Warren Central and Vicksburg begin their division schedules

Published 8:05 am Monday, January 9, 2017

After waiting through a holiday, an ice-filled weekend and one big postponement, Warren Central and Vicksburg High’s basketball teams are finally poised to begin their division schedules this week.

Warren Central opens its run through the Division 4-6A ranks Tuesday night at home against Clinton. Vicksburg starts Friday at Neshoba Central, after playing a non-division game Tuesday at Madison Central.

Here is a quick look at each team’s season so far, and its outlook for the second half.

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Warren Central girls

• Record: 14-4

• Strengths: Defense, post play, depth

• Weaknesses: Outside shooting

• Outlook: The Lady Vikes have the look of a championship contender. Amber Gaston, a 6-foot-3 junior center, has emerged as their top player but anyone in the team’s regular eight-man rotation seems capable of getting a double-double every night. WC doesn’t shoot a lot of 3-pointers — only about four a game — but hasn’t needed to do much more than keep teams honest enough to loosen up the inside game.

For all of its success so far, Warren Central will have a difficult time of it during the Division 4-6A portion of the schedule. Clinton, Greenville and defending Class 6A champion Murrah all reside in the division, and all have at least 10 wins so far. WC hosts the division tournament in February, which will help. Its championship dreams might come down to how it does in a tough first-round game on its home floor, more than what happens in the next month.

Vicksburg girls

• Record: 3-9

• Strengths: Depth

• Weaknesses: Free throw shooting, offense

• Outlook: The Missy Gators struggled mightily before New Year’s, and have only played once since mid-December. The extended break, hopefully, will help a team that is only shooting 23 percent from the field and 49 percent from the foul line.

The Missy Gators have gotten hot in the division tournament before. They’ve made it out two of the past three years despite having a losing record, and will likely need a similar outcome this year. The next month, for them, will be more about improving their game to give themselves a puncher’s chance come tournament time than dominating the division to earn a top seed.

Warren Central boys

• Record: 7-6

• Strengths: Guard play, defense

• Weaknesses: Post play

• Outlook: Warren Central lacks a true big man in the post, but guards Shaun Walton (14.3 points per game) and Chavis Smith (13.8 ppg) have handled the bulk of the scoring. The Vikings also make up for a lack of overall scoring with a strong defense that holds opponents to 48 points per game.

The problem comes when any part of that formula falters. If the guards get in foul trouble, the Vikings need a dependable third option to pick up the slack. Forwards DeAries Henyard and Kevin Virges have shown flashes of potential, but need to do it on a more consistent basis.

And consistency will be the key for the Vikings heading into February. They’ve alternated wins and losses over their last eight games, leading to their barely-above .500 record. Figuring out a way to string some wins together and build confidence for the division tournament, where any of the four teams involved seem capable of beating each other on a given night, could be the difference between a trip to the state tournament and a disappointing one-and-done performance.

Vicksburg boys

• Record: 8-3

• Strengths: Post play

• Weaknesses: Depth, outside shooting

• Outlook: The Gators won seven of their last eight games heading into the New Year’s break, which seemed to position them nicely for the division schedule. The frontcourt tandem of Raheam Moore and Kirk Parker complement each other nicely and they’re capable of picking up the slack for each other if one slumps.

The biggest question for the Gators is the guards. If Joe Thomas and Kardell English can shoot well enough to make opposing defenses respect the perimeter game, the Gators can be a factor come tournament time. If they struggle for an extended period of time and defenses are able to collapse on Moore and Parker, they could be one-and-done.

Division 4-5A doesn’t appear, on the surface, to be exceptionally tough and the Gators usually do well in the postseason. They’ve only failed to reach the state tournament once in the past 10 years. Playing well during the division season to get the right seed to avoid Neshoba Central (14-2) in round one will be important. After that, the Gators have a chance to make a deep run in the Class 5A tournament.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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