By Austin Bishop
The Choctaw Plaindealer
CLINTON — The Mississippi High School State Basketball Tournament will be undergoing a major facelift this coming school year.
The MHSAA is eliminating the North and South State Championships beginning this season, and will send a total of 168 boys and girls teams combined to Jackson to compete for the state crown, instead of the 72 in the current format that has just four teams making it to the Mississippi Coliseum for the tournament.
The boys quarterfinals will be played at Jackson State University’s Athletics and Assembly Center March 3-7, while the girls quarterfinals will be held at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson on March 4-7. The semifinals and finals for both the boys and girls in all six classifications will then be held at the Mississippi Coliseum, dubbed ‘The Big House,’ from March 9-14.
The changes were announced at a Monday morning press conference held at the offices of the Mississippi High School Activities Association in Clinton.
In each of the past two formats, a team could lose a game in North or South State and still win the state championship. That is no longer so. In classes 1A-4A four teams will advance out of the district tournaments, while three teams will advance in class 5A and 6A. After that point, any loss eliminates a team from the tournament.
Instead of there being one on-site play-in round to open the MHSAA State Tournament, there will be two. In classes 1A-4A, the top two seeded teams coming out of each district tournament will host the lower two seeded teams from another district. Those games will take place on Monday (girls) and Tuesday (boys). That is nothing new. The change is that the winners of those games will advance to a second round of play-in games on Friday (girls) and Saturday (boys). The winners of those contests will advance to the quarterfinals in Jackson. The top-seeded teams remaining will be the host team in all play-in games.
The only difference for Class 5A and 6A is that the No. 1 seeded teams in each district have a first-round bye and will not have to play until the weekend.
The quarterfinals will have teams form the North taking on teams from the South in each contest. This allows the best two teams, whether they both be from the South or the North for from one each, to play for the state title.
“I like the North, South State aspect better (than the new alignment) in my opinion,” said Choctaw County High School head coach Gary Beals. “I would like the champion of the North to play the champion of the South.”
But, he also noted that the extra travel to Jackson would not be a big deal for his teams. “We travel that far during the regular season anyway,” Beals said. “We are used to it. For some it may be tougher. But, we are in the central pat of the state so it really doesn’t affect us that much.”
Coach Tommy Ward of French Camp Academy liked some of the changes to the format.
“I think once you lose, you should be out,” Ward said. “It doesn’t seem right for a team to beat somebody three or four times in the season and then play them again for the championship and then lose to them.”
“Our basketball coaches have been passionate about changing the format,” said Rickey Neaves, associate director of athletics for the MHSAA. “The way we set it up, if you win your division, you will pay at home until you come to Jackson.”