SIDELINE SLANTS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
March Madness is about to begin. At the high school level, the question is how far will the Trojans boys’ basketball team go in post-season? Their record was spectacular in the regular season, but, right or wrong, teams are remembered for how they fare in the post-season.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I have not attended a single Trojan basketball game this year, due largely to my officiating schedule. But lack of firsthand knowledge of my topic has never caused me the slightest hesitation, so read on.

I did officiate their preseason scrimmage and I recall thinking, “They aren’t going to lose many games.”

When you’ve had as much success in basketball as Hillsboro High School has the past decade or so, the post-season is your season.

The Trojans haven’t won a state title for a few years now, but they’re regularly in the hunt. Talk about spoiled. Most teams are happy to play in a state tournament every so often. The Trojans have appeared at the state tournament so regularly that they consider the Hutchinson Sports Arena, site of the 3A State Tournament, their home away from home.

There’s plenty to like about this year’s team. They’ve got experience, height, good guard play, solid defense and good coaching.

But when it comes to the post-season, there are no guarantees. Hillsboro’s spectacular season could end prematurely if an opposing team plays their best game and Hillsboro has an off night.

Even the best teams don’t always play their best. The challenge is finding a way to win on those nights.

Will HHS win a state title this year? Don’t ask me. If they do it won’t be easy. Let’s just say that they are talented enough to play with anyone in Class 3A.

But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Before you go to state, there’s the little matter of winning an eight-team sub-state tournament.

Hillsboro was fortunate to beat Lyons earlier this season in Hillsboro, and they may have to beat Lyons on their home court and at least one other good team to advance to state.

If the Trojans lose in sub-state, some may think that this will be the best HHS team never to play in the state tournament.

However, in my mind the best Hillsboro team not to make the state tournament would still be the 1971-72 Trojans. They were the top-ranked team in their class that year and they dominated most of the competition throughout the season.

Unfortunately they ran into a good Hesston team that effectively used a delay game to throw Hillsboro off their game. The result was a disappointing loss.

It’s hard to compare teams from different decades, but this year’s team is, at the very least, very, very good. The Trojans have won games in a variety of ways. Some have been close. Some haven’t. But the bottom line is that they have consistently found a way to win.

It hardly matters what I or any fan thinks. This year’s team has an opportunity to make their own history. It’s an opportunity they’ve clearly earned.

In theory, the goal for every Kansas high school team is to end the season as state champion. But when the smoke clears after the state tournaments are played in March, there will only be 12 teams – six boys’ and six girls’ teams – crowned as best in their respective classes.

There are always a few upsets. But only a relatively small number of teams have a legitimate chance to win a state title. Everyone starts the post-season 0-0, but I can’t remember the last time a team won a state championship with a regular season record of less than .500.

It’s possible, but hardly probable.

The exciting aspect of the post-season is that every game is big and there are no mulligans. Here’s hoping that the Trojans don’t feel like they need one.

* * *

P.S. Maybe it’s a matter of style, but someone made the following observation: “I can understand why basketball shorts keep getting longer and longer. If I had knees like some of those guys, I’d want to hide them, too.”

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