With the 68th annual Republic Bank Louisville Invitational Tournament set to tip off Monday at Valley High School, Ballard, Manual, Doss and Trinity are the top four seeds and the favorites to reach Saturday morning’s semifinals.
But if you’re looking for a dark horse that’s playing its best basketball of the season, consider Central.
The Yellowjackets (8-4) are the only team from Louisville to have defeated one of the top four seeds, having knocked off Manual 64-62 on Tuesday.
“This is not one of my better basketball teams — yet,” Central coach Doug Bibby said. “The 2009 team (state runner-up) had better chemistry and executed better. But this team has more pure basketball players. If I can get them to develop chemistry and keep practicing hard every day, we can make a run at the end of the season.”
The LIT will start at 3:30 p.m. Monday with Western (5-5) facing Butler (4-11). Second-round games are set for Tuesday and Wednesday, with quarterfinals on Friday and semifinals and the championship game (7:45 p.m.) on Saturday.
Central faces a tough opener against defending LIT champion Pleasure Ridge Park (12-3) at 5 p.m. Tuesday, but Bibby likes the way his team is playing.
The Yellowjackets suffered an embarrassing 75-36 loss to Manual — No. 3 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings – on Dec. 27 in the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic but are 3-1 since then.
They closed play in the Lexington Catholic tournament with a 56-39 win over Bullitt East and a 48-45 loss to No. 9 Covington Catholic. Then they avenged the loss to Manual on Tuesday as junior Dai’Von Thompson scored a team-high 19 points and followed it up with a 60-54 victory over Male on Friday.
How to explain the 41-point turnaround against Manual?
“The most consistent thing about high school kids is that they’re inconsistent,” Bibby said. “Whether it’s me or anybody else coaching, a lot depends on what side of the bed they wake up on.”
Thompson has been a consistent force for the Yellowjackets most of the season. The versatile 6-foot-3 Thompson has played all five positions and leads the team in scoring (16.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg).
Bibby said the key to Thompson’s game has been maturity.
“His biggest problem the last couple of years was that he’d turn it on and then turn it off,” Bibby said. “This year he’s starting to mature and not taking plays off in practice. … As he continues to do that, I think he can be one of the best players in the state.”
Other top scorers for Central are senior guard Brandon Johnson (13.7 ppg), sophomore guard Devin Firman (8.7 ppg) and junior guard Brandon Wells (8.4 ppg), a transfer from Waggener.
Senior Marshall Firman was expected to be a key player but has missed the past nine games with a dislocated knee. Bibby said he could return to play this week.
“That really hurt the team because he helped run the point, but we made a bad situation good because it made other guys step up,” Bibby said. “Those other guys are starting to execute better.”
Ballard (13-2) is the No. 1 seed for the LIT and enters with an eight-game winning streak, the longest of any team in the field. Senior guards Jalen Perry (23.1 ppg) and Anthony Eaves (16.8 ppg) comprise one of the top scoring tandems in the state.
No. 2 seed Manual (13-2) is led by senior Dwayne Sutton (25.1 ppg, 11.3 rpg). He has signed with North Carolina-Asheville.
Doss (12-2) is the No. 3 seed and has won six in a row. Senior guard Dujuanta Weaver (19.2 ppg) leads the Dragons in scoring.
Trinity (11-3) is the No. 4 seed but is No. 1 in the state in the Litratings. Senior Raymond Spalding, a 6-10 University of Louisville signee, leads the Shamrocks in scoring (11.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.6 rpg).
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.