OPINION|RICK FIRES: Frantic February, March Madness, are exciting times for high school basketball fans in Arkansas

Fires' mug shot
Fires' mug shot

I've lost enough money betting at Oaklawn Park than to get too excited about cashing in whenever my horse took the lead on the back stretch of the big oval.

Greg White knows it, too, even after his Bentonville West team pulled one game ahead of the pack again halfway through conference play in the 6A-West. The shuffling could change again as soon as Monday night when Bentonville West (18-2, 7-1) plays Fayetteville in a makeup game.

Never count out Fayetteville (14-7, 4-4), which knocked Bentonville out of a tie for first place on Friday.

"The league, the (Class 6A) classification, is as deep as I've ever seen it," White said after the Wolverines pounded Rogers Heritage 59-21 on Friday. "The state is really deep when North Little Rock and (Fort Smith) Northside aren't the outright favorites because they don't have a (future) NBA player on the roster. Our state tournament is in Rogers and it's going to be exciting. If you're a basketball fan, you need to be out here watching the games."

Before long, there'll be conference and district tournaments that lead up to regional tournaments Feb. 22-25 and state tournaments from Feb. 28-March 4. I don't know much but there are a few things I'm quite sure of at this point in the season.

I know the boys race for the conference championship in the 6A-West is hotly-contested with Bentonville West, Bentonville High, Springdale High and Springdale Har-Ber all in contention. On the girls side, I know Fort Smith Northside is again the team to beat in the 6A-West.

I know there is no program in the state with a better combined record than Farmington, whose boys are 26-0 and girls 24-1. I also know the Cardinals are better prepared for postseason play this season with the addition of Josh Blakely, Caleb's twin brother, who is a stout defender and rebounder for the Cardinals.

I know both Farmington teams are serious contenders to win state championships like Fort Smith Northside did in 2019, when the Grizzles and Lady Bears both returned home after winning Class 6A state championships in Hot Springs.

I know teams in Northwest Arkansas are eager for redemption after central Arkansas schools swept state championships in the top four classes in football last fall.

So, who's it going to be to break through and bring back some state championship plaques?

There's still plenty of time left to make those predictions. But I'm eager to see how the boys team from the 6A-West do, especially with Jonesboro now in contention after being bumped up to Class 6A. Only Little Rock Central (19) has won more state championships in boys basketball than Jonesboro (14), which finally has a chance to show what it can do at the highest level in Arkansas.

After covering games for several weeks, I'm convinced Tucker Anderson of Bentonville West is the best player in the 6A-West Conference. The Central Arkansas signee showed it again Friday when he scored the first 13 points for West and finished with 20 in the rout over Heritage. But there's the perception that West lacks the overall depth and star power of other teams in the league like Springdale, Bentonville, and Har-Ber, but White disputes it.

"Star power is what everybody looks at and there's a lot of really good players," White said. "But we've got really good players, too. We're a good team and we feel like our really good players fit into our system. We've had back-to-back 1,000-point scorers (Riley Buccino and Tucker Anderson) and they were teammates. When you think of two guys playing together who's had 1,000 points each, we feel like that's how our program is built."

There's plenty of basketball stars in Northwest Arkansas from Class 6A down to the Class 2A and Class 1A levels. So, do yourself a favor and get out and support these kids as we move toward Frantic February and March Madness. It's going to be fun.

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