The brackets and schedules for the 64th annual Neosho Holiday Classic sponsored by Branco have been released and games are set to begin Thursday in full to get three days of holiday basketball cheer.
Twenty-four teams, 16 boys and eight girls, are vying for the top prize in three eight-team divisions: Black Division (boys), Gold Division (boys), and Girls.
The Neosho Wildcats are in the Black Division and open against familiar opening opponent Kansas City Ruskin. Neosho and Ruskin, for example, opened against each other in the 63rd edition.
Neosho owns a four-game winning streak and the Wildcats have won five of their last six games to push above .500 at 5-4 entering their home tournament.
Ruskin, a Missouri Class 5 school just like Neosho recently had been, defeated Neosho 55-45 last season for the Golden Eagles' only victory in the Holiday Classic.
Neosho and Ruskin tip at 4 p.m. Thursday at the high school.
Other games at the high school Thursday include Mitchell vs. St. Joseph Lafayette (10 a.m.), Craigmont vs. Lamar (11:30 a.m.), Bentonville vs. McDonald County (1 p.m.), EStem vs. Maumelle (2:30 p.m.), West Memphis vs. Joplin (5:30 p.m.), and Villa Angela-St. Joseph vs. Bentonville West (7 p.m.), all boys contests.
Only Black Division foes Morrilton and McLain Sci & Tech play at the junior high Thursday, a 2:30 p.m. start.
The Neosho Lady Wildcats, meanwhile, open against St. Joseph Lafayette, a team the Lady Wildcats have played before in the Holiday Classic although maybe not with the same regularity as the Neosho and Ruskin boys.
Neosho and Lafayette are the fourth and final girls contest of the first day, with an approximate 5:30 p.m. start at the junior high.
Games before them Thursday include Shiloh Christian vs. Ruskin (11:30 a.m.), Central vs. Har-Ber (1 p.m.), and Center vs. Lamar (4 p.m.).
Passes for the three-day event are $25 for a tournament pass and $10 for a day pass. The hallowed slam dunk contest and 3-point shootout take place after the last boys semifinal Friday night at the high school. Championship games are played Saturday.
Here's a few notes on this year's field:
— Just like every year since 2012, there will be no repeat champion on the boys side. North Little Rock, last year's winner, chose instead to play this holiday in the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We'll give the Charging Wildcats that there's a lack of beaches in Neosho, but somebody can bring beach balls.
— One might notice the absence of Van Buren, a perennial Holiday Classic visitor from Arkansas with both boys and girls teams. The Lady Pointers' absence guarantees a new girls division champion for the first time since 2014.
The Van Buren boys opted to stay closer to home and play in the Fort Smith Coke Classic and the girls will travel to Sapulpa (Oklahoma) for their holiday tournament.
— This year's Holiday Classic boys field notably includes Villa Angela-St. Joseph from Ohio.
The Vikings of Villa Angela-St. Joseph are ranked No. 8 in the Cleveland.com top 25. Historically, they have been a powerhouse with a streak of five straight state title games ended just last season and the school's won seven state titles overall.
Villa Angela-St. Joseph seems to be the favorite for Holiday Classic gold in the Gold Division. Please keep in mind, though, that the last two years brought different champions than expected before the tournament.
John C. Fremont from Los Angeles planned to attend, but dropped out a week before the start of play. The Pathfinders have been replaced by “Battle at Pea Ridge” tournament champion EStem.
— Arkansas is the state most represented outside Missouri in the tournament: Bentonville, Bentonville West, EStem, Morrilton, West Memphis,and Maumelle on the boys side and Shiloh Christian and Har-Ber on the girls.
Tennessee will be represented by Mitchell and Craigmont, both Memphis schools.
2018 NEOSHO HOLIDAY CLASSIC
Mitchell vs. Lafayette, 10 a.m. (HS)
Craigmont vs. Lamar, 11:30 a.m. (HS)
Shiloh Christian vs. Ruskin girls, 11:30 a.m. (JH)
Bentonville vs. McDonald County, 1 p.m. (HS)
Central vs. Har-Ber girls, 1 p.m. (JH)
EStem vs. Maumelle, 2:30 p.m. (HS)
Morrilton vs. McLain, 2:30 p.m. (JH)
Ruskin vs. Neosho, 4 p.m. (HS)
Center vs. Lamar girls, 4 p.m. (JH)
West Memphis vs. Joplin, 5:30 p.m. (HS)
Lafayette vs. Neosho girls, 5:30 p.m. (JH)
Villa Angela-St. Joseph vs. Bentonville West, 7 p.m. (HS)
Gold Division Consolation Semifinal No. 1, 10:30 a.m. (HS)
Girls Consolation Semifinal No. 1, 10:30 a.m. (JH)
Black Division Championship Semifinal No. 1, noon (HS)
Girls Consolation Semifinal No. 2, noon (JH)
Gold Division Consolation Semifinal No. 2, 1:30 p.m. (HS)
Black Division Consolation Semifinal No. 1, 1:30 p.m. (JH)
Black Division Championship Semifinal No. 2, 3:30 p.m. (HS)
Black Division Consolation Semifinal No. 2, 3:30 p.m. (JH)
Gold Division Championship Semifinal No. 1, 5 p.m. (HS)
Girls Championship Semifinal, 5 p.m. (JH)
Gold Division Championship Semifinal No. 2, 6:30 p.m. (HS)
Girls Championship Semifinal, 6:30 p.m. (JH)
Slam Dunk Contest & 3-Point Shootout, after last semifinal game (HS)
Gold Division Fifth Place Game, 9 a.m. (HS)
Black Division Seventh Place Game, 9 a.m. (JH)
Black Division Third Place Game, 10:30 a.m. (HS)
Gold Division Seventh Place Game, 10:30 a.m. (JH)
Girls Third Place Game, noon (HS)
Black Division Fifth Place Game, noon (JH)
Gold Division Third Place Game, 2 p.m. (HS)
Girls Seventh Place Game, 2 p.m. (JH)
Girls Championship Game, 3:30 p.m. (HS)
Girls Fifth Place Game, 3:30 p.m. (JH)
Black Division Championship Game, 5 p.m. (HS)
Gold Division Championship Game, 6:30 p.m. (HS)