Andrews, NC- The 2023 Smoky Mountain Conference Championship Tournament will tip off on Thursday at the Ken Solesbee Athletic Center at Andrews High School. Robbinsville Boys and Cherokee Girls will be the respected number 1 seeds in the Varsity Tournament.
The Robbinsville Black Knights secured their first Smoky Mountain Conference Championship in 8 years last night with a win over Swain County. The Black Knights only lost two Conference games this season and outscored conference opponents to the tune of 584-472.
Robbinsville and Murphy will get first-round byes, while Hayesville and Cherokee will kick the Varsity Boys tourny off on Thursday night at 7:30PM.
While we wait for tip-off, here’s a look at how I think things will shake out in the Boy’s tournament.
First Round: (4) Hayesville vs (5) Cherokee
Prediction: Hayesville 51 – Cherokee 43
From an undefeated, 30-0 State Championship winning season last year, to a 13-10, 4th place conference finish this year, Hayesville’s previous 365 days have been a roller coaster ride on the basketball court. They’ve shown flashes of great team basketball in wins vs Murphy and Andrews, but we’ve also seen their youth come to light in some other games down the stretch.
Cherokee has definitely faltered in the waning weeks of the regular season. After a 5 game winning streak to kick off the new year, the Braves have lost 5 of their last 6 games and gone 0-5 in Conference play. Cherokee was able to beat Hayesville at home earlier this year, but when they came to The Hive the Jackets had their number.
I expect this to be a close game until the final quarter, with Hayesville ultimately pulling away in the Fourth. Give the edge to Hayesville, and have the Jackets advancing to round 2 to face the Black Knights with a win over Cherokee, 51-43.
First Round: (3) Swain vs (6) Andrews
Prediction: Andrews 61 – Swain 54
Swain is playing some really good basketball as of late. In their previous 7 games, they are 5-2 with wins over Robbinsville, Hayesville and Andrews. When Juniors Josiah Glaspie and Reese Winchester are cooking, they are a tough out for anybody in the Conference. The Wildcats and Maroon Devils split their regular season matchups this year with both teams winning at home, but that was when the Wildcats were without Star Athlete Isaac Weaver. Donovan Bateman and Cam Rattler held it down for the Red and Black in Weavers absence, but in the 5 games since his return from injury, Isaac is giving the Cats over 10 points and 2 steals per game and you can expect those numbers to increase in the post-season as he gets back into basketball shape and gets his legs underneath him. The Cats were a good team without Weaver, but with their Senior leader back on the floor, they suddenly turn into a dangerous team down the stretch. Add in the fact Andrews is hosting the tournament this year, I gotta give this one to The Valley.
Second Round: (1) Robbinsville vs (4) Hayesville
Prediction: Robbinsville 55 – Hayesville 44
The Knights have had the Jackets number so far this year in the regular season. Hayesville’s offense relies heavily on the 3 point shot making ability of Logan Caldwell and Ethan Hooper. Caldwell and Hooper are two of the best guards in the entire conference, but Robbinsville does a good job defensively vs wings. With Brock Adams busy on the defensive side of things, we could see Donovan Carpenter and Bryce Adams have big scoring nights in this one. Give me Robbinsville by double digits.
Second Round: (2) Murphy vs (6) Andrews
Prediction: Murphy 70 – Andrews 68
The first matchup between these two teams in the regular season was a nail biter, with Murphy coming away with a 71-70 victory at the Dog House. While the Dogs ran away with game two at Ken Solesbee Athletic Center, I think the Cats will be looking to avenge that loss in front of their home crowd. The Home Court advantage will be huge for the Cats all tournament, but they won’t be able to matchup with Murphy down low, unless the Andrews coaching staff has some new tricks up their sleeve (which I definitely expect!). Either way, I think Murphy comes away with a win in this one thanks to some clutch free-throws in the final seconds.
Championship: (1) Robbinsville vs (2) Murphy
What a perfect neutral court for this game to be played. With Andrews right in between Robbinsville and Murphy, both teams fans should travel very well, and it should be standing room only in the gym. Murphy was one of two SMC teams to defeat Robbinsville in the regular season, so it’s only fitting we get round 3 to determine the final victor. In my opinion, the thing that will separate the winner from the loser in this one is who can finish late in the fourth quarter. Robbinsville is no stranger to late game heroics, having won 5 overtime games already this year. Murphy on the other hand has let games slip away from them in the 4th, and allowed teams to crawl back into games instead of putting them away (i.e OT game vs Hayesville @ Hayesville, blown lead vs Andrews @ home).
Plain and simple: If Robbinsville can keep Murphy under 55 points then the Black Knights are tourny champs, if Murphy can score 60 or more then I think they have a good shot at knocking off the 1 seed and coming away victorious.
While Robbinsville already has the top seed in the conference locked up as far as playoffs are concerned, this will be a fun one to watch (if it does end up happening) for bragging rights alone.
Come out to the Ken Solesbee Athletic Center at Andrews High School starting this Thursday night as the JV Boys and Varsity Girls and Boys will compete for the SMC Tournament Title.