Without further delay, the Georgia high school basketball tournament begins Friday and Saturday with 160 first-round games in the gyms of the higher-seeded teams.
A snow and ice storm pushed back the start three days, so the tournament will be in a hurry to complete 370 games in nine days through the semifinals March 1. That will be the fastest four rounds since the tournament went to 32 teams in each classification in the late 1990s.
Classes AA through AAAAAA tip off this weekend. Class A starts Monday. The finals will be March 6-8 in Macon.
Here is some facts and figures that you might not know about this season’s tournament, in its 93th year.
Defending champions: All 14 winners from 2013 are back, and only one (Gordon Lee’s girls) is not ranked. The boys champions, with their current ranking, are No. 4 Norcross (AAAAAA), No. 1 Miller Grove (AAAAA), No. 7 Eagle’s Landing (AAAA), No. 2 Johnson-Savannah (AAA), No. 1 Greater Atlanta Christian (AA), No. 4 Greenforest Christian (A private) and No. 8 Wilkinson County (A public). The girls teams are No. 7 Norcross (AAAAAA), No. 1 Southwest DeKalb (AAAAA), No. 9 Columbia (AAAA), No. 2 St. Pius (AAA), No. 2 Wesleyan (AA), No. 2 St. Francis (A private) and Gordon Lee (A public).
New to the dance: South Paulding, which opened in 2006, has qualified its boys and girls teams to the state tournament for the first time. Neither had gone before. Also making tournament debuts are Johns Creek’s boys, Lakeside-Evans’ boys, New Hamstead’s boys and Heritage-Ringgold’s girls, according to Becky Taylor of the Georgia Basketball Project. It’s been a long time between tournaments for Johnson-Savannah’s girls (1979), Bryan County’s boys (1998) or Duluth’s boys (1999).
Back again: Tift County’s boys have made the state playoffs every year since 1994. Dodge County’s girls have made it each time since 1992. Those are the longest streaks of their kind.
Cinderella: South Cobb’s boys went from a 5-20 regular-season finish to hosting a first-round game thanks to some highly unexpected region-tournament heroics. They beat Kennesaw Mountain by one on a 40-shot at the buzzer. They beat 20-win McEachern 57-51 after losing to that team 68-29 and 69-35 in the regular season. They capped it the next night with a 55-53 victory over 20-win Hillgrove.
Needing more ring fingers: Wesleyan's girls can win their seventh straight state title, which break a state record (Hart County girls 1989-1994). Miller Grove's boys can win their sixth straight.
Looking to sweep: Washington County’s boys and girls are ranked No. 1. St Francis’ boys are No. 1 and girls are No. 2 and defending champs. It’s happened 15 times that one school has won both titles in one season.
Player of the year: The race is wide open. Boys candidates include JaKeenan Gant (signed with Missouri) of Effingham County, Ahmed Hill (Marquette) of Aquinas, Tadric Jackson (Georgia Tech) of Tift County and Isaiah Wilkins (Virginia) of GAC. Girls candidates include T’ea Cooper (North Carolina) of McEachern, Mackenzie Engram (Georgia) of Hillgrove and Asia Durr (uncommitted) of St. Pius.
And still unbeaten: No Georgia team went undefeated in 2013. Seven have a shot in 2014. The boys teams at Greater Atlanta Christian and Vidalia, both 27-0 in Class AA. Unbeaten girls teams are Redan (28-0) in AAAA, Washington County (24-0) in AAA, Kendrick (24-0) and Pelham (25-0) in AA and Holy Innocents’ (26-0) in A.
GHSA STATE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
First round: Feb. 21-22
Second round: Feb. 24-25
Third round: Feb. 26-27
Semifinals: March 1 (March 3, Class A-Private)
Finals: March 6-8
Note: Class A will begin Feb. 24 and requires only four rounds.