At the beginning of the basketball season, it didn't look like Portageville had much to be excited about.
The Bulldogs graduated all five starters from their 24-4 team, a group Jim Bidewell called, "one of the best, if not the best," he's ever coached.
Only two role players returned with significant varsity experience, painting a gloomy picture for the 2002-2003 season.
It's a down year for the traditionally strong program, no doubt about it. How bad is it exactly?
Portageville is currently 11-3 on the year. Bulldog fans will have a tough time finding a shoulder to cry on. Bell City is having one of its best years in program history and they're 12-2. Charleston is a state contender this year and they're 14-3.
Even if the schedule has been unusually easy, 11-3 is nothing to sneeze at.
The Bulldogs haven't posted any massive upsets, but considering the low expectations, they're off to a surprisingly good start.
After dropping the season-opener to Kennett, they've lost twice to Twin Rivers. Both came before the Royals' recent slide, back when they were considered one of the top teams in the area.
Some of their wins, actually several of them, haven't been so pretty. But the Bulldogs have found a way to beat every other opponent.
Bidewell's son Aaron is much improved from a year ago, and sophomore Willie Hassell is quickly becoming one of the premier players in the Bootheel.
And like usual, Coach Bidewell has a few other below-average players playing like above-average players.
We were supposed to see just how good this Portageville team was last Thursday, but their game against Dexter was postponed due to the snow.
The next big test will be Feb. 1 with a game at Sikeston, unless the Dexter matchup is rescheduled before then.
On Friday, the Bulldogs should beat rival Malden. Maybe Portageville isn't as strong as they have been, but they're still one of the better teams around.
Most schools would take this kind of down year any time.
Final score: Portageville 87, Malden 75
Everybody is buzzing about how much Bloomfield has improved this year. The Wildcats have a winning record, and have definitely graduated from bottom of the barrel to middle of the pack. Still, they might be a tad overrated. Bell City on the other hand is as good as advertised. With the Cubs in the mix, the Stoddard County Tournament championship game for once could be interesting this year. Friday's game won't be as entertaining. Final score: Bell City 83, Bloomfield 60
One of the top 10 things I thought I would never say in a Wednesday predictions column: Richland had better pack a lunch when the Zalma Bulldogs come to town. It has been a long year for the inexperienced Rebels and first-year coach Chance White, but Richland continues to play hard. It would've been easy to throw in the towel by now. But give White credit for toughing it out. This experience will make the rookie a better coach.
Final score: Zalma 60, Richland 52