Thursday, February 22, 2007

Breaking down the bracket: 4A

Move over 5A, there might be a new big dog classification in Georgia this year. The 4A state championship bracket is filled with potential champions and they are all racing to knock off Columbia, the defending state champs and pre-tournament favorite this season.

Getting to Gwinnett

Columbia’s path to the Gwinnett Arena isn’t easy as potential match-ups include pairings against Cherokee, featuring one of the top juniors in the nation Chris Singleton, and then Rome in the third round. Rome boasts Tony Woods, a potentially fantastic high-major center prospect.

But no one in the state can boast a line-up of players quite like Columbia does. Led by Georgia-bound big man Jeremy Price and Georgia Tech-bound Lance Storrs, both seniors, Columbia has a pair of bookends that played a big role in the team’s state championship run last year back for more this year. Juniors Travis Leslie, one of the rising stars in the state, and Darius Morrow, the next good Columbia big man, are tremendous options to have.

Senior forward Dante Harvey, who signed with Toledo, will have his moments as will senior guard Jordan Lemons and senior Anthony Isoms.

Of all of the divisions in Georgia, however, 4A has more weapons in the brackets to knock out the big dog. Will it be region foes Stone Mountain or Tucker? Or can Cedar Shoals and Lithia Springs continue the hot streak? Will Cherokee get over the hump? Or will Griffin continue to roll forward? Can a sophomore-led Fayette County team do it? So many questions, so few rounds to play. The answers will soon be uncovered.

First round games of note

The real treats don’t start until the second round where the potential of several big time match-ups could happen but in order to get there, the first round games must be played. Here are a few of the best games in round one.

The best game of the first round has to be Wayne County at Westlake. Both teams are coming off of big region tournaments and both teams have balance and depth. Wayne County (21-7) will look to the dynamic scoring of senior guard Daviel Clements and versatility of senior forward Rory Miller. Westlake will certainly rely on Furman bound Bryson Barnes, junior wing Gideon Gamble and junior guard Khamori Watts. Both teams have playoff experience and winning at Westlake isn’t easy but don’t be surprised to see Wayne County walk away with the victory.

Mays may be playing teeter-totter with a .500 record but don’t sell the former back-to-back state champs short. Floyd Mack has his team playing good basketball and more importantly, good defensive basketball. Mays has a tall order against Rome and 6-10 junior center Tony Woods. Keep an eye on Mays’s freshman point guard Aloys Cabel. Rome is young and Mays has seen the best (facing Westlake, Tucker, Columbia, Tri-Cities, Stone Mountain and Riverdale). Don’t be surprised to see Mays win this game. Woods needs to be the difference.

Lithia Springs won the Region 5 tournament with great play on the defensive end and with balance in the backcourt. The team has only lost two games all year, with one coming by one point, but they haven’t faced a team that has a true power big man like Dacula does inside in sophomore Brian Cole. If Dacula can slow the pace down and make the game move at their speed, then they could very well move on and knock out a No. 1 seed.

Looking at the No. 1 seeds

Lee County (13-13)
Region 1 tournament champs
Key wins: Bainbridge, Thomas County Central
Key losses: Numerous
Notes: Senior DeVauhgn Thomas is one of the most difficult players in the state to defend because of his size, strength and sheer hustle. He’s amongst the state’s leaders in scoring and rebounding even as a 6-3 post player. Lee Co. is 11-4 since Jan. 2.

Fayette County (23-5)
Region 2 tournament champs
Key wins: Westlake, Statesboro, Southside, Whitewater
Key losses: North Clayton, Westlake, Parkview, Creekside
Notes: Sophomore Noel Johnson is quickly emerging as one of the top players in the state. At 6-7, he brings a skill set to the table that can be infused at all five positions. Even thought he is amongst the top 10 players in the 2009 class, he’s still under the radar within the Georgia high school ranks. This is his platform to open some eyes.

Richmond Academy (19-9)
Region 3 tournament champs
Key wins: Centennial, Statesboro
Key losses: Statesboro, Glenn Hills, Druid Hills
Notes: One of the top teams from the Augusta area can get out and run and relies on future Delaware State guard Trevor Welcher. They could surprise people in a wide open quadrant of the 4A bracket.

