March Madness is back in full swing. Only, for the Harker Heights and Ellison boys basketball teams, the madness starts a little early in their Region II-5A quarterfinal match-ups.

Taking on a pair of top-4 teams in No. 1 Garland Lakeview Centennial and No. 4 DeSoto, respectively, both the No. 14 Knights and Eagles have what could be considered the two toughest roadblocks to get through to the region tournament. “When you get to the round of 32, you can run but you can’t hide,” Heights coach Celneque Bobbitt said.Ellison coach Alberto Jones agreed, saying every game at this point of the season is hard.

“You know in the third round, you’re going to get matched up with a No. 1 (district seed) if everything goes according to plan, so you always know that third one is going to be real, real hard,” Jones said. “But at this time of year, once you get to the playoffs, every team is good.”

With that said, both Centennial and DeSoto are especially good, including garnering national recognition. The Patriots are the 12th best team in the nation according to USA Today, and are as high as No. 7 in the latest rankings by, while DeSoto is considered among the top 50.

“Once you get over the fear factor — and I don’t think there’s a fear factor because I’ve got some seniors that really want to play this game — I think it’s going to be heads up,” Bobbitt said. “The kids have chips on their shoulders and they want to go and put Killeen on the map.”

Outlook: Facing its most daunting task this season, the battle-tested Knights aren’t shying away from their next opponent — top-ranked Lakeview Centennial, which fell to Fort Bend Bush in the 5A championship game last season. Against ranked teams this season, Heights is 3-3 with wins over Houston Strake Jesuit, Killeen and Pflugerville Hendrickson.

The Knights have never been past the third round, where the record-setting team of Matt Addison and Walt Harris fell to Pflugerville in 2006, the last time Heights were crowned district champions.

To get to the regional tournament, the Knights must fend off the scoring prowess of Centennial’s three-headed monster of senior guards Chris Jones, Toddrick Gotcher and Jamarlas Demas. That duty falls on Heights’ own senior trio of Daevon Brown, Royce O’Neale and 6-foot-1 post Brandon Bullock.

Outlook: Each year under Jones, the Eagles have shown improvement, advancing an additional round in the playoffs, including making it to the region quarterfinals this year. While proud of the accomplishment, Jones said the team has to continue to play the same team-ball that’s helped Ellison peak to six wins in its last seven games.

Standing in the Eagles’ way, though, is 6-foot-8, 200-pound DeSoto wing Antwan Space, a four-star recruit for both Rivals and Scout that has already signed with Florida State.

The Eagles will try to counter with their own Division I-caliber seniors in 6-foot-2 guard Devonte Brown and 6-6 wing Jaleel Williams who have benefited from the improved play of role players like senior posts David Cobb and Shane Jones, and guard Darius Howard.

All three have stepped up their scoring efforts the last few games.

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