After winning a Class 5A championship last season, it seemed that Lone Peak would be primed to win it all again.
The Knights (18-3) have a lot to work with, starting with junior Nick Emery and sophomore TJ Haws, a pair of BYU-committed guards. They did well enough against out-of-state competition to earn a national ranking.
Coach Quincy Lewis agrees the team might be better than last year with one caveat: So is everyone else.
"The rest of the state has better teams across the board," he says. "You look at West Jordan, who is playing really well and added a really talented player, and obviously American Fork is a quality team."
American Fork (18-2), Lone Peak's top rival, was considered a contender this year after making the 2011 final, but the Cavemen finally made the rivalry real by beating the Knights for the first time in years. West Jordan (19-2) is the only team to beat Orem the other in-state team that beat Lone Peak this season.
It's shaping up to be quite a postseason in 5A.
"You never know what could happen," West Jordan coach Scott Briggs says. "We've learned in both of our losses that any team can win on a given night. We just have one goal: to play our best basketball at the end of the season. And we feel like we're doing that."
Lone Peak is definitely in the mix, but American Fork and West Jordan are widely considered the two other title main contenders.
American Fork has Utah State-bound Marcel Davis and Quincy Bair in the backcourt, with shooting threat Austin Waddoups and athletic forward Zach Hunter. The Cavemen have the experience from being in the finals last year, and their recent win over Lone Peak has helped confidence surge.
"I think the best thing about it is that afterward, these guys acted like they were supposed to win it," coach Doug Meacham says. "Sometimes you build up your season to one or two big games, but these guys know there's a better feeling at the end of the deal. They're pretty focused."
For West Jordan, future Ute Jordan Loveridge leads 5A in scoring and rebounding and is without a doubt the top post player in the state. He also has very talented teammates. Jayden Jackson and Loveridge can both score from the 3-point line or driving into the lane, and the Jaguars as a team have a lot of balance in their attack.
That balance was tested as Loveridge went through a stretch with a knee injury. West Jordan did lose one game in that span, but showed it still was one of the state's toughest matchups.
"We're a better team with Jordan Loveridge, but our guys weren't afraid," Briggs says. "I think it did validate some of the things we already believed about ourselves."
Lone Peak got a No. 2 in a coin flip with American Fork, so it would be slated for a semifinal matchup with West Jordan if both teams keep winning. But there are a number of other tough teams in the tournament.
The other No. 1 seeds are Northridge and Viewmont and neither looked too impressive in the preseason. But the Knights won one of the toughest regions in the state with strong defense, and Karson Casteel has developed into a strong inside player. The Vikings won a weaker region and get a tough draw in Riverton, but they are athletic and should compete.
Of the remaining teams, Alta has been one of the most consistent winners. Star players could boost the hopes of Weber or Brighton the Warriors have Hayden Schenk; the Bengals have Brandon Miller but only one, because the teams meet in the first round.