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Five of the eight teams that advanced to the State C boys' basketball tournament were not ranked in the final Associated Press poll. Guess that proves how much the so-called experts know.

Two of the four first-round games Thursday at Billings' MetraPark feature a pair of unranked teams, including the tournament's 12:30 p.m. opener, which pits Western C champion Drummond (20-3) against Circle.

The Trojans have lost just once to a Class C opponent and that came in their most recent defeat, a 56-50 setback at home to District 13-C foe Victor on Feb. 5.

Since then, the Trojans have won eight straight in a streak that included their last three games of the regular season and sweeps to the titles at the district and divisional tourneys.

Does that mean first-year Drummond head coach Joe Bignell believes his ballclub is peaking at the right time?

"You bet," he said. "Everybody's really coming together and the kids are continuing to get better and better each game. We're getting better shooting, which makes them all more confident shooters. The guys are also gaining more and more confidence in each other. They're really starting to believe in themselves."

The Trojans' go-to guy has been 6-foot-2 forward Nate Bignell, who averages 15 points a game. Drummond's only other player who averages in double figures is senior forward Parker Bignell (11.6 ppg).

But the Trojans also receive solid contributions from senior guards Jordan Mannix (8.5 ppg) and divisional tournament MVP Neil Mannix (7.7 ppg).

"The thing with us is our depth," Coach Bignell said. "We can play several different lineups. We can go small and quick or big and strong depending on what works against who we're playing."

Circle (20-5) has lost three of its last nine nine games and all three have come at the hands of third-ranked Eastern C champ Culbertson. Sophomore forward Brock Loudon and senior post Bryan Gardner make the Wildcats tough to defend in the blocks.

After fifth-ranked Arlee lost its first-round game at divisional to Twin Bridges, the Warriors (23-2) won four straight, including a four-point victory in the consolation game over Twin Bridges and Monday's 55-40 challenge-game win over Shields Valley.

"I guess we just like to play against everybody in the tournament," joked 71-year old Arlee head coach Clyde Tucker, whose Warriors advanced to state for the first time since the 1994-95 season, when they took second in Class B with Tucker as assistant.

Arlee is led by senior forwards Kyle Felsman (11.6 ppg) and Kody Morigeau (10.8 ppg) as well as senior guard John Sansavere (9.2 ppg).

The Warriors will have their hands full with Culbertson (23-1) when the teams meet at 8 p.m. The Cowboys' lone loss of the season came in a 46-39 defeat at Fairview.

But Tucker believes his Warriors are capable of playing with anyone when they play to their potential.

"I really think that anything less than playing for a trophy would be a disappointment," he said. "The kids are really focused and they seem like they want to go beyond just getting there. They want to make some noise."

The 2 p.m. contest has Southern C top seed Northern Cheyenne facing sixth-ranked Big Sandy, which placed second at the Northern C divisional.

The Eagles (15-6) won the Southern C tournament in a 97-88 defeat of St. Labre for their first win this season in three games with the Braves. Northern Cheyenne likes to push the tempo behind Chad Cunningham and Kevin Littlebear.

Big Sandy is 20-4 after taking second place in the Northern C tourney. The Pioneers rally behind 6-5, 200-pound senior forward Corbin Pearson and senior forward Blake Brumwell, a Montana State recruit listed at 6-7, 240 pounds.

Northern C champion Power (18-5) will take on St. Labre (20-4) at 6:30 p.m.

The Pirates feature brothers Travis and Gus Somerfeld and Hayden and Nolan Vick.

St. Labre, which moved down from Class B this season, trumped Joliet 71-64 in a Southern C challenge game Monday night to punch its ticket to state.

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