Blue Division Preview

Christmas is on Dec. 25, but if you’re a basketball fan in the Ozarks, the holiday festivities really come Dec. 26-29 with the annual Greenwood Blue and Gold Basketball Tournament.

With the addition of a consolation bracket in recent years, we’ll see 52 games over four days at JQH Arena and Hammons Student Center.

Here’s a look at some of the storylines, games to watch and key players in this year’s field.

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Games to watch and storylines

1. Earning their stripes – Republic isn’t the flashy 1-seed you often see at the Blue and Gold, but the Tigers run a disciplined system and they’re going to be a tough out in this tournament with a veteran, guard-heavy lineup laced with shooters. Republic (4-1 overall) beat potential semifinals opponent Parkview by 18 at home on Dec. 13. With its lone loss coming to Class 3 No. 1 ranked Cardinal Ritter – a game the Tigers had a chance to win – Republic should be battled-tested heading into this tournament. If your guards struggle to get through screens, it’s going to be a long night when you play Republic.

2. Small-school giant among the giants – Hartville’s defending the Class 2 state champs and have quickly proven they’re poised to make another run at Columbia, but they had some problems at last year’s Blue and Gold as a 2-seed. Hartville only beat Camdenton by 11 in its opening game, then fell to Strafford by two in the quarterfinals. On the consolation side, the Eagles needed a buzzer-beater to defeat Conway before losing to Republic, 47-42. Hartville’s schedule up to this point has been stronger than what it was last season. If they can handle Ava and Catholic, a semifinals date with Glendale may end up being the best game of the tournament.

3. Gauging Glendale – If you believe guards win games, the Glendale’s probably the team for you in the Blue Division because they feature the bracket’s two best players in Monty Johal and Jordan Walton. Glendale doesn’t have a problem putting points on the board (74.4 ppg), but they’re also a team you can score on (76.8 ppg allowed). The Falcons struggle against dominant post players – and five-star guards named Trae Young – but considering Republic and Hartville are guard-heavy, Glendale’s got some favorable matchups on this side of the bracket. A championship would be Glendale’s 11th all-time in the Blue and Gold Tournament. They’re currently tied with Nixa for the second-most Blue and Gold championships (10) in tournament history.

4. SWCL’s best vs. Ozark Conference darkhorse – The Blue and Gold was made for matchups like Clever-Parkview, which we’ll likely see in the quarterfinals on the Blue side. With 1,000 all-time program wins to its credit, Parkview will look to restore some of its past Blue and Gold successes. The Vikings haven’t won a Blue and Gold championship since 1974, but still have the third-best winning percentage in tournament history (.761, 51-16 overall). Parkview’s played a better schedule than Clever up to this point. Look for the Vikings to get out and guard Clever aggressively, and throw multiple guys on Jakob Partee, in an attempt to force turnovers and exploit their athleticism advantage.

5. Welcome back, Irish – A lot of schools make the Blue and Gold an annual event, but one team that’s back in the tournament after a long hiatus is Catholic. The Irish are in the tournament for the first time since 1994. They have no seniors, but plenty of size and talent as evident by a first-place finish at the Strafford Tournament and a recent win over Class 2 state-ranked Mansfield. The Irish (5-2 overall) play a methodical pace and seem to want to keep most games in the high 40s to low 50s. Catholic only averages about 53.5 points per game. But throw out a 69-52 loss to Mountain Grove in its season opener, and Catholic’s yet to allow an opposing team to score 50 or more points this season. (Update: Marshfield finally broke Catholic’s 50-point barrier, beating the Irish 68-54 at home Tuesday night.)

6. Upset Watch, Part I – Upsets are the best part of any tournament. Unfortunately, I don’t see many “true” upsets happening in the first two rounds on the Blue side. But for fun’s sake, if upsets were to happen on Day 1, let’s take a look at a few. Start with 8-seed Crane vs. Marshfield. Weird things happen when you’re trying to play a basketball game at 9:30 a.m. the day after Christmas. Crane could be without its top player in Dalton Hayes – or at least have him at less than 100 percent. On the other hand, Marshfield’s had a ton of close losses: by five to Camdenton, by two to Aurora, by two (on a buzzer-beater) to Strafford and by one (on another late basket) to Salem. Marshfield’s 3-5 overall following a solid home win over Catholic earlier this week, and four of those losses have come by a total of 10 points. Marshfield also played No. 7 seed (on the Gold side) Lebanon reasonably close in a loss, 59-47. As Tuesday’s 68-54 home win over Catholic showed, the Blue Jays aren’t your typical 3-5 team. They’re a bounce or two away from being 7-1.

7. Upset Watch, Part II – If we’re going for the shocker of all shockers here… Glendale’s penchant for allowing points concerns me a bit. I don’t think they’re in danger of losing to Branson in the opening round, but this isn’t your classic overmatched Class 2 school serving as a Class 5 school’s “warm-up” game in the opening round. Glendale and Branson are both Class 5 teams that – generally – play a lot of the same teams in the area. Branson’s already played the likes of Kickapoo, Hillcrest and Bolivar, so you figure they won’t be intimated against Glendale. On the other end, don’t punch Republic’s ticket to the finals just yet. Crane loves the underdog role. It’s also a 9:30 a.m. game in the quarterfinals and the Pirates (or Marshfield) – if fully healthy – would be playing pressure-free.

