The 66th annual Republic Bank Louisville Invitational Tournament will tip off today with a new venue and a traditional favorite.
The boys' basketball event featuring 20 teams from Jefferson County will start at 3:30 p.m. when Seneca faces Western at Valley High School's new J.C. Cantrell Gymnasium. The LIT was a staple of the downtown Louisville Gardens for many years before moving to Bellarmine University's Knights Hall in 2009.
The 3,200-seat Valley gym was completed last summer and is the new home for the boys' LIT and the boys' and girls' Sixth and Seventh Region tournaments.
Some fans -- especially from East End schools such as Ballard and Eastern -- have complained about a longer trip to the southwestern Jefferson County school. But others are excited about having a larger venue than the 2,222-seat arena at Bellarmine.
"I like it," Fairdale coach Gregg Longacre said. "It needs some tweaks, but parking is going to be an issue anywhere. It was at the Gardens and Bellarmine, too. ... We need a site where everything happens. If (Valley) is where they want to do it, we'll make it work."
Second-round games will be played Tuesday and Wednesday. Quarterfinals are set for Friday, with the semifinals (10 and 11:30 a.m.) and final (7:45 p.m.) scheduled for Saturday.
No. 1 Ballard is one of six teams in the field ranked among the Top 20 in The Courier-Journal's Litkenhous Ratings, joining No. 2 Trinity, No. 7 Pleasure Ridge Park, No. 8 Fairdale, No. 11 Butler and No. 14 St. Xavier. The 20-team field was determined by the Seth Rankings, a system devised by Jerry Wyman, director of athletics for Jefferson County Public Schools.
Of the six Top 20 teams, only Ballard is in the top half of the bracket, giving the Bruins what appears to be a clear path to the final. Ballard (12-3) enters with a six-game winning streak -- longest among all 20 LIT teams -- after knocking off Manual 96-81 on Friday.
"The bottom bracket seems like the tougher way to go, but there are a lot of good teams in Louisville right now," Longacre said. "Ballard's probably the favorite, but I wouldn't be surprised to see somebody else win it."
Longacre's Bulldogs (11-4) are among the hottest teams in Louisville, entering the LIT with a five-game winning streak after Friday's 72-57 victory over Butler.
Fairdale will face St. X at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, a rematch of a Dec. 4 game won by the Tigers 75-61.
"I think we've figured out some things since then," Longacre said. "Early in the season when things got physical we'd back off and let teams back in and take it to us. The (Butler game) was physical early on, and we kept our composure. We stood our ground and went right back at them. That's progression right there."
Trinity is the defending LIT champion, beating Moore 74-57 in last year's final on its way to winning the state championship.
The Shamrocks enter the LIT after a 45-42 loss to rival St. X on Friday at Freedom Hall. Trinity coach Mike Szabo said his team showed little sense of urgency until it fell behind by 12 points in the fourth quarter.
"I didn't have them ready to go, and we'll fix it," said Szabo, whose team will open LIT play at 5 p.m. Wednesday against the Seneca-Western winner. "We'll come back and work harder."