SIKESTON - The Sikeston Field House will be the site of the Class 3A, District 1 Tournament starting tomorrow for the girls and on Tuesday for the boys.
The first boys game will be between No. 4 Kennett and No. 5 Doniphan at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Third-seeded Sikeston will then take on No. 6 Perryville at 6:30, followed by No. 2 Dexter versus No. 7 Fredericktown at 8 p.m.
Top-seeded New Madrid County Central received a first round bye and will play the winner of the Kennett-Doniphan game on Thursday at 6 p.m.
Most coaches agree that the overwhelming favorite is NMCC, which has won two consecutive state championships.
But most also agree that anything can happen in what they think is one of the top district tournaments in the state.
"I think it's going to be a very competitive tournament," said NMCC head coach Joby Holland. "It's wide open, there's a lot of teams playing good basketball right now. I don't think seeds mean anything. It's a district that anybody's capable of taking on any night."
NMCC enters the game ranked No. 2 in Class 3A but they were ranked No. 1 the entire year up until this week. Dexter is also state ranked at No. 7.
"I think it's brutal, it's tough -- I don't think there is a tougher district than the 3A in our region," said Kennett head coach Tim Turlington. "We've got the two-time defending state champion and probably the second best team in the state the last couple of years in Dexter right here in our district."
Here is a team-by-team breakdown of each team in the district starting with the top seed.
District championships: (4) 1988, 1998, 2000, 2001
Head coach: Joby Holland (1st year)
Leading scorer: Dereke Tipler (21 ppg)
The Eagles enter as the heavy favorites to win their third straight district championship. At 23-3, the Eagles have their best record in school history.
They are led by senior point guard Dereke Tipler. The two-time all-stater averages 21 points, nine assists and 3.5 steals per game.
Seniors Brian Murph (6-2) and Terrance Smith (6-3) are both superior athletes that are the top outside shooters on the team.
The Eagles have a talented post tandem of seniors Derrell Minner (6-8), Ronland Ranson (6-4) and Desmond Sims (6-3). The three combine for nearly 30 points and 30 rebounds per game.
Senior Tyler Wagner (5-10) comes off the bench and is one of the best shooters on the team.
The Eagles, who are ranked No. 2 in the state, are favored by many experts to win their third straight state title. But head coach Joby Holland isn't ready to make room in the trophy case just yet.
"The state tournament right now is the farthest thing from our mind," said Holland. "Regardless of what they've done in the past, we don't get a free ticket to get there. You've got to earn it. Nobody's going to give us anything and they're not going to let us walk on through."
District championships: (8) 1957, 1958, 1961, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1976
Head coach: Eric Sitze (1st year)
Leading scorer: Chris Carr (16 ppg)
* The Bearcats have the second-longest championship drought of any team in the district, but they are considered one of the favorites once again.
This is the fourth straight year that Dexter has won 20 or more games. In those four years, the Bearcats have lost just 14 games, but it produced no district titles.
But first year head coach Eric Sitze knows that those teams weren't able to accomplish the feat because they didn't peak at the right time.
And heading into Tuesday night's game with Fredericktown, he's unsure of how his team will perform.
"I don't think we're peaking right now," said Sitze. "I don't think we've peaked this time of the year the last two years. I think our kids are excited about the district tournament and they're looking forward to playing in it."
Dexter, which routed Sikeston 75-43 back in Nov., and will open with a struggling Fredericktown team, looks to be the heavy favorite to reach the title game for the third time in four years.
Sitze knows that there are games to play first.
"We've got a tough side of the bracket," said Sitze. "We've got to go through Fredericktown and Sikeston before we can get to that championship. That's sometimes the toughest part, just getting back to the championship."
The Bearcats are led by 6-7 senior center Chris Carr, who averages 16 points and 11 rebounds per game. Senior Chad Gill scores 15 points per game and senior Kyle Christian is the top 3-point shooter on the team at 45 percent.
Junior point guard Chris Hyten scores 13 points per game with five assists on average.
District championships: (16) 1936, 1938, 1951, 1953, 1956, 1962, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1984, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2000
Head coach: Gregg Holifield (4th year)
Leading scorer: Lontas McClinton (19 ppg)
The Bulldogs have had an up-and-down season. Just when it looked like they had it turned around, Sikeston ended the regular season with a disappointing loss to Kennett.
But heading into the tournament, the Bulldogs are considered a darkhorse to reach the district finals after defeating Class 4A No. 3 ranked Poplar Bluff and playing the top-seeded Eagles tough.
However, Sikeston head coach Gregg Holifield isn't thinking about a rematch with NMCC or Dexter, he's concentrating on his first round opponent.
"The first thing we've got to do is beat Perryville," said Holifield. I have a lot of respect for their program and their coach and I know he does a good job. We're not overlooking any team. Our number one priority is Perryville and we'll take it from there."
The Bulldogs are led by junior forward Lontas McClinton, who averages 19 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Junior point guard Lavar Morgan chips in with 12 points per game. Justin Freeman, who averages 12 points, is the only senior that plays significant minutes.
The Bulldogs will be looking for their third district championship in the last four years.
Sikeston will also have the home court advantage in the district tournament this year.
