Each week, The Herald-Whig sports staff will debate a pertinent topic. Here is this week's question:
"Which prep boys basketball team will be the last one standing?"
Matt Schuckman, Sports Editor
Cody Hildebrand and his Payson Seymour teammates have given fans reason to take notice all season long, but it wasn't until late January that I became a true believer.
When the Indians traveled to Warsaw on Jan. 19 and knocked off West Hancock by three points, Payson Seymour went from being a regional contender to a state contender in my eyes.
To make a run, especially a run to Peoria, you have to learn to win in hostile environments against teams as good as you or better in some regards. The Indians won't see many teams with a scoring threat better than West Hancock's Paxton Harmon. Nor will they run into teams more fundamentally sound defensively than a Reno Pinkston-coached squad.
More importantly, Payson can score.
The Indians proved that when Hildebrand dropped 41 points in the season opener. He has three games of more than 30 points since. That includes a 31-point night at Pittsfield, where scoring typically is at a premium. If teams gameplan to take Hildebrand out of the flow, the Indians have plenty of other weapons.
Jake Voss, Lance Buhlig and Dalton Edwards have each been among the team's leading scorers. The combination of scoring depth and quickness allows the Indians to push the pace when they can and make teams play at their tempo.
Getting out of the regional won't be easy, certainly not with second-seeded Liberty and a scrappy Griggsville-Perry bunch looming. Should the Indians hoist the regional plaque, don't expect it to be the last one they get this postseason.
Blake Toppmeyer, Sports Writer
For me, this one's simple. The Canton Tigers have been the best team in the area -- at least in terms of relation to others in their own class -- all season.
They're 23-1, ranked No. 4 in Missouri Class 2 and will be the last team standing from our area.
Canton has a couple things going for it. No. 1, it has experience.
Seniors Austin Hoewing and David McReynolds and juniors Brandon Berhorst and Tyler Niemann combine to give the Tigers a battle-tested contingent that should be able to stand the test of any crunch-time situations they might face in the postseason.
Secondly, Canton has a pretty good draw. The Tigers are the top seed in the Class 2 District 5 tournament and already beat the district's second seed, South Shelby, 65-50 earlier this season. If Canton advances out of districts, it likely would face Cairo Northeast in the sectional. That would be a tough matchup, but Canton beat Cairo, ranked No. 9 in Class 2, 66-60 in the La Plata Invitational.
A win there would put the Tigers in the quarterfinals, likely against Salisbury. That might be the end of the line, but even if it is, I don't think there will be any other boys teams in the area that will be able to say they were among the final eight teams in their class.
Josh Rizzo, Sports Writer
West Hancock needed a culture change. A stunning fourth-quarter collapse against Payson Seymour in January provided it. Since then, Reno Pinkston's squad has run off eight consecutive wins to end the regular season.
The Titans are hosting a regional and will be determined to bring back their first title since the 2007-08 season. The Titans (24-5) have an experienced group that has gotten better as the season has gone along. West Hancock lost to Quincy Notre Dame by 39 points in November, regrouped and beat the Raiders by six the second time they played.
Paxton Harmon, a 6-foot-5 senior swingman, is one of the area's best players and has shown an ability to take over games. Parker Gibbs, a 6-5 senior forward, has developed into a stout defensive presence underneath and has taken on tough assignments, routinely matching up against the opposing team's best interior players.
Coy Dorothy, Trevor Knipe and Austin Hardy also have made key contributions. As long as the Titans maintain their defensive discipline and avoid any fourth-quarter collapses, West Hancock is in good position to make a deep run into the postseason.