Parity and balance. Two favorite words of almost any coach when discussing boys basketball in the Division I North region.
And on the eve of the region tournament, any coach who used them before the season can sit back with pride, knowing he was quite prophetic. But one team and one team only will rise above the rest this week and grab the region's lone state tournament berth.
So who will it be?
Games clearly aren't played on paper, but Douglas owns the best résumé.
The Tigers are winners of 13 in a row -- while no one else in the eight-team field is riding a win streak longer than five -- and are the only team to beat every other in the regional. Douglas lost just one league game and it later avenged that defeat.
"We put all our pieces together," said 6-foot-10 center James Herrick. "... It took a little while for the team chemistry to come together, but once it did it's been great."
As champion of the Sierra league, Douglas, in search of its third state berth in five years, opens the playoff tonight against McQueen, the fourth seed out of the High Desert league.
"You always hope you're peaking at this moment in the game and I think that's what everyone is trying to do," Douglas coach Corey Thacker said. "The one big thing that really helped us get going was our team came together. They're working together, they believe in each other. They actually have confidence in each other right now. ... We just didn't understand each other at the beginning."
The Tigers, who finished the regular season with a 20-6 record, lost four straight in early December and were just 5-4 heading into Christmas. But they haven't lost since the calendar flipped, a run that included wins over fellow top-tier teams Galena and Hug.
"I feel like right now we're peaking," said point guard Michael Nolting. "At the beginning it was kind of rough. In the beginning of the season, it just wasn't clicking for us. We weren't playing fast; we weren't playing as a team. To be honest, at the beginning I thought it was going to be, not a rough season but not a great season."
Douglas, which has not won a region title this century, clearly turned it around from there.
"I know for a majority of the team, we didn't pay attention to our record," said Hunter Myers, the Tigers' leading scorer at 18 points per game. "We just got in here and got our work done."
Douglas beat McQueen by 18 two weeks ago. Should the Tigers advance, they will meet either Spanish Springs or Carson in Thursday's semifinals. Douglas beat the Cougars by eight in the season opener and the Senators by 19 and 10 in their two meetings.
"It lets the kids know we can beat them and we're capable of doing it. But it also puts the target on our backs and other teams are going to want to beat us the next time around," Thacker said. "We're confident but we're also confident there are other solid teams out there. ... It's the playoffs; it's 0-0 and you have to step up and be ready to play."
And one slip up isn't just costly, it's the end.
"Records in the regular season don't really matter," Myers said, "because one loss and anybody is out in this one."