Each week the O-Zone staff will rank the top 15 area basketball teams based on dominance by Class, aka how they stay up pound-for-pound with the other schools in their respective Class.
Strength of schedule are recent success also factored into the rankings.
1. Kickapoo (0-0, Class 5) – The Chiefs return the two best players in the area in Jared Ridder and Cam Davis, so we very much like their chances to return to Columbia. Considering how he’s taken the reigns as starting point guard at Drury since stepping onto campus though, replacing point guard Isaac Johnson will be the biggest task facing coach Dick Rippee and the Chiefs early this season. In addition, Kickapoo graduated six other seniors – including starter Niekie Thomas-Fontleroy and sixth man Derrick Roberson. If there’s anyone that has the depth to replace such losses, it’s the Chiefs. Travis Vokolek – maybe the most athletic big man in the area – returns at center while post Mitch Closser and swingman Isaac Blakeslee saw steady time as reserves last season. If that wasn’t enough, add in new depth from the JV like seniors Corey Dye and Jackson Auer, juniors Sam Wallin and Cole Forbes and promising sophomores Donyae McCaskill and Keyshawn Jackson. They won’t have the premier guard depth they had last season, but the Chiefs are still going to win a lot of games and be a major contender for the Class 5 state title. Kickapoo’s first local game won’t be until Dec. 13 when it hosts Branson.
Upcoming games: Jonesboro (Ark.) Tournament, Dec. 1-3; Fayetteville (Ark.) Tournament, Dec. 8-10
2. Hartville (2-0, Class 2) – It may not be the suffocating, in-your-jersey style defense of recent Hartville teams, but the Eagles are still equipped to be very difficult to score on and win a lot of games. The defending Class 2 state champs are off to a very Hartville-y start, whipping Mountain View-Birch Tree/Liberty 69-35 on Nov. 26 then Sparta 51-20 last night in the opening round of the Clever Tournament. Despite the loss of Class 2 Player of the Year Ryan Ward and all-conference guard Grant Dedmon, Hartville’s returning starting trio of Dune Piper, Deric Jones and Jace Keith will help the Eagles win a lot of games. Add in a wildcard in the form of 6’10” junior Cody Kelley, along with Wyatt Ward, Braden Keith, Crane transfer Wyatt Mahan, senior James Schmidt and freshman Holton Simmons all contending for minutes, and the Eagles are primed for another postseason run. But, new district member Mansfield looms as a big challenge.
Upcoming games: Clever Tournament (Dec. 2 semifinals, Dec. 3 finals); Dec. 9 vs. Fordland
3. Mountain Grove (1-0, Class 3) – Name your preferred ball, and Mountain Grove can probably play it well. In the middle of successful football and baseball seasons last school year, the Panthers ended up as the unofficial “public school” basketball champions in Class 3 by taking third place. Two starters are gone in Thomas Clifton and 2016 Boys’ Basketball 1 Awards winner D.J. McNew, but the Panthers return a very talented lineup that includes veteran starters Carter Otwell, Treye Collins and second-leading scorer Brock Coffman. Add in sixth man and new starter Cade Coffman – who was a double-digit scorer last season with 70 made 3-pointers and could be one of the area’s breakout players this year – and the Panthers will be a force again in Class 3. Mountain Grove handled an improved Catholic team 69-52 at home on Nov. 22, but won’t return to action until next week.
Upcoming games: Dec. 6 vs. Dora, Dec. 8 @ Conway, Dec. 13 @ Mansfield
4. Walnut Grove (2-0, Class 1) – It was a sour end to last season for the Tigers, who fell 69-49 to Stanberry in the Class 1 title game. Walnut Grove’s best player that day – Dallas Meinders – scored 35 points but was a senior. The good news for Walnut Grove is Meinders was the lone senior, meaning the gang’s all back to make another run at the first boys’ basketball state championship in school history. Junior Logan Thomazin (139 3-pointers) leads four returning starters that include point guard Hunter Gilkey, post Jaron Dishman and forward Cory Countryman. So far, so good for Walnut Grove. The Tigers are off to a 2-0 start with victories over Verona (76-49) and Flippin, Ark. (69-35). Walnut Grove takes on host school Forsyth in the semifinals of the Forsyth Tournament on Friday night, with a potential finals matchup against West Plains or Hollister at stake. Walnut Grove has another great early season test next week when it plays at Greenfield, a likely preview of February’s Class 1 District 5 finals.
