PARK HILLS – Bob Sechrest Fieldhouse is the place to witness arguably the most prominent junior college basketball game played anywhere in the nation so far this season.
Local history will be made tonight when the Mineral Area men host Region 16 rival Moberly Area for an unprecedented January clash of unbeaten top-10 programs.
The Cardinals have soared to their first 20-0 start in program history under second-year head coach Luke Strege, and have spent the last two weeks perched at No. 6 in the NJCAA rankings.
But they remain two spots behind fourth-ranked Moberly, which ripped State Fair 89-40 on Wednesday night to gather more momentum while improving to 19-0.
"Region 16 games are always exciting, but when both teams are undefeated, it brings the excitement to a different level," Mineral Area athletic director Mike Overman said. "Saturday's game will most likely be the only time two top ten teams will face off during the regular season this year."
And while current gaudy records may attract greater national attention and a potential capacity crowd, the implications of this game should factor heavily into loftier goals.
The winning team would certainly bolster its overall résumé for one of four awarded at-large selections should the quest for an automatic NJCAA tournament berth fall short.
A rematch in Moberly will take place on Feb. 4, and the teams could meet for a third time in an always unpredictable Region 16 tournament.
The Greyhounds bounced MAC from postseason play last year after losing two previous battles, and eventually reached the national round of 16.
"There has been a ton of buzz around campus all week about the game,” Overman said. “We are expecting a great atmosphere on Saturday night."
Mineral Area features a balanced offensive attack with four players averaging somewhere between 11 and 14 points per contest.
Four sophomores – Lamar Morgan, Darius Thompson, Zac Cuthbertson and Devin Thomas – solidified their futures in November by signing early with NCAA Division I schools.
The Cardinals’ unbeaten status has been vulnerable lately, but the team has persevered through three overtime road wins at SE Illinois, Three Rivers and MSU-West Plains.
Sophomore guard Shawn Roundtree – a transfer from Missouri State – has shined in all three of those games with clutch shots, and leads Mineral Area in assists.
Moberly was likewise tested in recent 3-point wins over St. Louis and Three Rivers, and presents a size disadvantage for the Cardinals with seven players standing 6-foot-6 or taller.
Sophomore guard Brandon Better boasts a 17.4 scoring average, and the high-powered Greyhounds produce 91.4 points per game. Mineral Area is allowing just 64.3 per outing.
“They play really hard. They’re deep. They’re physical. They’re tough,” Strege said. “They’re the best team we’ve played by far, and they’re coming to our gym.”
The Mineral Area and Moberly women will take the court first at 5 p.m. The Lady Cardinals topped Jefferson 75-67 on Wednesday for their first Region 16 victory.