Basketball QF primer: No. 1-ranked teams begin to feel the heat
The state basketball tournament is near the halfway point, the quarterfinals, a place where region champions for the first time can meet each other or play on the road. That’s where five No. 1-ranked teams find themselves Tuesday and Wednesday.
One of those is Westside-Macon’s boys, who will visit No. 2 Pace Academy, a reigning champion, in a Class AAA game that might be the best of show in any class this week.
Here are more facts and figures from the quarters, which will be played in about 60 gyms across the state.
Favored still: The 16 No. 1-ranked teams are 28-0 in the tournament. In fact, No. 1 boys teams haven’t lost since Jan. 3 (when Calhoun lost to Early County 72-69) and are 124-1 against Georgia opponents since Christmas. Those No. 1’s are McEachern (AAAAAAA), South Paulding (AAAAAA), Buford (AAAAA), Upson-Lee (AAAA), Westside-Macon (AAA), South Atlanta (AA), Greenforest Christian (A private) and Calhoun County (A public). It hasn’t been easy, though. South Paulding beat Coffee 90-82 in overtime last week, and Buford needed a buzzer-beating shot from Alex Jones to foil New Hampstead 69-68. The No. 1 girls teams are Norcross (AAAAAAA), Northview (AAAAAA), Griffin (AAAAA), Cross Creek (AAAA), Johnson-Savannah (AAA), Laney (AA), St. Francis (A private) and Pelham (A public).
Not neutral: Playoff games through the quarterfinals are played on the courts of the higher-seeded teams, but the quarters mark the first round in which teams might have the same seed. In those cases, a coin toss decides the venue. As a result, No. 1-ranked South Atlanta’s boys are going to unranked Washington County in AA. No. 1-ranked girls teams Norcross, Griffin and Laney are on the road, as is No. 1 Westside’s boys. The quarters were played at neutral sites from the start in 1922 until 2013, when the GHSA split Class A into public and private divisions, making for 12 state champions and tournament draws. The tournament is so big now that the GHSA declined to negotiate neutral arenas for 64 quarterfinal games. Keep in mind there were only 40 quarterfinals as recently as 2012 and 32 in 2000. The venue does matter. The home teams are 84-36 in quarterfinals that are not neutral.
Best boys games: Pace vs. Westside has a championship feel. Pace has the consensus No. 1 senior recruit, Wendell Carter (Duke signee). Westside has the consensus No. 1 junior recruit, Khavon Moore (uncommitted). In AAAAAAA, No. 2 Pebblebrook is at home against No. 5 Norcross. Pebblebrook’s Collin Sexton (Alabama) and Norcross’s Hammonds (Georgia) were players of the year in their regions. Also in the highest class, No. 6 Wheeler travels to No. 1 McEachern in a game between teams that have held top-25 national rankings.
Best girls games: No. 1 Griffin travels to sixth-ranked Maynard Jackson, the 2016 AAA runner-up, in a AAAAA game. Neither has won a state title in girls basketball. Fourth-ranked Collins Hill, in its first quarterfinal since the 2007 champion team of Maya Moore, travels to third-ranked Lambert in AAAAAAA. Three-time defending champion McEachern, whose 17-game state-playoff winning streak is a new record for the high class, travels to fifth-ranked Mill Creek. Harrison and Douglas County have spent all season in the top four of the rankings. They play at Douglasville in AAAAAA.
First quarters (boys): Four boys teams are in the quarterfinals for the first time, three in AAAAAA. They are Langston Hughes and Tri-Cities, both of south Fulton County, and Northside-Warner Robins, which won its first-ever state playoff games this year. Northside entered the tournament with a losing record (13-14) but beat No. 8 Pope 80-61 last week. Savannah’s Islands High (AAA) also is making its quarterfinal debut.
