The Class AA boys basketball tournament looks to be a two-team race for the second straight year.
Bangor edged Edward Little of Auburn by 2.963 Heal Points to capture the No. 1 seed last winter en route to winning the state championship.
The difference at the top was even closer this season, with Edward Little earning the top spot by 1.4198 points.
What hasn’t changed is both teams’ dominance of the division.
Edward Little and Bangor split their regular-season games and both swept the No. 3 team in the division, Deering of Portland.
Expect Edward Little (16-2) and Bangor (15-3) to comfortably win the quarterfinal games they will play on their respective home courts, then advance through the semifinals in Portland to set up a rematch of last year’s Class AA North final.
Bangor outlasted the Red Eddies 56-52 last year to advance to the states, and this year’s game likely would be just as tight.
Edward Little plays No. 8 Portland on Tuesday and Bangor hosts No. 7 Oxford Hills of South Paris on Wednesday in the quarters. Portland (3-15) and Oxford Hills (4-14) tied for seventh in the Heal Points but Oxford Hills won a coin flip for the No. 7 seed.
No. 3 Deering (13-5) and No. 4 Windham (7-11) are the other quarterfinal hosts. Deering plays No. 6 Cheverus of Portland (4-14) and Windham (7-11) faces No. 5 Lewiston (10-8) in what should be the most competitive of the four first-round games after those teams split their regular-season meetings.
Should the seeds hold, Edward Little would face Windham and Bangor and Deering would play for a third time on Wednesday, Feb. 19, when the tournament scene shifts to the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland for the regional semifinals.
The two top seeds swept those potential semifinal foes during the regular season and a tournament repeat would lead to a third encounter between Edward Little and Bangor with the regional title on the line.
Edward Little has more tournament experience with the majority of its roster back from a year ago, including a stable of capable 3-point shooters.
Bangor had the defensive answer to Edward Little’s perimeter shooting during the second meeting of the regular season, a 57-47 win on Jan. 7 at Bangor.
Bangor has one of the state’s top frontcourt tandems in 6-foot-8 senior center Sam Martin, 6-5 junior forward Andrew Szwez and 6-4 senior forward Henry Westrich, the Rams’ lone returning starter from last year’s championship run.
Few teams have had success checking Bangor’s big three.
Edward Little will challenge Martin inside with rugged 6-4 sophomore John Shea, but can the Red Eddies cope with Bangor’s total physical frontcourt presence?
Both teams are streaking toward the tourney, with Bangor winning its last eight games while Edward Little has won seven in a row.
A hot hand from the perimeter could push Edward Little over the top, but the thought here is that Bangor’s defense — both against the 3-point shot and near the rim — will send the Rams back to the state final for the second straight year.