Going into the high school basketball season, Poplar Bluff and Charleston looked a head above the rest of Southeast Missouri.
Bluff's unbeatable aura quickly disappeared with an achilles injury to 6-foot-9 phenom Tyler Hansbrough. Blytheville, Paducah Tilghman and Cape Central all beat the Mules without their big man as the team stumbled to a 1-4 start.
Charleston has also shown signs of weakness in the early season, but there is a big difference between them and Bluff. A couple of teams have come close, but up to this point, nobody has actually beaten the Bluejays.
Meridian, Ill., and Caruthersville both recently proved that Charleston may not be quite as dominant as everyone thought. But who is going to actually beat them?
Fifteen local teams will make an attempt starting this week in the seMissourian Christmas Tournament.
After winning the event two years in a row, Charleston again is the team to beat and has been seeded first.
The Bluejays will open the tournament on Friday against winless Chaffee at 9 a.m.
After that top of the morning blowout, they will face either No. 8 Notre Dame or No. 9 Delta on Saturday. After winning that game in lopsided fashion, the 'Jays will take on either No. 4 Jackson or No. 5 Bell City in the semifinals on Monday. Of the two, Jackson probably has the best chance of pulling out the upset. The Indians are riding a seven-game winning streak, led by the post play of bruiser Tyler McNeely.
Beating Charleston wouldn't be a total shock. A Bell City win over Charleston would be a bigger surprise. Dominitrix Johnson would have to hang up 40 again, and guys like Jeff Liggins and Zak McIntyre would have to shoot lights out for the Cubs to have any kind of chance.
If the Bluejays win Monday's game, they would probably face Cape Central in Tuesday's championship.
We got a little preview of this matchup back on Dec. 12, when Charleston crushed the Tigers in the Sikeston Tournament title game.
I'm sure Derek McCord will have his team more prepared this time around, but Cape first has to worry about getting to the finals.
The first two rounds look easy, with the Oak Ridge Boys on Friday, then either No. 7 Scott Central or No. 10 Kelly on Saturday.
Monday's game against No. 3 Scott City could be interesting, considering McCord's connection to the Rams. If Mark Dannenmueller, Tyler Ward and Jeremy Schlosser all play up to their potential, a fired up Scott City team could give Cape Central fits.
Like most years, the most interesting games in this year's tournament will probably come in the third place, fifth place and consolation championships.
Two local football players will be on display Dec. 31 when Missouri plays Arkansas in the Mainstay Independence Bowl. Sikeston native Brandon Barnes starts at linebacker for Missouri.
The 6-foot-3, 220 pound senior has 109 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries for the 8-4 Tigers. New Madrid County Central graduate Desmond Sims is a starting outside linebacker for Arkansas.
The 6-foot-2, 217 pound redshirt freshman has recorded 32 tackles, one sack and has recovered two fumbles for the 8-4 Razorbacks.
Former Sikeston resident Chase Pressley also plays for Arkansas, making six tackles on the season.
The Independence Bowl will be played in Shreveport, La., and will be televised on ESPN. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m.