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Region 3B boys basketball playoffs promise spirited contests

Feb. 26—HOWARD, S.D. — In Class B boys basketball this season, seven different regions are represented among the top-12 teams in the seed-point standings.

However, no region has more representation in the top 12 than Region 3B.

The region boasts four of the top-12 teams in Class B as the quarterfinals commence on Tuesday, led by No. 5-ranked Howard (17-3) at fifth place in the seed points. Dell Rapids St. Mary (16-4) and Ethan (16-4) sit back-to-back in eighth and ninth place, respectively, with Canistota (15-5) rounding out the top 12. Further back, Chester (11-9) and Bridgewater-Emery (12-8) rank just outside of the top-25 in the standings.

Knowing the overall competitiveness of the region, it placed added pressure on teams in the regular season to perform given the quality of their opponents.

"You really just can't drop games," Ethan head coach Bryce Roth said, "because of a region that has such good coaching and such good programs. ... You got to be willing to show up and bring your stuff every single night, because if you drop a game, you can drop multiple positions."

The region has also been one of the toughest in Class B to qualify for the state tournament. Last season saw four teams from the region win at least 15 games, but only Ethan and Howard earned SoDak 16 berths. For the Tigers, it was their first trip to the SoDak 16 since its creation back in 2017.

Howard has also won at least 16 games the past five seasons since Nick Koepsell took over as the Tigers' head coach. Each of those teams were eliminated in the region playoffs prior to last season as high seeds, displaying the different mindset and mentality of playoff basketball once the regular season records reset.

"To be quite honest, seeding doesn't really make a whole lot of difference," Koepsell said. "It's kind of all about matchups. You try to win as many games as you can, try to get the best seed you can, and hope for a good matchup come postseason time."

Koepsell said teams that make it out of the region and go on to the state tournament are battle-tested, and some teams have the historical pedigree to prove it.

Dell Rapids St. Mary. Canistota, Ethan and Chester all have recent state appearances, while Bridgewater-Emery earned a state crown in 2017, defeating Wolsey-Wessington.

Every team in the region has had the opportunity to take on a region opponent during the regular season this year. Howard has faced all Region 3B opponents apart from Sioux Falls Lutheran and Mitchell Christian. All other teams have faced at least three other teams, with DRSM having beaten Chester and B-E while falling to the Tigers.

"It gives you an idea on what to expect later in the region," Huskies head coach Scott Schultz said about facing region opponents in the regular season. "But it also shows you what your team needs to work on in order to compete with some of the top teams in the state."

There will be an added sense of urgency with each region game, knowing each team faces the same scenario as the other. Coaches expect the physical side of basketball to have a heightened effect on the outcome not experienced by the teams this season.

"You got to be able to handle that," Roth said. "You'll really see how well you can handle mentally the bumps, the hard finishes and all the things like that. It's as much a mental thing as it is being able to handle those physically."

Through it all, the goal is simple and the same for every team as they look to represent Region 3B in the SoDak 16 and hopefully in the state tournament.

"Whoever qualifies Friday will have had to play two great games," Schultz said. "You'll need to hit shots against some really tough defenses and be able to string together defensive stops against some really talented individual players."

"You take it one game at a time and don't think of it as you have to beat all nine teams in the region," Koepsell added. "We have a very tough region, but you only have to beat two teams. It's a tall task, but we'll all be ready to play with what's in front of us."