An impressive 7-0 start to the season, along with a No. 1 rating in Class B as defending state champions, earned the Scottsbluff boys basketball team the top seed for next week’s Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference Tournament.
The tournament, which annually features a talented field of Class A and B teams, will be held Dec. 27-29 in Columbus.
It’s the first time that the Bearcats have been tabbed the top seed in the six seasons of Tony Siske’s tenure as Scottsbluff’s head coach. The tournament seeding is determined by the rankings of each team’s coach.
“It’s nice they recognize that we’ve got a good basketball team,” Siske said. “I think the fact that we’ve done well in the GNAC Tournament the last few years, and obviously what we accomplished last year, and the start we’re off to this year played a part in our seeding.”
Scottsbluff will open the tournament against host Columbus on Thursday, Dec. 27 at 6:15 p.m. The Discoverers, who recently moved down to Class B after competing in Class A for years, are off to a 0-7 start this season. Five of Columbus’ seven losses have come against Class A competition.
Even with the huge discrepancy in records, Siske said the Bearcats certainly won’t be looking past their winless first-round opponent.
“We played them last year when we were the two seed and they gave us a good game that went right down to the wire,” Siske said. “I think our kids know that their record is kind of misleading because they play such a tough schedule. They’re always a team that’s going to come out and compete hard.”
The Scottsbluff-Columbus winner will meet the No. 4 Kearney (4-3)-No. 5 Norfolk (1-5) winner in the semifinal round on Friday, Dec. 28. The first-round games on the other side of the bracket feature No. 2 McCook (5-1) vs. No. 7 Lexington (2-3) and No. 3 North Platte (4-2) facing No. 6 Hastings (3-2).
Siske believes this year’s tournament field is as balanced as ever.
“I think this year it’s the most wide open it has ever been,” Siske said. “McCook, North Platte, Kearney and Hastings are all playing really well. Norfolk doesn’t have a great record, but they are always a very good team. I think we have a pretty tough draw with Columbus as the eighth seed. Going on the road as the one seed and playing the host school after driving all day is going to be tough.”
No team in the tournament is playing quite as well as the Bearcats. Scottsbluff already has a pair of tournament championships on its resume after capturing titles of the Western Conference Invitational Tournament and in Gillette, Wyo.
One of the Bearcats’ most impressive wins came in Gillette when Scottsbluff rallied in the fourth quarter to knock off Campbell County, the No. 1 team in Wyoming’s largest 4A Class. Scottsbluff also posted a solid 65-52 win over state rated Omaha Skutt Catholic in the opening weekend.
Scottsbluff’s most recent victory was registered on Friday in Chadron. The Bearcats managed to put down the Cardinals’ upset bid and escape with a 52-49 win. The fast start has pleased Siske.
“I’m extremely pleased with our record, but I think we need to keep improving as a basketball team,” Siske said. “The thing that’s pleased me the most is our ability to find ways to win. We’ve had a lot of different kids step up and we’ve had to use different styles to win games. I really like the way these guys are playing and I like the way they practice. I just think we’re going to continue to improve.”
Scottsbluff has won 14 straight games dating back to last season’s magical run to a state championship.
The Bearcats have managed to keep that streak in tact early this season while battling the pesky injury bug. Senior guard Matt Klein hasn’t played a single minute of game action after breaking his wrist during the first day of practice. Most recently the Bearcats have played without the services of leading scorer Michael Hadden, who suffered an ankle injury in Gillette causing him to miss the team’s last three games. Hadden is expected back for the GNAC Tournament, while Klein will return to action after the first of the year.
In their absence, Scottsbluff has been picked up offensively by the steady scoring output of Eric Moreno and Taylor Winkler. Both players ignited for 21 points each in the Bearcats’ road win over Chadron. Moreno, Scottsbluff’s leading three-point shooter, has tallied multiple 3-pointers in nearly every game this year. He sank six against the Cardinals.
Even though the Bearcats have been perfect through the first quarter of the season, Siske knows there is plenty of room for improvement.
“We have to continue to get tougher as a basketball team,” he said. “Defensively, we have some areas we need to improve on. Offensively, with the style we’re playing this year, the kids have to be more aggressive. I want to see them become even more aggressive and attack the basket more.”
Scottsbluff last won the GNAC title in 2008. Last season the Bearcats finished runner-up after falling to Norfolk 77-70 in the championship game.
Because of the competition it offers, the tournament is one Siske looks forward to every year.
“We place a lot of importance on every single game, but what I like about this tournament is we get to see some really good teams,” he said. “It’s a tough field every year. You have a good mix of Class A and Class B schools. We like to play the Class A schools and see where we stack up.”
In the girls division of the GNAC Tournament, Scottsbluff received the eighth seed. The Bearcats, who are still in search of their first win of the season at 0-5, will take on top seeded Norfolk in the first round on Thursday, Dec. 27 at 4:30 p.m.
Boys First Round
No. 1 Scottsbluff (7-0) vs. No. 8 Columbus (0-7), 6:15 p.m.
No. 4 Kearney (4-3) vs. No. 5 Norfolk (1-5), 2:45 p.m.
No. 2 McCook (5-1) vs. No. 7 Lexington (2-3), 6:15 p.m.
No. 3 North Platte (4-2) vs. No. 6 Hastings (3-2), 2:45 p.m.
Girls First Round
No. 1 Norfolk (4-2) vs. No. 8 Scottsbluff (0-5), 4:30 p.m.
No. 4 North Platte (2-4) vs. No. 5 Columbus (2-5), 1 p.m.
No. 2 McCook (6-1) vs. No. 7 Hastings (0-5), 4:30 p.m.
No. 3 Kearney (4-3) vs. No. 6 Lexington (1-4), 1 p.m.