McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

January 26, 2014

Final observations from the Pitt 8

By Matt Goisman
Sports Writer

McALESTER — The 99th Annual Pitt 8 Tournament wrapped up Saturday at the Southeast Expo Center in McAlester.

Here are a few observations leftover from an immensely exciting six days of basketball.

All hail Haileyville:

Kiowa probably had the best tournament of any of the eight Pitt 8 schools, the Cowgirls and Cowboys going a combined 5-1 and finishing first and third, respectively. But considering Kiowa’s teams held top-three seeds in the tournament and were both ranked statewide in Class A, Kiowa’s performance isn’t exactly unexpected.

The success of Haileyville’s basketball teams? No one could’ve predicted that, making Haileyville basketball the breakout program of the tournament.

Haileyville’s teams went a combined 1-4 in the 2013 tournament, their one win being a consolation semifinal victory by the Warriors. Haileyville went 4-2 in 2014, the Lady Warriors winning a consolation semifinal and the Warriors winning it all.

The Warriors were seeded sixth and knocked off the top three seeds in the tournament. While in previous games Haileyville center Bryer Stites struggled to use his immense size to his advantage, in the Pitt 8 Tournament he regularly got himself squared up with the basket, then bounced the ball easily off the backboard and in.

Standing approximately 6-foot-9 and weighing upwards of 300 pounds, Stites gives the Warriors a post presence too big for almost any team in Class A to guard. With solid ball-handler and outside-shooter Tristan Tiger and high-post forward Jason Mayo, If Stites can continue getting himself positioned correctly when he shoots, the Warriors could conceivably beat anyone they play.

The seventh-seeded Lady Warriors, meanwhile, lost to Pittsburg in the closest first-round game — 14 points — in the girls’ tournament, then upset sixth-seed Crowder in the consolation semifinals. The Lady Warriors have already more than doubled their total number of wins last season.

Hats off to Haileyville coach Jody Hull. Just in his second year running Haileyville basketball, Hull has already transformed the program into a source of celebration for the Haileyville community.

Conference too close to call:

Of the 16 teams to play last week, four performed as expected. The top-seeded Cowgirls won the championship, the bottom-seeded Indianola teams both went 0-2, and the seventh-seeded Pittsburg Panthers also went 0-2.

Everything else, simply put, was chaos. In the girls’ tournament you had the four-seed (Stuart) beating the three-seed (Savanna) in the third-place game, and the seventh-seed (Haileyville) beating the sixth-seed (Crowder) in the consolation semifinals.

Kiowa played second-seed Pittsburg in the finals, but both those teams barely got past the semifinals, and the championship was a one-possession game at halftime.

On the boys’ side, you had two first-round upsets: Six-seed Haileyville beating three-seed Canadian; and five-seed Crowder beating four-seed Savanna. The consolation final pitted Savanna against Canadian, a matchup that, according to seeding, would normally decide third place.

The third-place game, as it turns out, was between second-seed Kiowa and fifth-seed Crowder. Kiowa won, but not before falling to six-seed Haileyville in the semifinals.

And all of this leads up to the championship game in which the sixth seed beat Stuart, the four-time defending champion and a team that had won its first two tournament games by a combined 85 points.

So what does all this mean? Perhaps it means all of the Pitt 8 teams are fairly evenly matched, and that any team — even the winless Indianola Warriorettes — could beat any other given the right combination of factors. Or perhaps it means no team scares any other, that names like “Kiowa” and “Stuart” printed across the jersey can no longer intimidate the other Pitt 8 teams into submission.

Either way, it made for some terrific games.

Overly aggressive refereeing?

Criticizing referees is often a fruitless, anemic response to losing a game. But the various refereeing crews did seem inclined towards more aggressive penalizing in the 22 games of the 2014 Pitt 8 Tournament.

Several games featured a team in the bonus or double-bonus for an entire quarter or more. The Lady Panthers beat the Savanna Lady Bulldogs in the semifinals primarily because the Lady Panthers took way more free throws and the Lady Bulldogs had to sit their best players throughout the second half due to foul trouble.

Only a handful of players fouled out all tournament, and the refs only once issued a technical foul against a coach for arguing. But refs who call more fouls are more likely to be accused of calling fouls unfairly, and the latter days of the tournament saw multiple coaches and fanbases barking at the refs for seemingly unbalanced foul-calling.

Considering the problems teams had with the Southeast Expo Center court itself, refs could’ve been at least a little more lenient with traveling violations. And speaking of the court...

Court definitely affected games

Any number of factors can make a basketball court more or less slick — the wax finish, dust, even humidity. But whatever the reasons why, the Southeast Expo Center court was a far slicker surface than any of the Pitt 8 teams were used to.

Several coaches and players called it the worst court on which they’d ever played, adding that even at last year’s tournament — which used the same court — slickness wasn’t an issue. One Kiowa player compared it to trying to play basketball on a Slip ‘n Slide.

Of course, all 16 teams played on the same court. But faster teams that rely on fastbreaks and transition buckets — teams like the Cowboys, Hornets and Lady Panthers — tend to rely on the court more than slower teams.

The fastest teams in the Pitt 8 tended to draw the most traveling violations, and they tended to overrun the basket more. A day after Kiowa’s semifinal loss to Haileyville, a Cowboy said he couldn’t wait to play the Warriors again on Kiowa’s home court on Feb. 6.

A basketball court shouldn’t give one team an advantage over another, but nor should it hinder teams. The slickness of the Southeast Expo Center court became apparent on the first day of competition, and the issue never went away.

This court needed to be prepped better before the tournament, and it needed to be cleaned better during the week

Contact Matt Goisman at mgoisman@mcalesternews.com.