FAIRMONT — Any time four teams from the same conference qualify for the state tournament it’s a safe bet that it’ll be a pretty good one.
For life inside the boys’ Big 10 Conference, that’s the reality of this season’s make-up.
Nobody seemed to disagree with the enormous amount of talent the league holds, but picking the top team among the pack could prove to be a bit more of a challenge.
“Bridgeport is going to be very good,” North Marion coach Chris Freeman said. “West Fairmont has just about everybody back and will be very, very good. Of course, Byrd was undefeated up until the final game and they are, again, going to be very, very good.”
It appears Byrd, Bridgeport and Fairmont Senior are the front runners as the season gets set to tip-off this weekend. All three schools have loaded rosters and a lot of veteran leadership on the floor.
Bridgeport won 19 games last season and will return four starters off that team.
FSHS will also return its core and expects to improve on its 16-win total from last year.
All three schools qualified to the Class AA state tournament in Charleston last season. Byrd finished the season 24-1, the team’s only blemish coming in the state championship game against Bluefield.
Despite last season’s tough ending, the Eagles are certainly confident about this year’s team, as they should be.
“We don’t think that we’re the only good team in the state, but we know that we’re one of them,” RCB coach Bill Bennett said. “It’s a daily battle in this state.”
The Indians and Polar Bears both fell in the first round of states.
However, East Fairmont was the fourth team from the conference in Charleston last season after the Bees rallied late in the year and went on a terrific run through late february and into March.
East hasn’t been talked about as being a league contender as much as the other three, but also offers plenty of talent back from last season.
“There’s a group of us that are just a notch below the top couple of teams,” East coach Tyrone Asterino said. “I think we’re going to be right in that mix. Our conference is normally pretty competitive.”
East Fairmont’s late success last season is good news for all the teams stuffed in the middle of the Big 10. The Bees were just 12-14 last year, yet played well come tournament time.
If nothing else, this suggests that if a team can survive the grueling season inside the league, then it could be ready for anything during the postseason.
Grafton coach Andy Sorine believes it takes a different kind of mindset when dealing with the talent at the top of the league to be successful.
“There’s a couple of teams out there that we have to prove to ourselves that we can get through,” Sorine said. “I think we have some guys back that now understand what it takes to get over that hump.”
Grafton went 12-10 last season and had a winning record inside the league in 2013-14. The Bearcats could be that next team to sneak up on some of the state powers this year.
For as much competition to get toward the top of the league, there will also be a handful of teams looking to fight their way out of the bottom end of it.
Teams like Lewis County and Elkins, who had solid seasons a year ago, will likely take a step back to rebuild. That leaves the door open to another team in the league to try to vault into the middle of the back.
It just goes to show that there will be a season-long battle between Big 10 schools all through the league’s standings.
This winter should make for a very fun boys’ basketball season across the area.
“I think top to bottom, the Big 10 is probably the toughest league in West Virginia,” Lincoln coach Jordan Toth said. “Night in and night out you have to put up your best effort or you’re going to get beat. It’s a quality opponent every night.”
Email Joe Mitchin at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JoeMitchinTWV.