What was the OSSAA thinking?
When district tournament pairings were released to the public last week, there was some good news for Roff fans. Their teams would be hosting a three-team district in Area IV. It’s always nice to start your playoff journey at home.
However, it won’t be the district party it usually is for a ranked team playing on its own court, especially on the girls side.
Joining the host Lady Tigers will be an Allen club that hit its stride right around playoff time last year and made an impressive run to the area tournament, and a Stonewall club that started off slow but appears to be playing its best basketball of the season.
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) has made some bonehead moves in the past as far as high school basketball playoffs go. And I know that the powers that be in Oklahoma City have a tough job on their hands. For sure, you can’t please everyone.
But throwing Allen, Roff and Stonewall in the same district? That takes the playoff cake.
When the small-school district pairings came out, the 11th-ranked Lady Tigers had won 13 of 14 games and were 16-3 on the year. (Roff is now 18-4). Allen had just upset Asher at the Pottawatomie County Tournament and was sitting at 10-5 on the year. (Allen is now 11-8). Stonewall had the worst record of the bunch at 12-9 but was 10-4 in its previous 14 contests. (Stonewall is now 13-10).
So let’s throw three teams in the same district with a combined 38 wins (at the time). Makes perfect sense to me.
In Oklahoma’s flawed playoff system, every single team in the state earns a shot at a district title. Five wins, three wins, zero wins. Doesn’t matter. You’re in, baby.
But usually, one of those five-wins-or-fewer teams is paired with two other teams that have much better records. Where did that formula go?
First-round district games are elimination contests. Win and advance to the district finals and assure yourself a spot in the regional tournament (the district champ and runner-up automatically advance). But lose that first-round game, and your season is over.
That’s what one good local girls team and one quality local boys team are facing in Roff as a Valentine’s Day present.
“It’s a pretty tough draw. These are three of the better teams in the area in Class A. There are some softer districts out there, and I thought they could’ve done a better job of splitting us three up,” said Roff girls head coach Blake Crawford. “It's the OSSAA. It is what it is.”
Allen girls coach Jeremy Strong was stunned when he found out about the situation.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. You don’t put three quality teams in the same district. It comes down to someone not paying attention (to the records),” Strong said. “I don’t know how it happened, but it is what it is. Two good teams (one girls’ and one boys’ squad) are going home early.”
Veteran Stonewall girls coach Brian Davis said he’s never seen anything like it.
“It's very rare to have three quality teams like this. I feel like it's three teams that could very easily be in the area tournament,” he said. “It's the toughest district I've ever been a part of as far as depth-wise. They spread a lot of other people out, so I don't know why they stuck us together.”
With the worst record of the trio, Davis got to choose who his team would play in the dreaded first-round matchup. He threw a monkey wrench in the district — and let’s face it, high drama — when he picked high-powered Roff, giving the Lady Mustangs a bye to the district finals and the regional tournament.
I admit, at first I thought he was crazy. But on closer inspection, maybe not.
Allen has defeated Stonewall three times already this season and when Davis made his choice, Stonewall and Roff hadn’t faced each other. That first meeting came Friday night, and it was a doozy. Stonewall was down double digits in the first half before Roff finally held off a furious SHS rally to win 55-54 in double overtime.
Think these two teams need to be playing in a do-or-die playoff game in two weeks? Yeah, me neither.
Was Crawford surprised to be playing Stonewall in the first-round game?
“A little bit. But he had been beaten by Allen three times, and we hadn't played,” he said. “When you look at it, it would be hard to pick somebody that's beaten you three times, even though we've beat Allen three times. He had a tough decision to make.”
Professional wrestling legend Ric Flair used to tell anyone who would listen, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” Davis took the same philosophy when he picked No. 11 Roff.
“The book says you don't pick someone on their own home floor. I have a bunch of young pups, and I'm trying to teach them my personality and the way I want them to be. When you look at records and rankings, Roff is the top dog. My personality is, if you want to be the top dog, you have to go beat the top dog,” Davis said. “We're not going over to Roff to play for second place or district runner-up. We're going to go take our chances and see what happens.”
Crawford said if the OSSAA had sent Stonewall to some other district, the two teams would have likely met in a regional anyway.
“If I can't beat him, we don't deserve to go on. Honestly, I feel like we're the better team. We just need to go play well and take care of business,” he said. “To me, it's just a game. I haven't made a whole lot of it, and I don't plan to. You have to beat them anyway. It is a tough draw, but I like our chances.”
Stonewall boys coach Wes Moreland wasn’t too fond of the district pairings either. The Longhorns are 14-9 on the season and will face Allen and longtime coach (and wily veteran) Greg Mills in an elimination game.
“Allen and I are like mirror images of each other. It’s a tough draw for both of us. We could both beat each other on a given day,” Moreland said.
Back to the girls. Even with the past history with Allen, there are those who would (and probably still are) second-guessing Davis for taking the Roff district option.
“If this works out, then people will say I'm the smartest coach alive. If it doesn't work out, then that's the dumbest coach alive. I can live with that,” he said.
That’s just it. Davis shouldn’t have to live with it. Neither should Roff. And neither should Allen.