8. Upset Watch, Part III – Not to keep picking on Glendale here, but looking ahead to some potential quarterfinal matchups, the Falcons will likely have to account for 6’9” Mansfield sophomore Dylan Caruso. Glendale doesn’t have anyone close to his size, so the Lions would definitely have an advantage if they can work the ball inside. But Mansfield’s struggled against non-Class 2 teams this season with losses to Mountain Grove (64-44) and Catholic (56-48), so Glendale’s guards will pose a lot of problems for the Lions.

9. Semifinals prediction – All in good fun, right? I’ll take the easy way out here and say chalk holds on the Blue side, with Republic facing Parkview in one semifinal and Glendale meeting Hartville, which dodges an upset in the quarterfinals against Catholic, in the other semifinal.

10. Finals prediction – Republic over Glendale. Glendale’s Monty Johal flirts with the all-time tournament scoring record, but Republic’s a little too balanced and holds off the Falcons in a tight one.

Players to watch (alphabetical)

Not necessarily each team’s top player (although sometimes that’ll be the case), but rather players who will have a big impact on their team’s chances in the Blue and Gold.

J.T. Brown, senior, Parkview – These aren’t the grind-it-out, half-court Vikings many came to know under former coach Bill Brown. Parkview now utilizes an aggressive, up-tempo style that pushes the pace. J.T. Brown’s growth has eased that system change. The senior guard is having a breakout-type season, averaging close to 17 points and seven rebounds per game. He’s also shooting very well from the perimeter (15-for-25 on 3-point attempts) and is a factor defensively with about three steals per game.

Ian Cochran, senior, Catholic – Some teams preach balance, but Catholic truly practices it. The Irish have had four players score at least seven points in all but one game, and that lone game was the season-opening loss to state-ranked Mtn. Grove. Cochran, a 6’7” post, has been one of Catholic’s most dependable scorers (9.6 ppg) and rebounders. The Irish could use a big game from Cochran if they’re to upset Hartville.

Jaxon Davis, junior, Glendale – Many already know about Jordan Walton and Monty Johal – both are closing in on SPS and school career scoring records – but the Falcons become a three-headed bird of terror when Davis is knocking down shots. He’s averaging just under 20 points per game amid a nice early season breakout showing and is coming off a pair of 20-plus point outings at the Kreul Classic.

Dalton Hayes, senior, Crane – Whatever’s in the water in Crane, it seems to produce guards who know how to play basketball. Dalton Hayes, following in the steps of Tanner Gold and Zach Chastain, is the latest product among the Crane basketball factory that seems to turnout quality backcourt players. He’s missed recent games due to injury but is reportedly due back for the Blue and Gold.

Deric Jones, senior, Hartville – Could the Eagles claim back-to-back Class 2 Player of the Year awards? After Ryan Ward won it last season, Jones is making a strong case for himself early in the season. Jones was averaging about 24 points and nine rebounds per game for the Eagles heading into last Saturday’s neutral-site matchup with Class 5 Hazelwood Central. Jones went out and dropped 49 points, eclipsing the 1,000 point mark for his career, in Hartville’s 88-80 win over Hazelwood Central.

Jarrett Paoni, senior, Marshfield – He runs the show for coach Damon Seiger and his battle with Crane’s Dalton Hayes figures to be a good one on Monday. Paoni leads Marshfield in scoring (15 ppg) and assists (3 apg) while Britt Hill, Triston Letterman and Austin Porter all average between 8-9 points per game.

Jakob Partee, senior, Clever –The reigning SWCL Player of the Year is on pace for an all-state worthy season, averaging about 22 points and seven rebounds through Clever’s first five games. He shoots just under 40 percent from 3-point range and over 90 percent at the free throw line. Partee will need a couple of outings of 25 points or more if Clever’s to make a run to the Blue finals.

Treydon Rackley, senior, Republic – One of our most common debates/arguments in the O-Zone office is basically centered around the question of, “How would this small-school player fare at a larger school?” Well, Rackley has proven his game knows no Class boundaries as the former Gainesville Bulldog has thrived since moving to Republic. He paces the Tigers with close to 20 points per game and has been a great fit in coach Trevyor Fisher’s system.

Anthony Rosas, senior, Ava – A 6’6” forward with athleticism and scoring ability? Sounds like a recipe for some big games on the consolation side of the Blue and Gold. Rosas has been Ava’s best player for a few years now. Unfortunately, he’s endured probably too many consolation games at the Blue and Gold than he’d prefer, but he’ll be looking to go out with a bang this year.

Dontae Taylor, freshman, Parkview – One of the area’s top freshman thus far has been Parkview’s Dontae Taylor. He’s third on the team in scoring (10.9 ppg) and is Parkview’s second-leading rebounder (3.9 rpg) behind J.T. Brown. The 6-foot Taylor went for 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals against Central, which gave Parkview its 1,000th win in program history.