If you’re a basketball aficionado, the past two weeks would have been more than enough to whet your appetite — appetizers, main course and desserts, included.
Sub-state tournaments, the qualifying round to reach the state tournaments took place the last few days of February and first few days of March.
That set the stage for the eight multi-site, multi-classification state tournaments conducted by the Kansas State High School Activities Association. And there was plenty of exciting games to be had by the fans.
Prior to 2011, there were six classifications for basketball, ranging from the state’s largest 32 schools in Class 6A to the state’s smallest of Class 1A with more than 100 particpating schools.
In 2011, the Class 1A schools implemented a two-division state championship, with 1A-I competing first at Emporia’s White Auditorium and then returning to Hays’ Gross Memorial Coliseum. Apparently, many of the smallest of the smallest schools were not happy with the bigger schools of 1A dominating the state tournament qualifiers and the top finishers in most seasons. Thus, the split.
In 2014, Class 4A found itself in much the same situation, the bigger schools dominating postseason with the smaller 4A schools, albeit with the biggest enrollment disparity of any class. The schools in that class voted to split into 4A-I and II for that season.
So what we’ve had since 2014 is eight different sites hosting state tournaments — 6A at Koch Arena in Wichita; 5A at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka; 4A-I at the Bicentennial Center (now the Tony’s Pizza Events Center) in Salina; 4A-II at White Auditorium in Emporia; 3A at the Hutchinson Sports Arena; 2A at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan; Class 1A-I at Hays’ Gross Coliseum; and for the past three years, Class 1A-II at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena.
Last year, after a comprehensive, two-year study, the KSHSAA member schools — across all 6 classifications — voted for one of the most exhaustive overhauls of the state classification system.
In 2018-19 school year, for most team sports, there will be six classificatons, the one exception being two divisions of Eight-Man football.
Currently, there have been 32 schools competing in 6A and 5A, 32 schools in both 4A-I and II, 64 in Class 3A, 64 in Class 2A and 43 schools each in 1A-I and II.
With so few schools in 1A, some sub-states had just five teams in an eight-team bracket, with three receiving first-round byes. Multiple sites had teams with losing records and potential state qualifiers with barely a .500 record were highly probable.
In Class 4A-I and II, there were 8 sub-states with four teams each. Teams had to win just two games to reach a state tournament, which has been the case in Class 5A and 6A for years.
There have been multiple occasions in multiple cases with multiple brackets overloaded with good teams while others loaded with poor teams. What causes this discrepancy is geography, as that’s the way KSHSAA assigns sub-state sites to schools within certain geographic distances.
A couple of years ago, Class 5A and 6A made a change to its sub-state format, seeding teams 1 through 16 and then putting them into four, four-team sub-states in both the west and east sides of the state. It has helped minimize teams with sub-par records, but hasn’t eliminated it completely.
If one truly wants to have the best teams advance to the state, then put the two geographic areas into two brackets — east and west. Next year, there will be 18 teams in 4A, 5A and 6A in each side of the state.
There will be play-in games for the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th-seeded teams (15 vs 18, 16 vs. 17) with the winner of those games paired up against the No. 2 and 1 seeded teams. With 16 teams then in the bracket, pairings would be again in groups of four schools (1 vs. 16, 8 vs. 9), (4 vs. 13, 5 vs. 12), (2 vs. 15, 7 vs. 10), and (3 vs. 14, 6 vs. 11). The four winners of each of those from the east-west geographic areas would comprise the 8 teams to qualify for state.
It’s still not a complete 16 team, single-elimination bracket, but it’s close. And as it has proven for 5A and 6A the past couple of seasons, more good teams are qualifying than not.
The hope is that it will have the same impact on Class 4A.
In Class 3A and 2A next year, 64 schools will vie for the 8 state tournament berths. Still, geography plays a big role in sub-state assignments, thus once again there will be some sites with numerous good teams and others diminished with the lack of quality teams.
If KSHSAA were to fix the 3A and 2A sub-state process, it seems reasonably simple (at least is appears that way) to seed the 32 teams into four, eight-team brackets accordingly and then play out to determine the 4 west and 4 east sub-state champions to advance to the big dance.
Class 1A, in a return to its pre-2011 format, will conduct regional tournaments the third week of February with 16 regional sites, four in each quadrant of the state. With 108 schools tentatively in the mix, 27 schools will be assigned to each of the four quadrants, with 3 regionals comprised of 7 schools and one of 6 in each quadrant.
The top two teams from each regional qualify for sub-states with those teams being assigned different to different sites for the second week of play. With four sub-states in the east and four in the west, eight teams will still advance to the state tournament.
In 2010, the last time 1A was all together in Hays, it was quite the tournament.
Of the eight girls teams entered, the combined record going in was 179-20 (.899), with three teams unbeaten, one with just one loss and two with two losses. The No. 8 seed was 17-8. The championship game, between South Gray and Argonia, pitted two unbeaten teams. The third-place game was between two teams that entered the event with just one loss.
On the boys side, it was every bit as challenging. One unbeaten team, three teams with just one loss, two with three losses and two with four losses. A combined 183-17 (.915) winning record.
That’s why I can’t wait to see the 2019 Class 1A state tournament. I think Class 4A will see similar results.
Where the 2019 tournament sites will be located is one of the intriguing questions to be answered by KSHSAA. Not sure when that announcement will be made but there will be two sites eliminated.
In its three years of hosting 1A-II (and one year also hosting 1A-1 when Hays had to bail due to NCAA Division II regional hosting), Dodge City has impressed coaches, players, fans and KSHSAA officials. United Wireless Arena is the smallest of the arenas, but likely big enough to host the 1A schools again.
Something will have to give between the 5A, 6A and 1A-I sites as Salina, Emporia and Hutchinson all appear to be locks due to their central locations. Another key aspect will be if Manhattan retains its 2A tournament at Bramlage.
No matter where they sites end up, 2019 state basketball tournaments loom large. And with just one grouping of 4A and 1A, those tournaments will once again be among the very best with a deep and talented field.
Contact Brett Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org