In his eight years as Lone Peak's basketball coach, Quincy Lewis has seen the talent in the state go through peaks and valleys. He believes the 2011-12 season is definitely a peak year.
From the perceived Big Three of Lone Peak, West Jordan and American Fork down through middle-of-the-pack teams like Northridge and Riverton, the majority of 5A teams seem to better this year which should make for exciting region races once league play gets underway next Friday.
The conversation certainly begins with the Big Three though.
"I think they're kind of the top tier teams, and then you probably come down a bit," said Davis coach Jay Welk.
Lone Peak, West Jordan and American Fork began the season as the teams to beat in 5A, and December did nothing to change that notion.
Lone Peak is coming off a runner-up finish at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., finishing with a 3-1 record. Nick Emery set a new four-day tournament scoring record with 119 points, surpassing both Mike Bibby and Kobe Bryant who played in the tournament during their prep careers.
The Knights beat teams from South Carolina, Louisiana and Illinois to get to the championship, and Lewis said it was great to represent the state so well.
"People don't really understand how good the teams, and how good some of the coaches in Utah are, they really don't," said Lewis.
Led by Utah State commits Quincy Bair and Marcel Davis, American Fork is also coming off an impressive out-of-state showing finishing with a 3-1 record at the Visit Mesa Tournament in Arizona.
With an 8-1 record this preseason, coach Doug Meacham has been particularly pleased with the improved strength of his team, something they worked extensively on during the summer.
"Guys are definitely scoring in different places than they were scoring last year, establishing more of a post presence with our bigs and forwards. I think that's where we needed to improve from last year," said Meacham, whose team lost to Lone Peak three times last season, including the 5A championship.
West Jordan is led by Utah commit Jordan Loveridge, who's averaging 22.7 points and 13.6 rebounds this preseason.
Along with Jordan Pryor (13.5 ppg) and Skyline transfer Jaden Jackson (15.3 ppg), the Jaguars have been lights out with a 9-1 record and an average margin of victory of 20 points.
"We're happy, we feel like we're playing pretty well. This is my 13th year as the head coach, I don't know if I could say absolutely it's the toughest, but it's one of the toughest preseason schedules we've ever had," said coach Scott Briggs.
As good as the Big Three are, they're all beatable. Lone Peak's reliance on the 3-pointer was its undoing in a loss to Orem last month, while West Jordan stumbled against a quality Riverton team as well.
Meacham believes it will only get tougher in region play.
"Guys are going to get knocked off if they don't come to play. There's going to be teams that may surprise other teams. It's going to be a matter of grinding out some of those close games in league," said Meacham.
There isn't a clear-cut favorite in any of the four regions.
In Region 1, perennial contender Davis has struggled with consistency throughout a tough preseason. Fremont has struggled as well, while Weber has been one of the surprises this year led by standout junior guard Hayden Schenck (19.9 ppg, 4.8 apg).
Despite being the weakest of the 5A regions, Region 2 will still be exciting to watch as Hunter, Kearns and Viewmont duke it out for the league title.
As well as West Jordan has played this preseason, it's no shoo-in to win the Region 3 title. Alta (7-2) is coming off a 3-0 performance in Arizona, while Brighton is enjoying some early success with new coach Jeff Gardner and the production of junior guard Brandon Miller (23.1 ppg).
Region 4 will be a matter of survival after Lone Peak and American Fork.
Lehi was a 4A semifinalist last year, and is led by returning all-stater Colton Colledge. Riverton, meanwhile, proved in the West Jordan victory that it can beat anyone. Even Bingham, which started the year 1-5, seems to have turned things around a bit. If returning starter Connor Williams, who is out indefinitely following ankle surgery, ever returns to the floor the Miners could be a dangerous team as well.
5A region projections
Note: Projections were picked by Deseret News staff, with input from coaches.
1. West Jordan
6. Copper Hills
1. Lone Peak
2. American Fork
6. Pleasant Grove