It’s Tournament Week for the city’s seven boys basketball teams, and one girls team. Highland Park’s girls head to Colby for the Orange and Black Classic. Meanwhile, the TPS 501 schools and Hayden take part in yet another Topeka Invitational Tournament while Seaman, Shawnee Heights and Washburn Rural trek to McPherson, Dodge City, and Basehor, respectively. Tournament Week is the unofficial halfway point of every season and as such provides a chance to take stock of what has happened on the hardwood so far and what each team must do to hit their stride down the stretch.
Hayden Wildcats – 3-5, 2-5 Centennial League
‘FIRST HALF’ HIGHLIGHTS: The Wildcats have proven they can play with anybody, as evidenced by their 50-47 road win over Topeka High back on December 17. When they dictate the game’s tempo and play good defense, highlighted by communicating, rotating, and drawing charges, they put themselves in position to win games. John Roeder and Cade Pavlik have been reliable shooting threats, and Noah Schneider has brought physical play on both ends in the post.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Vacarrio Triplett. His work at the point guard spot has allowed the Wildcats to do more to get looks for Roeder, and Triplett’s starting to find his own offensive game as well, as evidenced by his dozen points in their win over Seaman last Friday night.
PRIORITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT: The Wildcats must be able to score more consistently against a tough second-half schedule. Another upset or two will put them in good shape confidence-wise for the 4A sub-state rounds.
Highland Park Scots – 6-2, 4-2 Centennial League
‘FIRST HALF’ HIGHLIGHTS: After a three-win season last year in Mike Williams’ first season on the bench, the Scots have already doubled that number this season with some heart-stopping victories. They beat Topeka High at the Dungeon last Tuesday night for their most impressive win so far. CJ Powell and Juan’Tario ‘Scrap’ Roberts have emerged as a top 1-2 punch, with the silky-smooth Roberts able to score in a variety different ways and Powell proving a difficult matchup with his range and 6’7″ frame.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Donald Daniels. On a young team, Daniels’ senior presence has been valuable, as he’s chipped in with whatever the Scots have needed from him on any given night.
PRIORITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT: The Scots will look to continue to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season while also finding more options for scoring. If they get into the high-50s or 60s in points on a given night, they’re not likely to lose many of those games if they defend and take care of the ball.
Topeka High Trojans – 4-3, 2-2 Centennial League
‘FIRST HALF’ HIGHLIGHTS: It’s been an uneven start for the Trojans under first-year coach Eric King, but they’re starting to grasp the style and focus that King preaches. They’re the only team to beat Washburn Rural, taking them down in OT at The Dungeon on a night where King Sutton took over the game. With Sutton and Da’Vonshai Harden, the Trojans have big, strong, and quick players who can score inside and out, and on any given night the Esquibel brothers (Carlos and Isaiah) can erupt offensively as well.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Jalen Smith. His ball-handling and distributing makes him just the right fit on the floor with four other players that have their eye on the basket, and he’s also an eager defender.
PRIORITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT: It’s all about consistency for the Trojans – consistency of effort, consistency of focus, consistency of poise, and consistency on both ends of the floor. Few teams have as high a ceiling, and under a veteran coach like King, it’s not hard to imagine them reaching it in the second half of the season.
Topeka West Chargers – 4-2, 3-2 Centennial League
‘FIRST HALF’ HIGHLIGHTS: The Chargers are a talented bunch and their confidence has grown as the season has gone on. They’ve scored impressive home victories over Highland Park and Ottawa, and took Washburn Rural to the wire on the road. Tre Alexander is becoming one of the Centennial League’s best players and has the ability to take over games, while Elijah Brooks is an equally gifted scorer and Dre Durall’s physicality is the perfect fit for the team on the interior.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Marque Wilkerson. The junior is developing into a talented point guard, giving the Chargers another scoring option while being equally willing to set up his teammates.
PRIORITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT: Head coach Rick Bloomquist demands defensive excellence and unselfish play on the offensive end. If the Chargers can do those things on a nightly basis, they’re going to have a chance to stay in the Centennial League race all season long.
Topeka Invitational Tournament bracket:
Seaman Vikings – 0-7, 0-5 Centennial League
‘FIRST HALF’ HIGHLIGHTS: Highlights have been few and far between for the city’s only winless team, but the young Vikings have played hard each night as they’ve gained experience as a group. Injuries have proven costly as well. But the Vikings were within a basket of wins over both Lansing and Hayden, and it feels like they’re close to turning a corner.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Dagen Brewer. Brewer, the injured Ty Henry, and Kaden Bonner look like the backcourt of the future for Craig Cox. The first two are sophomores, and Bonner is a freshman. Brewer is a talented shooter who has carried more of the scoring load in Henry’s absence.
PRIORITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT: The growing pains the Vikings are going through weren’t unexpected with so little varsity experience. The Vikings have to cut down on turnovers and have more productive offensive possessions to match up with the quality defensive play you always expect from them.
McPherson Invitational Tournament bracket:
Shawnee Heights Thunderbirds – 4-3, 1-2 United Kansas Conference
‘FIRST HALF’ HIGHLIGHTS: Ken Darting’s T-Birds are 4-1 after an 0-2 start, and two of their three losses were tight into the final 30 seconds. But they’ve shown they can win some close ones too, in beating Lansing and Bonner Springs in down-to-the-wire affairs. They’ve got toughness in the likes of Harvey Davis Jr. and Marquis Barksdale, and their perimeter players are starting to get more space and confidence to fire away from distance.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Nasire Anderson. The 6’4″ senior post, who became eligible to start the second semester, changes the whole equation for the T-Birds. He is big enough to guard the post and score inside and he allows everyone else on the team, especially frontcourt players, to fit into roles that they are better suited for.
PRIORITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT: With more late-game composure, the T-Birds will start to find themselves more often on the right side of those tight contests. And if the three-ball starts to fall more reliably, they’ll have a chance to be more comfortably ahead in games as the clock ticks closer to 0:00.
Dodge City Tournament of Champions bracket:
Washburn Rural Junior Blues – 7-1, 5-1 Centennial League
‘FIRST HALF’ HIGHLIGHTS: Last season’s 6A runners-up don’t seem to have missed a beat despite many key losses from that squad. They’re winning games the same way – controlling tempo, defending well, and playing smart, composed offense. Wins over Highland Park and Topeka West at home last week showed their blueprint and kept them at the top of the league. Joe Berry is the city’s leading scorer and maybe their best defender too, and with Jack Hutchinson and Noah Krueger bombing away from outside, this team might be a better shooting team than last year’s 23-2 Centennial League co-champs.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Josh Williams. The junior point guard is proving to be clutch, saving his best work for OT against Highland Park and the fourth quarter against Topeka West.
PRIORITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT: Kevin Muff is still looking for the right mix in the post, and the eventual injury return of Drew Bortz will help, but everywhere else, this looks to be the most complete team in the city through the unofficial first half.
Basehor-Linwood Bobcat Classic bracket:
Highland Park Lady Scots – 3-6, 1-5 Centennial League
‘FIRST HALF’ HIGHLIGHTS: It’s been a struggle for this young, thin roster against the league’s heavyweights, but in every other game the Lady Scots have been competitive, and their road win over Junction City was a significant one for them. Dariauna Carter is a leader in every aspect for the team, showing the way from her point guard position.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Aisya Taylor. The sophomore post has given the Lady Scots a second scoring option this year.
PRIORITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT: The program as a whole hopes to develop more depth, and finding a seventh and eighth rotation player would be massive for Sanetra Jackson’s squad. Better ball control on offense will also be emphasized.
Orange and Black Classic bracket: