Indians enter tough Tournament of Champions field

By Joel Jellison

Manhattan High boys’ basketball coach Tim Brooks said senior guard Brandon Payne might be able to identify the Indians performance in the Dodge City Tournament of Champions two years ago as something that helped drive the team to the state tournament.

Brooks hopes this year’s tournament can give the team a similar boost.

“Brandon played on the team that went to state two years ago, and he can look back and see that TOC really helped us get to that point,” he said. “We battled really good teams, we battled Perry Ellis and we battled Will Spradling. You can take a lot from a tournament that will help you down the road.”

For the second time in two seasons, the Indians will travel to Dodge City to play in the TOC, and for the second straight season, they will face Hutchinson in a tournament.

Brooks said the game in last year’s McPherson Tournament between Hutch and Manhattan was a good one, and he expects some of the same when the teams open play on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in United Wireless Arena.

“With our draw, you never know what’s going to happen — last year was a good game that went right down to the wire,” he said. “I don’t think (Hutch) is quite as rugged as last year, but they’ve got more flow offensively and they do a couple different things defensively and they play tough man-to-man defense.”

Manhattan enters into that contest at 4-3 with its last game being a win over Junction City at home. Hutchinson is 5-3 with consecutive losses to Goddard Eisenhower and McPherson.

Brooks said this year’s tournament field, which includes No. 1-ranked Wichita Heights and a number of athletes who are committed to playing collegiate sports, is another tough one.

“We’re on that rotation with teams that are really good in Wichita Heights and Wichita East, and the field would have been even better if St. James Academy was totally healthy, but they don’t have their best player,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a great experience for our kids, but I think for us to get the total experience we have to win the first game, and then all the fun stuff happens.”

The Indians would play either the winner or loser of a game between Wichita East and Ulysses. Brooks said when the brackets were released last Wednesday, he was somewhat relieved to see they were avoiding Wichita Heights in the first round — the Indians’ opponent in 2010.

“You try to avoid them as much as you can, and I think it’s probably our turn to avoid them because there for a stretch we played them four times in two years,” he said. “We’ve seen our share of Wichita Heights, but Wichita East is good too, and when they’re on they can really light it up from the field. Both sides of the bracket are tough.”

A look into the bracket

Manhattan will face Hutchinson for the second straight year in a tournament opening game. The two teams met in McPherson last year and the Indians won a tight game.

Hutchinson played at the Tournament of Champions alongside Manhattan in 2010, but the teams did not cross paths.

Wichita East enters into the tournament with a 6-3 record, geared up to face 6-3 Ulysses.

The Aces have played a tough schedule that included a recent loss to Class 6A No. 1 Wichita Heights, 70-60. East has lost its last three games coming into the tournament.

Ulysses is 6-3 against a different level of competition, and broke a two-game slide with a 64-35 win over Colby last Friday.

St. James Academy will have its hands full when it faces off with No. 1 Wichita Heights on Thursday.

Heights includes KU signee Perry Ellis and Missouri State signee Gavin Thurman at the forward positions, and has built up an 8-0 record. The Falcons’ closest game this season was a 56-52 win over Wichita Northwest in the CatchItKansas Classic at Koch Arena.

St. James was hampered by major injuries early in the season, but has still managed to build a 5-5 record as it heads into the tournament. The Lenexa-based school currently has a five-game winning streak.

Western Athletic Conference rivals Dodge City and Hays will play the other tournament opening game. Dodge City is 4-4 as it enters the tournament it hosts.

The Red Demons have losses to a pair of teams in the tournament field, as they lost to Wichita East 59-31 to open the season and fell to Ulysses 44-40 in the final game of December. They are 3-1 in the month of January.

Hays enters in at 3-5 with back-to-back league losses to Garden City and Great Bend. The Indians lost to a common opponent of Manhattan’s in Junction City, 66-39.


New location

The tournament will be played in a new location this year, just the third different venue in the 69-year history of the TOC.

When Manhattan played in the tournament in 2010, the Indians played in the Dodge City Civic Center, a 2,500 capacity seat arena.

This time around, the tournament will be played in the new United Wireless Arena, which has a capacity of 5,500.

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