Inviting state-ranked Teutopolis to the Nashville Invitational Tournament did nothing to hurt the already loaded tourney's reputation.
Defending Class 2A state champion Central (12-5) has won four straight NIT titles, while Nashville could get no better than a No. 5 seed despite a 14-4 record.
Central is seeded second behind current News-Democrat Small-School Poll leader Gibault (15-3) in a tourney field so deep there is no clear-cut favorite.
"I'm not sure the heavyweights are as good as they've been at times as far as having great, great teams," said Gibault coach Dennis Rueter, whose team barely beat another NIT contender, Mater Dei, 60-59 on Jan. 4. "But there's six pretty good teams and two teams that aren't too bad, either.
"I think the teams that should be feared the most are Central and Teutopolis. Central is still Central, they know how to win."
And that's coming from a Gibault coach whose 15-3 team is third the Class 1A state rankings.
"It's as wide open as I ever remember it being," Central coach Stan Eagleson said. "There's at least six teams that could win it. One night that you don't shoot well or play well and you're out of the championship mix, so that brings a little more pressure."
The addition of T-town (14-3), currently ranked fifth in the state, adds another title contender.
"They're a traditional Class 2A power in the state that will make the tournament that much stronger," Nashville coach Brad Weathers said of a Wooden Shoes squad that has beaten state-ranked Robinson and St. Joseph-Ogden but also has lost to Central and Highland.
"They've had some losses, but you know they're physical and hard-nosed and are gong to play great man-to-man defense," Weathers said. "We're excited to have them. They'll bring a great crowd and just add to the depth of a tournament that's already got several quality programs."
The tourney includes four of the area's five top-ranked small-school teams.
Mascoutah put together a strong run at the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament and Freeburg has one of the area's top big men in 6-foot-9 junior Justin Diecker (18 points per game).
"On paper, there's probably six teams that could win the thing," insisted Weathers. "There's nobody in the field that is not beyond knocking somebody else off. There's going to be some really strong games in the consolation bracket."
Teutopolis has a deep, experienced lineup led by 6-6 senior Kyle Pruemer, 6-3 Jared Waldhoff, senior guard Derek Smith and freshman forward Brett Mette.
Gibault's strengths are experience, balance and man-to-man defense. The Hawks are led by Wes Degener (12.9 ppg), Matt Schreder (12.2 ppg, 39 3-pointers), Nick Row and Brendan McFarland.
Central's lone scorer in double figures is Kyler Scheer (12.7 ppg), but the Cougars clamp down on teams defensively and have effective guard play led by Jacob Timmermann (9.5 ppg) and Austin Rickhoff (9.8 ppg).
Fourth-seeded Mater Dei (10-8) takes on No. 5 Nashville on Tuesday in a rematch of a game won 46-43 by Mater Dei on Dec. 27 at its own holiday tournament.
Mater Dei has won four of its last five and gets solid production from Adam Etter (12.8 ppg).
Nashville has won six straight since that loss to Mater Dei, including victories over Highland and Okawville. The Hornets have good height and balance led by senior guard Scott Brown (10.5 ppg), 6-6 freshman Royce Newman (9.9 ppg) and seniors Chance Reuter and Devin Holle.
"Nashville's really big and strong," Rueter said. "Their size is imposing and they're pretty experienced with some solid perimeter kids. They're a little bit like us, they don't have any one thing that just awes you."
Mascoutah showed its capability with three straight wins at the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament , then thumped Freeburg 55-40 last week.
Wesclin also has the offensive firepower to pull an upset or two in Michael Klein (13.9 ppg), Kyle Eversgerd (12.8 ppg) and Brady Kunz (10.3 ppg). However, the Warriors have lost three straight and four of their last five.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.