Indians open with Blue Valley West at Mac tourney

By Grant Guggisberg

The Manhattan High boys’ basketball team doesn’t have much size.

So far this season, the Indians have found ways of getting around this problem, whether it be through zone defense or using speed and quickness to negate other teams’ bigger players.

Against Blue Valley West in the tournament opener of the McPherson Invitational Tournament on Thursday, that challenge will be amplified.

“They have eight guys on their roster 6-foot-4 or taller, so they’re pretty big,” Indians’ coach Tim Brooks said. “They’ve got two 6-7 kids, one is a returning starter, Joey Lillis, and he’s pretty dang good. He had 19 on Friday.”

Stopping one tall player is doable, but the Jaguars will have a size advantage at several positions against the much smaller Indians. For Chris Hudgins, Payton Stephens and Manhattan’s other posts, staying out of foul trouble and finding ways to keep the Jaguars’ bigs out of their comfort zone is key.

“They almost run a triple post offense where they’re just trying to pound it in and those guys are screening for each other, which is going to be a challenge for us because of our height,” Brooks said. “But they’ve also got guys that can shoot it, so you can’t just pack it in.”

Blue Valley West (4-3) is seeded fifth in the tournament, with Manhattan earning the No. 4 seed. That means the winner of Thursday’s game will likely see undefeated Shawnee Mission East, ranked fourth in Class 6A and seeded No. 1 in the tournament. Brooks said his team isn’t looking past the Jaguars.

“We’d love to win Thursday and give ourselves a chance,” Brooks said. “But Blue Valley West is a monumental challenge for us, just because of their height.”

Maize comes in as the No. 8 seed, facing SM East right off the bat. Second-seeded McPherson gets Lawrence Free State in its first game, while No. 3 Wichita Heights and sixth-seeded Hutchinson square off in the first round as well.

“Shawnee Mission East is really good,” Brooks said. “We noticed that Maize has only won two games, but they played Emporia to within 10 or 12, so they’re going to be good too, regardless of their record.

“McPherson on the other half has only lost one game, and that was to a Kansas City, Missouri, team who’s pretty good. So it’s a tough field, again.”

Manhattan tips off against Blue Valley West at 3 p.m. on Thursday. Should it win, the Indians play at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. If they lose, they’d play at 3 p.m. again on the consolation side of the bracket.

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