The 2016 BlueCross Basketball Championships get underway Wednesday morning at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center, where nine area teams will be vying for TSSAA state championships.
Here’s a look at what to expect over the next four days.
Three Midstate squads — Blackman, Hillsboro and Station Camp — have advanced to this week’s eight-team Class AAA field, and each will bring different degrees of state tournament experience with them.
For Blackman, the state’s lone remaining unbeaten team, closing out a season at Murphy Center has become business as usual.
The top-ranked Blaze, coming off a 69-39 sectional win over Bradley Central, will be making their fifth straight state quarterfinal appearance when they square off with District 1-AAA and Region 1-AAA champion Science Hill on Wednesday at 1:15 p.m.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is it’s been five straight years with three totally different teams,” Blackman coach Barry Wortman said. “Most of the guys from last year are back this year. I feel like that’s helped us in terms of the unknown. We’ve got a routine that we’ve stuck with over the years. But that sure doesn’t help us when we tee it up with Science Hill.”
“It means a lot,” added junior Donovan Sims, an MTSU commitment. “It gives us a lot of confidence and a boost going into there. We play there a lot during the summer too. So we know the gym well.”
Blackman, which suffered a 58-43 semifinal defeat to eventual champion Hamilton last season, is led by District 7-AAA MVP Christian DeWitt, a versatile 6-foot-4 forward who is averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game.
Between DeWitt, seniors Cedriontis Wilson (14.2 ppg), Jarrell Reeves (7.7) and Deonte’ Alley (7.3), along with Sims (5.8), the District 7-AAA and Region 4-AAA champion Blaze can score from all over the floor.
Hillsboro (21-7), which won both District 12-AAA and Region 6-AAA tournament titles, doesn’t have quite as much state tournament experience on its roster, but having reached Murphy Center three of the last four seasons, don’t expect the Burros to be unprepared in Wednesday’s 2:35 p.m. quarterfinal against Memphis East (29-2).
Senior forward Thomas Smith, who knocked down a 35-foot buzzer beater to take down Independence in the Region 6-AAA championship, averages a team-leading 16.7 points and 8.8 rebounds for the Burros, while Darius Ferguson (10.8) and Kobe Reeves (10.0) are also scoring in double-figures.
“This year most of the kids that are going to be playing played a lot last year,” Hillsboro coach Rodney Thweatt said. “They experienced it and understand the venue, the schedule and all the things that make the state tournament what it is.
“It gives us a little bit more calmness and understanding going in this time.”
Station Camp, on the other hand, will make its first state tournament appearance when the District 9-AAA and Region 5-AAA champion Bison (35-1) take on David Crockett in Wednesday’s 11:30 a.m. quarterfinal.
“Last year was a pretty good year,” said Station Camp coach Seth Massey, whose 30-5 squad suffered a sectional defeat to eventual runner-up Brentwood last season. “But the thing that we have this year is a lot of unselfish kids that don’t care who gets the credit, and they have the experiences gained over the last couple of years.”
Junior forward Kody Eden averages a team-high 11.6 points for Station Camp, while senior guard Keaton Dotson (11.2), senior forward Yalen Reed (10.5) and junior guard Chase Freeman (10.4) also help lead a balanced Bison attack.
A pair of area schools — Marshall County and Whites Creek — will also gun for a gold ball in Murfreesboro, but both teams are a bit under the radar.
Whites Creek, which is making its first state tournament appearance since 2007, suffered 10 regular-season losses before reeling off five of six en route to a District 10-AA championship, a Region 5-AA runner-up finish and a thrilling sectional victory over state-tournament mainstay CPA in last week’s sectional.
Marshall County, meanwhile, which has suffered a tournament-high 14 losses this season, punched its state tournament ticket with a surprising 56-54 sectional win over Maplewood and Class AA Mr. Basketball Bo Hodges.
Marshall County (17-14) will take on Fayette-Ware (24-8) in Thursday’s 1:15 p.m. quarterfinal, while Whites Creek (21-11) plays Westview (27-3) at 6 p.m.
In Class A action, Nashville Christian (22-9), which snapped a 35-year state-tournament drought with last week’s 68-40 sectional win over Loretto, will square off with Van Buren County (27-5) in Wednesday’s 4:30 p.m. quarterfinal.
Middle Tennessee Christian (21-9), making its first state tournament appearance in school history, will play Mitchell (30-7) on Thursday at 10 a.m., while Clay County (31-2), led by Class A Mr. Basketball finalist Tyreke Key, takes on Hampton (28-6) at 11:30.