When the Bluefield High boys basketball team, top-ranked in Class AA, takes on No. 10 Westside this evening on the first day of the Big Atlantic Classic competition in Beckley, at least one potential stumbling block will be removed for the Beavers.
The psychological hurdle of playing in a big armory-like environment will not be a factor, now that the Beavers are used to playing their home games at the renovated Brushfork Armory rather than at Bluefield State College.
“By all means, our new facility has helped us,” Bluefield coach Buster Large said on Sunday evening. “When you have what I call collegiate backboards, there’s a different backdrop. The shooting is very different.
“Practicing in a large armory such as Brushfork is very similar to what we will see there. It has helped us with our preparation.”
The Beavers (10-1) were a unanimous selection as the top team in last week’s West Virginia AP poll.
The statistics back up Bluefield’s claim to its lofty perch. Only two teams have scored more than 56 points on the BHS defense — Scott, whom Bluefield beat 68-63 on Thursday, and Princeton, which handed their county rivals their only loss, 68-61 on Dec. 28.
Since then, Bluefield has gone 8-0 in the month of January, scoring an average of 71.9 points and allowing 51.9 points.
“We’re very happy to be 10-1,” Large said. “I think we’ve played a very competitive and challenging schedule.”
They will find that in Beckley as the Big Atlantic Classic unfolds. Large respects the opportunity.
“First of all, it’s an honor to be invited,” he said. “You don’t get invited every year. It’s one of the premier tournaments in the country. Not only do you have outstanding teams from the whole state of West Virginia, you have some of the top prep schools in the nation playing also.
“It’s a tournament that we’re very excited to be a part of, and very happy to be invited this year.”
Tournament Director Jim Justice told Cam Huffman, sports editor of The Register-Herald, “This should be another great tournament. We try hard to figure out who the best teams are going to be, and I think we have a lot of them coming.”
Westside is 9-5 this season but their loss column consists of games against Class AA defending state champion Tug Valley, county rival and third-ranked Wyoming East, Class AAA Logan, and two setbacks to the No. 4 team in Class AA, Fairmont Senior.
This month the Renegades have scored an average of 76 points per game and their opponents are averaging 63, but those figures are skewed by a 105-55 rout of Man. In its last two games, Westside beat Tug Valley 71-68 and defeated Liberty 77-68.
“Westside is a very good team,” Large said. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us, playing a very quality opponent. They’ve played some very tough competition, like ourselves.
“I think they feel like they’ll be right in the thick of things when it comes to sectional and regional play. ... They’re a young team and they’re going to be good down the road.”
The Renegades’ Justin Cogar, a 6-foot-3 sophomore forward, has quickly made an impact — he’s averaging a team-best 17.9 points per game. Corey Bowles, a 6-2 junior, has a team-best 20 three-pointers in 12 games and is averaging 15.2 points per contest.
Large said, “I understand the Cogar kid is one of best rebounders in the state. He leaps very good. That’s going to be a big key tomorrow, in terms of blocking him out and controlling the rebounding, offensively and defensively.
“And they are a pretty good shooting team in terms of guard play.”
On Saturday afternoon, the winner of this evening’s contest takes on the winner of Tuesday night’s game between Wyoming East and Robert C. Byrd High for the Big Atlantic AA championship.
“I feel the double-A field going to be very competitive,” Large said.
Asked about the task ahead with one month left in the regular season, the Bluefield coach said, “We’ve improved. We’ve gotten better since start of season. But in the next 10 to 13 games ... we’re really getting into the thick of things. We’re getting ready to face some teams that are quality teams in the state of West Virginia.”
Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com. Cam Huffman of The Register-Herald contributed to this story.
The schedule for the Big Atlantic Classic, scheduled for Jan. 28-Feb. 2 at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center:
Monday, Jan. 28
Noon (A) — Park vs. Shady Spring (girls middle school)
1:15 p.m. (B) — Park vs. Shady Spring (boys middle school)
2:30 p.m. (C) — Eastern Greenbrier vs. Fayetteville (girls middle school)
5:45 p.m. (D) — Eastern Greenbrier vs. Collins (boys middle school)
7:25 p.m. (1) — Bluefield vs. Westside (Class AA boys)
9 p.m. (2) — Tygarts Valley vs. Valley (Class A boys)
Tuesday, Jan. 29
4:30 p.m. (E) — Loser A vs. Loser C (girls middle consolation)
5:45 p.m. (F) — Loser B vs. Loser D (boys middle consolation)
7:25 p.m. (3) — Greenbrier West vs. Moorefield (Class A boys)
9 p.m. (4) — Wyoming East vs. Robert C. Byrd (Class AA boys)
Wednesday, Jan. 30
1:15 p.m. (G) — Winner A vs. Winner C (girls middle championship)
2:30 p.m. (H) — Winner B vs. Winner D (boys middle championship)
3:45 p.m. (5) — Loser 2 vs. Loser 3 (Class A boys consolation)
5:30 p.m. (6) — Loser 1 vs. Loser 4 (Class AA boys consolation)
7:20 p.m. (7) — Oak Hill Academy vs. Montrose Christian (Boys national)
9 p.m. (8) — Winner 2 vs. Winner 3 (Class A boys championship)
Thursday, Jan. 31
4 p.m. (9) — Parkersburg South vs. Nicholas County (Girls)
5:45 p.m. (10) — Preston vs. George Washington (Girls)
7:25 p.m. (11) — Greenbrier East vs. St. Albans (Girls)
9 p.m. (12) — University vs. Westside (Girls)
Friday, Feb. 1
2 p.m. (13) — Loser 9 vs. Loser 10 (Girls consolation)
4 p.m. (14) — Hampshire vs. Morgantown (Class AAA boys)
5:40 p.m. (15) — Elkins vs. Parkersburg South (Class AAA boys)
7:20 p.m. (16) — Greenbrier East vs. Point Pleasant (Class AAA boys)
9 p.m. (17) — Woodrow Wilson vs. Lewis County (Class AAA boys)
Saturday, Feb. 2
9 a.m. (18) — Loser 11 vs. Loser 12 (Girls consolation)
10:40 a.m. (19) — Loser 17 vs. Loser 14 (Class AAA consolation)
12:20 p.m. (20) — Loser 16 vs. Loser 15 (Class AAA consolation)
2 p.m. (21) — Winner 1 vs. Winner 4 (Class AA championship)
4 p.m. (22) — Winner 9 vs. Winner 10 (Girls championship)
5:40 p.m. (23) — Winner 11 vs. Winner 12 (Girls championship)
7:20 p.m. (24) — Winner 17 vs. Winner 14 (Class AAA championship)
9 p.m. (25) — Winner 16 vs. Winner 15 (Class AAA championship)