MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - McMinn County coach Keith Elliott likes that there are some similarities between the Cherokees' last state tournament team and the one he's coaching now. He just wishes those similarities had surfaced a little sooner.
On the 20th anniversary of their last state appearance, McMinn's season will end one way or another in Murfreesboro. Their journey for a championship will continue today at 6 p.m. EDT against top-ranked Bearden in the Class AAA quarterfinals at the Murphy Center.
In the Class AA tournament, Howard (23-6) will take on Giles County (24-5) at 12:45 p.m.
Bearden (33-2) is led offensively by a pair of McDonald's All-Americans - 6-foot-4 wing Rico White and 6-foot-2 guard Ty Greene - but Elliott believes the other side of the ball is what has pushed Bearden into the tournament.
"Bearden is No. 1 for a reason. They play great, fundamental defense," he said. "After watching them on film, I believe their defense is what has got them where they are.
"It's going to be a challenge to put the ball in the hole."
McMinn (24-10) was the No. 4 seed entering the District 5-AAA tournament, but has responded with a 6-1 record in the postseason - their only loss coming in the finals of the district tournament in four overtimes to Ooltewah.
Dante Arnwine and Cedric Nevins have paced the attack, but contributions have come from all sources in each game. Wings Desmond McBee, Brian Sherrill and Taylor Hicks and posts Eric Wilcox, James Lowry and Nathan Simbeck have all chipped in when needed.
"One good thing is that we haven't been one-dimensional," Elliott said. "We have several that can score; we hope to be able to spread them out and get some chances at the hoop."
Elliott, who was an assistant on the 1990-91 team led by future Vanderbilt star Ronnie McMahan, said that team had an "unbelievable chemistry.
"They were a big family," he said. "After practice, they would go to the Y and play for another 2 hours. They were unselfish and knew their roles, and never underestimated a team."
He noted this year's team has been similar in the postseason.
"Its been great to watch this team come together," Elliott said. "They've learned to depend on each other and know their roles.
"Every year we come into the season with the state tournament in mind. It's great that we're here, and we're just going to go all out and compete."
While McMinn County snapped a long absence from the state tournament, Howard is making its fourth trip in Walter McGary's five years as coach and will take on Giles County today at 12:45 in the Class AA bracket.
While the Hustlin' Tigers advance to the semifinals in 2008, no area team has made it to the title game in Class AA or AAA since Cleveland in 1997.