Griffin (15-10)
Region 4 tournament champs
Key wins: Jonesboro, Riverdale, North Clayton
Key losses: Savannah, Riverdale, Statesboro
Notes: The Bears are a completely different team with senior forward Charles Corbin in the lineup. The 6-7 post has helped Griffin overcome a 1-9 start without him and has put the team on his back en route to a 14-1 record with him in the starting lineup.

Lithia Springs (26-2)
Region 5 tournament champs:
Key wins: Cherokee, Pebblebrook, Villa Rica, Redan, Newnan
Key losses: Carrollton, Parkview
Notes: Six wins have come by a matter of two points and one of the defeats (Carrollton by one) was also a nail-biter. These guys are used to tight, intense situation. Head coach Jason Slate has his team playing great defense and un-intimidated against teams.

Columbia (27-1)
Region 6 tournament champs
Key wins: Wheeler, LeFlore (Ala.), Tucker, Stone Mountain, Miller Grove
Key losses: LaSalle (Ohio)
Notes: Clearly the best team in the state, Columbia has weapons inside, out and on the sidelines. Columbia boasts the biggest frontline in the state and their potential games at Marietta could see a pair of teams with key players that stand over 6-9. The frontline will be tested early. Moreover, Columbia won the toughest region in the state both in standings in the tournament.

Rome (21-6)
Region 7 tournament champs
Key wins: Cartersville, Ridgeland, Dalton
Key losses: Dunwoody, Coosa, Cartersville, Ridgeland
Notes: There isn’t a better time for junior center Tony Woods to put his mark on his standing in the state as one of the to players in Georgia than now in the playoffs. In previous big stage games, he struggled. This is redemption time for the 6-10 center.

Cedar Shoals (24-1)
Region 8 tournament champs
Key wins: Loganville, Shiloh, Newnan, Winder-Barrow, Alcovy
Key losses: Clarke Central
Notes: Senior guard Chris Kupets is one of the best scorers in the state and his improvement as an all-around player has helped Cedar Shoals to a terrific record and a number one seed in the tournament.

Don’t forget about us

While the eight number one teams positioned themselves to play a more favorable schedule in the first round, there are a handful of teams that aren’t region tournaments winners that can advance to Gwinnett Arena on March 9.

Tucker is no stranger to the Final Four. For two straight years, the Tigers have made it there and this year could make it three. James Hartry has a team certainly talented enough to get there. Led by seniors Marshon Brooks and Jeremy Simmons and sophomore Manny Atkins, Tucker has the players in line to win big games. Brooks is one of the best scorers in 4A and will be looked to early and often.

The same can be said for Stone Mountain. The Pirates have star power in Andrew Goudeolock and Terrell Bell. The two Division I bound seniors are as good as you get for 1-2 punches in the state. Senior Raylin Brown is an important third option. Stone Mountain could very easily be playing in the state championship game.

Cherokee didn’t close the season out quite like they wanted but anytime you have a team that executes, shoots it very well and has an athletic and versatile 6-9 junior that can play inside and out, you can’t count them out. Chris Singleton, an all-state 4A performer, will need to rebound from a so-so region tournament.

Don’t sleep on Jonesboro either. With a backcourt that can take on a lot of teams, the Cardinals will be a fun, and balanced, team to play in the tournament.

Our entire 5A bracket prediction

Winners of the first round: North Clayton, Wayne County, Griffin, Whitewater, Lithia Springs, Tucker, Cedar Shoals, Stone Mountain, Richmond Academy, Jonesboro, Fayette County, Riverdale, Rome, Pebblebrook, Columbia, Cherokee
Winners of the second round: Wayne County, Griffin, Tucker, Stone Mountain, Jonesboro, Fayette County, Rome, Columbia
Winners of the third round: Griffin, Tucker, Fayette County, Columbia
Winners of the fourth round: Tucker, Columbia
4A champion: Columbia