"I think it's an advantage," said Holifield. "I think we play well at home. It's a comfortable setting for us and I think our players will come out ready to play."
District championships: (1) 1974
Head coach: Tim Turlington (5th year)
Leading scorer: Dustin Pritchett (16 ppg)
The Indians enter the tournament as one of the biggest mysteries. Kennett can beat almost anybody on a given night like Portageville, but they are also prone to being upset.
Kennett picked up a huge road win against Sikeston on Friday night, which should give them some momentum going into the district.
Kennett has lost six of its last eight games heading into the tournament.
"We seem to be playing better than we have been," said Kennett head coach Tim Turlington. "We were playing pretty well around the Christmas Tournament. We had a little three-game stretch where we didn't shoot the ball very well."
Kennett is led by senior forward Dustin Pritchett, who averages 16 points and seven rebounds per game.
Senior forward Julius Taylor scores 12 points per game while Tishaun Carter and Tyree Goolsby both score eight points per game.
Kennett and Doniphan split this season with the Indians winning in the Christmas Tournament and Doniphan winning the regular season game.
Kennett is 4-1 at the Sikeston Field House this year with its only loss coming to Poplar Bluff in overtime.
"Our kids like playing (in the Field House)," said Turlington. "We don't usually shoot well there but the facilities are great and we're looking forward to it."
District championships: (7) 1928, 1929, 1934, 1944, 1949, 1952, 1999
Head coach: Shane Benson (7th year)
Leading scorer: Danny Kellas (19 ppg)
* The Dons are in the middle of their worst season in several years, entering the district tournament with a losing record.
Gone are the days of all-state guard Nic Wilson and 6-foot-11 Adam Crader, but the Dons still have plenty of weapons.
And after starting the year 2-9, Doniphan has won nine of its last 13 games and appear to be peaking at the right time.
"I think we're playing the best basketball that we've played all year," said Doniphan head coach Shane Benson. "We had a shot to beat Dexter at their place. We feel like we can compete and we feel like we can pull an upset or two and hopefully make some noise in the tournament."
The Dons are led by junior guard Danny Kellas who averages 19 points per game and hits 45 percent of his 3-point shots.
Junior guard Shayne Talburt also hits 45 percent of his 3-pointers while averaging 16 points per game.
Senior Brian Pulliam, a 6-3 forward, scores 16 points per game and is the Dons' top post player.
Benson, who in his seventh year is the Dean of the Class 3A, District 1 coaches, says this year's tournament could provide some surprises.
"New Madrid has got a great, great team and everybody knows that so everybody is trying to possibly pull an upset on them," said Benson. "I think almost every team in it is a very good team. Obviously Dexter is tough and Sikeston can beat anybody on a given night. They proved that when they beat Poplar Bluff. Those three and Kennett are all very talented."
District championships: (3) 1963, 1966, 1997
Head coach: Jeff Steffens (3rd year)
Leading scorer: Chad Ozark (16 ppg)
* The Perryville Pirates enter the tournament mired in a nine-game losing streak.
At one time Perryville was 12-4 and were looking at a favorable seed in the district, but the wheels have come off in the last month or so.
"Right now we're not playing very well," said Perryville head coach Jeff Steffens. "We've had mental breakdowns. We lose our focus for two or three trips down the court. We lose control of what we're doing. We play pretty good for about 28 minutes but who knows what's going to happen for the next four."
The Pirates are led by 6-6 senior center Chad Ozark, who averages 16 points and nine rebounds per game.
Ozark and the rest of the Pirates will have a tall task in trying to contain Sikeston's Lontas McClinton and Justin Freeman, a pair that has Steffens concerned.
"McClinton is going to be tough on us all by himself," said Steffens. "We're going to have to know where he's at at all times. And then they've got the good outside shooter in Freeman. So there's another guy we've got to contend with and make sure we've got hand in his face."
District championships: (11) 1966, 1967, 1971, 1973, 1979, 1981, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989
Head coach: Brett Reutzel (1st year)
Leading scorer: Wes Stevens (10 ppg)
The Blackcats, who are under the guidance of former Cape Girardeau Central head coach Brett Reutzel, have had a tough season.
They enter the tournament with just two wins under their belt with one of them coming last Thursday against Ste. Genevieve Valle.
"I hate to say this is a rebuilding year but the bottom line is we're young and we're struggling," said Reutzel. "We graduated seven seniors and have 3 returning lettermen that didn't get much playing time."
The Blackcats are led by 6-3 senior Wes Stevens, who averages close to 10 points per game. Senior Jared Quinton and sophomore Micah Reutzel both score nine points per game.
The youthful Blackcats have a roster dotted with sophomores and freshmen, making wins hard to come by.
"We struggled due to lack of mental and physical strength," said Reutzel. "We've gotten a lot better as the year has gone on. We have a tendency to play well against good teams for a half to three quarters."
But even though the Blackcats are extreme longshots to do much damage in the tournament, Reutzel isn't ready to quit just yet.
"I know we've won two ballgames but we have every intention of coming on Tuesday night and playing to win," said Reutzel. "We know our chances aren't good and we're a huge, huge underdog. But if I don't feel we can win then I shouldn't be in the business. If lower seeds couldn't beat higher seeds then we should go ahead and let New Madrid and Dexter play in the finals."