Houlton's Keegan Gentle dribbles around MDI defender Nate Philbrook during a Dec. 9 game in Houlton. The Class B Shiretowners take on Class C Central Aroostook of Mars Hill on Wednesday in a key battle of North title contenders. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

There are less than four weeks before the high school basketball regular season is scheduled to conclude on Feb. 6. The games grow greater in importance as teams strive to assess their playoff hopes.

Here are six key boys basketball games to watch in the region this month:

Houlton at Central Aroostook, 7 p.m. Wednesday: Contenders in Class B and Class C North meet for the second time this winter, this time at the Panther Palace in Mars Hill. Central Aroostook, the No. 1 seed in C North last season, is back there again this winter at 8-2 despite playing its first five games on the road. Brayden Bradbury, the goalie on Central Aroostook’s state championship soccer team, recently eclipsed 1,000 points for his basketball career and is one of coach Jason Woodworth’s team leaders. Houlton, the 2019 Class C North champion, is back in Class B North. The Shiretowners also have a 1,000-point scorer in senior guard Keegan Gentle. Coach Tim Brewer’s club (9-3), which defeated CAHS 59-49 on Dec. 18 at Houlton, has won its last six games and ranks fourth place in its division.

Caribou at Hermon, 4:30 p.m. Saturday: The last two Class B state champions meet for the only time during the regular season in a matchup that may determine the No. 1 seed for this year’s tournament. Caribou has won 26 consecutive games entering Wednesday’s road test at Class C North contender Fort Kent. Coach Kyle Corrigan’s club, with four starters back from last year’s state championship team, is led by BDN All-Maine senior forward and 1,000-point scorer Parker Deprey. The Vikings have outscored their opponents by an average of 22.8 points. Hermon is 10-1 this winter and 52-2 since the start of its 2018 state championship season. Coach Mark Reed’s club features senior forward Isaac Varney, and the Hawks have allowed an average of only 37.2 points per game. No opponent has scored more than 48 points. Caribou has scored 73.2 points per outing, so something has to give.

Deer Isle-Stonington at Jonesport-Beals, 2:30 p.m, Monday, Jan. 20: One of the best Martin Luther King Day matchups comes Down East where two of the top Class D North clubs meet for the second time. Undefeated Jonesport-Beals won the first meeting 79-62 on Jan. 7 at Deer Isle. The veteran Royals, led by six seniors, have lived up to their favorite status in the division under coach Skipper Alley after reaching the regional championship game each of the last two years. The 9-0 Royals are playing at their typical fast pace, averaging 76.0 points while scoring at least 80 five times. Deer Isle-Stonington (8-2) already has exceeded last winter’s victory total (5), with the only blemishes on its record losses to two unbeatens, Jonesport-Beals and Class C George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill.

Medomak Valley at Hampden Academy, 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24: This marks the only regular-season meeting between these Class A contenders. Hampden resides atop the region at 11-0 after Saturday’s 57-56 homecourt escape against Brewer. That marked a milestone night for BDN All-Maine senior guard Bryce Lausier, whose 32-point performance included the 1,000th point of his career and the winning basket in the final seconds to keep coach Russ Bartlett’s club unbeaten entering Tuesday’s game at Lawrence of Fairfield. Fourth-seeded Medomak Valley (10-1) has been the best of the Midcoast contingent, with its lone loss a 91-78 decision at second-seeded Cony of Augusta. Those teams were set to play again Tuesday in Augusta. Medomak Valley’s Nick DePatsy recently became the school’s winningest boys basketball coach. He surpassed Maine Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Art Dyer, who won 185 games with the Panthers primarily during the 1970s. DePatsy, in his 13th year at Medomak Valley, has 187 wins at his alma mater and 352 victories overall including stints at Madison, Georges Valley of Thomaston and Lincoln Academy of Newcastle.

Schenck at Dexter, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28: These teams boast a combined 19-1 record, with the only exception Dexter’s victory over Schenck in East Millinocket on Dec. 12. When the old Penquis League rivals meet again at Guiski Gymnasium, plenty of Heal Points will be on the line. Longtime Dexter coach Peter Murray, a Schenck alumnus who earlier this season earned his 300th victory with the Tigers, is guiding a defensive-minded team that has yielded just 33.3 points per game during their 11-0 start in Class C North. Schenck, the defending Class D North champion, hasn’t been quite as dominant defensively, but coach Darrick Thompson’s club — which played only three games before New Year’s Day — has won six straight, is 5-1 against Class C foes and ranks third in Class D North.

Deering at Bangor, 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31: These two Class AA North contenders meet for the second time in nine days when they square off at Red Barry Gymnasium. Their scheduled Jan. 22 clash in Portland is the makeup of a previously postponed contest. Bangor, the defending state champion, moved past Deering into second place with a 57-47 victory over No. 1 Edward Little of Auburn on Tuesday night behind 54 points from its frontcourt tandem of 6-foot-8 Sam Martin, 6-5 Andrew Szwez and 6-4 Henry Westrich. Westrich made 5 of 6 3-point attempts and all seven of his free throws en route to a game-high 22 points. Bangor is 8-3 overall and 6-0 at home heading into a big rivalry game Thursday at Class A Brewer. Third-seeded Deering is 8-2 after a 71-59 loss to Edward Little last Saturday.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...