The first round of the 2016-17 Class AAA state high school basketball playoffs begins Friday , and the speculation has begun. Which games should we focus on? Which teams could make a run? And which teams could disappoint those who are doing the speculating?
On the boys side of the classification, the hopes for a No. 1 Westside-Macon vs. No. 2 Pace Academy championship game won't happen. Both teams were placed in the top left quadrant of the bracket.
That's a shame. It makes you wish the GHSA could seed the tournament like the NCAA.
But if all goes according to plan, the top two programs in the classification will meet in the quarterfinals.
For Westside-Macon, the first step toward that potential show-stopping matchup against Pace will be handling the No. 4 seed from Region 2, Long County. On paper, the Seminoles should have no problem making it to the second round and beyond.
First: Westside has won its last 16 games and has not been challenged since a 60-55 victory against Central-Macon on Jan 17.
Second: The last part of the season was not pretty for Long County. The Blue Tide lost their last three games of the regular season and do not seem to have the firepower to defeat Westside.
And finally: The Seminoles' top players are peaking at the right time and should cause trouble for any opponent. Junior 6-foot-8 guard Khavon Moore (23 points per game) is at the top of his game. Moore is showing off in the last half of the season, including his 53 -performance in the 104-58 victory against Kendrick on Jan 20. Trey Foster, a 6-2 senior guard, adds another 12 points per game.
The bottom half of the quadrant leaves Pace Academy with a more difficult journey to the quarterfinals. Assuming the Knights make it past Dawson County in the first round, which seems likely, they will play against Monroe, the No. 3 seed from Region 1, or Johnson-Savannah, the No. 2 seed from Region 3, in the second round.
In the bottom left quadrant of the bracket, defending champion and fourth-ranked Liberty County, the No. 1 seed from Region 2, will face Kendrick, the No. 4 seed from Region 4 in the first round.
The Panthers should have little trouble advancing to face either Coahulla Creek or Franklin County in the second round.
Class AAA boys rankings:
1. Westside-Macon (23-3)
2. Pace Academy (22-8)
3. Morgan County (21-5)
4. Liberty County (19-5)
5. Jenkins (20-7)
6. East Hall (20-7)
7. Greater Atlanta Christian (20-6)
8. Cedar Grove (16-6)
9. Johnson-Savannah (18-9)
10. Islands (17-9)
On the girls side of the classification, the top left quadrant of the bracket is loaded with talent. But all eyes will be on Beach from Savannah.
In the Region 3 championship, Beach faltered, losing to No. 1 Johnson-Savannah 61-57. But all that did was add fuel to the speculation fire. Beach opens against Dougherty, the No. 3 seed from Region 1. If it wins, Beach will play the winner of the East Hall-Redan game in the second round.
The key for Beach? Don't look at the team that is on the other side of the bracket.
If the stars align, the tides continue to flow and the correct butterfly flaps its wings on the other side of the globe, No. 2 Beach will have a chance for redemption against No. 1 Johnson-Savannah in a highly anticipated title game.
Call it "Johnson/Beach Round 5." Johnson took the first game 45-42 Dec 13. Six days later the two programs met at the Savannah Holiday Classic and Beach won 62-56 in overtime. The last matchup before the region tournament was on Jan 27 and surprise, surprise, another overtime victory for Beach, 52-49.
It is safe to say that if Johnson and Beach meet, all bets are off.
Johnson, the No. 1 seed from Region 3, was placed in the the bottom right quadrant of the bracket and will play Crisp County, the No. 4 seed from Region 1, in the first round. The Lady Atomsmashers, with a record of 23-2, should have little problem with the Lady Cougars, who have won four games this season.
If Johnson wins in the first round, it will face the winner of North Hall vs. Pace Academy in Round 2.
There are also two games between ranked teams to watch in the girls bracket:
-- No. 9 Hart County at No. 10 Calhoun
-- No. 5 Ringgold and No. 6 Franklin County.
Class AAA girls rankings:
1. Johnson-Savannah (23-2)
2. Beach (23-2)
3. Greater Atlanta Christian (20-7)
4. Haralson County (25-4)
5. Ringgold (21-6)
6. Franklin County (20-6)
7. Peach County (21-4)
8. Monroe (21-4)
9. Hart County (22-5)
10. Calhoun (21-5)