When the Tipton Cardinals take on the Belle Tigers in today's 1 p.m. game of the Missouri National Guard Shootout, the Cardinals won't be relying on an in-depth scouting report to help them.
They'll be too busy focusing on themselves.
That's because Tipton's youth has been the main point of concern after five games this season, as they're still struggling to put together a complete-game effort every time they hit the floor.
"We're athletic enough and quick enough that we can compete with anybody, it's just that now, being as inexperienced as we are, we're having a tough adjusting to the varsity level," Tipton coach Billy Jeffries said. "We're so focused on what we need to do that we'll make adjustments (to what Belle does) as the game goes on, but we've just got to stay focused on us."
That isn't much of a surprise, considering the Cardinals lost seven seniors off last year's 19-9 team. This year's version started hot, beating three straight Class 1 schools to win the Tipton Tournament, beating Chamois, Jamestown and state-ranked Macks Creek.
Then came losses to a pair of Class 3 schools, state-ranked Eugene and then most recently, Southern Boone.
"It was going real well for a while," Jeffries said. "Eugene is just exceptionally good. We took our lumps and we didn't compete like we should have, both with them and Southern Boone. We just let them do what they wanted and we didn't have any say in it."
Throw in some odd scheduling quirks thanks to the weather, and it's been a season of starts and stops.
"Going into Southern Boone, the weather hit us and we had about an hour's worth of practice in four days," Jeffries said. "Mentally and physically, we weren't ready to play. They beat us fair and square.
"We're looking forward to getting back to playing teams more in our class size."
Not only will the Class 2 Cardinals get that today, but they'll also be taking on a district opponent in Belle.
"This is big for us and them, it's a district opponent," Jeffries said. "If Linn stays healthy, they're going to be the No. 1 seed in districts, but we're battling with Belle and Cole Camp for the 2, 3 and 4 seeds.
"So it's not just any game, it's a game where we need to go out and play well and win. As coaches, we look further down the road and how it's going to impact us, so we've been stressing how important this is to the players."
Jeffries added playing Belle will be like looking in a mirror.
"Those kids are just like us, they're hard-nosed kids who just want to get out and play and do the little things to win," he said.
Two of those little things are areas of concern for Tipton.
"We need to rebound a lot better and play a lot better defensively," Jeffries said. "We've just been outmatched, both in speed and strength a little bit the last two games and got our kids rattled. So we need to just work harder on rebounding and keeping the man in front of us."
The Cardinals are led by their only returning starter, Dylan Cooper, averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds a contest.
"We lost a kid who was sixth man last year and would have been starting when he moved to Oklahoma midway through football season," Jeffries said. "So we've been having a tough time finding a second leader to go with Cooper. Cooper has to be our leader, our scorer, our rebounder.
"We've got some kids who have the ability to be another leader, we just haven't had one step up every time out."
Belle comes into the contest with a record of 4-2, opening with a loss to New Haven, then going 2-1 in the Gasconade Valley Conference Tournament before topping Owensville and Calvary Lutheran.