The whirlwind of four rounds of state playoff basketball in just nine days will come to an end on Saturday in Macon, when Class AA teams will vie for state titles. Both the boys and girls sides have the potential to crown back-to-back state champions, as the Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans boys team and Welseyan Lady Wolves girls team are defending state champs. In the case of the Lady Wolves, they'll be gunning for a state record sixth consecutive championship.
Here is the schedule of games, which will be played at the Macon Centerplex:
Calhoun vs. GAC, 4:45 p.m.
Kendrick vs. Wesleyan, 3 p.m.
Before the postseason began, I posted my predictions for how the AA state tournaments would play out. I correctly picked the boys final four and state title game, where I have the Spartans defeating the Calhoun Yellow Jackets to defend their crown. On the girls side, I incorrectly picked the state title game to feature GAC and Wesleyan, with the Lady Spartans ending the Lady Wolves' string of consecutive championships.
The Kendrick Lady Cherokees edged GAC in the quarterfinals and coasted to a 75-50 win over Putnam County to reach the the title game. With the Lady Spartans out, I'll go with the team that defeated them to also defeat Wesleyan. The Lady Cherokees are the state's No. 1 ranked team and owners of a 28-0 record. Granted, they didn't have the strength of schedule Wesleyan (27-3) did, but they have been battle tested. I believe being on the brink of elimination - Kendrick would have lost in regulation had GAC made a free throw with the game tied and 1 second remaining - and surviving gives the Lady Cherokees a sense of both humbleness and confidence that will enable them to topple Wesleyan's dynasty.
However, you can never count out a program with five straight titles. It should be a close game. The Lady Wolves have challenged themselves with strong opponents all season despite being in a five-team region. They fought with the Lady Spartans, as well as undefeated Holy Innocents Episcopal and others, including Mountain View and Mount Tabor (N.C.). While I believe the Lady Wolves will compete with Kendrick to the final buzzer, they appear more vulnerable than in seasons past and couple that with the momentum Kendrick has coming off their semifinal win, and I think the Lady Cherokees capture the second state title in program history (the first came in 2008).
In one boys semifinal matchup, the Yellow Jackets ended the Vidalia Indians' season-long 30-game win streak in convincing fashion with a 54-41 victory. Up to that point, the Indians had experienced nothing but blowout victories, leading one reader to comment on my prediction of a Calhoun victory, "Adam get out the ATL more to catch some other games of top teams around the state...just a little food for thought."
Yeah, about getting out of your own area more and seeing some top teams - I think that's exactly why the Indians lost to Calhoun. They didn't challenge themselves enough in non-region games. The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are a time top-flight teams take advantage of by challenging themselves against similar teams from around the country. While GAC was at the prestigious Arby's Classic playing state-ranked teams like Hamilton (Tenn.) - ranked No. 2 in the MaxPreps rankings for Tennessee's Class AAA, and Oak Ridge (Tenn.), ranked No. 17, The Indians were just 20 miles from their school, obliterating sub-par teams including Tattnall County.
I honestly believe the Indians had the talent to defeat the Yellow Jackets and would have had they had the experience of playing in a close game - maybe even just once this season. But no team - no matter how talented - can coast through the season averaging 41.1 point victories and all of a sudden be expected to compete in a tight game against a fearless opponent like Calhoun with the season on the line.
As for Calhoun, as impressive and athletic a team as they are, I think they'll meet their match against the No. 1-ranked Spartans. GAC has challenged itself all season long and has passed each test with flying colors, including in the semifinals, where its opponent resorted to fouling excessively, leading the Spartans to attempt 53 free throws. They made 31 of them and won the game by 8.
The Spartans are just as battle-tested as Calhoun - if not more - and as the defending state champs, I believe they have what it takes to close the deal on another title.
With all that being said, I feel confident in picking the 2014 state champions as the Kendrick Lady Cherokees and Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans.
Send Adam Krohn an email at AdamKrohnAJC@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter.