BENNETT'S MINUTES: North, South lurking in county hoop tournament

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Cloverdale, Greencastle enter boys’ tournament with best records

This week’s boys’ Putnam County Classic could look predictable from the outside.

Cloverdale (13-5) and Greencastle (12-5) enter with the best records and are paired off in the first round against North Putnam (7-11) and South Putnam (8-10).

It might be easy then to predict Cloverdale and Greencastle in the finals, with Cloverdale the eventual winner because of its 80-66 win over the Tiger Cubs in December. The consolation game, under that thinking, would be close since South Putnam led 29-12 over the Cougars at halftime before North Putnam pulled off a huge comeback to win their game in early December.

Last year’s tourney definitely played out that way, with Cloverdale was a prohibitive favorite going into the event. The Clovers recorded a 21-point win over South Putnam and a 17-point win over Greencastle to win their second straight title and third in the last four years.

I’m not so sure I’d fill out this year’s bracket in predictable fashion just yet.

Cloverdale does hold a 77-67 win over North Putnam from last month, while Greencastle pulled out a 51-43 win over South Putnam in December.

My reluctance on just mailing in this year’s results is not to knock Cloverdale and Greencastle; they are both quality teams.

Jalen Moore has been literally unstoppable this year, and gives the Clovers a 35-to-40-point boost on the scoreboard before the opening tip. Some people may keep waiting on complementary players such as Parker Watts, Jake Wilkes, Nick Winders and the Kelley boys to stop hitting shots, but that doesn’t look like it’s happening any time soon. They have turned into a consistently productive group of scorers who make teams pay that put too much attention toward Moore.

Greencastle has an uncommon collection of pieces that fits perfectly together. Wily veteran Colin York provides his team with 22-to-30 points a night, and double-double machine Gavin Bollman gets better every time I see him play.

Freshman Brody Whitaker and classmate Benton Parmley – recently promoted to the starting lineup – add more scoring and play with a maturity beyond their years. Jack Hutcheson is a solid rebounder and scorer under the basket, while reserves Andrew York and Trey Wood may not light up the scoreboard but do many of the little things that teams need.

My thinking in this year’s tourney being even more competitive than it looks is based upon North Putnam and South Putnam both being dangerous foes with three qualities necessary for teams to pull off what some would consider upsets:

1. Star Power – North’s Elliot Gross and South’s Allen Plunkett can go for 30 points any night, and that’s a great start toward tourney success;

2. Experience – North starts three seniors who are great at calming down the younger pups when things go badly. Besides Gross, Caleb Duncan has a lot of experience around the house in guiding his younger brother, James, to keep his focus. Longtime local fans probably think Treyton Smith has been at North Putnam for 10 years by now, since he has started his entire career. South Putnam has only one senior, but its juniors are now grizzled veterans; and

3. Defense – North’s Collin McCartt and South’s Greg Dean both stress defense, and have undoubtedly been working on plans to slow Moore and York so they can get to the finals.

Here are some other random tourney observations:

• Kudos to the county administrators for moving the tournament to a Thursday-Friday format far in advance. Last year, the tourney was moved early in the week when South Putnam's girls won the sectional and qualified for the regional on Saturday.

I am unsure if this move is permanent, but it should be. Fans of both boys' and girls' teams should be able to see both events, if their school moves on in the girls' tourney. School administrators also need to be in both places to take care of the needs of their teams.

A no-brainer.

• Greencastle has lost five games this year, and only one was at home – a one-point loss to Southmont game the Cubs felt they should have won.

• Cloverdale has recent history on its side, while the other three teams have the determination to knock off the Clovers from their championship perch.

• All-time records are sadly not available, but over the past 24 years (thanks to John Harrell’s site) Greencastle has been the dominant team. The Tiger Cubs have 10 wins over that period, with Cloverdale recording seven, South Putnam five and North Putnam two.

• Should Cloverdale win, the victory would be the third straight for the Clovers – and would be the first time for that occurrence since Greencastle in 1996-98.

• Greencastle’s last win came in 2015, while South Putnam last won in 2013 and North Putnam has not won since 1999 – one of those unfortunate circumstances where none of its current players was born when that victory happened.

• All of the teams have now played each other in the regular season. Cloverdale holds a 3-0 record in those games, while Greencastle is 2-1, North Putnam is 1-2 and South Putnam is 0-3. The Cloverdale-Greencastle game and Cloverdale’s 72-53 win over South Putnam are the only ones decided by more than 10 points, though.

• While South Putnam and Greencastle will not meet any more this season, North Putnam and Cloverdale could hook up in the sectional later this month. If McCartt has a special plan to derail the Jalen Moore Express, he has to decide if he wants to utilize it on Thursday night or if he wants to wait until the sectional.

• While the Eagles and Cougars will do everything in their power to prevent it, the prospect of a Moore vs. York rematch in the finals looms if their teams both make it. Of course, the last time those two standouts hooked up on the court was one of the most memorable in state history, as Moore had 53 points and York had 40 for the sixth-best combined total ever.

Which of these factors will outweigh the others and lead a team to victory? Nobody knows right now, but you need to be at McAnally Center on Thursday and Friday night to find out.

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