Boys basketball in the highest classification seems deeper than usual this season.
In some years, it’s hard to fill those final two or three spots in the top 10 with teams that have been consistently good and can challenge the top five.
This season, there’s little difference in the resumes of the bottom five vs. the top. In fact, perennial contenders such as Wheeler (10-4) and Tift County (11-5) aren’t even ranked, although far from written off. There have been years where either might be a top-five team records and tradition like that.
The one difference from a year ago – when Tift County emerged and beat out higher-ranked teams in the playoffs – is that there is now a dominant team at the top.
McEachern’s only two losses are to top-10 programs nationally (University School of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and DeMatha, Md.). The Indians have beaten a pair of top-25 nationally ranked teams (Simeon of Chicago and Hudson Catholic of New Jersey). McEachern is ranked No. 11 nationally in the MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25.
Newnan coach Rick Rasmussen was comparing this season to last and making that point this week.
‘’It’s probably just as deep, although McEachern is a clear front-runner,’’ Rasmussen said. “They return everything and got more. That might mean it’s a little different this year.’’
Here’s a look at the top-10 boys basketball teams in Class AAAAAAA.
(13-2) – McEachern are flying out to Ohio for the Flyin’ to the Hoops tournament in Dayton for games Friday and Monday and will be favored in both. Barring an upset, McEachern will not lose again until the state tournament. McEachern has never won a state title in boys basketball.
- Norcross (15-2) – The Blue Devils, the 2017 runner-up to Tift County, have won seven straight since a 56-55 loss before Christmas to Region 7 rival Lakeside (6-7, 2-4) in what remains one of the more baffling outcomes of the season. Their toughest region rival is sixth-ranked Meadowcreek (12-3, 5-1). They face off Jan. 26. Norcross won the first meeting 65-52. Norcross has seven wins over top-10 teams. Those include AAAAAA No. 4 Gainesville, AAAAA No. 4 Miller Grove and several from out of state.
- Pebblebrook (15-2) – Pebblebrook made the state quarterfinals last season after consecutive runner-up finishes. The current Falcons are in position to live up to those standards. They’ve won 13 straight since November losses to fifth-ranked Newton and Charlotte Christian, the No. 10 overall team in North Carolina, per MaxPreps. They’ve beaten No. 10 Grayson and No. 6 Meadowcreek, plus a couple of top-10 Florida teams last week in Tampa. Pebblebrook’s toughest Region 2 rival is likely Wheeler. The two play Feb. 2. Pebblebrook won their first meeting 71-68 before Christmas.
- Mountain View (15-2) – Mountain View made its first state tournament last year and advanced a round. Hopes are higher this season. The Bears’ Region 6 is state’s toughest. It includes No. 8 Peachtree Ridge and No. 9 Collins Hill. The Bears face Peachtree Ridge twice and Collins Hill once. Duluth and Discovery also are quality rivals. Mountain View won 11 straight games since a Dec. 12 loss (49-48) to Collins Hill.
- Newton (12-3) – Newton has made the quarters or better five times since 2010. The current team is capable of extending that streak of excellence. The Rams’ losses are to No. 4 Mountain View (66-65 in OT) and No. 10 Grayson (74-73) and to Kentucky’s best team, Trinity (70-65). The Rams have beaten No. 3 Pebblebrook (87-78) and South Carolina power Dorman. Region 8 is tough, and the Jan. 23 game at Grayson will be critical. Archer and Shiloh are also strong region rivals. Newton also will have tests against AAA No. 5 Westside-Macon on Friday and AAAAA No. 2 Warner Robins on Monday.
- Meadowcreek (12-3) – The Mustangs have lost only to No. 2 Norcross (65-52), No. 3 Pebblebrook (57-52) and Paul IV (58-51), a top Maryland team. They have a telling matchup Friday against Wheeler. Meadowcreek, which last won a state-playoff game in 2013, is the main threat to Norcross in Region 7.
- Etowah (15-1) – Etowah lost its opener to Hoover, the No. 3 team overall in Alabama, and hasn’t lost again. That includes wins over No. 8 Peachtree Ridge and No. 3 Southwest DeKalb and No. 5 Lithonia of AAAAA. Etowah’s Region 4 doesn’t have a serious challenger to the Eagles, who could enter the state playoffs with the longest winning streak in the classification. Etowah won a round in the state playoffs last season. That was the first state-playoff win since a run to the AAAA quarterfinals in 2005.
- Peachtree Ridge (13-3) – The Lions were upset by Duluth 59-51 on Monday, causing them to lose their hold on first place in Region 6. Winning at No. 9 Collins Hill on Friday might atone for that and make for a sweep of a key Region 7 rival. Peachtree Ridge also must play Mountain View twice more. All three ranked teams have one region loss. Duluth (12-6, 4-2) has a pair.
- Collins Hill (16-1) – The Eagles have split with their team main Region 7 rivals, beating Collins Hill and losing to Peachtree Ridge. They play the Ridge again on Friday at home. Collins Hill has won one state-playoff game (2016) since 2001.
- Grayson (12-3) - Grayson, a semifinalist last season, beat No. 5 Newton 74-73 on the road Dec. 12 but remains tied with its main Region 8 rival in the standings because of a 62-58 loss to Shiloh last week. Grayson and Newton meet again Jan. 23. Grayson also has lost to No. 3 Pebblebrook and AAAAA No. 2 Warner Robins. Grayson has beaten several ranked teams, including AAAAAA No. 4 Gainesville and AAAAA No. 4 Miller Grove.