Town Crier Sports Staff
Believe it or not, the 2005-2006 high school basketball season is quickly winding down. It seems like yesterday that basketball was just beginning. But after this week's final non-conference slate of games, the 3AA North Conference District Tournament will kick off Monday Feb. 13 at Marmaduke and will be culminated by the championship game on Saturday Feb. 18.
The coaches from the 3AA North Conference met Saturday to draw up this year's bracket and determine the seeding of each team. Regular season champion Buffalo Island Central, which claimed their fourth straight league title, finished the season undefeated in conference play and drew the number one seed and with it an automatic bid to the Regional Tournament. The Mustangs are led by high scoring South Alabama signee Brooks Taylor. BIC is the defending District Tournament champion and comes into the tournament as the obvious favorite. Their only loss to a league team came in the NEA Tournament against Riverside. But the Mustangs boast an experienced supporting cast to surround Taylor which includes seniors Derek Rolland, Cord Rose, Hunter Smith, and Eric Wallace, making the task of dethroning BIC a difficult one. If the bracket plays out according to the seedings, BIC will face either Walnut Ridge or arch-rival Riverside in the semi-finals.
Maynard, who finished 12-2 in conference play, garnered the number two seed and the conference's other automatic regional bid. The Tigers only two conference defeats came at the hands of league champion BIC. Maynard is led by senior twins Mark and Adam Blackwell as well as another pair of talented seniors in Nathan Barber and Trent Melton. The Tigers hold the advantage of having swept Bay, Walnut Ridge, and Riverside.
The Bay Yellowjackets and the surprising Walnut Ridge Bobcats picked up the third and fourth seeds respectively and were rewarded with first round byes. Six foot two junior Garrett Bollinger along with sharp shooting senior guard Seth Southard lead Bay (20-9, 9-5). The Yellowjackets held a 19 point lead on league champion BIC at Monette earlier in the season before seeing the Mustangs come back to pick up the win. Bay has dropped three games to Maynard, but all three games came down to the wire. The Jackets own a season sweep over both Riverside and Walnut Ridge, but could face host Marmaduke in the quarter-finals with a trip to the regionals on the line. The two teams split during the regular season with the Greyhounds winning the most recent meeting 76-50 Tuesday night at Marmaduke.
Walnut Ridge may be the league's hottest team. The Bobcats started the season 1-8 but have won nine of their last 13 games, including the Lawrence County Invitational Tournament Championship, where they knocked off a tough Sloan Hendrix team. The Bobcats also hold a pair of victories over Riverside and took BIC to the wire last week before falling by four. Walnut Ridge (10-12, 6-8) seems to have new life with interim coach Ray Scott, a long time veteran of the game who came out of retirement to coach his grandson, Chris Logan. Logan is one of the key components of the recent Bobcat success along with teammates Seth Chamblee, Adam Hufstedler and Cameron Kelly.
Riverside very well could be the strongest fifth seed in tournament history. The Rebels (22-10, 6-8) are the reigning Northeast Arkansas Invitational Tournament Champions as well as the Williams Baptist Tournament and Gerald Jennings Tournament Champions. The Rebels finished the Christmas break with an 18-3 record including a win over BIC, but fell into a deep slump in January, dropping seven of nine games before sweeping a pair of contests last week. Riverside will depend on the inside play of 6'7" sophomore Glen Graham as well as the outside games of senior point guard Tyler Timms, junior Jordan Adcock, and sophomore sharp shooter Garrett Weaver. The Rebels have received an offensive boost of late from senior guard M. J. Emery, who scored 12 points in the win over Marmaduke. If the Rebels get past Rector in Monday's first round game, they will meet Walnut Ridge in the quarter-finals with a chance for revenge but more importantly a trip to the regionals on the line. Which Rebel team shows up will determine whether Riverside makes a run at the championship or makes an early exit.
Sixth seeded Marmaduke (16-16, 5-9) will meet seventh seeded Piggott in a first round game. The host Greyhounds feature a deep squad led by Nathan Haynes and Trent Smith. Sophomore Chris Foresythe provides offensive fire power off the bench with his three point accuracy. Marmaduke will have the advantage of the home crowd as well as the momentum of a recent victory over third seeded Bay. With a victory over Piggott, Marmaduke would face the Yellowjackets again with a trip to the regionals weighing in the balance.
All in all, this year's 3AA North Conference District Tournament has the makings of one of the most exciting and entertaining tourneys in recent years.