By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Here is what you need to know about the Blue Bracket of the 71st Annual Blue And Gold Tournament.
Click play above for a video preview of the Blue & Gold Tournament.
Why No. 1 Nixa Wins
Jay Osborne’s reload has been masterful in that he’s been able to blend three of the area’s best perimeter scorers in Kaleb Wofford (13.9 points), Nathan Elmer (12.2 points) and Braeden Combs (9.2 points). Their averages don’t speak to how well they actually score the ball. Maybe the most pleasant surprise has been the play of seniors Max Bilbrey (8.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks) and Drew Canady (9.6 points, 4.6 rebounds). Both are long and athletic and provide a defensive paint presence. Nixa’s win over Glendale just reestablished the fact that Jay Osborne and the Eagles are still top dogs with Osborne being about as dominant as any coach in the history of the event with five Blue and Gold titles in the last nine seasons.
How No. 2 Mountain Grove Wins
Tempo, tempo, tempo. There are few teams that put as much pressure on opponents to play faster than they want at both ends than Mountain Grove in their points seem to come constantly. I won’t lie, I felt like Grove had done everything possible to deserve a 1-seed. The Panthers are a perfect 7-0 with wins over seeded teams Springfield Catholic (2), Strafford (3), Hartville (4) and Fair Grove (6), as well as beating a Class 1 Dora team that is Final Four good. Having three experienced guards like Connor McNew, Cade Coffmann and Carter Otwell will them tough on both ends of the floor, especially with Otwell recovering from an ankle injury. Last year Grove’s only two losses came in the Blue and Gold – by a total of six points – knocking them out after just three days. The year before they lost to Nixa in the semifinals by four and Clever by six. This team is hungry to make a championship run.
The Best of the Rest
Strafford and Mike Wilson are a dangerous 3-seed. For starters, they’ve already seen Mountain Grove and gave them a run. They own wins over Bolivar, Conway and Reeds Spring. The Indians have won four of five entering the tournament. Keep in mind, this is a program that lost in the 2014 championship and made it back to the semifinals in 2015.
Hartville is back and reloaded behind a ton of balance. The Eagles have four guys averaging in double figures, led by Wyatt Mahan’s 18.6 PPG. Hartville also has a legitimate post presence in 6-foot-8 senior Cody Kelley. Wins over Fair Grove, Walnut Grove and Aurora prove they can run with anyone.
Mount Vernon makes four of the field’s top five seeds Class 3 programs or smaller. The ‘Neers have also had a great start to the season with three high quality losses (Catholic, Webb City, Fort Smith Southside). MV has beaten Fair Grove, Walnut Grove, Clever and a solid Rogers (Ark.) squad. Kyle Bushman, a 6-foot-8 senior, has been a grown man on the block (12.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 blocks), while Ty Boswell (11.3 points) and Cale Miller (9.5 points) have been steady scoring options and junior point guard Kelly Vaughn runs the show. This team can beat you in several ways.
Kickapoo as a 6-seed seems low. But the Chiefs are just 3-4 thanks to a loaded schedule. The only area team to beat Kickapoo was Ozark, and it took an incredible buzzer-beater to do it. The Chiefs have won two of their last three and seem to be putting it together.
Upset Alert: Reeds Spring vs. Stockton
This is a tough draw for Stockton. Reeds Spring is a Class 4 program and there have been some consistency issues, but keep in mind this is a team that beat Crane and has played a tougher schedule. They’ll also have the two best players on the floor in senior guard Lane Carroll (18.9 points, 4.1 assists) and 6-foot-4 post Logan Plumb (12.3 points, 9.7 rebounds). This seems like one the Wolves will have a chance to steal.
Kickapoo might be the best 6-seed ever
Like ever, ever. All four losses have come against teams that would be No. 1 seeds in the tournament. The Chiefs getting underseeded makes for some cool storylines, but it also makes life harder on people like Strafford and Mountain Grove.
Freshman Arms Race: Anton Brookshire vs. Kaleb Wofford
They spend their summer playing with Yanders Law, together, trying to feed people buckets. So far they’ve spent their freshman seasons doing that to everyone on the schedule. Both guards lead their teams in scoring and both have a maturity and calm to their game you won’t see in many kids this young. Should they meet in the championship, the Ozarks would get to see the next to big names from the area’s premier programs on display.
Lebanon doesn’t have a terrible draw – Meet Quenton Shelton
It’s never easy being an unseeded team because of how random the matchup is. Lebanon will struggle with Hartville’s pressure, but Hartville might struggle with sophomore guard Quenton Shelton. He’s averaging 21.5 points and his range starts once he gets off the bus. He’s already had a 41-point outburst this season. Along with 6-foot-6 big Dawson Zimdars and Jordan Lewis, the Jackets are tougher than their record indicates.
Hartville hungry for some revenge?
Hartville has played Nixa in each of the last three seasons and the discrepancy between the Class 5 and Class 2 programs wasn’t quite as big as you’d expect. The average margin of victory has been just over seven, with Hartville hanging tough in each game. This is the first time Brett Reed has the size on his roster capable of matchup with Nixa. They’ll have no shortage of motivation should these two meet in the semifinals.