By TONY EIERDAM
There is good news and bad news concerning the Mineral Wells Rams basketball team.
The good news is that for the second year in a row under the guidance of head coach Aaron Pappas the Rams have reached the Class 3A playoffs.
The bad news is the Rams’ playoff opponent in state-ranked No. 16 Burkburnett, a team that defeated MWHS 85-54 in a non-district game on Jan. 8.
The Rams are 17-16 overall and finished the District 6-3A schedule with a respectable 7-3 mark. However, the Rams fell last week in a second-place tiebreaker game to Springtown as MWHS assumes the third seed from the district in the playoffs.
Burkburnett, the second-place team from District 5-3A, is 22-9 and fell twice to 5-3A champion Wichita Falls Hirschi, ranked No. 8 in Class 3A.
Last year the Rams were in the same boat but defeated then No. 6 Burkburnett in the area championship game. But Burkburnett has reloaded, while the Rams will be without three starters – three major cogs – from the 2012 team that upset the Bulldogs.
“Playing them once has its advantages,” Pappas said. “We have seen them and we know what to expect.
“We didn’t play well (Friday) against Springtown, but we have to move on from that and keep plugging away.
“We tell the kids if they want to be an elite program they have to beat teams like Burkburnett, and this is a tough region. To go two or three rounds deep in this region would be a good run.
“If we can do that we can establish ourselves as an elite program in this area.”
Burkburnett has two players – Elijah Strickland and Chavaz Jackson – each averaging 20 points per game. Strickland has also canned an area-high 110 three-pointers.
A third scorer, Arthur Hamlett, averages 11 points per contest. On the boards, posts Justin Bell and Matt Everson each average 8.1 rebounds per game.
Burkburnett also plays “in-your-face” defense that forces many turnovers, but it can be exploited as the Bulldogs average giving up 69 points per contest.
In the only meeting between these two teams, Burkburnett came back from an 8-3 deficit with a 12-0 run to take a 15-8 lead. Burkburnett ended up scoring 45 points in the first half and went on a 28-8 run in the third period to put the game away.
“We are not going to play them much different, but we will take care of the basketball better than we did the first time we played them,” Pappas said. “We need to limit our turnovers and play better defense.
“We want to take our time on offense and look for good shots, but at the same time if we break the press we can have some opportunities to score in transition.
“But overall on offense, we want to take quality shots and not quantity of shots.
“Burkburnett is not near as big or physical as they were last year (when they were ranked No. 6 in the state before the playoffs), but they are quicker and a little bit more athletic.
“They also shoot the three better than any team in the area. If they start hitting threes, it will be hard for us to play any kind of zone.”
Pappas plans to begin the game in a man-to-man defense to prevent the Bulldogs from getting hot from the outside.
But if Burkburnett starts giving the Rams trouble inside Pappas said he would have to switch defenses.
“We want to try and establish our man defense,” he said. “But if we get mismatches in man defense we may have no other choice but to switch to a zone.”
By TONY EIERDAM
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