By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Jordan Burton takes a look around at the area’s basketball scene. You can reach him on Twitter @thejordanburton with suggestions for players, teams and stories he should highlight.
MSHSAA released its 2020-21 district assignments for basketball and it’s the first time we’ll see a six-class system used, as well as the addition for advancing private schools based on recent success. Things didn’t really change as much as expected for me in terms of what class schools stayed in, but things did seem to shift based on where teams are going. One revelation was that state sectional and quarterfinal games will be played at the site of one of the participants this year in the same manner as all the other head-to-head sports. Up until this year, sectional and quarterfinal games were played at neutral sites.
NOTE: The table below represents the breakdown for schools per class, as well as the amount of private schools added to a class due to success. So, Class 1 Boys has a student range of 15 to 78 with 110 total schools in the class and 0 private schools moved into the class based off success.
|Class 1||Class 2||Class 3||Class 4||Class 5||Class 6|
|Boys||15-78 (110/0)||79-144 (104/1)||145-258 (100/1)||261-529 (90/5)||530-1,020 (72/6)||1,029-1793 (72/2)|
|Girls||15-78 (98/0)||79-144 (99/0)||145-258 (98/0)||261-529 (90/1)||518-1,020 (73/6)||1,029-1,793 (70/3)|
NOTE: When referring to “pods” below, I am talking about the four districts that send one team to state. Districts 1-4, 4-8, 9-12 and 13-16 all are four four-district “pods” that are each responsible for sending one team to the final four. If two teams share a pod, it is impossible for them both to make it to the final four.
It’s still the usual suspects with no teams moving to Class 6 that we didn’t expect. The one change is the removal of Rock Bridge from the local pod, meaning things will likely look different in the quarterfinal. However, they’re replaced by Helias Catholic. Rock Bridge boys made back-to-back Final Four runs in 2018 and 2019. The RB girls made five trips from 2012 to 2017. That is a major loss for the pod. Two years ago Kickapoo played Republic in Sectionals. Last year it was Kickapoo and Joplin in Sectionals. Now all three are in the same district. Interesting. Ozark and Nixa now share a district with Glendale. Just once since 2014 have the three basketball powers shared a district.
Some of the biggest changes happened in Class 5. Willard is essentially the only local team that was Class 5 last year to remain in the class. Springfield Catholic boys got the bump up based on a Final Four run in 2019 and an additional district title in 2018. The other major change is that Bolivar and Nevada, who have been shifting north towards Kansas City districts, are back in District 10 and District 12 respectively. So, no matter what, the Ozarks will be represented in the Final Four because Districts 9-12 are all local. However, it’ll be an absolute gauntlet to get through it. However, at a state level on the boys side, it may not matter. Cardinal Ritter moved up and DeSmet remained giving the class two of Missouri’s top teams. On the girls’ side, West Plains and Willard are proving that they’re legitimate Final Four contenders, while Carl Junction has been there multiple times recently and Rolla already owns a win over Kickapoo.
Class 4 is very similar to what Class 3 was last year. One of the big changes is last year’s C3-D4 teams (Ava, Liberty, Licking, Grove, Willow Springs) moving back west towards Springfield. Aurora, Cassville and Reeds Spring are the lone holdovers from last year’s Class 4, as well as Salem, Eldon and Osage to the north. The former schools are all in the Big 8 so it’s not too much of a change. Lamar and El Dorado Springs shifted north to District 13, which isn’t extremely odd based on past occurrences. It is worth noting that Father Tolton – led by Jevon Porter – didn’t get bumped up. They will likely be a team you’ll see in Springfield come March.
Class 3 broke my heart. I was hoping we’d see a Greenwood-Hartville split on the boys side. That didn’t happen. I was also hoping some combination of Skyline, Miller, Marionville or Ash Grove would stay in Class 2. That didn’t happen either. And, Houston, Licking and Cabool are part of the group that remained in Class 3. So what we have is a brutal set of districts locally that will likely decide the Class 3 state champion. Strafford also remains and trails only Clever, St. Pius X, Lawson and Missouri Military Academy as the largest Class 3 school in Missouri. And, the class had zero private school additions. These districts are again brutal. The good news for Skyline and Stockton is that they go north and avoid the chaos in the Class 3 Ozarks. Thayer goes east to District 1, creating the possibility that the Ozarks gets three teams in the Final Four on both sides.
The Crane boys and girls and Blue Eye girls are the only area programs currently in Class 2 with a Final Four trip since O-Zone launched in the fall of 2012. No Hartville, no Greenwood, no Skyline and no Thayer mean this is a wide open class. Dora moves up, but isn’t the Dora we’ve seen over the last few years. The width of the class is still great, with Lakeland, Osceola and Weaubleau going north, as well as Winona and Alton going east. The Ozarks is still guaranteed a Final Four spot because of districts 9-12. On the boys side there’s just one private school in the class that was adjusted due to success and zero programs on the girls’ side. The winner here is the entire SWCL, which could begin dominating the class on both sides.