Upcoming games: Forsyth Tournament (semifinals Dec. 2, finals Dec. 3), Dec. 6 Walnut Grove @ Greenfield, Dec.9
5. Clever (2-0, Class 3) – Clever won the SWCL last season and earned a No. 1 seed for its district tournament. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays were placed in the deepest district tournament in the area and were “upset” by No. 4 seed Conway in the Class 3 District 11 semifinals, 55-42. But not all is lost as Clever returns the SWCL’s two best players in reigning MVP Jakob Partee and guard Devan Hampton. If you haven’t made plans for this Friday night yet, you might want to think about attending the Clever Tournament semifinals. Amid all the tournament madness this week, Clever’s Tournament stands out as the best. Four teams in our top 15 are in the semifinals – Clever vs. McAuley Catholic at 6 followed by Fair Grove vs. Hartville at 7:30. The best aspect is these are teams from four different conferences, which is want you to see in a local tournament.
Upcoming games: Clever Tournament (Dec. 2-3), Dec. 9 @ Strafford, Dec. 15 @ Carthage
6. Licking (1-0, Class 3) – When you return a pair of 6’5”-ish forwards who scored 25 and 16 points per game, respectively, last season, you’re likely set up to have a pretty good season. That’s the case for Licking, which was the highest-ranked local team in the first Class 3 state rankings of the season. Licking’s senior tandem of Nathan Wilson (25.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Brady Smith (16.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg) are one of the best scoring duos in the area, regardless of Class. Licking’s in Mountain Grove’s district and the Panthers’ guard-heavy group poses a great clash of styles with Licking’s stellar forwards. The Wildcats are the No. 1 seed in this week’s Frisco League Tournament and dispatched Dixon 59-21 last night.
Upcoming games: Frisco League Tournament @ Laquey HS (semifinals Dec. 1 vs. Richland, finals Dec. 3), Dec. 6 @ Willow Springs, Dec. 9 @ MV-BT/Liberty
7. Mansfield (2-0, Class 2) – We like Mansfield’s chances to take the next step this season and become a viable contender for Columbia. If the Lions can get out of districts, that is. Hartville and a potential darkhorse Fordland team loom in February’s Class 2 District 4 tournament. For now, the Lions are set up to win a lot of games in the winter months with four starters back, including leading scorers Mason Roy and 6’9” sophomore Dylan Caruso. Mansfield’s off to a 2-0 start with victories over Richland (69-53) and Houston (81-22).
Upcoming games: Dec. 2 Mansfield @ Ava, Dec. 5-10 Mansfield Tournament
8. Nixa (0-0, Class 5) – You can’t have boys’ basketball power rankings without Nixa, as the Eagles have been one of the most consistent and winningest programs in the Ozarks this decade. Expect another 20-win season for Jay Osborne’s bunch, thanks to a strong senior class of starters in Christian Bundy, Austin Bracker, Seth Viebrock and Evan Bergmann leading the way. Depth’s a bit of a question mark at this point, but Nixa’s starting lineup should be able to shoulder a lot of the main duties.
Upcoming games: Dec. 1-3 MBCA Hall of Fame Classic @ Parkview, Dec. 13 @ Glendale
9. Glendale (1-0, Class 5) – If you want offense, Glendale’s the team for you as the Falcons boast the area’s two best juniors in guards Monty Johal (25 ppg) and Jordan Walton (15.8 ppg). Glendale flirted with the century mark in its season opener, beating St. Louis Carnahan 93-74. Johal and Walton combined for 49 points and Jaxon Davis added 17 points. Putting points on the scoreboard won’t be an issue for Glendale this season. In case you missed it, Glendale’s moved up from Class 4 to Class 5 this season and joins Kickapoo, Branson, Ozark and Parkview in District 11.
