JONESBORO — Postseason play is next for basketball teams in the 5A-East conference.
All remaining 5A-East regular-season games were canceled due to winter weather conditions Wednesday after discussion among the league’s athletic directors.
First-round games in the girls’ conference tournament are set for Monday, followed by boys’ first-round games Tuesday. All games will be hosted by the higher seed. First-round winners clinch a berth in the state tournament at Hot Springs.
“I think they made the smart decision,” Jonesboro boys’ coach Wes Swift said. “I think it puts everything about whether we can make up games to rest and allows us to focus on what’s next, which is the district tournament, and trying to figure out when we can get our kids back into the gym.”
Swift’s Hurricane, the top-ranked team in Class 5A, will not leave Don Riggs Hurricane Gym in the conference tournament. Top-seeded Jonesboro (16-3, 11-0 conference) will take a 12-game winning streak into Tuesday night’s tournament opener against Paragould.
The Hurricane had three conference games canceled because of weather conditions, including a home showdown with Marion, the No. 5 team in Class 5A. Jonesboro last played Feb. 9 at West Memphis.
“Every coach is feeling the same way I’m feeling right now, which is how will our guys respond after not playing in 10 to 14 days?” Swift said. “Our (wait) will be 14 days when we play Paragould on Tuesday night. How will our guys respond at that point? You can be playing as good as anybody in the state two weeks ago, but that’s all wiped out. This is a new season and you’re playing game one Tuesday night.”
In other first-round boys’ games Tuesday, fourth-seeded Greene County Tech hosts Nettleton, second-seeded Marion hosts Batesville and third-seeded West Memphis hosts Searcy.
Nettleton (9-11, 3-5 conference) only played eight of its 14 scheduled 5A-East games and just three at home. The fifth-seeded Raiders were scheduled to play four home games this week, including two makeup games, before the region was blanketed by snow.
“I think we had three games left with teams below us in the standings, which nothing is a guaranteed win, but we thought we could get some momentum going into the district tournament,” Nettleton boys’ coach Bubba Deaton said. “But you can’t do anything about it. Snow and COVID, everyone has had to deal with them. You play the ones you can and move on.”
Nettleton played both games against GCT, losing 77-54 in Paragould in December and 60-52 last week in Jonesboro.
“We would have loved to play a full conference schedule obviously, but we felt like we were playing a little bit better and in some of the games we lost, we were trying to figure some things out,” Deaton said. “You’d like to get a couple more wins under your belt, but at the end of the day, you’re thankful you’re having a tournament because in most years you wouldn’t and you’d be left out.”
In first-round girls’ games Monday, top-seeded Batesville hosts Searcy, second-seeded Paragould hosts West Memphis, third-seeded Jonesboro hosts GCT and fourth-seeded Nettleton hosts Marion. Batesville is ranked second in Class 5A while Paragould, Jonesboro and Nettleton all received votes in this week’s Arkansas Sports Media poll.
Paragould (16-6, 8-4 conference) grabbed the No. 2 seed ahead of Jonesboro (16-5, 8-3) on Arkansas Activities Association tiebreaker rules for 2020-21 that go by total number of wins, not winning percentage.
Since the teams had the same number of conference wins, the next tiebreaker was head-to-head competition. The teams split two meetings, but Paragould’s margin of victory over the Lady Hurricane (five points) was two points higher than Jonesboro’s margin against the Lady Rams.
Lady Hurricane coach Jodi Christenberry noted that the tiebreaker could cost her team a home game in the semifinals, but added there are no sure things in the first round of the 5A-East tournament.
“If you look across the state in the other regions, there’s a definite first or second, and then there’s the rest of them,” Christenberry said. “In our conference, it’s just not like that. Our region is just really, really tough this year. I’m for sure not taking Greene County Tech lightly and neither are any of our players because they’ve given us a good game both times we’ve played them and they’re fully capable of knocking us off. It’s hard to beat a team three times.”
Jonesboro won 43-38 at GCT in January and 63-54 against the Lady Eagles earlier this month at Don Riggs Hurricane Gym. The Lady Hurricane had a road game at Nettleton canceled, plus home games against Marion and Searcy.
Defending state champion Nettleton (16-6, 7-4 conference) will go into the tournament with a five-game winning streak that includes a 52-36 victory at Paragould last week. The Lady Raiders had three league games canceled, including a trip to Batesville and home games against Jonesboro and Searcy.
“I think with this bunch, we’ve done a real good job of figuring out our identity at this point in the year, which is good,” Nettleton coach Jason Smith said. “We were hoping to try to play it out because we were one win away from maybe being able to get into that two spot. We want to put ourselves in the best possible position for postseason, but I feel like we understand who we are and what we have to do to try to have a pretty good run in this thing.”
The Lady Raiders split their regular-season meetings with Marion, losing 58-51 at home before winning 52-41 on the road earlier this month. Batesville was the only other 5A-East team to win on Nettleton’s home floor.
“That’s the scary thing about one versus eight and on down the line. There’s going to be some tough matchups and in a weird year, your body of work may not matter if you’re just not very good on the wrong night,” Smith said.
Also Wednesday, the 1A-3 district tournament was canceled. The top four seeds in the district advance to next week’s Region 2 tournament at Izard County.
Ridgefield Christian will be the No. 1 boys’ seed from 1A-3, followed by Mammoth Spring, Marked Tree and Maynard. Mammoth Spring, Hillcrest, Maynard and Armorel advance to the girls’ Region 2 bracket.