PLANO — For the first rime since the 2010 season, the Plano Christmas Classic will entertain only 16 teams instead of the 24 it has seen compete the past seven years, with the Ottawa Pirates garnering a unanimous No. 1 seed in the 56th season of the holiday basketball staple.
The undefeated Pirates received a top ranking from all attending coaches along with select media representatives Wednesday evening at the Q Bar and Restaurant here in Plano.
Three other Times-area schools received recognition, as Newark secured the No. 4 seed, Sandwich No. 9 and Streator No. 12 ahead of play that begins on Wednesday, Dec. 26 and culminates that Saturday after four consecutive days of intense play within a scaled-down but talented field.
"During the past seven years, playing with 24 teams has been very exciting but very challenging in terms of all 24 of those ballclubs providing us with good attendance," said Plano athletics director and tournament director Jim Schmidt. "In the 17 years I've been running the tournament, I think last year was the lowest attendance we've had, so it was an easy decision going back to 16.
"Ottawa certainly is the prohibitive favorite this year as witnessed by their unanimous No. 1 seed voting, but after you go from No. 2 to about 13 or 14, I don't think there's a lot of talent difference. We're really looking forward to another great tournament this year."
Top-seeded Ottawa (8-0) will be trying to join Newark and Seneca as the only four-time champions of the event, having won in 2012, 2013, and 2016 and after finishing 9th last year.
The Pirates' first-round opponent will be No. 13 Hinckley-Big Rock (6-3), which selected Ottawa in a blind draw after the first eight seeds were established. Game time versus the Royals is set for 8:30 p.m. in the last game of Day 1.
"Our kids have had a good year so far with a few quality wins, but seeds are just seeds and they don't produce results," said OHS veteran coach Mark Cooper. "Anything can happen in the first round of the tournament, especially the day after Christmas. But I know we'll be prepared and ready to play on Day 1 giving our full attention to the Christmas Classic."
Newark (8-2) — the four-time Classic winner (1965, 82, 85, 92) — will take on No. 16 seed Mendota (2-8) at 5:30 p.m. during the first day. The Norsemen defeated the Trojans 87-42 this season back in November during the opening round of the Seneca Thanksgiving Tournament.
"Plano's always a good tournament with a lot of good teams, so you better bring it or you'll be playing in the morning very quickly," said NHS coach Rick Tollefson. "We've played them before… so Mendota at least we know and we're familiar with. We've been there twice in the championship game at Plano since I've been coach and haven't won it. You've got to play really well against good teams. This is a big tournament."
Sandwich (4-4) was voted the No. 9 seed and will battle No. 8-seeded La Salle-Peru (3-3) on opening day at 2 p.m.
"We figured with our record we'd be in the 7, 8 or 9 spot," said Indians coach Jim Braddish. "We feel we're better than that, and I think we can improve on that seeding. I think the first-round matchup with L-P will be a battle, and from there it's just how we perform in round one and how we represent ourselves the rest of the way in a very tough tournament."
Streator (2-5), which finished third last season, was voted as the No. 12 seed and selected No. 5 Niles Northridge Prep (6-2) in the blind draw as its first-round opponent with tip set for 3:30 p.m.
"We knew there was a pretty strong likelihood that we'd be playing one of the top seeds," said Bulldogs coach Beau Doty. "This tournament now being 16 instead of 24 teams is very balanced, and Northridge Prep is a fantastic program. It'll be a great challenge for our kids coming off a great showing last year here at the Classic."
Defending champion Burlington Central (5-3) was voted as the No. 3 seed, while last year's runner-up, Peoria Notre Dame (5-2), was granted the No. 2 ranking.
No. 6 seed Coal City (6-2) and No. 7-seeded Lisle (5-5) rounded out the top half of the rankings ahead of L-P.