It may only be a week into the district schedule, but the heat is already on the Sherman Bearcats and the Denison Yellow Jackets. And after the rivals get together, it will be extremely hot for the team coming away with a loss.
That’s what can happen in a playoff race which essentially begins immediately due to the small number of teams. Every win and loss matters a lot in terms of tie-breakers and how the standings shuffle every Tuesday and Friday.
There will be no different feeling as Sherman (8-17, 0-2) travels to Denison (11-12, 0-2) in 10-5A action at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
“Everything for us is a must-win. Gotta starting with the next one, regardless of who it would be,” Denison head coach Dale Rhodes said. “You don’t want to go to 0-3. That’s a tough hole to climb out of.”
The winner is guaranteed to be tied in fourth place with the Wylie East-Princeton loser. Leaving with a defeat means sitting at the bottom of the standings and needing to leapfrog a pair of teams with just seven games to make up the ground to get a postseason berth.
“The kids see it. They don’t want to be 0-3,” Sherman head coach Jordan Marks said. “They want to figure out what we’ve done to have success and figure out ways we can replicate it.”
It’s not as terrible as it sounds but it makes life extremely difficult. Sherman is trying to get back to the postseason after a one-year absence and Denison is trying to make it for the second straight season, which would be the first back-to-back trips for the program since 2010-11.
“We weren’t eliminated until the last week of the season,” Marks said. “There’s a long road ahead of us. We still have a great shot to get there.”
Sherman will be relying on seniors Mason Gabriel and Xzavier Roberson, junior Jalarien Wilson and sophomore Kasai Burton, who gets his first taste of the rivalry after transferring from Tishomingo (Okla.).
Denison is going to lean on seniors Tarrence Gaines and Nate Uber as well as junior Keleon Vaughn and a large group of sophomores off the bench.
The teams split the season series last year with Sherman winning the first meeting, 52-42, before Denison took the rematch, 63-47, in a game that all but wrapped up the Jackets clinching the playoffs, which they officially did a few days later, and ended the eight-game winning streak by the Bearcats in the rivalry.
“Being a rivalry game, the kids know each other so both sides are going to be hyped up,” Marks said. “We have some guys to get the others calm because they’ve played in this before.”
In the first two district contests, Sherman lost against Lovejoy, 62-39, and the to McKinney North, 64-43, on Tuesday. It was the fourth straight game the Bearcats hadn’t cracked 50 points.
“Twenty-six games into the season, you should be taking the shots you’ve been taking. We haven’t been taking the shots we know we can make,” Marks said. “There’s shots in practice that should be taken in the games.”
The Yellow Jackets have also gone into a scoring funk the past week. Denison lost to Princeton, 58-44, before a 70-45 defeat against Wylie East on Tuesday.
“Can’t fall in love with the three-point shot just because we’ve had some games where we’ve hit a few,” Rhodes said. “Attack the basket more. You can’t do that if you’re just standing behind the line.”
The outcome against Wylie East was a setback because the Jackets swept the Raiders last year on the way to getting the district’s final playoff spot.
“We didn’t match their energy and focus. They were ready to come out swinging,” Rhodes said. “We weren’t taking bad shots but we couldn’t make a thing. Once they started falling we were a little behind.”
Having to rebound and face their rivals is both a good and bad scenario for Denison.
“It’s not another game for us but we have to try and make it like another game because we’re 0-2,” Rhodes said. “We’ll attack it and approach the game like it was McKinney North or whomever but we know who we’re playing.”
Sherman was staring at 0-3 last year before winning this match-up, although it was on the home floor. The Bearcats then closed the year with seven straight losses to finish last in the standings, yet were still only two wins from making the playoffs.
In the pressure-cooker that is this rivalry, things are about to get turned up a few more notches.