By Jason Avery
Two months ago, El Dorado and Jacksonville met at the Coca-Cola Classic in Fort Smith.
Today, the Wildcats and Titans meet again in the opening round of the 6A State Tournament with the winner drawing 6A East champion and defending state champion Jonesboro in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Game time is set for 2:30 p.m. from West Memphis.
The Wildcats (13-16) enter as the West’s No. 4 seed, while the Titans (13-15) are the East’s No. 5 seed.
Since their first encounter two months ago that the Titans won 61-53, much has changed for both sides.
The Wildcats were without the services of seniors Bishop Foster, Jarius Curry and Keshun Greene, while the Titans did not have Gerald Doakes, who ranks as one of the top sophomores in the state, and has also participated in the USA Basketball Junior National Team mini camp.
"He is very talented," El Dorado coach Gary Simmons said of Doakes. “He's a high riser. He can come off screens and shoot the three. He gets up off the floor. He reminds me a lot of Czar (Perry) at that age. He's just not as quick. He's a really good guard.”
Doakes isn’t the only underclassman the Wildcats will have to keep an eye on, as the Titans also have some freshmen that are key members of their rotation.
"They've got a couple of brothers, Ryan and Jordan Maxwell, one of them is 6-4, the other is 6-3," Simmons said. "One of them is silky smooth and likes to play a little softer and finish. You have to keep the other off the boards. He doesn’t shoot it as well as his brother, but he is a rebounding machine."
Jacksonville also has a solid senior guard in Braylon Hawkins, who was a major reason why the Titans won the first game against the Wildcats.
“He had 15 points against us in the first game," Simmons said. "He can step out and shoot it.”
It’s not often that you see underclassmen contribute so heavily to a 6A team, and Simmons said the Titans’ rotation is rather unique.
"They play those three young kids, and you look up and everybody else is seniors, so that's a pretty funky mix," Simmons said.
"He'll roll five in and roll five out. He starts a different lineup all the time.
"At times, it doesn't look like their chemistry is real good, but at times, they all shoot it well and can put it in the hole."
Although there were many components missing from their first meeting that will be in place when they play today, Simmons said he has reviewed film from the first game to pick up tendencies and matchups.
"The thing that I was looking for was how they were guarding our shooters," Simmons said.
"There are certain ways that my point guard has been guarded all year long. They did a good job on him in the first half, but Joderrio (Ramey) ended up I think with 19 for that game. B.J. (Brenden Johnson) started out hot, and they changed some things defensively on him.
“Like a lot of people do, he took a little, quick guard to stick in Brenden's chest and try to not let him get his feet set, so there are things that we can get off the first film. The big thing is we're picking up a lot of inbounds plays, who they've got in at certain times and sets they like to go to."
On the surface, it would seem the Titans’ depth would be an issue, but Simmons believes his bench can shoulder the load.
"We don't roll five in five out, but I've got 10 kids that I feel pretty confident in that I can play anytime," Simmons said.
"(Alex) Boone has been doing a great job for us off the bench, and he started our last game. Kyle Jordan comes in and does a good job of shooting the basketball. He takes charges.
"Jarius Curry comes in and brings us all kinds of energy. We feel pretty confident and we're in such good shape that we can handle it."
The Wildcats enter the state tournament having lost their final two games in the 6A West Conference Tournament at Lake Hamilton and Sheridan, but Simmons said there were some aspects of the games that he was pleased with.
"I think in all of the games, the big thing that we did was play really hard," Simmons said.
"The defense has picked up, although at Sheridan, we were short one of our guards, which caused us some problems with our matchups that we thought we had.
“They had a kid that got real hot, and we got in foul trouble against Sheridan and Lake Hamilton that we didn't at Greenwood. We expect everybody to play hard and if we shoot the ball the way we're capable of and play good defense, we'll be in it right to the end. We feel confident that we can get them."
How the Wildcats execute against the Titans’ defense will be a big factor in whether or not the Wildcats will advance.
"Here of late, we've been doing a really good job of playing inside-out," Simmons said.
"Keshun Greene has come so far. When he first came back, he would tell you himself that he really didn't have a scorer's mentality. He's never been put into that role.
“He was honest with me about not being comfortable with that, but he came to me later and said he was ready to give it a go, so we've been working inside-out with him.
“Keshun is unselfish and does a good job of kicking it out to the shooters. He's doing a good job on pick-and-rolls with Joderrio, so he's a team player that's been stepping up inside, and I think that's key that we work inside-out and try to get Jacksonville in a little bit of foul trouble early.”