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Favorite – This district will come down to top seeded Hillcrest versus the field. The Hornets have won eight straight in the process of claiming the Ozark Conference title. Hillcrest has the area’s best foursome of guards in Thomas Whitaker, Juwan Johnson, Austin Petry and Roy Hardy. Although they are small, their ability to pressure full-court and shoot the basketball is among the best in the Ozarks. The only potential roadblock between the Hornets and Columbia is their lack of size.
Darkhorse – The Darkhorse isn’t much of a surprise, as it is the No. 2 seed Liberators. Bolivar lost at home to Hillcrest by 11 back in December. Obviously, both teams have grown since then, but beating Hillcrest will still be a tall order. However, Bolivar has the steady guard play and inside presence (6-foot-7 Evan Roberts, 6-foot-4 Chance Rash) to make Saturday’s championship game interesting.
Player to Watch – Chance Rash, Bolivar: The junior guard/forward is one of the area’s most talented players. Rash can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot the 3, or he can abuse smaller defenders in the post. If Bolivar is to make a run in Class 4 – District 10 they will need big games out of Rash.
Favorite – Republic is easily the favorite in Class 4 – District 11. The 22-4 Tigers have been amongst the area’s best throughout the season, coupling a patient offensive attack with great defense. The inside duo of 6-foot-4 Cody Geiger and 6-foot-7 Marcus Miller has been extremely good for first year coach Trevyor Fisher. If Republic can continue to get great guard play out of junior Dylan Bekemeier, a Final Four run is extremely possible.
Darkhorse – Both West Plains and district host Rogersville are capable of upsetting the Tigers here. Rogersville has been hot as of late, winning 9 of its last 11. In addition to a pair of wins over Ozark, the Wildcats also beat top seed Republic 47-45 in 2OT a month ago. The Zizzers, who got off to a strong 8-2 start, have stumbled down the stretch, losing four of their last six. However, West Plains also beat Ozark, and have one of the area’s top sophomores in guard Zach Flipin.
Player to Watch – Austin Selby, Reeds Spring: After losing its first nine games, Reeds Spring has bounced back to win 10 of its last 15 and Selby is a huge reason why. The 6-foot-5 senior is a load inside (16 PPG, 12 RPG), and has also shown the ability to step out and shoot the face up jumper. Last week Selby put up 32 and 12 against the solid frontcourt of Bolivar.
Favorite – Despite Nevada being the top seed, Webb City is still my favorite. The Cards own wins over Bolivar, Rogersville, and Mount Vernon. The length and athleticism of Landon Cornish’s squad is undeniable, with many key cogs from their state championship football team making their way to the hardwood as well. Although Webb City lost to Nevada in battle of former Southwest Conference foes, lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice.
Darkhorse – Carl Junction is definitely a team to keep an eye on here. Although the Bulldogs haven’t claimed a district title since 1957, this could be the year for the Tri-Big 8 champs to break the curse. Kyle Williams has plenty of firepower in the form of guards Travis Vogt and Matt Magee and experience as the Bulldogs fell in last year’s district title game with the help of a questionable “5 second” call.
Player to Watch – Silas Smith, Nevada: Simply put, Silas Smith gets buckets. The 6-foot-2 combo guards has had seven 30 point games and poured in a season-high 43 points earlier this month against Central. His 1,096 points have him sitting in ninth place on the all-time Nevada list, a run in the state tournament could see him crack the top 5.
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Favorite – This one is a slam dunk. The Kewpies of Columbia Hickman are not only the top seed in the district; they are also the No. 1 team in the state. Hickman offers one of the state’s top backcourts in junior Chris Clark (14 PPG, 4 APG) and sophomore Jimmy Whitt (18 PPG, 5 SPG); both of which are receiving major D-1 interest.
Darkhorse – Typically, it would be safe to assume that perennial Rock Bridge would be in the hunt for a district title, but an injury to Creighton commit Nick Norton (18 PPG) was a major blow to the Bruins title hopes. You can just about bank on the Kewpies claiming their first district title since 2003.
Player to Watch – Chris Clark & Jimmy Whitt, Hickman: These two will be fun to watch because of their speed and quickness. While neither of them shoots the ball overly well, both are great finishers and very sound defensively. The pair are a large reason why Hickman is the favorite to bring home a state-title.
Favorite – I’ll give the nod to the top seeded Washington Blue Jays. Washington has player a superior schedule and owns more quality wins. The one common opponent of Washington and Waynesville, McCluer North, defeated the Tigers in overtime, whereas the Blue Jays were victorious 61-56.
Darkhorse – Waynesville is easily the Darkhorse in such a balanced district. The Tigers have had a very up and down season, boasting wins over Hazelwood West, Jeff City Helias, and Francis Howell Central. However, Waynesville has dropped three straight heading into district play, and was also beaten by average Camdenton and Rolla teams.
Player to Watch – Ronnie Suggs, Washington: The junior win has big-time pedigree and the talent to back it up. Suggs older brother, Scott, currently starts for the Washington Huskies and was Mr. Basketball back in 2008. The younger Suggs is averaging 18 a night for the Blue Jays.
Favorite – In what is probably the area’s best district top to bottom, I will hesitantly give the nod to the top seeded Nixa Eagles. Although they have been vulnerable since losing all-state forward Jalen Norman, Nixa is still the Ozark’s most talented team. Their ability to shoot the ball and size inside makes them an extremely tough matchup. Also, nobody has a tougher schedule than the Eagles.
Darkhorse – Again, in such a balanced district this is a difficult choice. District host Branson is the sexy pick, but I will go with Ozark. The Tigers have been hot and cold this season, but they have the depth and chops to get hot over the next six days. Plus, 6-foot-6 senior Brett Krisik is a monster inside.
Player to Watch – Bryce Dulin, Nixa: The 6-foot-4 guard is one of the area’s most underrated players. Offensively, he has the ability to get to the rim and finish (with authority) and he can shoot it from beyond the arc. However, his true value is found on the defensive end. He has the size to bang in the post, and the lateral quickness to stick with small guards on the perimeter. For Nixa to make a run back to Columbia they will need to get even more from the standout junior.
Favorite – Top seed and district host Parkview is the favorite here. The Vikings were undeated during the regular season against district foes, thanks in large part to Erik Durham’s 25 PPG. The only drawback to this selection is their occasional offensive stagnancy. Simply put, at times Parkview struggles to score. Durham will need someone to help offset the scoring load if the Vikings are to claim a district title.
Darkhorse – Willard is probably the most talented team in the district. The Tigers have won 9 of 12, including a rout at home of Republic. Lamont Frazier’s squad has taken his identity, flying around and playing physical defense. Chris Kendrix is arguably the Ozark’s top player, and Kolbe Kinghorn’s emergence in the post has changed the dynamic of how team’s matchup with Willard. Don’t be shocked if Willard’s your district champion when all is said and done.
Player(s) to Watch – This district easily offers the most star power of any in the area. Erik Durham can fill a scorebook quickly, just ask West Plains. Joplin junior Charlie Brown and Willard’s Kendrix are two of the top juniors in the state and are both receiving Big 12 attention. The chance to see these three great players in one venue is a great opportunity.