By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Throughout the season, Ozarks Sports Zone ranks the top teams in Southwest Missouri based on dominance by class, essentially the pound-for-pound comparison of those teams compared to the best in the state. Rankings are sponsored by CoxHealth. Below, you’ll also find our awards for last week’s top performances. If you’d like to nominate a player for O-Zone Player of the Week, please forward stats and information to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
This might be one of the most highly anticipated seasons in recent memory. The Ozarks sent a team to the Final Four in each class last year. This season could see the area have four representatives playing for state championships. The offseason brought both coach and player movement which only added to the excitement for the season. The best part of it all is there will be no ducking this winter; everybody seems to have scheduled up. All the big schools play each other and elite out of area teams. The small schools play each other and select big schools that weren’t afraid of the risk. We’re fired up here at the O-Zone, here are the 2017-18 Preseason Boys Basketball Power Rankings.
Player of the Year: Monty Johal, Glendale
Co-Offensive MVP: Logan Thomazin, Walnut Grove
Defensive MVP: Clay Gayman, Nevada
Co-Freshman of the Year: Anton Brookshire, Kickapoo & Isaac Haney, Dora
Breakout Player of the Year: Evan Guillory, Joplin
Newcomer of the Year: Cade Blevins, Rogersville
Coach of the Year: Rick Luna, Dora
1. Walnut Grove (C1: 30-3)
These dudes are the Houston Rockets of high school basketball and it works. Last year nearly 60 percent of their field goal attempts were 3-pointers, but it worked like a charm as the Tigers won 30 games and the Class 1 state championship. The scary part is nearly everyone is back. Logan Thomazin is chasing 3,000 points, Hunter Gilkey is chasing a triple-double average, juniors Dawson Meinders and Hunter Keith are the best third and fourth options at that level and everyone in Class 1 is chasing Darin Meinders’ extremely confident team.
2. Mountain Grove (C3: 28-4)
Mountain Grove has had a run that few have enjoyed in Class 3 as a public school with back-to-back Final Four runs. Last year the Panthers won their first eight games, lost back-to-back games to Class 4 Bolivar and Rogersville by a combined six points, then won 20 straight before losing two in Columbia. The Big Three of Carter Otwell, Cade Coffman and Connor McNew are collectively the most experienced backcourt in the Ozarks and are all potentially explosive scorers. These cats have never lost an SCA game and this could be the year they get over the hump in the Final Four.
3. Glendale (C5: 20-7)
No team on this list has as much pressure to make a run in March as Glendale and deservedly so. The Falcons return four-year lettermen Monty Johal and Jordan Walton, who will likely end their careers No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in SPS history, as well as sharpshooter Jaxon Davis. Brian McTague has guys that will be role players for him that could lead other Ozark Conference teams in scoring. The development of Winston Quinn and Jadon Glipin could be huge. Everything has been built towards this season. There isn’t a more talented team in the Ozarks, but will it be enough to get them to the Final Four?
4. Ozark (C5: 19-9)
I have no doubt that Mark Schweitzer will hang this somewhere in Ozark’s locker room and mention that lack of respect for Ozark Basketball. Honestly, I can’t blame the guy. The Tigers have won five of the last six meetings with Glendale, including last year’s district semifinal. Schweitzer returns plenty with senior standouts Quinn Nelson and Parker Hanks back, as well as potential breakout candidate Peyton Nichols. Ozark could be looking at three matchups with Glendale this year, so these two will get plenty of chances to settle it on the court… as well as social media.
5. Thayer (C2: 26-4)
You gotta feel a little bad for Thayer with how last year ended. The Bobcats lost to Hartville by three, who lost to Oran by three, who went on to win the Class 2 state title. But, don’t feel too bad for Matt Pitts. He brings back five of his top six scorers, including leading scorer Kobe Meyer and junior standout Ayden Stone. Thayer held 16 opponents to 40 points or fewer last season, that defensive effort will again be its calling card in the Bobcats hunt for another Final Four berth.
6. Springfield Catholic (C3: 20-8)
The Fighting Irish are potentially one of the most difficult matchups in the Ozarks regardless of class. They return everything from last year and welcome veteran coach Dustin Larsen. Combo guards Charlie O’Reilly and Jake Branham return, as well as 6-foot-7 senior Ian Cochran and 6-foot-3 classmate Brett Maes. Great guards, great bigs and depth could be enough for this team to be one of the rare small-school groups that wins the Blue and Gold. Their season-opener against Mountain Grove could be a preview of the Class 3 quarterfinal.
