From top to bottom, there isn't a better bracket in the state than the AAA bracket.
Every game in the first round in the tournament could go either way and the chances of a blowout are rare.
And that makes for perfect drama this time of year.
Researching the No. 1 seeds
Region 1 tournament champions
Wins against playoff teams: Mitchell County 88-40, Lee County 74-51, Lee County 81-44, Manchester 75-65, Cairo 65-60, Worth County 59-55, Mitchell County 56-54, Worth County 75-67, Cairo 64-63, Westover 69-65
Notable losses: Westover 50-55, Westover 71-78, Cairo 61-67
Notes: Chances are you've probably never heard of Bryan Bryant unless you are from South Georgia. That is too bad, too. The 6-4 senior is having one of the best seasons of any player in the state, regardless of class. He can score with the best of them. The supporting cast is talented and knows how to get it done, too. Keep an eye on this team. Remember how Jordan snuck up on everyone last year en route to winning the AAA title?
Region 2 tournament champions
Wins against playoff teams: Northside 73-64, Shaw 64-61, Northside 81-68, Shaw 74-69, Northside 76-55, Jordan 66-58
Notable losses: Jordan 52-67, Shaw 56-63, Jordan 62-74
Notes: The Tigers have caught fire at the right time, winning big games down the stretch and are 11-2 since Jan. 11. The year started slowly as the top players (Jarvis Jones and Jarmon Fortson) were still in football mode. Now that the two are back and paired with junior Marcel Hawkins, Carver is a tough team to beat. Physically, they will battle with anyone. The first round won't be easy against Mary Persons.
Glenn Hills 24-2
Region 3 tournament champions
Wins against playoff teams: Josey 64-53, Richmond Academy 75-60, Laney 67-52, Laney 69-52, Washington County 43-40, Thomson 76-64, Richmond Academy 80-70, Washington County 40-37, Washington County 58-48, Liberty County 49-39
Notable losses: None.
Notes: The top team from the Augusta area should not be slept on. Why should they? The team has yet to lose to a state opponent all year long. The Division I bound trio of Chris Reynolds (Campbell), Jerel Stephenson (UNC Wilmington) and Reggie Middleton (Winthrop) are a tough group to deal with. The Spartans are hoping to redeem themselves from last year's early departure in the state tournament. This is a dangerous, dangerous, dangerous team. Watch out for them.
Northeast Macon 24-2
Region 4 tournament champions
Wins against playoff teams: Perry 68-63, Central Macon 70-69, Manchester 71-54, Dublin 67-60, Perry 69-63, Central Macon 69-62, Central Macon 79-63, Perry 74-57
Notable losses: Beach 53-59, Wilkinson County 52-68
Notes: The undervalued team (including by myself) is a team to watch in the deep AAA bracket. There is Final Four potential with this team thanks in large part to the play of Hugh Robertson, the top upperclassmen in Macon, the quickness of Virginia bound football player Javaris Brown and the rebounding touch of sophomore Marvelle Harris.
Region 5 tournament champions
Wins against playoff teams: Rome 67-65, Meadowcreek 91-66, Blessed Trinity 69-60, Southside 83-51, Blessed Trinity 58-49
Notable losses: Blessed Trinity 68-73
Notes: The Wildcats emerged champions out of the powerful Region 5 tournament. That feat in and of itself is a major moral victory as Region 5 is the best in the state. Scott Bracco and his players have been to the Big Dance plenty times before as Dunwoody is one of the true dynasties in the state. With Delwan Graham, Pierre Jordan and McDonald's All-American Chris Singleton leading the way and junior Isaiah Grayson proving to be just as deadly as the big three seniors, knocking out the Wildcats will be tough to do in the tournament.
Region 6 tournament champions
Wins against playoff teams: Cedartown 83-67, Carrollton 76-64, Adairsville 78-64, Cedartown 81-58
Notable losses: Sandy Creek 53-55, Rome 72-77, Sandy Creek 68-74, Cedartown 55-75, Carrollton 56-63
Notes: Every bracket has a mystery No. 1 seed for me and the Canes are that for me. They have a winnable game in the first round against Stephens County, a team under the .500 mark. The reward? How about the winner of the South Atlanta-East Hall game?
Flowery Branch 24-3
Region 7 tournament champions
Wins against playoff teams: Pace Academy 72-69, St. Francis 85-53, Chestatee 76-60, East Hall 79-59, Gainesville 86-67, Chestatee 86-77, Gainesville 75-72, Gainesville 85-67, Gainesville 71-66, East Hall 85-81
Notable losses: East Hall 71-75, Marist 55-64
Notes: The Falcons are the biggest surprise in AAA this season, going from 4-17 last season to a No. 1 seed, region champions and two wins against region powerhouse East Hall. The team doesn't boast a major point producer but relies on balance, crisp passing and well executed plays. Senior A.C. Bailey and junior Izaan Cross are considered the top two players on the team this year.
