Proceed with caution.
That should be the message for boys basketball teams heading into this week's district play.
If we learned anything from the girls' districts last week, it's that there are no guarantees. On Monday, three conference champions — TC West, St. Francis and Kingsley — took the floor, and all three ended with defeat.
The area boys teams will look to avoid a similar fate this week, as games are scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Here are five burning questions for boys districts in northern Michigan.
1. What stands out about the tournament this year?
It's a team game, but take a look at all the big-name seniors making their curtain call this week. While all hope to be playing next week, many will see their high school careers come to an end before Saturday.
Sean Sheldon (St. Francis), Ryan Verschuren (TC Central), Graeme Placek (TC West), John Simons (Cadillac), Luke Morrison (Elk Rapids), Steven Enos (Grayling), Jay Redman (Boyne City), Keegan LaBlance (Boyne City), Chris Hass (Pellston), Reece Koepke (Bellaire), Gus Meriwether (Bellaire) and Josh Puroll (Boyne Falls) are among the 2012 seniors who have made varsity contributions for years.
While basketball across the region will have a different look next year, let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's time to close the final chapter with this group of standouts.
2. Who has the toughest road to a district title?
If Boyne City hoists a district championship on Friday, it will have cleared some major hurdles in the process.
The Ramblers (14-6) open the Class C draw at Charlevoix on Monday with East Jordan (5-15). While Boyne City took both regular season meetings (41-35, 51-38), beating a team three times is never an easy task.
Waiting for the Ramblers in the semifinals is Charlevoix (12-8), which has a first-round bye. The teams split in league play this year, but the Rayders hold home-court in the third meeting.
Should Boyne City make the finale on Friday, odds are Elk Rapids will be there waiting. The Elks (14-6) beat the Ramblers 61-54 and 75-63 in the regular season, and got senior Luke Morrison back this week from an ankle injury.
3. What are the "can't miss" games this week?
Barring upsets, there are five matchups that should garner a lot of interest.
Monday's is set in stone. Glen Lake (13-7) travels to St. Francis (18-2) to open the Class C district. The teams met this week with the Glads winning 60-51. This district has produced upsets on a yearly basis, and St. Francis will surely be on guard as the team with the best record.
If TC Central (6-14) beats Alpena (11-9) at home on Monday in the Class A opener — the Trojans beat the Wildcats twice this year — rival TC West (13-7) awaits on Wednesday. The Titans won both crosstown games in the regular season, but a third meeting with a spot in the district finale should be highly contested.
Friday's schedule may have three big-time games — should the teams advance.
None would be bigger than Class D with Bellaire and host Boyne Falls. Both teams are 19-1. The Loggers' only loss was to the Eagles, 51-49, in the second game of the season. Bellaire's loss was at Pellston, 60-51.
In Class C, McBain will have its hands full in the district final with host Clare. The Pioneers are 19-1 and beat the Ramblers 53-50 in January. But, the Ramblers (17-3) have tournament experience after reaching the state title game a year ago.
Also in Class C, as mentioned before, a potential Boyne City or Charlevoix vs. Elk Rapids meeting in Charlevoix would be well worth the price of admission.
4. What team might be under the radar this week?
Class D teams beware — look out for McBain Northern Michigan Christian.
The Comets enter district play with a 16-4 record. But look at those losses. They lost to Glen Lake (64-59), rival McBain twice (57-53, 65-47) and Beal City (44-41). All three are Class C schools.
McBain NMC finished tied for second in the Highland Conference by beating teams predominantly bigger than them. Plus, the Comets have a ton of size. One area coach said they may be the biggest team in the area, regardless of size. That'll make for difficult matchups in the Class D bracket.
The Comets host the district and open with Baldwin (14-6) in the semifinal.
5. What will we be talking about a week from now?
Barring upsets, the Class C regional at TC West next week should be stacked.
Whoever comes out of the Charlevoix regional will play the Kalkaska winner — likely St. Francis or Glen Lake. The Clare vs. McBain winner will be on the other side of the bracket and should see Lincoln-Alcona — at 17-3 the only team in the Oscoda district with a winning record.
This regional has produced a state finalist the last two years. It's not out of the question the winner can reach the Breslin Center again this year, as they'll move on to face a U.P. team in the quarterfinal at Petoskey..