SIKESTON - The 30th Annual Sikeston Invitational Tournament will kick off tomorrow at the Sikeston Field House.
Defending tournament champs and top-seeded New Madrid County Central will open up play with a first round game against No. 8 Cape Central at 5:30 p.m.
Following that game, No. 4 Sikeston will play No. 5 Blytheville at 7 p.m. and No. 2 Charleston will play No. 7 Kennett at 8:30 p.m.
In the other first round game, No. 3 Poplar Bluff will play No. 6 Doniphan.
Sikeston has already defeated Blytheville this year, winning 62-54 in the season-opener.
But Bulldog head coach Gregg Holifield knows that anything can happen in the tournament.
"It's going to be a really good tournament from top to bottom," said Holifield. "You've got New Madrid, who is as good as anybody in the state. And then your two through six seeds are very good teams. And on a given night Cape Central and Kennett can beat anybody. From one to eight it's about as good as it's going to get."
NMCC won the championship last year for the second year in a row when they defeated Poplar Bluff in the finals. The Mules haven't captured a Sikeston tourney championship since 1988.
"Until somebody beats (NMCC) they're definitely the favorite," said Holifield. "They return so many good players. They're going to have an outstanding team. There's no doubt about it, I think it's definitely one of the best tournaments. The first round matchups are unbelievable to me."
Last year, NMCC became the first top-seeded team to win the SIT since 1996.
Sikeston, which is 1-2 on the season, has reached the finals several times over the years, but they have only been able to win the tournament twice (1992 and 1994) in the last 20 years.
So is Holifield looking to pull off a stunning upset and win the tournament?
"We're realistic in what we want to accomplish," said Holifield. "Our plans are long-term, we want to be as good as we can by February, but you definitely want to come out and play well in your own tournament. We'd like to win two games at the least and have a chance to win it."
Charleston, which has dominated the tournament over the years, winning seven of nine championships at one point, hasn't won the SIT since 1997.
"It's the toughest tournament around, there's no doubt about it," said Charleston head coach Danny Farmer. "It's early in the year and we can use this as a measuring tool. We know those teams are great in that tournament. If we can play with them then our outlook will look a lot better. We're going to have to play a lot better than we did Tuesday night (against Dexter). If we can get it going then I think we could be competitive enough to play with anybody in the tournament. It's the same as always, there's eight very good teams in the tournament. Anything can happen."
The Blytheville Chickasaws are regulars in the tournament finals, but they haven't captured too many championships. They last won in 1998 when they defeated Sikeston. Their only other championship was in 1987, but they reached the finals four other times in that span.
"We always say it's the best tournament we play," said Blytheville head coach David Hixson. "The competition's great and they do a great job of running it. I think it may be as good as it's ever been top to bottom. Sikeston's got a great bunch and you know New Madrid's going to be fully loaded.
They may be a little rusty but it won't take them long to get in gear. Bluff's going to be there too. I think it's like any other tournament. You always have the favorites, but I think there'll be some upsets."