Upcoming games: Dec. 5 vs. Rogersville, Dec. 9-10 Ozark Mountain Shootout @ Glendale
10. Hillcrest (0-0, Class 4) – With Glendale moving up to Class 5, local Class 4 is wide open – so wide open that no team from the Ozarks made the Class 4 preseason state poll. Maybe the pollsters are overlooking the Hornets. Hillcrest has a number of talented, veteran players returning to the court. Among them are Shahn Clark, Hezekiah Duke, Cole Pryor, Tim Washington and promising sophomore Tyem Freeman. It seems like forever ago, but keep in mind that Clark, Pryor and Washington were all starters on the Brady Petry-led state runner-up team in 2015, so they’ve played a lot of big-time basketball. We’ll get a great early season matchup next week on Dec. 6 when Hillcrest travels north to face Bolivar.
Upcoming games: MBCA Hall of Fame Classic @ Parkview (Dec. 1-3), Dec. 6 @ Hillcrest
11. Bolivar (0-0, Class 4) – The Liberators enter a new season with a lot of scoring to replace – approximately 52 percent per game – but they’ll feature a potent tandem in senior post Brandon Emmert and senior guard Conley Garrison. Emmert, a Central Missouri commit, is likely to become Bolivar’s new all-time leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker with a healthy senior season. Garrison will have some new backcourt mates – and that could be a work in progress for the Liberators early in the season.
Upcoming games: Battle at the Border @ Branson High School Dec. 1-3, Dec. 6 vs. Hillcrest, Dec. 9 @ Aurora
12. Fair Grove (2-0, Class 3) – The Eagles had a close call in their Nov. 22 season opener, slipping by Forsyth 69-64 on the road. The Eagles avoided any late-game dramatics by dominating Ash Grove 86-44 in the opening round of the Clever Tournament last night. Garrett Kesterson, who has 1,450 career points, is about 100 3-pointers shy of setting the Missouri high school record for career 3s. All-state guard Kyle Cavanaugh is a big loss, but the Eagles will have some great size and athleticism around the basket between 6’7” forward Evan Fullerton and 6’4” forward Steven Huskey, who could have a breakout season with more shots coming his way now.
Upcoming games: Clever Tournament semifinals and finals (Dec. 2-3), Dec. 6 vs. Fair Grove, Dec. 9 vs. Buffalo
13. McAuley Catholic (2-0, Class 2) – Five all-conference players are back for coach Randy Robertson’s squad, including Ozark 7 Player of the Year and point guard Brendyn Taylor (9.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.3 spg, 7.0 apg) and forward Jake Doyle (17.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg). The Warriors had a close call on Monday in the quarterfinals of the Clever Tournament versus Morrisville, but held on for a 67-61 win as Doyle (23), Taylor (17) and Collin Lowry (12) combined for 52 points. Like I said earlier, get to the Clever Tournament semifinals on Friday. You’ll see some really quality basketball with McAuley vs. Clever and Fair Grove vs. Hartville
Upcoming games: Clever Tournament semifinals and finals (Dec. 2-3)
14. Republic (1-0, Class 5) – Guard play will be a strength for the Tigers, with returnees such as Ty Stevens, Mitch Coiner and Treydon Rackley leading a solid backcourt group. The Tigers will be able to shoot the ball, play defense and force teams into their grind-it-out style that has produced a lot of victories under coach Trevyor Fisher. Republic opened the season Monday night with a 56-50 victory over Oak Park in the opening round of the Republic Tournament.
Upcoming games: Republic Tournament semifinals and finals (Dec. 2-3), Dec. 10 Ozark Mountain Shootout @ Glendale
15. Lincoln (1-0, Class 1) – The Cardinals are still getting their basketball legs under them – a scheduled Nov. 22 game against Osceola was postponed due to Lincoln’s football season ending just three days earlier – but ultimately they’ll have a quality product on the court again this winter. Boone Kroenke leads a group of four returning starters and multi-sport athletes that won 22 games last season but fell victim to an upset in the district semifinals. Lincoln – still showing some rust from football season – pulled away from No. 8 seed Warsaw last night to win 63-47 in the opening round of the Warsaw Tournament. The Cardinals led by just two at halftime.
Upcoming games: Warsaw Tournament semifinals and finals (Dec. 1 and Dec. 3), Dec. 6 @ Northwest (Hughesville), Dec. 9 vs. Lakeland
Knocking on the door: Greenfield (2-0, Class 1), Lamar (0-0, Class 3), Hermitage (2-0, Class 1), Crane (2-0, Class 2), Winona (2-0, Class 2)