By BRETT MARSHALL
It's a whole new season, a whole new state tournament, and that's why Scott City's Glenn O'Neil doesn't see a target on the back of his Scott City Beavers.
Wednesday, with a 6:30 p.m. tipoff against Beloit (17-6), the Beavers (22-1, top-seeded) will defend their 2011 Class 3A championship at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
"We're the only team back from last year's field, it's a whole new group, new teams to face, I don't see that adds anything," O'Neil said about any pressure to be the defending champs. "Everybody went 3-0 last weekend, everybody's good at this stage. You just start with the first game and see where it goes."
For the Beavers, it all begins and usually ends, with their defense.
"We've been able to transition from December when we were playing man-to-man, to be able to understand how to play our match-up zone, which has man principles," O'Neil said when describing his team's greatest attribute. "We've always wanted to work hard on defense, the kids understand that, and it sets everything in motion for us."
The Beavers rolled through their three sub-state opponents by an average of 34 points per game, including a 71-47 triumph over Holcomb in the championship game on Saturday night.
"I think we might just be a little better at the post this year but only because they're a year older, a year stronger," O'Neil said of his junior tandem of Drew Kite and Joey Meyer. "Drew came off the bench last year, Joey was just a sophomore and feeling his way through."
Those two, though, provide a powerful 1-2 punch inside for the Beavers. Kite is averaging 16 points and 9.7 rebounds while Meyer is scoring at a 10.2 clip and averages 5.2 boards.
But the Beavers, who average 68.5 points, are more than just an inside-scoring threat offense. Junior guard Brett O'Neil, one of coach O'Neil's two sons who play (the other is freshman Trey), is the team's second leading scorer at 13.2 points. He shoots 47 percent from the field. Kite and Meyer shoot 62 and 58 percent from the field, respectively. O'Neil moved senior Tyler Hess from a post position to a guard this year and the 6-0 junior has responded by averaging 5.9 points, 2.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 3.8 rebounds.
The team has more than made up for the graduation of Ron Baker, now a red-shirt freshman at Wichita State University.
"We've just taken those 22 points and they've been gobbled up by four or five players," O'Neil said. "We're scoring just about the same as we did a year ago. The biggest thing for us was finding the people who were fitting into our rotation and figuring out their roles, their minutes."
Scott City's lone setback this year was to private academy Word of Life, 60-49, in mid-December. Since then, they've won 19 straight.
"It's an unselfish group, they've played a lot of ball together through the year," O'Neil said of his team. "For about every three baskets we make, we're getting about 1.5 to 2 assists. There's not a lot of 1-on-1 with this group."
And while the three top scorers are all in double figures, O'Neil said it is the balance with the rest of the team that has made it so dangerous. The younger O'Neil, Trey, a 6-2 freshman, averages 6.5 points; senior Braeden Robinson scores at a 6.2 clip; Hess at 5.9 and Austin Habiger next at 4.9. In Saturday's championship game, Robinson scored 11 and junior reserve Anthony Wilson ignited the team's first quarter run by scoring 5 points.
"We've had any number of players step up and be the top scorer, so it's always tough to know who will have a bigger night," O'Neil said. "They really don't care."
Beloit, which comes in on a seven-game winning streak, averages 55.2 points a game. The Trojans' leading scorer is 6-4 junior Austin Budke (17.4 points/6.8 rebounds) while his 6-4 senior front court mate, Zach Brummer, averages 10.7 points and 6.2 boards. Payton Vetter, the team's 5-10 sophomore guard, averages 13.6 points.
"Beloit, like many of the team's in that North Central Kansas League, appears to prefer a more half-court game," O'Neil said. "They run more set plays than what we typically see out here, so we'll just have to see what happens. The pace would not be what we would usually see."
For O'Neil, this marks the eighth time in his 16 seasons that his team will head to state. Four of those have come each in Class 4A and 3A. He's got one state title in each classification. He had also taken teams from Frankfort to state tournaments in Class 1A and 2A.
"It never gets old, it's a fun time, but you go there with the idea that you want to do the best you possibly can," O'Neil said. "These kids have been there, they know what the experience is like. We're looking forward to the trip."
See pairings, team results in Scoreboard, Page B2.