The eighth-annual Heartland Hoops Classic is almost here.

If your Valentine is a basketball fan in Central Nebraska, you just might want to spend at least part of this Valentine’s Day Saturday at the Heartland Events center.

Six games are on tap this year featuring several teams that have been rated No. 1 in the state this year, one that still is No. 1, and another that is No. 1 in the country.

Yes, the entire country.

Oak Hill Academy, a private school located in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, is back for its second appearance in three years. Two years ago, Oak Hill was knocked off by Omaha Central in the feature game of the 2013 Hoops Classic.

This year Oak Hill will face an improving Omaha South team that lost its best player early this season but seems to be rounding into form.

That 8 p.m. game will wrap up this year’s Hoops Classic.

“Oak Hill coming back puts an exclamation mark on the entire day,” said Tino Martinez, the head coach for Grand Island Central Catholic and the Hoops Classic organizer. “They are currently No. 1 in the country in all the major high school polls.

“They’re coming out to play Omaha South who has really found their stride in the last three weeks. They beat No. 1 Creighton Prep and gave them their first loss and they beat a number of other good teams in the Class A rankings.”

Action starts at 11 a.m. with Ravenna against Amherst. Class C-2 No. 1 St. Cecilia plays Class D-1 No. 4 Bruning-Davenport/Shickley at 12:45 p.m. followed by Class B No. 3 Omaha Skutt vs. Norfolk Catholic (2:30 p.m.), Aurora vs. Class C-1 No. 2 Central Catholic (4:15 p.m.), Class B No. 7 Elkhorn South vs. Class C-1 No. 3 Columbus Scotus (6 p.m.) and Oak Hill Academy vs. Class A No. 2 Omaha South (8 p.m.).

“I feel really good about it,” Martinez said of the lineup of games. “Some of the most intriguing matchups might be like a St. Cecilia-BDS, then you have Elkhorn South and Columbus Scotus.

“Those two teams were No. 1 in the preseason rankings in their respective classes. Norfolk Catholic was preseason No. 4, but they probably play one of the toughest schedules in the state.”

The Crusaders will have their work cut out for them against an Aurora team that has been in and out of the Class B state ratings. This should be a nice matchup between Aurora’s Austin Allen and GICC’s Youhanna Ghaifan inside.

“It’s kind of odd that we’re only 20 miles apart and we don’t play in the regular season,” Martinez said. “We have over the years, but schedule-wise it hasn’t continued to work out.

“It should be a pretty good game for people to watch.”

There should be lots of good games to watch this year, and you can bet in the coming years as well.

The Hoops Classic cut down from seven to six games this year. Martinez took over as head coach at Central Catholic last season, and said the seven-game schedule was very difficult to pull off.

So this year they dropped to six, but that cut may not last for long.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Martinez said. “Interest for next year is probably at an all-time high to be in the event, so there is a good chance you might see seven games next year.”

However many games there are, you can bet it will be an entertaining day of high school basketball.

Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.

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