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Whether it's an advantage or disadvantage remains to be seen, but today's meeting between North Medford and South Medford in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A boys basketball state tournament certainly marks the most scouted matchup of the eight-team event.
As Southern Oregon Hybrid foes, the seventh-ranked Black Tornado and eighth-ranked Panthers have already squared off three times this season, watched the other play three times during the Abby's Holiday Classic here in Medford and spent countless hours studying each other's tendencies in an effort to gain an advantage.
If there's such a thing as knowing too much about another team, that's likely the tightrope North Medford and South Medford will be walking entering today's 3:15 p.m. game at the Rose Garden in Portland.
"Obviously we both know each other a lot better than the other teams would normally know each other in a game like this," North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn said of the state tournament opener. "It's an advantage for both teams because you really know each other and really know what the players like to do and what they try to execute. It can be a disadvantage, too, for some of those same things."
After making it to the state semifinals last year and placing fifth for the second time in four years, North Medford (22-3) was expected to make it back to the state tournament this season with three returning starters and two others who saw playing time as chief reserves.
That South Medford (23-3) also is making a return trip to the Rose Garden was a little less predictable, but the Panthers found a way to earn their second straight SOH title and at least a share of 10 of the last 11 conference crowns despite having no returning starters.
The Panthers and Black Tornado have joined each other at the final tournament site now in three of the last five state playoffs but this will be their first meeting. The teams were on opposite sides of the bracket in 2008 and could have met in the semifinals last year but only North Medford was able to advance to that point.
This season has provided a unique twist to the cross-town rivalry, with the road team prevailing in each contest. South Medford won 52-47 on Jan. 17 and North Medford returned the favor on Feb. 3 with a 51-37 victory. In the regular season-finale to determine the SOH championship, South Medford shrugged off a 12-2 deficit and wound up winning 58-48 in the Tornado gym on Feb. 21.
That today's contest will be played at a neutral site creates a new intrigue since both teams have been known to feed off the frenzied crowd of their standing-room only battles. A mid-afternoon Thursday game likely will make it difficult for there to be much of a Medford presence for the teams' fourth meeting this season, although each school is expected to be sending rooter buses up to Portland.
"Being at a neutral site will put something different on the game," said Plankenhorn. "I think it really becomes whoever can play their best game, no matter where it is, is going to win the basketball game. Whoever executes what their game plan is as close to 32 minutes as they can will walk away victorious. The venue doesn't ever change that."
In truth, each team will be trying its best to treat the other like a nameless opponent to counteract any overzealous tendencies.
"One of the things I asked my kids was that if it's David Douglas on the other side, would it make any difference?" said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy, "and the answer is, 'No.' We're going to go out and play the way we play no matter who it is."
"We're going to hope for the best," added the coach. "Hopefully we show up and play well. If we continue to show up and play like we've been playing we surely have a chance because we're playing well."
Plankenhorn echoed the sentiment, noting that his team has done well throughout the playoffs to treat each opponent as an anonymous hurdle to overcome.
"We're taking it like we do every single playoff game," said the coach. "The opponents change and obviously it's our rival and cross-town team we know a lot about but nothing's going to change. We're going to write up stuff we want to do and what South Medford wants to do just like Tigard and West Salem. We're not going to try to rev it up anymore than that, we're just going to go out to play our best basketball."
Such a prospect played itself out last season for the Black Tornado, which picked up steam throughout the playoffs before ultimately falling three points shy in the third-place final to Central Catholic. Few exemplified North's late season run more than seniors Jordan Browne-Moore, Chris Faust and Derek Mautz, who thrived in the limelight at the Rose Garden.
Browne-Moore grabbed 19 rebounds — two shy of Kevin Love's tournament record — in an opening-round win over West Linn and wound up leading the tourney with 35 rebounds overall. Faust was the sixth-leading scorer in the tourney at 14.3 points per game, amassing 24 points against the Rams, while Mautz was a steady influence throughout, getting off to a stellar start with 19 points in the opener on 6-for-11 shooting.
"It's nice to have guys that have been on the floor and played and had a high success level on that floor," said Plankenhorn. "Will that change anything, who knows, but it's nice to have that leadership and ability to talk to the other kids and maybe calm them down."
Two other current North Medford starters, senior Trey Garfas and junior Oshea Bailey, also saw playing time at last year's state tournament.
South Medford has been led all season by seniors Matt Retzlaff, Jack Delaney and Jack Singler, with each averaging around 12 points per game. That trio played sparingly in last year's state tournament, combining for six points in two games at the Rose Garden.
On the same side of the bracket featuring the Medford schools is a quarterfinal pitting No. 1-ranked Jesuit and No. 10 David Douglas, which beat fifth-ranked Westview to earn its spot in the tourney. At the opposite end, the quarterfinal matchups include No. 2 Central Catholic against No. 4 West Linn and third-ranked Lake Oswego against No. 6 Lincoln.
"Everybody's going to get a great quarterfinal game and no matter who you meet in the next game, it's going to be another chore," Plankenhorn said in breaking down the tourney. "It's definitely going to be fun for the fans and a fun tournament to be in."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry