Being an underdog in the postseason playoffs can be a good thing.
In the one-and-done sub-state and state tournaments, it’s a win and advance, or lose and go home.
It’s always been an assumption that being an underdog takes the pressure off the team that is not expected to win.
However, there are no guarantees as to how a team will react to either being a decided underdog or a heavy favorite. That’s the reason for playing the game.
Garden City High School’s boys basketball team might have a clear understanding of that role when they tipoff at 6 p.m. Saturday, facing No. 6-ranked (Kansas Basketball Coaches Association final poll) Derby’s Panthers.
The Panthers bring a 14-6 record into the sub-state title match-up with a berth in the Class 6A state tournament riding on the outcome. The Buffs, meanwhile, are 13-8 and coming off the slenderest of wins, 44-42, on Wednesday against Haysville-Campus in its semifinal tussle.
Derby, meanwhile, rolled over Junction City, 76-34, in its semifinal game, also on Wednesday.
In the Panthers, the Buffs will be facing one of the highest-scoring offenses in Class 6A, as they are averaging 70.6 points per game and have scored fewer than 60 points only three times, two of those at the outset of the season resulting in losses.
“The most impressive thing about them is that they take the best players from other schools and blend them together,” GCHS coach Jacy Holloway said of the Panthers. “They have a lot of continuity in their play rather than a lot of selfishness.”
The Panthers are led by the 1-2 scoring combination of seniors Tyler Brown (6-1 point guard) and Bryant Mocaby (6-5 shooting guard).
Brown, who transferred from Valley Center where he once scored more than 50 points in a game during his junior season, leads the team at 19.6 points per game and is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.
“Brown is a very good ball-handler and a strong defender, but he’s proven to be an effective scorer from both outside and the ability to drive the ball,” Holloway said.
Mocaby is averaging 18.4 points and 5.8 rebounds and also is a deadly shooter from behind the arc, connecting on 44 percent of his shots behind the line.
“He can take a smaller defensive player inside and post him up, or he can take a bigger guy outside and knock down the 3,” Holloway said.
The Panthers and Buffs have two common foes this season — Great Bend and Campus.
Derby has beaten Campus twice, 75-74 and 75-68, and topped Great Bend 59-50 in the lone meeting with the WAC school.
“They like to use the dribble-drive motion offense,” Holloway said. “We’ve got to do a good job of on the ball defending. Defensively, they will press you full court and use a lot of half-court traps. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball and not turn it over as much as we did against Campus. We didn’t handle the pressure very well in that game.”
Derby does give up points in its up-tempo style of play, yielding an average of 61.8 points a game. The Buffs, meanwhile, average 49.7 points an outing while giving up 47.6 points on the defensive end.
“Tempo will be a big component of our ability to win the game,” Holloway said. “We’re gonna have be strong on the rebounding. And we’ve got to be patient on offense, and not settle for good shots, but get great shots. They don’t like to guard for very long, so I think if we can be patient, that will be big for us to be in the game.”
This year’s Buffs may be one of the more intriguing lineups that Holloway has employed. He has no player averaging in double figures, but he has seven players who average between 4.4 and 9.4 points a game.
Senior post Demarcus Elliott leads the attack with 9.4 points and also is the top rebounder at 4.9. Sophomore Carlos Acosta (7.8) and junior Jarrod Springston (7.1) are the next highest scorers for Holloway.
A win and the Buffs will return to the state tournament on Thursday for the second straight year. They exited after the first round in 2017, losing to eventual state champion Blue Valley Northwest.
The meeting between the two schools will be the first since 2013 when they met in the first round of the state tournament, also at Koch Arena. The Panthers won that game 55-46 en route to a third-place finish.
Contact Brett Marshall at email@example.com