a.m. (loser out)
10:30 a.m. (loser out)
Semifinals (Friday, March 1)
Fourth-sixth place game (Saturday, March 2)
8 a.m. (winner fourth, loser sixth)
Consolation final (Saturday, March 2)
11:15 a.m. (winner third, loser fifth)
Championship game (Saturday, March 2)
9 p.m. (winner first, loser second)
(Full schedule and bracket at nwcathletics.com)
Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.