First quarters (girls): A dozen girls programs – including No. 1-ranked Northview in AAAAAA – are in the final eight for the first time. The oldest is Fitzgerald, dating to the 1800s, although girls basketball there wasn’t permanent until the 1980s. Central-Macon, opened in 1970, won its first state-playoff games this season. Other first-timers are third-ranked Lambert in AAAAAAA, seventh-ranked Lovejoy in AAAAAA, Eagle’s Landing in AAAAA, Tattnall County in AAA, ninth-ranked Hapeville Charter in AA, fifth-ranked Marion County and Woodville-Tompkins in Class A public and eighth-ranked Pinecrest Academy and Prince Avenue Christian in Class A private.
It’s been a while: Bryan County’s girls are in the quarters for the first time since 1961. They had lost 12 straight round-of-16 games, according to the Georgia Basketball Project. Ranked No. 6 in Class AA, Bryan County (24-4) carries a 10-game winning streak to No. 2 Model, some 300 miles away to the northwest. Perry’s boys team, which won nine state titles in the ‘50s and ‘60s, is back for the first time since its 1998 Class AA runner-up team. Three other teams, all boys, are making their first quarters this century – Brookwood (1999), Chattooga (1996) and Clinch County (1996).
Started from the bottom: Brookwood also is one of just three No. 4 seeds still playing. Lithonia’s boys in AAAAA and Stephenson’s girls in AAAAAA likewise have won two road games to advance and with a third road trip at hand. Lithonia was a semifinalist last season, but its rebuilt team was only 11-16 entering the tournament. Stephenson won a state title just two years ago.
Fertile regions: Only one region, 5-AAAAAA, has put three teams in the quarters – No. 1-ranked South Paulding, No. 4 Hughes and unranked Tri-Cities, which was 12-12 a month ago and finished only sixth in the regular season. Four of the nine Savannah-Chatham County schools have a team in the quarters – Jenkins’ boys and girls teams from Beach, Johnson and Woodville-Tompkins. Five Augusta teams are still playing – Aquinas’ boys, Cross Creek’s girls, Josey’s boys and Laney’s boys and girls. The county with the most teams in the quarters is Gwinnett with 11.
Boys & Girls clubs: Fourteen schools have qualified their boys and girls teams. They are Buford, Carver-Columbus, Henry County, Holy Innocents’, Lakeview Academy, Laney, McEachern, Morgan County, Norcross, Sandy Creek, St. Francis, Taylor County, Treutlen and Warner Robins. That’s a first for Sandy Creek. Morgan County won both titles last year in AAA.
What’s next: The semifinals will be Saturday at eight neutral sites around the state.
AAAAAAA – University of West Georgia
AAAAAA – Ft. Valley State University
AAAAA – Columbus State University
AAAA – Augusta University
AAA – Armstrong State University
A – Georgia College & State University
A Public – Valdosta State University
A Private – Cobb Civic Center
(State rankings in parentheses)
Quarterfinals Feb. 28- March 1
R7 #4 Brookwood at R8 #3 Grayson
R7 #1 Norcross (No. 5) at R2 #1 Pebblebrook (No. 2)
R1 #1 Tift County (No. 7) at R8 #1 Newton (No. 3)
