With the Region 20 boys basketball tournament set to begin this week, there is much talk about who will be the team to rise to the top. Several teams — including Piute, Valley, Bryce Valley and Milford — have the athleticism and strength to rise as the region champion.

The action begins Thursday at the home sites of the higher seeded teams, and continues on Friday and Saturday at Canyon View High School in Cedar City.

The Valley Buffaloes, a team that has been in and out of the Class 1A rankings this season, is the second-placed team in the region and will face the seventh-placed Escalante Moquis in the first round. Valley (14-4, 9-3), after a slow start to the season, picked up the pace throughout the year and put itself in the mix of teams that could possibly race to the state title.

Valley heads into Thursday night's game with two decisive victories over the Moquis (2-16, 0-12) already behind it. Six-foot-3-inch senior Wyatt Lindsay and 6-4 senior Tyler Hughes lead the Moquis with a combined total of 371 points, but the Moquis have not been able to earn many victories. Escalante's wins are over Mount Vernon and Christian Heritage.

Valley is led by the senior duo of Lance Maxwell and Hayden Harris. Maxwell averages 19.4 points per game and Harris averages 12.1. Behind the play of these two seniors and the rest of the team, the Buffaloes notched several prime victories over some of the most elite teams in 1A, including Piute and Bryce Valley. The Buffaloes also crusied to a surprising win over the Parowan Rams, the fourth-ranked team in Class 2A.

Another first-round contest pits third-ranked and defending state champion Bryce Valley and the sixth-placed Wayne Badgers. Bryce Valley beat the Badgers twice this season, including a compelling 76-40 road victory.

Wayne (7-12, 2-10) is led this season by junior Zach Taylor, who averages 10.7 points a game. Although its win-loss record may show a struggling team, Wayne's box scores show otherwise. The Badgers lost single-digit games against teams such as Piute, Bryce Valley, Valley, Milford and Panguitch. These close defeats prove that Wayne can play with the elite teams in 1A.

Bryce Valley (13-4, 8-4) had somewhat of an up-and-down season. The Mustangs started the year 7-0, but they lost four out of their next six games. But with the help of Kace Roundy's 18.5 points a game and Jake Pearson's 13 points per game, the Mustangs finished off the season with four straight wins. The Mustangs posted some great wins this season, including a two-point victory over No. 1 Wasatch Academy.

The final first-round game features the fourth-placed Milford Tigers and the fifth-ranked Panguitch Bobcats. The regular-season series between the two teams is tied at 1-1. Milford played tough on the road at Panguitch and posted a 63-53 victory. However, Panguitch avenged the loss by cruising to a surprising 72-58 win at Milford. This first-round contest between the two rivals, which will be played at Milford, will be the top game on Thursday.

Milford (9-10, 7-5) is led by the senior duo of Dylan Jones and Tyler Denny. Jones averages 19.5 a game, while Denny follows close behind at 17.8 points a game. Jones leads Class 1A with 58 3-point field goals. The Tigers acquired a couple of impressive victories in region play this year, including a 44-42 win over Bryce Valley and a 67-60 victory over Valley.

The Panguitch Bobcats (10-9, 6-6) had their share of wins and losses this year. Behind the play of senior guard Riley Miller and freshman Tyce Barney, the Bobcats come into the region tournament with some momentum after escaping with a big win in Milford. Miller leads the way for Panguitch at 17.2 points per game. Barney has played exceptionally well his freshman year, averaging 12.8 points per game.

The Piute Thunderbirds (15-4, 10-2) finished a great season and are the No. 1 seed. The Thunderbirds will have a bye on Thursday and will play the winner of the Milford/Panguitch game on Friday. Piute suffered only two region losses this year – 47-41 to Valley and 53-45 to Bryce Valley.

Kelton Price leads the way for Piute at 20.7 points per game. Piute hopes to continue playing hard defense and minimize its turnovers as it strives to win its second straight region championship.

Lane Sorensen, a senior at Valley High School, enjoys writing sports articles, especially about basketball. He plans to attend Utah State University in the fall where he wants to major in journalism.