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 Ozark Wins
So far, Ozark has clearly been the best team in the area. The Tigers have beaten Kickapoo, Rolla and Rogersville twice in the first month of the season. Honestly, they’re not even close to hitting their stride. Ozark hasn’t shot the ball at the level they can and they’ve been turnover prone at times. But, they’ve been sound defensively and have had some offensive balance. Quinn Nelson has been a star (20.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 steals), Payton Nichols is an emerging star (12 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.3 blocks) and the Parkers (Hanks and Ramsdell) have been able to score and facilitate offense. Ozark’s depth, particularly in a four games in four days format, will be difficult to contend with. Ozark has won two of its last three Blue and Gold appearances, winning 11 of 12 games in that time.
How No. 2 Springfield Catholic Wins
The Irish just lost to Aurora, but this is still one of the area’s top teams. Their size, depth and balance don’t really resemble a Class 3 team at all. Catholic owns wins over seeded teams Mount Vernon, Hartville and Mansfield. The losses – Mountain Grove and Confluence Prep – came to a pair of state-ranked teams. Of the No. 1s and No. 2s in this year’s Blue and Gold, Catholic seemingly has the toughest draw. Crane is no slouch, their quarterfinal opponent would either be an athletic Willard team or Aurora for the third time in a month. Then, they’re probably looking at Rogersville and all that is before seeing Ozark or Republic. The Irish will have more than earned this title if it happens.
Best of the Rest
John Schafer and Rogersville are the 3-seed and I’m sure they’re okay with that. If you take Ozark off the schedule, Log-Rog would be 5-1 with the loss coming to a good Rolla team. They’ve beaten Republic, Hillcrest and Walnut Grove. The scariest thing about them in this tournament is how their length and Schafer’s ability to give different defensive looks and pressure, especially his zone. If you haven’t seen it before it can give you fits, especially with the length the Wildcats have this year. Senior Andrew Scott (15.4 points) and Luke Vandersnick (14.6 points, eight rebounds) have adjusted nicely to the new system, this is a darkhorse team to win the tournament.
Speaking of darkhorses, I wouldn’t want to see Republic. Treyvor Fisher is one of the best in the business and you know his team will be fundamentally sound and great defensively. They enter the tournament with four straight wins, including Parkview and Bolivar. RepMo has never needed a ton of points to beat people, but right now junior Broc Smith is averaging 20.6 points and 8.1 rebounds, shooting 55 percent from the field and 47 percent from deep. He’s explosive offensively and with how sound this team is everywhere else, when he goes off it’s tough to beat Republic.
Mansfield is one of the more intriguing teams in the entire field. They’ve drilled everyone they’ve seen, except Catholic – who is their lone loss. Junior big Dylan Caruso (15.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks) is one of the best interior presences in the Ozarks. His ability to score and rim protect is rare. Terry Writer is able to surround him with catch-and-shoot guys like Spencer Greene (54 percent from 3) or guys that can attack off the bounce like Payton Watterson (10.2 points, 3.8 assists). Mansfield can give people problems from a style standpoint
Fair Grove has seen a gauntlet of a schedule and while the Eagles have been inconsistent at times, they have four guys capable of going off on a given night – all of whom can shoot it from deep. Cole Gilpin (14.3 points, seven rebounds, four assists), David Oplotnik (13.6 points, 8.6 rebounds), Kyle Stacey (12.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, five assists) and Garrett Potter (10.5 points). If they get hot they’re capable of making a run.
The Good and Bad of Republic’s Draw… aka Ozark and Mansfield
Republic will be the key to how the tournament unfolds. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them win the entire tournament. I also think their draw is tough. Caruso’s size makes him a handful for an undersized Republic team. However, the Tigers are the most likely group to be able to defend everyone that Ozark can throw on the court. But on the other side of the bracket, Rogersville already has a win over RepMo. Basically, the tournament title will go through Republic one way or another.
Will the Slipper Still Fit for Willard?
Willard as a 7-seed is capable of making another run. Last year they were unseeded and made a run to the championship game. Athletically this is one of the most impressive teams in the tournament. Daniel Cutbirth is still working through some kinks, but Daniel Abreu (20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds) is a star in the making and guards Kobe Holloman and Elijah Davis are tough to defend off the dribble. This group is far different from the group we saw make a run last year, but they’re still extremely dangerous.
Good as Gold: Mark Schweitzer vs. Trevyor Fisher
Both guys are 13-3 in the Blue and Gold at their current programs. Schweitzer’s teams are typically among the best offensively and Fisher’s teams are certainly the best defensive team among the large class schools. Schweitzer will flex on the sideline following a big play and urge his players and fans to get fired up. Fisher patrols the sideline like a guy playing the back nine at Stewart. Both are two of the best in the business and with Fisher accepting the A.D. job, these meetings are likely coming to an end soon. If it happens in this tournament, enjoy it.