Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Breaking down the bracket: 5A

It is do or do time in Georgia as the high school basketball playoffs tip off on Saturday and everyone is gunning for the crown in the 5A bracket. Can Norcross win it? Or will Wheeler pick up a needed win and advance to the Gwinnett Center? Or will someone else step up? It’s time to dance.

Getting to Gwinnett

It is a question that has been asked since Eddie Martin and his Norcross Blue Devils won the 2006 5A state championship – can anyone knock them out in tournament play?

Starting on Saturday, the question will tried to be answered by a number of teams. And it begs the question, can some one else step up in 2007 to claim the coveted state championship?

There are plenty of candidates in 5A this season and several potential champs are all on the same side of one quadrant of the bracket. Norcross and Wheeler play the biggest first round game in recent memory. Meadowcreek could very well surprise teams with a big win over the winner of the prime time match-up. Marietta and Chattahoochee have coaches that know how to get the most out of their respective teams.

Peachtree Ridge, winners of region 7, and Centennial have the talent to get to the Gwinnett Center on March 8.

On the other side of the bracket is Savannah power Beach High School, last year’s surprise team of the tournament. They have a tough test right out of the gate. M.L. King and Tri-Cities aren’t easy wins.

Camden County has knocked out the Savannah powers this season and could be this year’s surprise team from the coastal region. Mundy’s Mill is tapping into its potential. Stephenson is peaking at the right time.

Anything can happen in 5A. Buckle up. It’s time to get on the road.

Must see game

With 16 games being played in each bracket on Saturday, picking just one game to see will be difficult, right? Only if you’ve lived under a rock for the last two years.

The dream match-up of Norcross and Wheeler will finally happen, pairing last year’s 5A state champions and Wheeler, winners of three state titles since 2000. However, no one saw this game happening on Feb. 24 and in the first round.

The game features in Norcross’s Gani Lawal and Wheeler’s J.J. Hickson, the top two players in the state and the only McDonald’s All-Americans in Georgia.

Norcross boasts a lineup of Lawal, who is headed to Georgia Tech, Tony Neysmith, who is headed to Oklahoma, Jordan DeMercy, who is headed to Florida State, Al-Farouq Aminu, one of the top 10 juniors in the nation, and Taariq Muhammad, one of the top point guards in the class of 2009.

Wheeler boasts a line up of Hickson, who is headed to NC State, Trey Lang, a recent UMass pledge, Adrian Williams, a Brown commitment, Dequan Jones, one of the top 150 juniors in the nation, Ari Stewart, one of the most impressive sophomore prospects in the state, and Phil Taylor, one of the best freshmen in the state.

Star power? You have it in this game. It doesn’t get any richer than this for college basketball prospects.

Our prediction? Norcross 79, Wheeler 72

Other first round games of note

Peacthree Ridge knocked off Norcross for the Region 7 championship and as huge of a win that was for the Lions, the team will need to re-focus quickly for Milton, a team that beat them in the Deep South Classic by a point.

Milton has not closed the season out quite the way they have probably wanted but there is a confidence that has to hold over from the early season win. Don’t be surprised to see Milton, especially Furman bound forward Connor Nolte, match Peachtree Ridge for three quarters.

Expect a close in the Chattahoochee-North Gwinnett match-up and a good back and forth battle between Tift County and Mundy’s Mill.

Looking at the No. 1 seeds

Warner-Robins (16-7)
Region 1 tournament champs
Quality wins: Perry, Tift County, Houston County
Key losses: Perry, Colquitt County

M.L. King (18-7)
Region 2 tournament champs
Quality wins: Stephenson, Newton, Lithonia
Key losses: North Clayton, Lithonia, Meadowcreek, Stephenson
Key players: Senior shooting guard Jihad Ali, junior wing Demetrius Bates
Notes: Only one loss to a non-playoff team (Redan). Very balanced team with good athletes and a favorable bracket to advance to Elite 8.

Beach (22-2)
Region 3 tournament champs
Quality wins: Meadowcreek, Camden County, Savannah Johnson, Statesboro
Key losses: Meadowcreek, Camden County
Key players: Senior post Ladaris Green, senior forward Markeith Cummings, junior guard James Fields
Notes: Last year’s state runner-up returns nearly everyone from the team that lost to Norcross. This year’s team might actually be better. Just how good are they away from Savannah? That is the question that will be answered in the post season.

