With the start of their season pushed back another week due to bad weather, the Havre Blue Pony boys basketball team must now face two very tough conference opponents in their season debut.
Last weekend the Central A Blue Ponies were scheduled to start their season in Malta, but after a snowy cancelations, the Ponies are now taking their season opener elsewhere.
Today in Belgrade, the Ponies will face the Central A Belgrade Panthers. And on Saturday the Ponies will face the Central A Livingston Rangers in Livingston.
And after a month of practice and still no games, the Ponies will play anybody they can get in the gym.
“We have had a months worth of practices,” Havre High head coach Andy Smith said. “That’s an awfully long time without a game. At this point the kids just want to play. And I am excited to just see, with a young group, how things unfold and how they compete in a varsity situation. I am ready to see how far the kids have come.”
But facing the Panthers and Rangers in what will be some of the Ponies’ first ever varsity games isn’t the easiest of tasks.
The Panthers and Rangers are both tough Central A teams and already have some game experience under their belts.
A year ago the Panthers had a very nice run at the divisional tournament. And returning 10 seniors to the roster this year, a solid run at the state tournament should be in their sights. And the Rangers are on the other side of the spectrum, returning a young team after graduating ten seniors.
“I think that obviously this is the year that they (Panthers) are going to make a run for it (state),” Smith said. “They have a very good team and have a lot of kids with a lot of varsity experience over the years. They are going to be at the top of the conference. But Livingston has also proved to be tough (beating Belgrade), they are going to be right there in the mix of things too.”
The Panthers are a very athletic team that really get out on the floor and work hard. Their tallest player is listed at 6-2, but what they lack in size they make up for in hustle plays.
Offensively, the Panthers shoot 3-pointers as well as anybody around. But it’s not just one shooter, the Panthers have five or six guys they can put on the floor to knock down the perimeter shot.
And the Rangers have proven to be a very physical team that defends very well. And while they may not have the same offensive weapons as the Panthers, the Rangers sound defense keeps them in games Smith said.
But no matter the opponent, the Ponies have their work cut out for them.
HHS wants to set the tone with their defense this year, and this will be as good of weekend as any to do so. They will have to continually fight through screens and work hard to contest every shot, especially against the Panthers.
HHS will look to play some pressure defense this weekend. They know they have to lock down the 3-point line, and will look to force teams into turnovers and keep them from getting comfortable outside, forcing them to put the ball on the floor and attempt to drive to the basket.
“It is a lot like last year, they are going to live or die from behind the 3-point line,” Smith said. “And the thing is, they have five or six guys that can make them so everybody on the perimeter has to be defended which makes them tough. We just know that we have to contend every shot.”
Offensively, the Ponies will look to play inside out.
With Drew Kafka down low, the Ponies do have a size advantage. If they can get Kafka involved early, he will open some things up for Logan Connor, Brandon Smith and Ryan Myers outside.
The Ponies offense can also expect some pressure defense over the next couple of days. Both conference opponents have very sound defenses, and if they turn to the press the Ponies have to take care of the ball.
“We want to be balanced,” Smith said. “We want some contribution out of our post players and from our guards outside. We just need to make sure we take care of the ball and find ways to score.”
Overall, the Ponies are looking forward to the challenge. They have waited a long time to play, conference opponent or not, this first game will be a good measuring stick for Smith and a young Ponies squad.
Today the Ponies will take to the road where they will face the conference rival Belgrade Panthers and on Saturday they will remain in conference play as they face Livingston on the road.