In the world of high school basketball, coaches tend to use Christmas as a dividing line of sorts. When teams get back on the court after the holidays, it gets real.
For Scott and Oneida, like high school basketball teams across the state, it gets real this week, as district jockeying begins in earnest in the run-up to postseason play next month.
Oneida was to have jumped back into District 3-A play on Tuesday, with a visit from Sunbright, and will travel to Rockwood tomorrow (Friday). For the Lady Indians, Tuesday’s game against Sunbright team marked the first meeting with the Tigers since Rusty Yaden’s team upset Oneida in the semifinals of the District 4-A tournament last year. Oneida, which would be considered a favorite to beat Rockwood to end the first week back, had won four consecutive games in district play going into Tuesday’s game.
The Oneida boys team finished the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule with a 3-2 district record after knocking off Coalfield and will learn much more about itself this week. Sunbright did not fare well over Christmas, losing five of six, but the Tigers were 8-5 before that, and have district wins over Oliver Springs and Midway. Rockwood, meanwhile, has an identical district record to Oneida, at 3-2, with wins over Sunbright and Wartburg.
On the boys’ side of District 3-A, Oneida would be considered the surprise of the 2017-2018 season to this point. At 3-2, the Indians are sitting in third place in league play, behind unbeaten Oakdale and one-loss Harriman. The Eagles were widely expected to win the district this season, while the Blue Devils are the defending state champions in Class A basketball.
Still, there is much to be sorted out in a league that consists of nine teams but can only send four to the regionals. How will Coalfield — which is currently 2-3 in district play and in sixth place — respond once Parker McKinney returns from injury this month? Can Oneida get the Wartburg monkey off its back, which will likely be necessary if the Indians are to advance beyond the district? It seems likely that some combination of Rockwood, Wartburg, Coalfield and Oneida will fill the last two slots in the district, after Oakdale and Harriman, though Sunbright is good enough to play the spoiler’s role.
On the girls’ side of the district, Wartburg seems to clearly be the best team. Unbeaten in league play at 6-0, the Bulldogs haven’t been seriously challenged yet, with an average margin of victory of a whopping 24 points. But with the exception of a setback against Oliver Springs, the Lady Indians have been impressive in their own right within the district, and entered this week tied with Sunbright for the No. 2 spot, just one game back of Wartburg. The Tigers’ lone loss came against Midway, which is fourth in the standings with losses to Oneida and Wartburg. The biggest question in District 3-A, perhaps, is whether Oliver Springs can knock one of those four teams out of a region tournament berth — and clearly the Bobcats are good enough to factor into that conversation, as Michelle Christopher’s team has already proven with a win over the Lady Indians.
Scott High’s schedule might be a bit more favorable as teams resume post-Christmas play, as the Highlanders will have an opportunity to ease back into district play. Scott will host Campbell County tomorrow before traveling to Knox Central on Saturday, and will not resume district play until traveling to Kingston on Jan. 12.
With only five teams in District 4-AA, there are fewer league games to be played, giving the Highlanders the luxury of plenty of “tune-up” games in between the ones that really matter.
Once district play finally resumes for Scott High in Roane County next week, it will be an especially important game for the Lady Highlanders. Kingston — which will face district foe Fulton earlier in the week — is currently third in the district, with a record of 1-1. The Yellow Jackets have a win over Austin-East and a loss to Fulton. The Lady Highlanders just happen to have a win over Austin-East and a loss to Fulton, though Scott has already faced Alcoa, a game it lost.
The surprise of District 4-AA thus far on the girls’ side has been Fulton, which has taken care of its business to sit atop the district with a 3-0 record as the season resumes. That includes a win over Kingston, which many viewed as the preseason favorite to win the league, though the Falcons have not yet faced Alcoa, which was considered to be neck-and-neck with the Yellow Jackets.
The goal for all teams in District 4 will be to get at least the three seed heading into the postseason, which avoids a first round play-in game and earns an automatic berth in the regionals.
On the boys’ side, Scott and Kingston’s Feb. 12 showdown will be a battle between two teams searching for their first district win, unless the Yellow Jackets are able to get past Fulton earlier in the week, which seems unlikely (Fulton won the first meeting by 34 points).
While the Highlanders have yet to win a game in league play, they’ve not been far off, showing they can hang with two of the top teams in the district in Fulton and Alcoa.
Currently, Austin-East sits atop the district with a 3-0 record. But the Roadrunners have not faced Alcoa, which has faced only Scott to this point. Fulton is 2-1, with its lone loss coming to A-E. Those three teams are certainly considered the frontrunners in the district, though there’s much sorting out to be done as the final weeks of the regular season play out.