Sunday, December 31, 2006

Looking back at the surprises of Christmas

It's hard to imagine anybody outside of Bell City predicting a Christmas tournament championship for the Cubs, but their performance at the Show Me Center this week was amazing. The Cubs came into the tournament at 4-4, then picked off three higher seeds - Scott County Central, Charleston and Jackson - for their first-ever title in the tournament. I've asked around, and nobody can remember the last time a team entered the tournament at .500 and left with a championship.

Besides being a huge boost for Bell City, the Cubs' win is a selling point for the tournament itself. It's the first time since 2000 that a small school has won it all. Bell City also becomes the fifth different winner in the past eight years, joining Notre Dame (2005), Jackson (2003, 2004), Charleston (2001, 2002), Advance (2000) and Scott City (1999) as champs.

The tournament will still catch flak for its format of scheduling eight mostly lopsided games on Day 1, even though it's a format that the majority of schools involved continue to vote for each year. But as long as underdogs walk out with a title the way Bell City did this year and the way Notre Dame did last year, a change in the format isn't likely.

Other tournament thoughts:

  • On the western edge of Southeast Missouri, Eminence had a surprise finish by reaching the title game of the holiday tournament at Cabool. Pete McBride's team was seeded eighth, then lost in a close championship game to Crocker and left with a 9-4 record. It's shaping up as a Bell City-Eminence final in the Class 1 District 2 tournament.

  • Besides Eminence, other surprises from the week of tournaments: Puxico was 3-1 and finished third at the Bloomfield tournament; Farmington was 3-1 after losing in the final at Park Hills; Advance was 3-1 and defeated Scott County Central for fifth place at Cape Girardeau; and Richland was seeded 16th and went 3-1 at Bloomfield to win the consolation title.

  • Teams that have to be disappointed with the week that was: Scott Central went 2-2 in the Cape tournament with losses to Bell City and Advance; South Iron lost twice at Park Hills after entering the tournament unbeaten; Sikeston went 1-2 at Dyersburg and is one game above .500; and eighth-seeded Hayti went 0-2 at Bloomfield.
  • Thursday, December 28, 2006

    How's this for a week of high school basketball?

    A big week of high school boys basketball is about to get even bigger when local teams tip off the first round of tournaments Thursday in Poplar Bluff and Dyersburg, Tenn., not to mention Thursday's semifinal showdowns at Bloomfield, quarterfinals at Park Hills and Cabool, and two more round-robin games at Saxony Lutheran. It all takes us closer to a big weekend, where we should know champions of each tournament by the end of the day Saturday.

    Check back throughout the day for updated scores from each tournament. Thanks to a lot of input from a lot of people, The Local Line ticker at the top of the home page has become the only source online with updated scores from all seven tournaments involving Southeast Missouri teams. And keep checking Mark Unterreiner's blog for the latest updates from the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament.

    A few thoughts on the games and tournaments so far:

  • The Poplar Bluff Showdown this week has the makings of one of the most balanced in its 20-year history. Poplar Bluff, which popped into this week's Top 20 poll at No. 20, drew one of the toughest first-round matchups against Union City, Tenn., which comes into Thursday's game at 13-1.

  • Scott County Central's loss to Bell City at the Show Me Center late Wednesday means that former co-workers Ronnie Cookson and Danny Farmer missed a chance to go head-to-head for the first time as boys basketball coaches. Cookson, who is filling in this season for David Heeb, coached the Braves' boys basketball team before retiring in 1995. Danny Farmer coached the girls team there before leaving for Charleston in 1997.

  • A surprisingly tough season for Sikeston hit another rough spot early Thursday with a nine-point loss to Brighton, Tenn., in the first round at the Dyersburg tournament. The Bulldogs, ranked No. 5 in the new Top 20 poll Wednesday, are 5-4 and owe losses to Blytheville, Ark., Charleston, Notre Dame and now Brighton.

  • And speaking of polls, look for a special Sunday edition of the Top 20 this week that will include all the results of this week's tournaments. With some of the games looming between now and Saturday, there could be a big shakeup ahead.
  • Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    North Texas hiring adds twist to the SEMO-McFerren debate

    It made for good message board fodder at the time, but opinions back in March and April ran heavily against the idea of Lennies McFerren replacing fired coach Gary Garner to lead the men's basketball program at Southeast Missouri State.

    The biggest knock against McFerren, whose teams won nine state championships at Charleston and New Madrid County Central, was that he was a high school coach who knew nothing about the college game, nothing about recruiting, nothing about the complexity of NCAA rules. Even though he expressed interest in the job, McFerren never made it to the interview process, and SEMO finally narrowed the field to Rod Barnes, Jay Spoonhour and the school's eventual choice, Scott Edgar.

    Whether you were for McFerren's hiring or against it, this news out of Texas might make you wonder if the people at North Texas know something about hiring coaches that we don't know.

    The Sun Belt Conference school on Tuesday hired a high school coach to lead its Division I football program. The coach: Todd Dodge, who led Southlake Carroll High School to three state championships. He's a former Texas quarterback and has led Carroll to a 77-1 record over the past five seasons. He's also a former USA Today coach of the year and was an offensive coordinator at North Texas in the 1992 season.

    His hiring already has message boards and the media buzzing throughout Texas, some against the idea, others for it. He's expected to bring along his son, a star QB on the Southlake Carroll team, after he graduates in 2008. He also coached Chase Daniel, now the QB at Mizzou.

    The fact that Dodge can win at the high school level is proven. He's 96-11 at Southlake Carroll and has his team poised to win another state championship this month. He's also likely to draw fans with an exciting style of offense.

    But opponents of McFerren's hiring at SEMO didn't doubt his credentials, nor did they question his ability to draw a crowd - they simply argued from the start that a high school coach can't handle a move to the college level. Period. North Texas, a school bigger than Southeast, doesn't agree.

    And that leads us back to the original question: Does North Texas know something about hiring coaches that Southeast doesn't?

    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    The area's first poll of the season has a familiar ring

    Our first weekly boys basketball poll of the season speaks volumes about the strength of the SEMO Conference.

    First is Sikeston. Charleston is second. Notre Dame is third. Fourth is Jackson.

    They're the top four seeds in this week's SEMO Conference Tournament and also Nos. 1-4 in our first Top 20 poll of the season. The rankings list the region's top 20 boys basketball teams and is down the right side of our home page.

    The rankings also show the strength of our region's smaller schools this season. Besides traditional powerhouse programs Charleston and Scott County Central, small schools -- including Clarkton, South Iron, Bell City, Puxico and Neelyville -- rank among the area's top 20, ahead of several of the biggest schools in Southeast Missouri.

    After you look at the poll, you'll have your own opinions. Who got left out? Who's overrated? Your input, along with the opinions of other local basketball enthusiasts, coaches and athletes, is taken into consideration each week before we come up with our top 20, so don't hold back. Click on our feedback page and send your thoughts, or e-mail me at