With Pinnacle Bank Arena about to be the new home of the finals, is it time to take high school gyms out of the high school state basketball tournament experience?
Next year would be an ideal starting point to add a fourth day to the state tournaments so all 48 teams, boys or girls, could play in either Pinnacle or the Devaney Center. Devaney will be a nice step up from Pershing Center, although the downtown facility still could be available for use in 2014.
In almost every sport, except volleyball, state tournament sites are the premier venues available: Memorial Stadium for the state football finals, CenturyLink Center for wrestling, the Smith Complex in Hastings for softball, Burke Stadium for track and field.
It’s why the state soccer tournament stretches out for six days, so all matches can be played on the Morrison Stadium field at Creighton University. It’s why the state baseball tournament will use Werner Park in Papillion and Haymarket Park in Lincoln, getting more games on the best diamonds.
Aren’t Class C-2, D-1 and D-2 teams, and their fans, getting shortchanged when their first-round games are in one of the six Lincoln public high school gyms? These are their biggest games of the season to date, and they’re in gyms hardly different from where district finals were played.
Hospitality is the one advantage for the high schools. Lincoln schools make you feel at home — and their concessions are much more reasonably priced than at the arenas. Free parking, too.
Interesting fact: Among Nebraska’s border states, only Missouri uses high school gyms in the quarterfinals of its state championships — because only four teams in each class go to Columbia for the semifinals and finals.
Here’s one way to set up a four-day tournament:
>> Anchor Class A to Wednesday and Class B to Thursday to maximize use of Pinnacle. Most Class A qualifiers are from the metro areas and could go home after Wednesday’s first round and return if they’re in the Friday semifinals.
>> Assign C-1 and D-2 to Wednesday and C-2 and D-1 to Thursday for girls, and reverse those days for the boys. That would let each class each year have a three-day stay and a four-day stay.
The Nebraska School Activities Association in the coming months will consider keeping the present schedule or exploring at least two more formats for the 2014 tournaments. One is the four-day, two-site schedule. The other is keeping a three-day schedule, but giving each class its own first-round site — moving Class C-1 from Pershing (Devaney) to a high school — and starting those games in the afternoon rather than 9 a.m.
For us to find out what they prefer, boys and girls head coaches have been contacted by email for their input on tournament formats. They also are being asked about the merits of the proposed 40-point rule that would speed up blowout games.
On to this year’s tournament, which seems much more unpredictable than last year. Going 6-for-6 in 2012 was a personal first. I’d settle for two of six this time around to start a new winning streak against girls rater Mike Patterson, who tabbed only Crofton correctly last week in the girls tourney.
Omaha Central can join Lincoln Northeast (1995 to’ 98) as the only four-time Class A champions. What team can derail the Eagle Express?
Should it get past Millard West, Omaha Benson would be an intriguing semifinal opponent since it didn’t have Central on its schedule. The Bunnies are next year’s likely preseason No. 1.
Omaha South is favored to get a finals rematch with Central. The Packers in the semifinals could need to beat Papillion-La Vista for the third time this season, but the Monarchs have a first-round test with a Lincoln Southeast team that caught fire in districts. Don’t rule out the Knights as bracket-shredders.
First round: Omaha Central over Papillion-La Vista South, Omaha Benson over Millard West, Omaha South over North Platte, Papillion-La Vista over Lincoln Southeast. Semifinals: Central over Benson, South over Papio. Final: Central over South. Sleeper: Southeast.
All eight teams should harbor hopes of a title as they dock in Lincoln.
Scottsbluff is the defending champion, but first-round opponent Aurora played a stronger Bearcat team last year to three points in a first-round loss.
Ralston has split with South Sioux City and Gretna has an overtime win over Waverly.
I’ll go with the highest-ranked teams on either side of the bracket, so the call is for Scottsbluff to beat Elkhorn South in the finals.
First round: Ralston over South Sioux City, Elkhorn South over York, Scottsbluff over Aurora, Waverly over Gretna. Semifinals: Elkhorn South over Ralston, Scottsbluff over Waverly. Final: Scottsbluff over Elkhorn South. Sleeper: Gretna.
Wahoo got no favors as the No. 1 seed, drawing Lincoln Christian as its opening opponent. The winner should go on to the title.
Boone Central/Newman Grove could be in the finals after getting there in football, too.
First round: Wahoo over Lincoln Christian, Wayne over Adams Central, Boone Central/Newman Grove over Kearney Catholic, Gibbon over Kimball. Semifinals: Wahoo over Wayne, Boone Central/NG over Gibbon. Final: Wahoo over Boone Central/NG. Sleeper: Lincoln Christian.
Sutton and Freeman appear to be the best of this class, although Southern Valley might be capable of spoiling a third meeting this season between Sutton coach Steve Spongberg and his former player, Freeman coach Jim McLaughlin.
First round: Sutton over Crofton, North Platte St. Patrick’s over Hartington Cedar Catholic, Freeman over Fremont Bergan, Southern Valley over Norfolk Lutheran. Semifinals: Sutton over St. Patrick’s, Freeman over Southern Valley. Final: Sutton over Freeman. Sleeper: Bergan.
Paxton and Howells-Dodge are positioned for a possible matchup of unbeatens in the finals, but this is a strong field.
Paxton’s path of an Arapahoe five with 6-foot-7 Stefan Milovanovic and then high-scoring High Plains in the semifinals could sideline the top-ranked Tigers prior to the finals.
First round: High Plains over O’Neill St. Mary’s, Paxton over Arapahoe, Howells-Dodge over Johnson-Brock, Burwell over Kenesaw. Semifinals: Paxton over High Plains, Howells-Dodge over Burwell. Final: Paxton over Howells-Dodge. Sleeper: St. Mary’s.
The bottom half of the bracket is stronger, including two-time defending champion Giltner. The Hornets should get back to the finals after two grueling games, but the title pick is Spalding/Spalding Academy. The Knights’ only losses have been to O’Neill St. Mary’s and Burwell.
First round: Leyton over Wauneta-Palisade, Spalding/Spalding Academy over Wausa, Giltner over Wynot, Falls City Sacred Heart over Sterling. Semifinals: Spalding/SA over Leyton, Giltner over Sacred Heart. Final: Spalding/SA over Giltner. Sleeper: Sterling.
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