The cut off for Class 1 was 78 students, which could see programs like Lockwood (78), School of the Ozarks (72) and Thomas Jefferson (71) really benefit. Keep in mind, under the old format with just the multiplier for private schools, School of the Ozarks, Thomas Jefferson and McAuley Catholic all would’ve likely pushed into Class 2. Class 1 in the Ozarks still spans districts 3-8, giving the area potential for multiple Final Four bids. Locally, things don’t change too much. Walnut Grove has been the dominant name, but on the girls side we’ve seen Bradleyville, Wheatland and Chadwick advance to Final Fours on the girls’ side, while Eminence and Walnut Grove have won state championships on the boys’ side. The biggest thing to keep an eye on for the boys, as least this year, is South Iron and St. Elizabeth. South Iron is the most talented Class 1 team in Missouri, losing to Dora by five in Sectionals last year, and St. Elizabeth lost to Dora by 10 in the state championship game. Lockwood and Golden City are seemingly the two top challengers from the area, but a Final Four run won’t come easy.
Performances of the Week
Senior Aminu Mohammed, Greenwood – Breaks Julius Walker’s school scoring record (2,235); trails only Monty Johal for SPS scoring record
Senior Makaiya Brooks, Springfield Central – Moved into top 5 on all-time SPS scoring list; 101 points through first four games this year
Junior Zach Howell, Springfield Catholic – 42 points in a win vs. Springfield Central
Junior Colin Ruffin, Nixa – 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists vs. Joplin (first Nixa triple-double in more than a decade)
Sophomore Kaemyn Bekemeier, Republic – School-record 37 points in a win vs. Har-Ber (Ark.)
Blue Eye at Miller
These are two of the best small-school programs in the area. Last year Miller won 55-49 on Jan. 7 and the Lady Bulldogs responded by winning 20 straight games and making a Final Four trip. Miller wants to make that trip this spring. The Lady Cardinals are 5-1 with that lone loss coming to Kickapoo. They’ve beaten Class 5 Webb City twice and Class 4s Lamar and Fair Grove. Blue Eye is 4-1 and has been drilling opponents. It will be the three-headed monster of Payten Richardson (15.8 PPG), Claudia Hadlock (14.5 PPG) and Kaylee Helton (14.3 PPG) against twins Riley and Avery Arnold for Blue Eye.
Nixa at Kickapoo
They’re the top two seeds in this year’s Pink & White and this could very well be a state sectional preview. Kickapoo is 5-2 with those losses coming to Rolla and Incarnate Word by a combined six points. The Chiefs also played those games without Bella Fontleroy. Nixa (5-1) bounced back from its loss to Fayetteville (Ark.) with a 44-point win over a solid Clever group. Thursday will also mark Macie Conway’s first game against her former team. This game will also go a long way towards setting the tone for what may lie ahead in March.
Ozark at West Plains
I think West Plains has played a tough schedule. I also think they’re so good that they’ve made some solid teams look very average. Ozark will be the best team West Plains has seen to this point of the season. The Tigers also play a brutal schedule, so they won’t be intimidated by the fact the Lady Zizzers are allowing just 23.7 points per game. This will also be a fun one for the guard matchup between Ozark senior Anna Hitt and West Plains senior Kenzie Brunson and junior Ashton Judd.
Strafford at Hartville
The last time I watched a Strafford-Hartville game was in 2014 at Drury. It’ll forever be one of the best games I’ve ever seen, with Strafford surviving a last second shot to advance to the Final Four. Both teams have Final Four aspirations this year but now they share a district. Hartville is the defending Class 2 state champ and hears all the chatter of people handing a 2021 state championship trophy to Greenwood. The Eagles (6-0) have won 17 straight games dating back to last season. They’ve been nothing short of destructive this year. Their margins of victory – 30, 42, 32, 23, 26, 48 – aren’t even fair. Hartville is 51-6 in regular season home games since the 2013 season.
East Newton vs. Mount Vernon
East Newton remained undefeated with a huge overtime win over Class 5 Webb City. The Patriots have now survived nail biters with Crane and WC, which is something you expect from a senior-heavy team. Kyson Lahman had 31 points and Connor Killion added 16. They’ll be one of the best 1-2 punches in the Big 8. Mount Vernon has one of the best players in the conference in senior guard Mason Ballay. The ‘Neers beat a really good Class 5 Nevada team behind 25 points from Ballay. These two won’t see each other during the regular season, but could very well play in the Big 8 crossover game and Class 4 – District 12 championship.