Keynan Cutlip

Science Hill's Keynan Cutlip, left, has helped the Hilltoppers reach 16 wins, the highest total in the state.

Even in a normal year, the first state basketball rankings are a difficult chore.

It takes research — usually in the form of “who did this team lose to, and how good is the team that beat it?” — and word-of-mouth recommendations from across the state.

As for the 2020-21 season, it’s even more of a challenge because some good teams may not have played very many games. Other good teams may have losses on their resume that are COVID-19 related.

Tradition probably plays a greater role in this year’s first rankings. If there is a muddle, it’s best to go with the school that tends to make postseason noise on an annual basis.

Here’s a class-by-class look at some notable rankings from the Times News and Johnson City Press for the Associated Press state poll.

BOYS

Class AAA

Top spot: Houston — The Mustangs (8-2) are like a double-cheese, double-bacon club sandwich. Yes, loaded. They have three Division I players in the lineup: Mason Miller (Creighton), Jerrell Colbert (LSU) and Jonathan Lawson (Oregon). With Shelby County schools out of the mix, Houston is the team to beat. (Poll rank: 1)

No. 2: Bearden — The only loss for the Bulldogs (14-1) is to private school power Knox Catholic. (Poll: 5)

No. 6: Science Hill

No. 7: Dobyns-Bennett — Unfortunately the issue between these two area powers won’t get any clearer Friday because the Indians have gone into quarantine status. Science Hill (16-2) leads the state among all classifications in victories. (Poll: Science Hill, 8; D-B, unranked)

No. 9: Morristown East — Just a reminder that the Region 1-AAA tournament could be quite a battle. (Poll: unranked)

Class AA

Top spot: Jackson South Side — The Hawks (8-1) have won 40 of their last 41 games. They were 32-0 last year when the state tournament was canceled. (Poll rank: 1)

No. 6: Elizabethton — This might be a little high for the Cyclones, but they are riding a 10-game winning streak and only two teams in the state have fewer losses. (Poll: 9)

No. 10: Sullivan East — The Patriots have played a much tougher schedule than Elizabethton, so Friday night’s game in Bluff City should be very interesting. (Poll: unranked)

Class A

Top spot: Loretto — Coming off a 27-5 season with a state berth, the Mustangs seem a safe pick for now. They are 7-1 with a loss to a good Class AA team (Creek Wood). (Poll: 1)

No. 5: North Greene — They have the most wins in the state among Class A teams with 13. Their losses were against two AAA teams (David Crockett and Daniel Boone) and private school Providence Academy. (Poll: 5)

GIRLS

Class AAA

Top spot: Riverdale — Blackman and Bradley Central may be better candidates for this position, but the Lady Warriors (7-0) have a rich tradition. (Poll rank: 3)

No. 2: Bradley Central — An 18-point loss to Upperman kept the Lady Bears (8-1) from our No. 1 spot. (Poll: 1)

Class AA

Top spot: Upperman — The Lady Bees sting. They are 17-0 with all but one win being double-digit margins. They’ve beaten Brentwood, Bradley Central, Oakland and other strong teams. (Poll: 1)

No. 9: Sullivan East — The Lady Patriots were competitive in a loss to the No. 7 team (Grainger) in our rankings. (Poll: unranked)

Class A

Top spot: Gibson County — The Lady Pioneers are 17-1 with their lone loss coming against our No. 4 team (McKenzie). Those two teams along with Loretto (No. 2) are state-title threats. (Poll: 2)

No. 5: North Greene

No. 9: Cloudland — The Lady Huskies (10-3) have losses against Class AA foes Grainger, Northview Academy and Greeneville. Their one-point home win over Cloudland gives the Lady Highlanders a reason to belong in the top 10. (Poll: North Greene, 9; Cloudland, unranked)

STATE WRESTLING

The state dual wrestling meet has been moved to different sites: Nolensville, Centennial, Independence and Mill Creek Middle School. The events will take place Feb. 6.

The individual tournaments will return to Chattanooga after a 12-year absence, taking place at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Feb. 18-20.

Changes were necessary because the Williamson County Ag Expo Center was unavailable this year. It has been in use as a coronavirus testing center since last spring.

BASKETBALL HIGHLIGHT GAMES

BOYS

Tuesday

Hampton at University High

Friday

Elizabethton at Sullivan East

Hampton at North Greene

Hampton will get a chance to see if its tough schedule will pay off in Watauga Valley Conference play.

GIRLS

Tuesday

Science Hill at Volunteer

Friday

Science Hill at Dobyns-Bennett

Elizabethton at Sullivan East

The Lady Hilltoppers can take a big step forward in the Big 7 Conference race or things could be thrown into a jumble.

Contact Douglas Fritz via email at dfritz@johnsoncitypress.com.