The Free State High boys basketball team will face a familiar opponent in unfamiliar territory today in the first round of the McPherson Invitational Basketball Tournament.
Free State will face Maize at 4:45 p.m. in the first round of the three-day tournament in McPherson, approximately 21â2 hours southwest of Lawrence.
The Firebirds defeated the Eagles, 68-65, in the first game of the season Dec. 2 in the Free State gym.
"Weston (Wiebe) had 20 that night, and Christian (Ballard) had 18 that night," Free State coach Chuck Law said. "We guarded them very well in the half court, but we didn't guard them well in transition, which we're going to have to focus on to be successful."
Free State (4-4) hasn't played a game since Jan. 9, when it lost, 52-49, at Olathe East. The Firebirds had their Jan. 12 tilt against the undefeated Shawnee Mission East Lancers rescheduled to Feb. 3 due to inclement weather.
In fact, Free State could meet SM East on Friday if both Sunflower League teams are victorious in the first round.
Maize (7-2) most recently defeated Salina South on Friday.
While playing three games in three days, Law said fatigue and depth wouldn't necessarily have an effect on the Firebirds.
"I think we have to remind ourselves that these are 16- and 17-year-old kids," Law said. "I think they're going to be OK over a three-day period. The most difficult thing is that you don't have a lot of time to prepare for your next opponent."
Before the Olathe East loss, Free State dominated Olathe North, 78-59. But the Firebirds haven't had more than a two-game winning streak this season, and it came in the consolation bracket of the Leavenworth Invitational.
"We need to play hard and not have lapses, as we tend to have," senior guard Jamar Reese said. "Some stretches, we're on, but others, we're off in la-la land, as coach says."
Free State has had a difficult schedule. Although it didn't face SM East, the Lancers are ranked No. 2 in the Kansas Basketball Coaches Assn. Class 6A poll. Topeka High, which defeated Free State, is ranked fourth, while Maize is eighth.
"The problem is that we're playing a lot of difficult teams close," Law said. "We need to beat a good team. We beat Maize, but to a certain extent, you can throw out the first game of the year. We had the home-court advantage, they traveled three hours, and I think that worked in our favor."
Free State finished fifth at the McPherson tournament last season.
"People will really get to see us and honor what we do," Reese said. "It's kind of neat because we're representing our school and our town when we go places."