The 59th annual event, formally known as the U-High, features teams from Cape Girardeau, Scott, Stoddard and Bollinger counties representing some of the region's largest and smallest schools.
Charleston won its second consecutive tournament championship last year with a 66-52 win over Notre Dame. The Bluejays are favored to win it again this year, earning the top seed with a 7-0 record.
"After winning it two years in a row, we want to keep that streak going," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer. "I'm really pleased with how our season has gone so far. I never dreamed we would be undefeated at this point. We've played well in games we've had to play well in."
The team is led by 6-foot-6 junior Ashton Farmer, who is averaging 20 points and seven rebounds per game. Point guard Marcus Biles is also a threat, averaging 15 points, four assists and four steals a night.
Charleston is coming off back-to-back scares, squeaking past Meridian, Ill., and Caruthersville by two and one point respectively. But the Bluejays showed their potential on Dec. 12, rolling over Cape Central 75-57 in the Sikeston Tournament championship.
That's good news for Charleston, considering Cape Central is the No. 2 seed in this year's tournament. Still, Farmer isn't counting his chickens before they hatch.
"Every night you've got to be well-rested and ready to play," he said. "If you have any type of letdown, it could be devastating. We've been fortunate. For some reason, we get up for this tournament. I just hope we continue to get up for it."
Charleston will face Chaffee in the first round on Friday at 9 a.m. That game will be followed by Cape vs. Oak Ridge at 10:30 p.m.
The Tigers are led by 6-foot-8 junior center Scott Chestnutt and 5-foot-11 senior guard Ryan Delph, who are averaging 15 and 14 points respectively.
Senior point guard Will Johnson has also been productive, averaging 11 points a game. Oak Ridge is the No. 15 seed in the tournament and enters with a record of 0-6.
The third game on Friday will be between No. 3 Scott City and No. 14 Oran at noon. The Rams are off to a 5-0 start, led by 6-foot-4 junior Mark Dannenmueller and 6-foot-9 senior Tyler Ward. Oran is 1-4, led by 6-foot-2 senior Garrett Roslen and 6-foot senior Matt Seyer.
The fourth game of the first round will be between No. 4 Jackson and No. 13 Leopold at 1:30 p.m.
After a season-opening loss to Farmington, Jackson caught fire, winning its last seven games.
"I'm really pleased with the way the guys are coming together," said Jackson coach Mike Kiehne. "We haven't played perfect by any means, but we've been getting the job done against some pretty good competition."
The team is led by 6-foot-3 senior Tyler McNeely, who is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game. Junior Jason Schafer, a 6-foot-3 junior, is putting up 12 points and six rebounds a night.
"I think there are some smaller schools that can make some noise in the tournament -- maybe even in the first round," said Kiehne. "When you get into the second and third days of it, anything can happen."
The most dangerous looking small school is No. 5 Bell City. The Cubs are currently 6-1, fronted by do-everything point guard Dominitrix Johnson. He scored a career-high 41 points against Bernie on Friday.
Bell City will face No. 12 Meadow Heights in the first round Friday at 4:30 p.m.
Other first round games include No. 6 Advance vs. No. 11 Woodland at 6 p.m., No. 7 Scott Central vs. No. 10 Kelly at 7:30 p.m. and No. 8 Notre Dame vs. No. 9 Delta at 9 p.m. Quarterfinal games will be played on Saturday. After a one-day break, semifinals will be Monday, followed by four title games on Tuesday.