While the Nashville Invitational Tournament is switching to a five-team round-robin format this year after decades of eight-team bracketed tourney play, don’t expect the competition level to drop.
This tournament, which begins Monday, features three of the state’s top-ranked Class 2A teams in the host Hornets (17-1), Teutopolis (15-2), Central (14-3) and Mater Dei (12-6) along with Class 3A Mascoutah (6-11).
There is a regional championship or sectional semifinal matchup on tap nearly every night this week, which should help generate big crowds and plenty of interest at Nashville’s Assembly Hall.
Nashville was ranked first in the latest 2A state poll while Teutopolis was third, Central was eighth and Mater Dei was 14th. Incredibly, Nashville, Central and Mater Dei are all in the same loaded 2A regional this year at Carlyle.
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One of the tourney’s best games should be Monday when No. 1 Nashville takes on No. 3 T-town at 8 p.m.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of choice,” Nashville coach Brad Weathers said of the format change. “We had an eight-team bracket tournament for years and years and had a couple teams leave. We tried to find people to come in, but with the number of tournaments out there it was very difficult.
“We think we’ve got a really, really strong tournament and some great matchups through the week. Anyone in this tournament can knock anybody else off on the right night.”
Central has won the tourney championship five times in the last six years, including a 49-38 victory over Mater Dei in the 2014 title game.
There are no tie-breakers and the winner will be determined by the team with the best record. If there is a tie, co-champions will be crowned.
The lone out-of-town entry is the powerful Wooden Shoes of Teutopolis, a team that handed Central one of its three losses (49-44) back on Dec. 5. The Shoes —who have made four straight super-sectional appearances — are extremely stingy defensively and rely on a strong, physical style led by 6-foot-5 junior Brett Mette, Jordan Thoele, Brock Mette, Devin Smith and Mitch Hardiek.
“He’s a really big strong kid that can go out and shoot the 3 and also post up inside,” Weathers said of Brett Mette. “They’re a veteran ballclub even though they did graduate three seniors that started for them last year. It’s a typical T-town team: they’re strong, they’re physical they’re well-skilled and play extremely hard.”
A breakdown of teams at the Nashville Invitational:
Nashville: Huge frontline presence thanks to 6-7 junior Royce Newman (15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds per game) and Hunter Cooper, plus 6-7 guard Dylan Mueller (12.1 ppg). Guard/forward Daniel Thorson (9.3 ppg) is another scoring threat.
Central: Has one of the most versatile scorers around in junior Logan Kohrmann (17.5 ppg) and a soft-shooting outside threat in junior Chase Schneider (10.3 ppg, 34 3-pointers). Cougars get after teams with tight defense and keep themselves in the game by not giving up much on the defensive end.
Mater Dei: The Knights have won five of six and appear to be hitting their stride offensively. Their top weapon all season has been 6-8 senior center Nolan Gerling (16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds per game, 17 blocked shots). There’s more scoring sources in senior Ben Lampe (12.6 ppg), Zach Haake (10.9 ppg, 21 3-pointers) and Zack Deiters (7.3 ppg, 34 3-pointers).
Mascoutah: Inconsistency has hurt the Indians, but they have an athletic lineup capable of scoring points in bunches led by Tim Parks (13.4 ppg) and Chris Simmons (9.9 ppg).