Quarterfinal primer: Surprise teams, favorites, best games

Article and photos courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution –> Original Article Here

The state basketball tournament will resume Tuesday and Wednesday with the quarterfinals. Of the 128 boys and girls teams still playing, most are back the second straight season or longer. There are 67 repeat advancers, to be exact. But there are plenty of newcomers and Cinderellas.

The Class AAAA’s boys bracket has become especially intriguing. Two-time defending champion Upson-Lee, beaten by Americus-Sumter last week, is out. That leaves seven teams in AAAA that have never won state titles, including No. 2 Sandy Creek, No. 3 St. Pius and No. 4 Woodward Academy. The only elite-eight team that has a title — Carver-Columbus — hasn’t won since 1971.

Here’s a further look at the favorites, the surprises and the best games as the tournament reaches the midpoint on its path to the state finals.

Still alive: Upson-Lee is the only No. 1-ranked team that didn’t survive the first two rounds. The top-ranked boys teams still kicking are McEachern (AAAAAAA), Tri-Cities (AAAAAA), Buford (AAAAA), Morgan County (AAA), Woodville-Tompkins (AA), St. Francis (A private) and Calhoun County (A public). McEachern, Tri-Cities and Woodville-Tompkins have never won state titles. The No. 1 girls teams are Westlake (AAAAAAA), Lovejoy (AAAAAA), Buford (AAAAA), Carver-Columbus (AAAA), Beach (AAA), Fitzgerald (AA), Holy Innocents’ (A private) and Marion County (A public). Carver-Columbus and Fitzgerald have never won titles.

New to the elite eight: Four girls teams and six boys teams are in the quarterfinals for the first time. The girls teams are Lanier (AAAAAA), Creekview (AAAAAA), Heritage-Ringgold (AAAA) and Sonoraville (AAA). The boys teams are Discovery (AAAAAAA), Mundy’s Mill (AAAAAA), Woodland-Stockbridge (AAAAA), Kell (AAAAA), Denmark (AAAA) and Mount Bethel Christian (A private).

It’s been a long time: Teams that haven’t been to the quarters in over 20 years are Riverside Military’s boys (1932), Irwin County’s boys (1955), Rockmart’s girls (1961), Savannah Country Day’s boys (1970), Central-Talbotton’s girls (1986), Glynn Academy’s girls (1995) and Clinch County’s girls (1996).

Basketball powers: Fifteen schools put their boys and girls teams in the quarters. They are Buford, Calhoun County, Carver-Columbus, Dawson County, Eagle’s Landing Christian, Hart County, Johnson-Savannah, Laney, Marion County, Norcross, Roswell, Sandy Creek, Southwest DeKalb, St. Francis and Tattnall County.

Best girls game: No. 2 Henry County at No. 3 Flowery Branch in AAAA. Henry County (28-2) has won 15 straight games, its losses to No. 1 Carver-Columbus and No. 5 Madison County. Flowery Branch (26-3) has won 19 straight and lost to only one Georgia team, Dawson County. Henry averages 68.3 points per game and has scored 60 or more in all 28 victories. Flowery Branch allows only 39.4 points per game and has surrendered 60 in a game only twice.

Other top girls games: Twenty other girls games match top-10 teams. Among those are No. 1 Lovejoy at No. 3 Northview in AAAAAA, No. 5 Eagle’s Landing at No. 2 Villa Rica in AAAAA and No. 1 (and defending champion) Johnson-Savannah at No. 2 Jefferson in AAA. Also, the winner of the Cherokee-Rockdale County game in AAAAAAA will be in the semifinals for the first time in over 30 years.

Best boys game: No. 3 Greenforest Christian at No. 4 Mount Bethel Christian. Both were region runners-up that had victories over their champion. Greenforest (20-6) lost two of three to No. 2 Eagle’s Landing Christian while Mount Bethel (23-6) lost two of three to No. 1 St. Francis. Those four have separated themselves in the Class A private-school division. Greenforest won state titles in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Mount Bethel, in its first season in the GHSA, won the past two state titles in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association.

Other top boys games: Fifteen other boys games match top-10 teams. Among those areNo. 6 Pebblebrook at No. 2 Meadowcreek in AAAAAAA, No. 3 Vidalia at No. 2 South Atlanta in AA and No. 1 Woodville-Tompkins at No. 5 Elbert County in AA. The Woodville-Elbert winner will be in the semifinals for the first time in history.

What’s next: The semifinals will be Saturday at eight neutral sites. The finals are March 6-9 in Macon.