A few years back, the OVAC crowned its basketball champions strictly on paper.
There was no fanfare, no real sense of accomplishment because often times the teams and fans didn't even realize they'd won until the season had ended.
However, when the OVAC made the decision to add the basketball championship, the quest for the conference title has become a dog-eat-dog battle for first and second level points and causes a lot of scoreboard watching every night.
I'd be willing to bet the standings page on the OVAC website garners the most hits of anything on the site as people are continually checking to see where their team stands as it pursues a spot in the coveted top four of their respective class.
We know for sure most of the coaches are keeping track closely of their own divisions and opponents as they look to add up bonus points, which may prove to be the ultimate difference between being in the tournament or relegated to the consolation bracket.
It's probably still a little too early to begin to be a prognosticator for matchups, but I think we know enough to surmise that Morgantown and St. Clairsville are the clear-cut favorites in Classes 5A and 4A, respectively.
The Mohigans, who are led by West Virginia recruit Nathan Adrian, just knocked off powerful Martinsburg, which was ranked No. 1 in the Class AAA rankings.
St. Clairsville's only loss came on a buzzer beater to Columbus Africentric. The Red Devils are the defending champions in the class with every player back and have already beaten the other current members of the top four in a decisive manner.
The other three classes are wide-open, in my opinion. That's a good thing for the OVAC when you consider intrigue, which leads crowds and atmosphere at the title games, which are slated for Feb. 16 at Ohio University-Eastern.
RED HOT PILOTS
Outside of St. Clairsville, you won't find a team in the Ohio Valley as hot as the River Pilots.
Coach Mark Romick's team is now 12-3 on the season and has won eight in a row, including a pair of impressive victories against cross-river Magnolia.
The Pilots have it clicking on all cylinders and are getting production from all five spots on the floor. While they're getting production from everyone, including Cody Caldwell, Matt Marconi, Jordan Indermuhle and Kam Brown, it's senior Brett Price who has been filling it up in bunches.
Price is making a solid case to be Division IV Eastern District Player of the Year in Division IV with better than 20 points per game average. He's capable of scoring on the block, off the bounce or from deep. He hit the game winner against the Blue Eagles on a 17-foot fader from the top of the key last Tuesday.
River has vaulted to the top of the OVAC Class 3A standings this week. Keep an eye on the Feb. 5 at home against Monroe Central for the Pilots. It's their final game before the OVAC cutoff. The Seminoles buried the Pilots in early December.
Two area players are closing in on a milestone and legitimately one could hit his mark tonight.
St. Clairsville senior Dan Monteroso, who has been scoring points in bunches since his arrival on the varsity basketball scene in December of 2009.
Averaging better than 25 points a game, Monteroso needs 36 points for the 2,000-point plateau. The Red Devils visit Edison this evening and trek to Buckeye Local on Friday.
Let the countdown begin.
At Harrison Central, senior point guard Fletcher Watt is less than 100 points from the 1,000-point mark in his career.
Beallsville senior Teryn Jarrett, who we featured in this space last week, exploded for 69 points and he's now scored 1,050 points in his career.
With just two weeks of regular season play to go before the OVAC cutoff, games take on an even greater importance in the standings.
Some very interesting matchups are on tap this week, including tonight's Indian Creek visit to Harrison Central. The Redskins are a solid squad and narrowly defeated the Huskies earlier this season in Wintersville.
One of the more entertaining games of the week, which could resemble a track meet to a degree is slated for Wednesday when Steubenville visits Linsly.
On Friday, a battle for positioning and big bonus points in Class 4A is slated for Martins Ferry High School when the Purple Riders host Harrison Central.
Two other interesting games on the Friday card include red-hot River making the trip to Beverly to take on a Fort Frye team, which is always tough to beat on its home floor. Buckeye Trail and Monroe Central, who are currently second and third in Class 3A, will clash in Woodsfield.
BIG WEEK FOR WINTERS
Magnolia senior Mark Winters had a big week last week on and off the court. The Blue Eagles' leader averaged better than 30 points a game in three games.
On Thursday, Winters was informed that he was one of the nominees from the state of West Virginia for the McDonald's All-American Game. Then, on Friday, Winters offered his verbal commitment to become a part of Wheeling Jesuit's program.
The next order of business for Winters and his teammates are to get things in order, put the brakes on their slide and prepare for the upcoming OVAC and West Virginia state tournaments.
DUNKIN 4 DIABETES
St. Clairsville will play the rare Sunday afternoon game this weekend. The Red Devils will take on powerful Cleveland St. Ignatius at Walsh University in North Canton with tipoff slated for 3:15 p.m.
Tickets are currently on sale for the event at St. Clairsville High School. The cost of a ticket is $10, but that's good for the entire day's worth of games, which has five on the lineup, including a chance to see Huntington Prep, which boasts Andrew Wiggins, who is widely regarded as the nation's premier player in the Class of 2013.
If you're unable to make the trip to Canton, the Sunday games will be broadcast live on SportsTime Ohio.
The Red Devils were invited to play in the event last spring after they advanced to the Division II state tournament.
We'll have more on the Dunkin 4 Diabetes later in the week.
The Wheeling Central Maroon Knights struggled mightily by their standards a season ago. They got out of the gates slowly again this season, but they've turned it on of late and have won four of five. Their only loss in that stretch was to Morgantown Trinity. One of the victories in that stretch was to Steubenville Central, which we believe has a fine basketball team.
The Knights are one of those teams you don't want to see in the OVAC Tournament and in this week's standings, they're fourth. Central is well coached and feature one of the top backcourts around in junior David Park and talented frosh Chase Harler.
Harler scored 28 points in the game against Trinity last Friday.
I've seen Harler play a couple of times already this season and he's got a tremendous upside. Plus, from all accounts, he's a basketball junkie, who invests a lot of time. It's going to be interesting to watch his progression.
It's hard to believe that February hits in less than two weeks and we'll be talking about sectional tournament. The girls' sectional drawing is slated for Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3. The boys' brackets will be set a week later, which is a day before the tournament opens.
There were several minor alterations to the sectional and district sites as well as the number of teams that advance from the sectional to the district. Check out this Sunday's paper for the complete rundown for boys and girls' basketball tournament information as well as wrestling and swimming.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org