Hart County 20-5
Region 8 tournament champions
Wins against playoff teams: Oconee County 70-49, Jefferson 58-48, Central Gwinnett 67-54, Stephens County 69-58, Jefferson 80-43, Oconee County 62-55, Stephens County 55-45, Stephens County 78-74, Stephens County 64-58, Franklin County 61-54
Notable losses: Franklin County 52-62, Franklin County 79-83
Notes: The top two teams from Region 8 traditionally perform well in the tournament. This year shouldn't be any different. With a good number of players back from last year's Elite Eight run, particularly Quint Clinkscales and Hotrod Walker, the Bulldogs should still have some bite in this year's tournament.
Must see games
Chances are the line to get into East Hall's gym will begin around 10 a.m. on Friday morning for the first round game between EHall and South Atlanta. And that isn't an exaggeration.
East Hall's home court advantage is one of the best in the Southeast and South Atlanta star Derrick Favors is the best in the nation. Pair that together and you have the recipe for a tremendous first round game in the state tournament. In fact, we'll even go out on a limb and call it the best first round game of any classification.
Favors is the most difficult player to defend in the state this year and my pick for Mr. Georgia Basketball right now. He controls the game on both ends of the floor and is a quiet killer in the process. East Hall has plenty of depth and experience to give the Hornets some trouble.
This game could truly go either way. East Hall isn't intimidated by anyone. According to a report in Friday's Access North Georgia, the Vikings are 7-0 against McDonald's All-Americans. Favors will certainly play in the burger game next year as he is, in my opinion, the best player in the nation in 2009.
My pick? South Atlanta by a hair. I'll be there for it.
The East Hall-South Atlanta game is not the only big time match-up on Friday night. In fact, you could argue that 90 percent of the first round games are must see games.
Others I'm watching closely include: Perry vs. Jordan, Glenn Hills vs. Cairo, Carver vs. Mary Persons, Northeast Macon vs. Shaw, Blessed Trinity vs. Chestatee.
News & Notes
Except a number of upsets, if you want to call them that, in the AAA bracket. It is a shame that a number of these games won't be played at a neutral venue on the same. For pure promotion of the state's best teams and players, having two game sets like in time's past would be ideal for the AAA bracket.
Nearly every game has a Division I prospect in it.
The first two rounds of the state tournament will be played on the home court of the higher seed.
Top 1 seed: Dunwoody
Top 2 seed: South Atlanta
Top 3 seed: Blessed Trinity
Top 4 seed: Washington County
Keep an eye on…
The state tournament always brings out the sleepers. Here are three sleepers to watch:
Hugh Robertson, Northeast Macon – The 6-4 senior is the best senior in the Macon area and one of the best college prospects in Middle Georgia. He's a do-everything player with ideal college size. He has proven that he can score at all three levels (post, midrange and perimeter) and is the team's hardest player to defend. Given his academics fall into place, Robertson will be a steal for a Division I school late in the game.
Bryan Bryant, Dougherty – Any other year, the 6-3 guard would be a no-brainer selection for AAA Player of the Year. But with the likes of Derrick Favors, Chris Singleton and Delwan Graham amongst those in the running, Bryant is on the outside looking in. Bryant is the best player in Albany and arguably the best player south of Atlanta this year. He's an elite scorer and a versatile performer. He'll be battle tested as Dougherty's road to Macon is not an easy one.
Terrence Bowman, Cairo – College coaches are trying to figure out who to see on Friday – Bryant or Bowman. Bowman, a 6-4 guard, is a tough player to defend because of his versatility. He's a wiry player that can play multiple positions. A match-up against Glenn Hills in the first round will be big for him and his Syrupmaker teammates.
Three young players to watch
DeMario Mayfield, Franklin County – The junior committed to Georgia before the season and he's playing like a SEC player this season. The 6-3 guard can score, shoot, handle and pass it. A potential meeting at Dunwoody could really propel him into a bigger spotlight after dominating Northeast Georgia all season long.
Malcolm Jackson, Sandy Creek – Keep an eye on him and his teammates. There is a chance they can do some damage in AAA and reach the Elite Eight. He's a high-flying athlete that gets to the rim at will and he's great in the mid-range.
Jordan McRae, Liberty County – Tucked away in Hinesville, the 6-5 sophomore is having a good year for the Region 3 team. In fact, he's a strong contender for Sophomore of the Year in the state. He's in the mold of former Tucker star Cameron Tatum in the sense he's long, athletic and a perimeter threat.
First round predictions
Dougherty vs. Washington County
Central Macon vs. Columbus Northside
Glenn Hills vs. Cairo
Jordan vs. Perry
Hart County vs. Cedartown
Blessed Trinity vs. Chestatee
Cartersville vs. Stephens County
South Atlanta vs. East Hall
Sandy Creek vs. Oconee County
Flowery Branch vs. Southside
Franklin County vs. Dunwoody
Dunwoody vs. Gainesville
Mary Persons vs. Carver
Westover vs. Thomson
Liberty County vs. Worth County
Northeast Macon vs. Shaw
Bolded and italicized teams are my picks to win