7. Nixa (C5: 25-4)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before… Nixa won 20 games and graduates four of its top five scorers. Yeah, we’ve seen how this movie ends and it’s with another 20-win campaign, competing for conference and district titles. Seniors Nathan Elmer and Drew Canady, as well as junior Braeden Combs, are the only players with varsity experience returning, however the newcomers include a ton of length and versatility, along with future stars in freshmen Jason Jones and Kaleb Wofford. Nixa will reload, not rebuild. This is just what Jay Osborne does.
8. Parkview (C5: 18-8)
Parkview is one of the biggest question marks of the 2017-18 season. From a talent standpoint they’re loaded, even without Tyem Freeman. His addition makes this a team capable of winning the Ozark Conference and making a Final Four run. Sophomore Dontae Taylor is ready to stake his claim as the best point guard in the Ozarks and Tre Morrison has the tools to be a D-1 prospect. Replacing JT Brown won’t be fun, but Landon Cornish has win-now talent.
9. Eminence (C1: 20-10)
Pete McBride might have the most talented team he’s ever had at Eminence, including his state championship group. Top scorers Grant Dyer, Trent McBride and Ethan Drake are all back, as well as Wade Dyer and Kyndall Copeland. The Redwings are finally healthy which could mean trouble for the rest of Class 1.
10. Pierce City (C2: 22-8)
Pierce City won another district championship under Matt Street before having its season ended by eventual Class 2 runner-up Crane. The Eagles return three starters and 10 lettermen from that team, led by 6-foot-6 senior Hunter Tindell and classmate Donell Kleiboeker, who are the team’s returning scoring leaders. Sophomore point guard Aaron Garner is also back after manning the position last year and leading the team in assists. This team has Final Four potential.
11. Rolla (C4: 15-12)
They might be a little rusty from the Elite Eight run they just made in football, but the Bulldogs could be primed for a deep run on the hardwood as well. Despite a rebuilding year, Rolla won 10 of its last 15 games with the losses all being quality. Josh Pritchett returns and will be one of the top players in Missouri. This is another complete team that can beat you in a variety of ways, but expect the Bulldogs to get back to their “3-and-D” ways. They’ll figure into the equation in a wide-open Class 4 picture.
12. Mansfield (C2: 22-7)
Of their seven losses last season, two came from Mountain Grove, two came from Hartville, one each from Glendale and Catholic and one to Class 1 power South Iron. All quality. The Lions reload by welcoming back 6-foot-9 junior Dylan Caruso, who is joined by four of the team’s top six scorers from 2016-17. Replacing Mason Roy won’t be easy, but this will again be one of the top Class 2 teams in Missouri.
13. Rogersville (C4: 16-12)
John Schaefer returns to the Ozarks and he inherits a team that will be sneaky good in Class 4. They’re the COC Small favorites with Andrew Scott and Luke Vandersnick returning, but the transfer of Lee’s Summit West sophomore guard Cade Blevins could be the biggest addition outside of Parkview adding Freeman. Schaefer will have a ton of roster versatility and length, which should be scary with the way he disguises defensively.
14. Webb City (C4: 15-13)
Jason Horn’s first season at Webb City ended with a district title and a Sectional loss to the eventual Class 4 runner-up. In Year Two he loses just one player from that team. The loss of elite sophomore Terrell Kabala for the year to a season-ending knee injury hurts, but the Cardinals return senior forwards Alex Pickett and Grant Ellis, as well as junior point guard Alex Gaskill. All three of those players should take major leaps forward. Pittsburg (Kan.) transfer Tevaris Young could provide a major impact in Kabala’s absence.
15. Dora (C1: 12-14)
I get it, their record last year was below .500 and they lost by 30 in the district championship. But, there’s plenty for Rick Luna to be excited about. Dora returns its top three scorers from last year, but he also welcomes one of the most talented freshman classes in Missouri, headlined by Isaac Haney and Luna’s triplet sons. This team will be the next powerhouse in small-school basketball locally.
Knocking on the door: Crane, Greenfield, Republic, Lockwood, Fair Grove, Licking, Hillcrest, Willard