The crystal disc flickers to life again. With no sound and only grainy black and white images, it is a terrible soothsayer. And yet, it is still the best tool to predict the Ozark Conference Championship Tournament.
Kansas State is the number one seed in the tournament. They have earned it with their play this season, but everyone will be giving it their best shot to bring them down. That said, the Huckstables have the team to win it all. Led by Pat Shriwise and Chris Youderian, and with help from players like Joy Lutz, Kansas State has really stepped it up this year. However, they have shown they are capable of bad games – like Williams. If Kansas State is able to stick to their game plan they will out-run and out-gun everyone in their pool.
Oklahoma has been playing beneath their ability all season. Dependent on too few on their deep roster, the Apes of Wrath have come up short many times. However, the Apes have been steadily improving from the beginning of the season up until now, and recently won Heart of Texas Huckfest. Oklahoma looks to be peaking at just the right time, but Nick Neal and Lyle Clark will have to be on all tournament long for the Apes to win it all. If Oklahoma can shut down Kansas State’s deep game they have a shot to upset them, provided they themselves do not turn it with lots of unforced errors.
Missouri is an interesting team. The MUtants are not afraid of any team, but they tend to run out of answers near the end of games. Matt Francis will have to keep his team focused and fresh if they want to make some noise at the tournament. Assuming Missouri brought a full team, something that has not happened all season, they will be considerably stronger than in tournaments past. Unfortunately for the MUtants, a full roster will probably not be enough, though they will definitely make Kansas State and Oklahoma work for their games. If they catch the top two seeds sleeping or off their game, the MUtants could pull off a win or two.
St. Louis has an identity crisis. Loki is a good team, but seems unsure about what style they should play. Long? Short? Loki does not seem to know. This insecurity and confusion stems from injuries and should be fixed by the conference tournament, but it may be too late. Loki has some good players. Pat Porter is a good handler and Connor Noyes can sky with the best of them, but it does not matter if you have stars and no supporting cast.
Kansas was a team full of turmoil in the regular season. The HorrorZontals had trouble with team chemistry and executing game-time skills. All of that does not matter in the conference tournament – as long as it is in the past. Joe Young and Vinny Ciaramitaro make a fine dynamic duo on the field and give teams all sorts of trouble. However, Kansas will need their defensive line to get a few breaks if they want to repeat as conference champions. Kansas knows how to win, but can this team find the strength to win tough games like Kansas teams of the past?
Washington has mystery on their side. They have not played an in-conference opponent all season. The Contrabears are a solid team and will put up a strong fight with all the teams at the tournament. What makes the Contrabears good is their handler corps and deep receivers. Evan Winograd, Joe MacDonald and Alex Stauss create big match up problems for opposing team’s defenses. Washington’s defense is also good but is streaky. Even though they give up points, Contra’s defense has a blatant disregard for the score and play hard even when behind. Washington might be under-seeded but will get their chance when they play Kansas. It should be a very close game.
Missouri State has very little experience and that has hurt their chances this year. Early on it looked like the Bears might have turned a corner and finally rebuilt the team. That assessment was an illusion built on the backs of a close game with Harding and an amazing comeback on Hendrix at Hendrix Ultimate Experience. The underclassmen will probably get to use this tournament as a learning experience and build for next year. However, teams should be careful of senior Dave Underwood who will be laying out all over the place in what will probably be the last tournament of his college career.
Central Arkansas is a young team. They have succeeded in winning several games, but they have yet to see competition like this. UCA will have match-up problems against the other teams, but could give Missouri State a game since they have been steadily improving.
Kansas State wins their pool on Saturday after a tough game to Oklahoma. Washington fights off Kansas to win their pool in a barn-burner. The conference championship comes down to who executes their game plan better and who makes the fewest unforced turnovers. Kansas State and their north-south offense beat Washington and their east-west offense.
Oklahoma then puts the pieces of the puzzle together on Sunday to beat Kansas, and Washington in the second place game. Washington takes third.
Kansas is frustrated that they lose to Oklahoma and take their pain out on Missouri to take the fourth and final spot to South Central Regionals. Missouri still gets a South Central Regionals spot though, because a South Central Division III team turns down their regionals bid to go to Division III Nationals.
Disclaimer: The crystal disc has poor reception and could be entirely wrong. For crying out loud, you have to hold the bunny ears to get a fuzzy picture.