Semifinal primer: A look at the 64 survivors, history, best matchups
After three rounds on home courts, the state basketball tournament is moving to neutral sites on Saturday as 32 boys teams and 32 girls teams get ready for the semifinals. They will beplayed at Buford City Arena (AAAAAAA), West Georgia (AAAAAA), Columbus State (AAAAA), Fort Valley State (AAAA), Georgia Southern-Armstrong Campus (AAA), Georgia College (AA), North Georgia (A private) and Valdosta State (A public).
Here’s a look at the history of the 64 survivors and some of the more intriguing matchups.
Best boys game: No. 1 Calhoun County vs. No. 3 Wilkinson County in Class A (public) in Valdosta. Wilkinson County has won five of the past six state titles in this division. Calhoun County won the other (2015). Calhoun County (30-0) can become the first unbeaten boys team in Class A since Wilkinson in 2011. Wilkinson is only 20-9 but peaking as usual, having won 15 straight games.
Best girls game: No. 2 St. Francis vs. No. 3 Wesleyan in Class A (private) in Dahlonega. Wesleyan has won the past two state titles in this division. St. Francis won the two before that. Wesleyan has 13 state titles overall. St. Francis has won three. Wesleyan (26-3) has lost twice to No. 1 Holy Innocents’ and once to Buford, the No. 1 team in AAAAA. St. Francis (25-3) has won 19 straight games and is unbeaten against Georgia teams. Wesleyan beat St. Francis 71-49 in last year’s semifinals.
Newcomers: Dawson County’s boys first played in a state tournament in 1955. Elbert County’s boys first made state in 1962. Both are in the semifinals for the first time. Dawson County, 27-4 and ranked No. 3 in AAA, now faces eighth-ranked Hart County (23-7), which is bidding to reach its first state final since its 1986 state-championship team. In AA, fifth-ranked Elbert (28-3) will play third-ranked Therrell (23-7) of Atlanta. Neither has ever made a state final. Others in a final four for the first time are boys teams from Tri-Cities (AAAAAA), Americus-Sumter (AAAA), Mount Bethel Christian (A private) and Christian Heritage (A private) and girls teams from Lanier (AAAAAA), Luella (AAAA) and Sonoraville (AAA).
Drought-breakers: Irwin County’s boys were the Class A runner-up in 1955. This will be their first semifinal since then. Irwin, 24-4 and ranked No. 8, will take on No. 2 Treutlen (28-1) in Valdosta. Other boys teams in the semifinals for the first time this century are Therrell (1978), Windsor Forest (1995) and Woodward Academy (1997). Girls teams breaking through are Cherokee (1987), Hart County (1994), Marion County (1998) and Clinch County (1998).
Cinderellas: Columbia’s girls were 6-19 last season but are now 22-7 and in the semifinals for the first time since their 2013 state-championship team. They hadn’t broken the 20-win mark since then and are not ranked. They’re playing second-ranked Villa Rica in Columbus for a berth in the finals. (Villa Rica hasn’t been in a state final since 1969.) The only other unranked teams still playing are Model’s girls (AA) and the boys teams from Tift County (AAAAAAA), Brunswick (AAAAAA), Heritage-Conyers (AAAAAA) and Christian Heritage (A private).
Basketball schools: Buford and Southwest DeKalb – two of eight schools to qualify their boys and girls teams into the semifinals – are matched against one another in the AAAAA final four in Colulmbus. Buford’s boys and girls are ranked No. 1, and the girls are two-time defending champions. The boys won in 2017. Southwest DeKalb’s girls are ranked No. 2, the boys No. 4. The girls have won five state titles; the boys none. Other schools with both teams still playing are Calhoun County (A public), Carver-Columbus (AAAA), Hart County (AAA), Laney (AA) and St. Francis (A private).
What’s next: The finals are March 6-9 in Macon.