Varsity Kansas

Day 1: Tournament of Champions

4:00 p.m. – Manhattan controlled the first quarter, but Heights emerges with the lead, 14-11. The Indians came out in an extended 3-2 zone that left the Falcons trying to solve it the entire quarter. Heights never really cracked it, as it spent most of the time in the half-court dribbling and lofting skip passes too high to be effective. Most of Heights’ scoring came when it was able to penetrate the middle of the zone and either score on a floater or a kick-out. But that didn’t happen nearly enough and Manhattan has to feel pretty good about its defense. You can’t complain with a lead against a good team, but Heights will  need to play a bit better here to finish out this game.

3:46 p.m. – Heights will wear its home white uniforms and start Semaj Hervey (5’10 junior) and Arie Johnson (6’3 junior) in its backcourt with Ealy Bell (6’3 senior), Davon Gill (6’4 sophomore), and Cameron Ellis (6’6 junior) lining its frontcourt. Manhattan does not match up very well with the Falcons, so look for it to come out in zone and attempt to control the tempo of the game. Heights can’t fall victim to allowing this to happen, as it will be a challenge to play at the pace it wants to play, but it has to continue to run and try to score in transition. This could be a tricky game for Heights, but one I think it will handle.

3:20 p.m. – Hays improves to 10-0 with a 62-41 victory over Hutchinson to advance to the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions and will play the winner of Heights and Manhattan on Friday at 7 p.m. This game hovered around a 6-point and 14-point lead for most of the game for Hays, which put the game away by ending it on a 17-2 run when Hutchinson started pressing for a comeback. Hays was led by its 6-foot-7 junior, Brady Werth, who finished with 26 points on 8 of 12 shooting and 10 of 11 shooting from the foul line to go along with 12 rebounds and 4 blocks. I was also impressed by Lane Clark (14 points) and Kyler Niernberger (6 points, 7 assists). Hutchinson was led by Braydon Wells, who scored 8 points, led Hutch in rebounds (standing 5’6) with 6, and had 8 assists with only 1 turnover. He was great, and so was Kalen Hilst off the bench, scoring 15 points and connecting on three 3-pointers.

I will be fascinated to see how Hays does if it gets Wichita Heights in the semifinals tomorrow at 7 p.m. No doubt Hays is a great half-court team, but it hasn’t faced a team with the speed, quickness and length of Heights. The Falcons specialize in hurrying up opponents and taking them out of their comfort zone. Can Hays handle that type of pressure? I would love to find out because that would pit two of the best teams in Class 5A, and two of the most contrasting styles against one another.

3:08 p.m. – After having its lead challenged, Hays responds with a 5-0 spurt to replenish its lead to 50-39 with 3:29 remaining. The Indians have out-played Hutchinson in this game, but they never did produce that one run to put the game away. A good effort from Hays, but for a team that will move to 10-0, this was no better than a C+ effort.

3:01 p.m. – Give Hutchinson a lot of credit for sticking in this game. Hays has blown out several opponents in its undefeated season. While Hutchinson hasn’t seriously threatened the lead in this game, it hasn’t fallen out of reach, either. It hasn’t been just one player, but there’s no way you can watch this team play and not love the vigor Braydon Wells plays with. He’s a floor leader out there and is lucky if he measures up to his listed height at 5-foot-6.

2:37 p.m. – It’s always interesting to see Western Kansas teams such as Hays that have success out there to match up with other teams in the state. So far Hays has been good, but I’m not sure this is its best. The Indians own a 29-19 lead over an over-achieving Hutchinson team, but have shot a sub-par 36 percent from the floor and that’s even including a great 5 for 11 performance from the three-point line. This Hays team has a perfect make-up to make a run in the post-season, though. The Indians start four seniors, all of which with plenty of varsity experience, and their other starter, junior Brady Werth, is their best player. If their (likely) 10-0 record doesn’t tell you, then I’m telling you to keep an eye on this Hays team because it will be a factor in the Class 5A playoffs.

2:00 p.m. – Hays will start Kyler Niernberger (5’10 senior), Lane Clark (6’0 senior), and Jordan Windholz (6’0 senior) in its backcourt with Kade Parker (6’2 senior) and Brady Werth (6’7 junior) at its 4 and 5. Hutchinson will counter with Braydon Wells (5’6 senior), Radley Arnold (5’11 senior), and Trent Webster (6’4 junior) in its backcourt with the frontcourt consisting of Ryan Stoecklien (5’11 junior) and Jezel Parra (6’3 senior).