Who’s the favorite in the Class C South boys basketball tournament? Take your pick.

You can go with Winthrop, the top seed and a deep, defensive-oriented team. You can choose No. 2 Waynflete, which was tested, as always, by a tough slate of B South competition. But how do you go against No. 3 Hall-Dale, the defending champion and a team with perhaps the tournament’s best 1-2 punch? Or No. 4 Boothbay, a team that played everyone tough and always seems to thrive in this tournament?

“Everyone has an opinion over who’s favored, but the fact remains, they’ve got to go out there and they’ve got to do it,” said Winthrop’s Todd MacArthur, whose team has made three straight regional finals. “I think it’s anybody’s game. The Class C tournament’s always been — obviously, I’m biased — I think it’s one of the best ones because there are a lot of teams with parity and that know each other quite well.”

Waynflete coach Rich Henry, whose team won the tournament in 2016, echoed that sentiment.

“I view it as a fairly wide-open tournament,” he said. “The Heal points say one thing, they would point to three teams all being within 10, 15 points of each other, and there’s no way anyone’s going to underestimate Boothbay at this point of the year. … And there are probably some other schools that might be able to make some noise in the quarters or the semis.”

It all starts today at the Augusta Civic Center. Hall-Dale (17-1) faces No. 6 Monmouth (13-6) at 3:30 p.m., Waynflete (14-2) gets No. 7 Old Orchard Beach (9-10) at 5, Boothbay (14-4) takes on No. 5 Traip (13-5) at 7:30 and Winthrop (17-1) plays No. 9 Dirigo (8-11) at 9.

Dirigo made the Civic Center by beating No. 8 North Yarmouth Academy in the preliminary round, and MacArthur said he’s expecting a battle from the tournament regulars.

“That’s a program that’s rich in tradition and pride,” he said. “That’s a community that loves their basketball program, that’s kids where basketball’s been ingrained in their DNA since they were young. And they compete.”

Still, the Cougars will have a lot to handle. Cam Wood is one of central Maine’s best big men, Cam Hachey is a pure shooter, Jared McLaughlin is a clutch scorer and players like Nate LeBlanc, Sam Figueroa and Jevin Smith give Winthrop a variety of depth options.

“I think there’s two keys to us for this tournament. (One) is obviously shooting the ball well, because we know that Cam (Wood) is going to take a lot of attention from opposing defenses. He’s going to get double- and triple-teamed,” MacArthur said. “Number two, always a focus for us, is we have to play incredible defense this tournament.”

Depth is also in ample supply for Waynflete. Between players like Askar Hussein, Dominick Campbell, Finn Scott, Diraige Dahia and Alex Saade, it’s anyone’s guess on a nightly basis who the Flyers’ top scorer is going to be.

Waynflete has made three regional finals in the past six years and won two, but Henry said even those teams didn’t have the balance this team does.

“This is probably the most extreme case of this that I’ve had in the 15 years that I’ve coached,” he said. “I always look for balance in the team and try to develop balance over the course of the year, but we have five guys that are averaging close to 10 points, and if you extend that to 8-10 points, there’s seven guys.”

Hall-Dale’s been able to lean on the engine from last year’s state finalist team. Forward Ashtyn Abbott and guard Alec Byron, both of whom reached 1,000 points this year, are players who can take over a game, and while the Bulldogs have found some depth this season with Patrick Rush, Tim Cookson, Josh Nadeau and Austin Stebbins, they’re 17-1 because they often have been able to have the two best players on the floor.

“The feeling is different in some way. You’re not that far removed from doing it last year,” coach Chris Ranslow said of coming in as the defending champion. “But at the same time, I think our group has really embraced an underdog mentality in a lot of ways. We weren’t picked to win the league this year, and I think you can use that to your benefit.”

Even with its impressive record, Hall-Dale was hurt by the seeding. Even with an opening win, the Bulldogs would ostensibly have to play both Waynflete and Winthrop to get back to the state final.

“Our road is particularly difficult,” Ranslow said.

Even that first game is no picnic. Monmouth beat Mt. Abram 68-52 in the preliminary round to reach the Civic Center, and the Mustangs are no pushover. Connor Davies is a versatile, athletic forward standing 6-foot-5, Gabe Martin, Brock Bates and Evan Burnell can shoot and Dylan Lajoie is a tireless defensive guard.

“We’re going to have to step up, we’re going to have to play smart,” coach Wade Morrill said. “We’re going to have to hit some shots, take care of the basketball and do all the little things that good teams do.”

Boothbay has been one of the region’s best teams all year, and has a game-changing player in forward Hunter Crocker. Steve Reny and Ben Pearce are good scorers as well, though the Seahawks will have their hands full with a Traip team that earned wins against Class B competition this year. Will Stuart, who scored 37 points against Waynflete in January, is the Rangers’ top threat.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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