DEXTER -- Two of the area's best basketball teams collide this Friday when the Dexter Bearcats play host to the Poplar Bluff Mules.
Up to this point, both teams have lived up to their high preseason expectations.
Dexter is 5-0, with quality wins over Charleston, Sikeston, Notre Dame, Jackson and Twin Rivers.
Poplar Bluff is 7-1, losing to just New Madrid County Central in the championship game of the Sikeston Invitational.
They've beaten Potosi, Farmington, Park Hills Central, Blytheville, Kennett and Doniphan twice.
Considering every recent game between the two schools has been an epic battle, Friday's showdown might be the most high-profile game of the early season.
"Poplar Bluff is probably the biggest test we've faced so far," said Dexter coach Eric Sitze. "They're really athletic, and they play nine or 10 guys. They're going to defend us full-court, they're going to push the ball up the floor and they're going to rebound well. It's going to be a big test for us."
Last year Poplar Bluff handed Dexter an 83-75 loss in front of a crowd of 1,000 at the Black River Coliseum.
After an impressive first quarter using their patented full-court matchup zone press, the Bearcats seemed to run out of gas against the deeper and quicker Poplar Bluff team.
The Mules had six players finish in double figures, while the Bearcats relied on Brett Hale, who scored 40 in the loss. Dexter had played the night before while Poplar Bluff was idle.
"That was a Saturday game after a Friday game over there on the big floor," explained Sitze. "I hope we'll have a little more energy for them this Friday night."
The Bearcats have lost just two home games in two years. The last time they hosted Poplar Bluff, Dexter won a 102-92 shootout.
"We've had some pretty good battles back-and-fourth with Dexter the last couple of years," said Pattillo. "A lot of our kids know their kids and have played AAU ball with them in the past. It's a good rivalry."
Chris Carr is the most productive player on Dexter's team. The 6-foot-7 center is averaging 17 points through six games, and has been a force on defense as well.
"A kid his size makes it difficult around the basket," said Pattillo. "Shots are a little tougher because you know he's around. You may have to be six or seven feet open instead of three or four. He's a tough presence."
Chad Gill is the second leading scorer on the team, averaging 15 points per game. Other productive players include Chris Hyten (12 ppg), Matt Christian (10) and defensive specialist Matt Burnett (6).
While Dexter is undefeated against a quality schedule, they only played four impressive quarters against one team -- Sikeston.
"We're pretty athletic," said Sitze. "We're a little quicker than we were last year. Every once in a while we struggle handling the basketball, but we're working on getting our turnovers down. This team is up and down right now. We haven't found that consistency that we've had the last few years, but we're getting better."
Poplar Bluff has won its seven games with its rebounding ability, depth and defense. Junior guard Tony Webb is the best of the bunch, averaging 14 points per game.
"We are similar to Dexter in a lot of ways," explained Pattillo. "If we limit our turnovers and do a good job defensively, we've got a chance. I think we'll do a good job of getting to the basket and scoring, and rebounding and defense has been our strengths."
Also averaging 14 points a game for the Mules is surprising 6-foot-6 freshman Tyler Hansbrough. Other key contributors include forward Cheron Pearson (11 ppg) guard Brent Little (10), guard Desi Higgs (8) and center Ed McComb (7).
"Hansbrough is an exceptional player for a freshman," said Sitze. "He is as good as any junior or senior I've seen. Tony Webb has a lot of quickness and explosiveness, then they've got McComb inside and the Little kid. They're just an exceptional team. They guard you the whole game. They're well coached and they just keep coming at you. We can't let them control the boards on us. We're going to have to handle the basketball, take good shots and limit their opportunities."
Friday's junior varsity game will start at 6 p.m., followed by varsity tipoff around 7:30.