Published Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:32 am
BASKETBALL
Metro teams chasing Central as holiday tournament begins

They pulled last week for Omaha Central.

Now Metro Conference boys basketball coaches are back to finding ways to stay with the Eagles, starting with the league's holiday basketball tournament that starts Friday at Millard South.

Central went 1-2 at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., as the first team from Nebraska to play in the elite event. The two losses, each by three points, were to the new Nos. 3 and 4 teams in the MaxPreps national rankings, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly and Chicago Whitney Young, respectively.

The losses cost Central (5-2) its No. 13 ranking in the MaxPreps list. However, in the ESPN 25 rankings the Eagles vaulted from 22nd to 14th. Poly is fifth and Whitney Young sixth.

“I was excited for them,” Papillion-La Vista coach Jason Ryan said. “It's definitely a good sign for Omaha and the state. Central should be awfully proud of what they accomplished and deserve all the recognition they receive.

“They seem to be playing well together and it should be fun to watch them play. But everybody else is trying to get to the point to be competitive with them and maybe have a shot at them.”

Omaha Bryan coach Tim Cannon, whose team at the 2012 state tournament came within four points of the Eagles, said Central's national status should be added incentive for its instate competition the rest of the season.

“It's always going to be a tough thing for Central emotionally because you know others are getting up for you. I think that's how they were for that tourney last week,” Cannon said. “When we just about had them last year. Central didn't look like its typical self. It maybe wasn't all that there emotionally.

“It's even tough for them this week when they play four games in the Metro tournament, then how's it going to be the next week when it's back to normal.”

Central's first game in the golden anniversary edition of the holiday tournament is at 4:30 p.m. Friday against Omaha Northwest (2-4).

One of the favorites to be in the Metro final, on the other side of the bracket from Central, is Ryan's Papio team. The Monarchs (7-0), Omaha South (7-0) and Bellevue West (6-0) are the last three unbeaten teams in the Metro and Class A.

Papio could have to play Bellevue West in the quarterfinals and Omaha South in the semifinals to win its first Metro holiday title or make its first final in 20 years. Icepacked roads have nothing for treachery on that route, which begins with the tournament's opening game at 11:15 a.m. Friday against Millard South.

“Playing Millard South at Millard South right out of the chute isn't easy and obviously Millard South is playing well with two nice wins over Benson and Burke,” Ryan said. “I thought starting the season that (the Patriots) would be competitive. It's definitely a challenge from the get-go.”

The girls tournament also starts Friday, with games at Omaha Benson.

The first round concludes Saturday night at both sites, followed by daytime start times for the quarterfinals on New Year's Eve. All semifinals on Jan. 2 and the two championship games Jan. 3 will be at Civic Auditorium, where the holiday tournament began 50 years ago this week.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1041, stu.pospisil@owh.com, twitter.com/stuOWH

First-round capsules:

BOYS

Papillion-La Vista (7-0) vs. Millard South (3-4), 11:15 a.m.: The Monarchs have yet to find their offensive stride. They haven't scored more than 61 points in a game. But they've only given up 50 or more just once. Millard South is on its home floor and coming off a 68-57 home win over Omaha Benson.

Omaha South (7-0) vs. Bellevue East (1-5), 1 p.m.: There have been only two wins against winning teams for the Packers in their undefeated start. They blasted East 84-36 earlier in the month.

Omaha Burke (3-4) vs. Millard North (3-4), 2:45: Burke's 43-31 victory over the Mustangs was its last before dropping the past four games. Of course, the last two opponents were Central and South. Millard North is awaiting the return of all-stater Josiah Gustafson from shoulder surgery. He's expected to miss the tournament.

Omaha Central (5-2) vs. Omaha Northwest (2-4), 4:30: It's the first game for the Eagles since their Florida experience. The last time they played Northwest, in the first round of districts last winter, the Huskies led after three quarters.

Omaha Creighton Prep (4-2) vs. Papillion-La Vista South (3-4), 6:15: Papio South is winless in three conference games. Prep's losses have been on its coldest shooting nights — the Junior Jays scored 41 points in each setback.

Bellevue West (6-0) vs. Omaha North (5-2), 8: This should be the best game of the first round. Since getting routed 89-42 by Omaha South in its season opener, North is 5-1 with a 49-47 loss to Papio its only blemish. Sophomore guard Malik Hluchoweckyj has made game-winning shots against Northwest and Millard South.

Saturday

Omaha Benson (4-3) vs. Omaha Bryan (1-6), 6:15 p.m.: The Bunnies opened the season with a 59-50 win at Bryan. The Bears have beaten only Fremont and haven't broken 40 points three times.

Millard West (5-2) vs. Omaha Westside (3-4), 8: West is on a two-game losing streak, although the losses were to Central and by only four points to Papio. Westside's 59 points in its last outing, against Papio South, are its season high.

GIRLS

Millard West (6-1) vs. Omaha Bryan (1-6), 11:15 a.m.: West, which is the girls No. 1 seed, has lost only to undefeated Bellevue East while beating 2012 finalists Central and Lincoln Southeast. Bryan, which beat Fremont to end a long losing streak, has topped 30 points just twice.

Bellevue West (6-0) vs. Millard South (1-6), 1 p.m.: The Thunderbirds already own an 81-35 win over Millard South.

Bellevue East (5-0) vs. Papillion-La Vista South (1-6), 2:45: Papio South's only win is against winless Lincoln North Star. Bellevue East is averaging 73 points a game.

Omaha Benson (5-2) vs. Omaha North (3-4), 4:30: All of North's losses are to winning teams, including a 56-52 setback to Benson in the season opener. The Bunnies' losses have been to Central and Westside.

Papillion-La Vista (4-3) vs. Omaha Northwest (5-2), 6:15: Northwest hasn't made it past the first round since 1986. The Monarchs' three losses have been by 15, 16 and 38 points to winning teams.

Omaha Marian (2-5) vs. Omaha Westside (3-4), 8: The eighth-seeded Crusaders are on a three-game losing streak, the most recent a 63-53 setback at Lincoln High. Westside owns a win over Benson.

Saturday

Omaha Central (5-2) vs. Omaha South (3-4), 6:15 p.m.: Defending champion Central has dropped games to Lincoln Southeast and Millard West. South's season has gone to form with perhaps the exception of last week's loss to Burke, which took a 1-5 record into the game.

Millard North (5-2) vs. Omaha Burke (2-5), 8: The Mustangs beat Burke 74-44 on Dec, 6 but lack a quality win. The Bulldogs have struggled against good teams.

Contact the writer: Stu Pospisil

stu.pospisil@owh.com    |   402-444-1041    |  

Stu Pospisil has been The World-Herald's lead writer for high school sports since 1990 and for golf since 1988. He primarily covers football in the fall, basketball and wrestling in the winter and track and field in the spring.

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