By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Here are some things to watch for in the Blue Bracket of the Blue & Gold Tournament.
The No. 1 Seed: Greenwood (7-0)
I’m not going to say anything that you haven’t already heard, just know that Greenwood is every bit as good as advertised. The win over Kickapoo is clear proof, but drilling Jeff City, Willard and basically everyone else on their schedule is further proof. Aminu is obviously the best player in Missouri, but what goes undervalued is just how productive and meaningful the younger guys on the roster are. Aminu and Victory are rare. Grant Harper is the perfect high school point guard for this team with his ability to facilitate. But, what might dictate how long Greenwood remains unbeaten and if they bring home another state title, will be the continued development of sophomore Kaden Stuckey and freshman Tanner Jones. Their versatility and athleticism, especially defensively, can help make Greenwood a truly elite defensive unit. We’ve seen them come up with big plays against Kickapoo, continuing to do it on a big stage like the Blue and Gold will be imperative for Greenwood, especially heading into a 2021 gauntlet that will include powers Kickapoo, Nixa, Hartville, Blue Valley North and Confluence Prep.
Top Contenders: No. 2 Republic (7-0)
All Tim Brown has done since taking over at Republic is do exactly what was expected of him… win. The Tigers are undefeated despite losing a loaded senior class and it’s largely due to his team’s ability to defend at a high level and be collectively efficient offensively. On average, Republic is holding opponents to just 44 points, allowing them to shoot a North Dakota cold 39-percent from the field. That includes holding two solid offensive units in Glendale and Hillcrest to just 28 points. Republic also has the best two guards on the court every time they step on the floor in senior Drew McMillin and sophomore Ahlante Askew. McMillin is averaging 23 and Askew is adding 15, both are capable of going off on any given night and both stuff the stat sheet in other areas as well. I’m not sure many expected the Tigers to be undefeated at this point, but here they are. Brown opening the tournament against his former employer – Fair Grove – and former assistant – Cale Ramsey – is a unique start as Fair Grove is one of the top unseeded teams in the event. Adding to the storylines is the fact that Ramsey is a Republic alum. But the Tigers could also see a rematch with Bolivar and a tilt with Greenwood.
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Best First Round Game: No. 8 Spokane vs. West Plains or No. 4 Ozark vs. Marshfield
West Plains-Spokane is the exact reason why we love the Blue and Gold. The big school-small school battles, specifically the ones in the first round, are always entertaining. This one is a little bit of a role reversal due to Spokane being the ranked team. The Owls have certainly earned their seed, winning the Marionville Tournament and rolling up an impressive 7-1 record, one of those losses came to undefeated Hollister. JD Tate has been filling it up for Spokane. But, they may be running into a buzz saw in Class 5 West Plains. The Zizzers have also surprised many with a 5-3 start, which includes wins over Bolivar and Carthage. What makes West Plains so tough is their tempo and ability to defend. They’ve incredibly methodical offensively and disciplined defensively with some great athleticism. They’re going to contest every shot. Because of the pace, you might find yourself with 10ish possessions in a quarter, which could make it extremely difficult to score enough points to win. West Plains will be a tough out and Spokane who has put up some monster scoring numbers, will see their stiffest challenge of the season.
If the tournament was seeded 1 through 16, this matchup wouldn’t happen. In fact, you can argue that Ozark (4-2) got the short end of the stick by drawing Marshfield (6-2). The Jays have wins over West Plains and Camdenton. Junior Peyton McBride and a senior class led by Landon Wilson and Trey Summers has some size and athleticism. They also have one of the area’s top sophomores in Zack Mings, who nearly had a triple-double earlier in the season and is a future two-way star in the Big 8. Marshfield is a name that keeps popping up when people talk about sleepers in Class 5. The program has won 15 of its last 19 games dating back to last year. But Ozark is a different kind of beast. Coach Schweitzer has been doing a lot of foot stomping and flexing because this group has made a lot of shots and gotten to pressure people to start the season. The Tigers’ two losses came to Parkview in the season-opener and Kickapoo. Between those two, Rogersville handled solid teams in Rogersville, Rolla, Har-Ber (Ark.) and Jeff City with little struggle. Ozark has a ton of guys that can all score it, led by junior MOKAN product Ethan Whatley, who is one of the most undervalued guards in the COC. Ozark has a reason to feel slighted by the No. 4 seed and Schweitzer won’t hesitate to use that to galvanize his group. Ozark won B&G titles in 2014 and 2016 under Schweitzer and it’s no secret they want another shot at Greenwood after losing by four to the Jays last year. There’s a great chance they get that much awaited rematch if they don’t overlook Marshfield.
Upset Special: No. 6 Rogersville (3-2)
The ‘Cats are quietly 10-2 in the last three B&G events, including a title in 2018 and runner-up finish in 2019. Rogersville graduated some of the bigger names off that team, but this is a group that Coach Schaefer has retooled and reloaded. Rogersville has won three straight since opening the season with losses to Parkview and Ozark by a combined 14 points. Those wins – Glendale, West Plains and Willard – are all quality. I still feel like Rogersville will always be dangerous with an explosive guard like Kanon Gipson, who had 26 against Glendale, and one of the best perimeter defenders in JJ O’Neal (officials please stop calling fouls on him for defending at a high level). O’Neal is a big-time athlete and a game-changer with his defensive ability alone. I love the path. Rog has beaten Bolivar in seven straight meetings and 14 of the last 20 overall, including the second round of the 2017 and 2019 B&G. Republic and Rogersville have matched up four times since 2016, splitting those meetings with two apiece and the total spread of those games is 21 points. If any team seeded outside the top four lines was to make a run to the championship, this is it.
Player Who Could Ruin the Bracket: Kyle Pock, Bolivar
The Liberators enter the tournament as the best four-loss team in Missouri. In fact, I’m not sure their losses could be higher quality. One-loss Kickapoo (by two to Greenwood), undefeated Republic and undefeated Warrensburg, as well as a very solid West Plains team on the road, which might as well be Mars compared to Bolivar on a map. The bad news for Liberator fans is they’re clearly beatable, the good news is that they’re capable of playing with anyone and they typically have the best player on the floor in Blue and Gold every game. His name is Kyle Pock and he’s a 6-foot-7 bucket from all three levels. There aren’t many teams in the area with the kind of personnel to defend him without help, which gives him the opportunity to make his teammates better. He’s a stud and legitimate mid-high major player. Bolivar actually might have the biggest front line in the tournament and playing in big games prior to stepping into Hammons will only benefit them. Bolivar might have the toughest road to a final, looking at Lebanon, Rogersville and Republic more than likely. Then they’d likely be looking at Greenwood. I’m not saying Bolivar will win them all, but Robby Hoegh will have this team ready to play.