R2 #3 Wheeler (No. 6) at R3 #1 McEachern (No. 1)
R6 #2 South Cobb at R5 #1 South Paulding (No. 1)
R1 #2 Northside-Warner Robins at R2 #1 Brunswick
R5 #3 Langston Hughes (No. 4) at R8 #1 Gainesville (No. 2)
R5 #2 Tri-Cities at R6 #1 Allatoona (No. 9)
R6 #2 Riverwood at R5 #1 Miller Grove (No. 4)
R5 #4 Lithonia at R8 #2 Cedar Shoals (No. 2)
R1 #1 Warner Robins at R8 #1 Buford (No. 1)
R6 #1 Carver-Atlanta vs. R3 #1 Fayette County (No. 6)
R4 #1 Henry County (No. 2) vs. R5 #1 LaGrange (No. 3)
R3 #3 Thomson at R2 #1 Upson-Lee (No. 1)
R8 #1 St. Pius (No. 5) at R1 #1 Carver-Columbus (No. 6)
R2 #3 Perry at R5 #2 Sandy Creek (No. 4)
R4 #1 Westside-Macon (No. 1) at R5 #1 Pace Academy (No. 2)
R3 #3 Islands (No. 10) at R2 #1 Liberty County (No. 4)
R5 #3 Lovett at R8 #1 Morgan County (No. 3)
R3 #1 Jenkins (No. 5) at R6 #1 Calhoun
R3 #2 Dublin (No. 5) at R4 #1 Laney (No. 2)
R7 #1 Chattooga (No. 8) at R2 #1 Swainsboro
R4 #3 Josey (No. 10) at R1 #1 Early County (No. 4)
R6 #1 South Atlanta (No. 1) at R3 #1 Washington County
#8 Macon County (No. 7) at #1 Treutlen (No. 2)
#5 Wilkinson County (No. 3) at #4 Taylor County (No. 4)
#7 Turner County (No. 9) at #2 Calhoun County (No. 1)
#6 Montgomery County at #3 Clinch County (No. 5)
#9 Holy Innocents’ at #1 Greenforest Christian (No. 1)
#5 St. Francis (No. 4) at #4 Aquinas (No. 5)
#7 Athens Christian at #2 Lakeview Academy (No. 6)
#6 Southwest Atlanta Christian (No. 3) at #3 North Cobb Christian (No. 2)
Quarterfinals Feb. 28-March 1
R6 #2 Collins Hill (No. 4) at R5 #1 Lambert (No. 3)
R7 #1 Norcross (No. 1) at R2 #1 Westlake
R1 #1 Colquitt County (No. 8) at R8 #1 Archer (No. 6)
R3 #1 McEachern (No. 2) at R6 #1 Mill Creek (No. 5)
R6 #2 Harrison (No. 4) at R5 #1 Douglas County (No. 2)
R4 #4 Stephenson at R7 #1 Northview (No. 1)
R5 #3 Mays at R8 #1 Winder-Barrow (No. 3)
R7 #3 Chattahoochee at R4 #2 Lovejoy (No. 7)
R5 #1 Southwest DeKalb (No. 3) at R4 #1 Eagle’s Landing (No. 7)
R8 #2 Flowery Branch (No. 8) at R7 #1 Carrollton (No. 5)
R8 #1 Buford (No. 2) at R1 #1 Warner Robins (No. 4)
R3 #1 Griffin (No. 1) at R6 #1 Maynard Jackson (No. 6)
R8 #3 Madison County at R5 #1 Sandy Creek (No. 9)
R1 #2 Columbus (No. 6) at R2 #1 Spalding (No. 10)
R8#1 Jefferson (No. 3) at R1 #1 Carver-Columbus (No. 4)
R4 #2 Henry County at R3 #1 Cross Creek (No. 1)
R3 #2 Beach (No. 2) at R4 #1 Central-Macon
R7 #1 Greater Atlanta Christian (No. 3) at R2 #1 Tattnall County
R7 #2 Dawson County at R8 #1 Morgan County
R4 #2 Peach County (No. 7) at R3 #1 Johnson-Savannah (No. 1)
R4 #1 Laney (No. 1) at R5 #1 Heard County (No. 10)
R2 #1 Bryan County (No. 6) at R7 #1 Model (No. 2)
R1 #1 Fitzgerald (No. 4) at R8 #1 Rabun County (No. 5)
R3 #1 Bleckley County at R6 #1 Hapeville Charter (No. 9)
#9 Hancock Central at #1 Telfair County (No. 2)
#5 Woodville-Tompkins (No. 4) at #4 Marion County (No. 5)
#7 Treutlen (No. 7) at #2 Wheeler County (No. 3)
#6 Greenville (No. 6) at #3 Pelham (No. 1)
#9 Pinecrest Academy (No. 8) at #1 St. Francis (No. 1)
#5 Holy Innocents’ (No. 2) at #4 Stratford Academy (No. 7)
#10 Prince Avenue Christian at #2 Wesleyan (No. 3)
#11 Darlington (No. 9) at #3 Lakeview Academy (No. 4)