Like the previous five years, the 2003 version of the tournament carries a similar theme -- Dexter versus the world.
Once again Dexter enters the tournament as the top seed. The Bearcats have won a record five straight Bloomfield championships and all signs point to a sixth straight this year.
Will the Bearcats' stranglehold on the tournament ever end?
"It's getting kind of old," said Portageville head coach Jim Bidewell. "I think maybe we need to vote them out and send them up north somewhere. Dexter's definitely the team to beat. Everybody else just kind of falls in there after them." Dexter enters this year's tournament with a 3-3 record, having lost to Charleston, Jackson and Poplar Bluff.
The Bearcats have already defeated No. 3 seeded Twin Rivers 74-66.
Dexter is led by senior guard Josh Miller, who averages 21 points per game. Six-foot-6 center Derek Demaree averages 17 points and eight rebounds per game. Chris Guethle follows up with 13 points per game.
The Bearcats will start things off with a 10 a.m. game against No. 16 Richland (1-6).
Counting the Stoddard County Tournament, regular season games and the Christmas Tournament, Dexter hasn't lost on Bloomfield's court since 1998.
The Bearcats' winning streak on the floor now sits at 37 games.
"It will end eventually, but hopefully not this year," said Dexter head coach Eric Sitze. "These other teams are getting tired of us winning it. It seems like it gets harder every year to motivate the kids because they've won it. The other teams are really motivated and they're going to be coming after us."
Either No. 8 Hayti or No. 9 Malden await Dexter in the second round.
Portageville received the No. 7 seed and will play No. 10 Van Buren at 6:30 p.m.
It's the lowest the Bulldogs (3-2) have been seeded in years.
"I kind of figured that's about where we'd be," said Bidewell. "We're awfully young without much depth. Some of the other teams above us are playing good ball right now. It was pretty expected."
Portageville is a junior-laden team with only one senior on the roster.
Junior point guard Willie Hassell is the top player on the squad. The team has four legitimate scorers in Hassell, Jordan Penn, Jimmy Larry and Antonio Scott, but there isn't much depth.
"The fact that you have to play two or three nights in a row will hurt us," said Bidewell. "Because right now we haven't been able to go very deep into our bench because of the youth. The only way we can make a run is if all the other teams are kind of struggling in the same way we are."
If the seeds play out, Portageville would face No. 2 seed East Carter County in the second round.
East Prairie, perennially a low seed, will have its best chance at making it to the winners bracket in several years as they got the No. 11 seed.
The Eagles (4-2) will play No. 6 Bloomfield at 5 p.m.
"It's certainly a move up in the seedings than where we've been in the past," said East Prairie head coach Jason Irby. "I thought we could've been maybe a little bit higher, but that's kind of the way it goes when you're trying to build some respect. You've got to take what you can g
et. Either way you're going to have to play somebody good."
The Eagles are led by sharpshooter Jordan Sanders, who averages 22 points per game. Roger Swann follows up with 10.8 points per game. Jordan Patterson, a 6-foot-7 sophomore scores 10.2 points and Aaron Harland chips in with 10 points per game.
Anthony Smith is the top rebounder at six boards per game.
Irby is hoping his Eagles can just make it to the fourth night of the tournament. Each year Irby has been the East Prairie coach, they've been eliminated before getting to the final night.
"If we can't get that Bloomfield win, we feel like we've got a chance to go the other way maybe and get all four nights in," said Irby. "If you can go through the winner's side it's going to be difficult obviously because you're playing one of the top-seeded teams. We're just hoping we can get into the winner's bracket and go from there."
East Prairie will play either Twin Rivers or No. 14 Puxico in the second round.
"We feel like the tournament's really balanced," said Irby.
"Dexter's always going to be the favorite -- they've earned that and they deserve that. Then there's a lot of balance from the middle of the pack down all the way to the bottom. I think any of those teams can compete. It's going to be a difficult task for us but if we can come up and play to our potential we can play with them and hopefully make a good showing for ourselves."
Other first round games will pit No. 5 Kennett against No. 12 South Pemiscot and No. 4 Doniphan versus No. 13 Bernie.
If weather permits, the tournament championship night will be Dec. 30.