What’s not to love about the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament? Since 1947, it’s been Davids against Goliaths, small schools and nice guys trying to throw upsets and take down the big boys.
But talk about a complete role reversal today for Sean Williamson, the Glendale High School boys’ basketball coach who also, in essence, is my column’s guinea pig today as I advocate for an another change in the tournament format.
You probably remember Williamson well from Christmas weeks past. Two years ago, his Falcons won the Gold Division. Just four years ago, his Spud Harbor-led Falcons reached the Blue Division championship game.
Today, however, his Falcons will be trying not to be Swiss cheese.
That is, against Nixa, the former small school that’s now a Class 5 power and everybody’s favorite and for good reason — the Eagles are the No. 1 seed, besides being one of the state’s best teams and with a legit NCAA Division I recruit in Jalen Norman.
It’s a rematch of two weeks ago … and it wasn’t pretty. Nixa won by 30. Today, they tip off at 9:30 a.m. at JQH Arena.
The Blue and Gold “is dear to my heart because I was a player at Nixa, back when it was a small school and we wore short-shorts,” Williamson said, relaying a story he told in the locker room Wednesday to his team, one that last year won 18 games but then lost nine key players.
“Ironically, my junior year we beat Glendale to win the championship. And my senior year, we beat Kickapoo in one of the championships — in one of the biggest crowds to ever have been in Hammons Student Center,” Williamson said. “So I feel a little bad for our team. We have a young team.”
So here’s the deal today: If Nixa plays as advertised again, Glendale is done in the Blue and Gold. Two games and out. Even though the Falcons won their opener against Buffalo, 61-51, on Wednesday at Hammons Student Center.
Or, if Glendale throws the upset, Nixa is left to be nothing more than a spectator, meaning a tradition-rich tournament that has gone on since 1947 will continue this week without arguably its best box-office draw.
And yet first-round losers Wednesday could camp out here through Saturday.
“I’m not real happy about playing a Springfield school in the second round, but that’s what the tournament committee wanted,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said. “They’ve struggled at times this year, but it’s not like they’re a pushover.”
At that point, Osborne floated this idea, and one I agree with — a true double-elimination tournament.
You don’t penalize a Blue and Gold team for one loss. (Double-elimination is the setup this week in the Pink and White Lady Classic.)
Mostly, it’s a way to keep teams around like this year’s Glendale — or Nixa, should a couple of the standout Eagles fall ill overnight and can’t play in today’s second round. As the tournament inches deeper into the week, teams with talent are worth watching and should be rewarded, as should fans.
“It’s a lot better than what it was,” Osborne conceded of the current format.
Tournament director Kent Hedgpeth last year implemented a two-game guarantee in the Blue and Gold, with first-round losers also given a chance to win three other games in the consolation bracket. Athletic directors and coaches signed off on this format again, he said.
But the Blue and Gold should consider true double-elimination event.
Yet asked about doing just that, Hedgpeth balked.
He has his reasons, many of them valid. Atop his list is a concern for the (non-)competitiveness of a second-round loser.
“We feel it’s a psychological letdown (for a team) to not get in the final four and go back to the loser’s side,” Hedgpeth said.
Maybe, but I dunno. I guess I’m thinking from a fan’s perspective.
Glendale is a better draw than some of the teams trying to make it through the back door, a haven for teams that, in Wednesday’s opening round, struggled to score 35, 32, 22 and 23 points.
Williamson’s Falcons, sure, are 5-6. But they’ve played a tough-as-nails schedule and feature one of the area’s top players, 6-foot-4 wingman Cameron Maes.
But that’s just my two cents.