Mundy’s Mill (18-8)
Region 4 tournament champs
Quality wins: Tri-Cities, Miller Grove, Morrow
Key losses: Peachtree Ridge, Jonesboro, Riverdale, Newnan, Tucker
Key players: Senior guard Daniel Brown, senior wing David Brown, senior forward Rod Williams, junior forward Dennis Harris, junior point guard Todd Salter
Notes: All eight of Mundy’s Mill’s losses have come against good tournament teams. They won’t be star struck this time of year. The starting five has size and skill at each position.

Marietta (21-4)
Region 5 tournament champs
Quality wins: Wheeler, McEachern, North Cobb
Key losses: North Cobb, Harrison, South Cobb
Key players: Sophomore point guard Chris Tanzy, junior forward J.C. Ward, senior forward Stephon Woods, junior wing Deandre Cannon, senior forward Tyrese Mumford
Notes: It took a while for metro Atlanta to fully realize just how good the Blue Devils are but when they beat Wheeler, everyone noticed. Charlie Hood has his best team since Ezra Williams wore a MHS jersey.

Meadowcreek (25-2)
Region 6 tournament champs
Quality wins: Beach, Archbishop Mitty (Calif.), M.L. King, Whitewater, Shiloh, Central Gwinnett (three times), Parkview
Key losses: Beach, Dunwoody
Key players: Senior guard Chris Allen (Michigan State), junior guard Teondre Williams, senior center Mark Veazy (Navy), senior Antoine Bolden
Notes: There isn’t a more dynamic scoring guard in the state than Allen and when the lights are shining bright, he’s even better. Getting the rest of the team to play well is the key. On the national stage, they did for two games before bowing out to Dunwoody at the Chick-Fil-A Classic. They could potentially knock out either Norcross or Wheeler just because Allen can expose both programs and he’s dying to do just that.

Peachtree Ridge (23-3)
Region 7 tournament champs
Quality wins: Norcross, Mundy’s Mill, North Gwinnett, Whitewater
Key losses: Norcross, Milton
Key players: Senior wing Zach Graham (Ole Miss), senior point guard Kevin Anderson (Richmond), senior forward Cameron Heyward (Ohio State-football), senior forward Bassy Inameti (Tennessee Tech), senior wing Sidney Haynes (UCF-football)
Notes: Riding high off of the emotion of beating Norcross, Peachtree Ridge put itself into position to have an easier road to Gwinnett County. Maintaining focus and staying in team mode will be the answer for the Lions in the post-season. Can they pull off a Florida and win both football (sort of) and basketball? We’ll know in five games. Ties don’t exist in basketball like they do on Georgia’s gridiron.

Centennial (22-4)
Region 8 tournament champs
Quality wins: Chattahoochee (three times), Milton, Druid Hills
Key losses: Wheeler, Richmond Academy, Milton (all three tournament teams)
Key players: Sophomore guard Lorenzo Brown, senior guard Alex Richey, senior post Leonard Carr
Notes: The Knights are riding a 15-game winning streak and are 13-0 since Lorenzo Brown returned to the lineup after missing the first semester because he was academically ineligible. When Richey gets his shot working, watch out. He’s deadly.

Marching to Macon

Every year there are a handful of teams that surprise the state with big wins and deep runs through the bracket. Who will those teams be this year? Two teams, in fact, are not only poised to surprise but could very well finish the season in the Final Four or even the championship.

Don’t sleep on Stephenson (22-6). Led by the dynamic 1-2 punch of B.J. Frazier, a Western Kentucky signee, and Adrien Coleman, one of the bright rising stars in the state’s loaded sophomore class, the Jaguars have a team and a favorable bracket to advance to Gwinnett.

Same goes for Tri-Cities. Omari Forts, one of the best young coaches in the state, has his club playing good basketball despite a tough loss to Mundy’s Mill in the Region 4 championship. Justin Inman, Rashard Wise and Chris Cromartie make for a very good backcourt and can challenge Beach’s size and athleticism in a potential second round game. Defensively, Tri-Cities can lock down a lot of teams on the perimeter as well.

North Cobb may not have a star on its roster like so many other 5A teams but they play as a well-oiled machine and don’t let a lot get to them. They are well-coached and could simply X and O you to a defeat.

Our entire 5A bracket prediction

Winners of the first round: Warner-Robins, Stephenson, Mundy’s Mill, Camden County, Marietta, Chattahoochee, Meadowcreek, Norcross, Beach, Tri-Cities, M.L. King, Newnan, Peachtree Ridge, Parkview, Centennial, North Cobb
Winners of the second round: Stephenson, Mundy’s Mill, Marietta, Norcross, Tri-Cities, M.L. King, Peachtree Ridge, Centennial
Winners of the third round: Stephenson, Norcross, Tri-Cities, Centennial
Winners of the fourth round: Norcross, Tri-Cities
5A champion: Norcross