Thursday, February 21, 2008

Breaking down the bracket: 4A

There isn't a more confusing bracket in this year's GHSA state basketball tournament than the AAAA bracket. Last year's defending champs, Tucker, limped in. A perennial power, Columbia, is a three seed, and the top team in AAAA, Westlake, has a favorable road to the Gwinnett Arena.

Who will it be this year? We break it down in our continued look at the brackets.

Researching the No. 1 seeds

Thomas County Central 22-5
Region 1 tournament champions
Wins against playoff teams
: Lowndes 79-72, Valdosta 71-70, Lowndes 56-53, Valdosta 79-73, Jefferson 97-58
Notable losses: Cairo 57-60, Turner Co. 48-71, Americus-Sumter 53-56
Notes: For me, TCC is a mystery. I don't know much about them. Judging by past results, the team has good balance and is led by Demetrius Mickens, a 5-6 senior who is the team's leading scorer amongst a deep rotation. Keep an eye on them. They could surprise.

Westlake 25-2
Region 2 tournament champions
Wins against tournament teams
: Creekside 76-61, Fayette County 65-59, Banneker 92-71, Morrow 71-50, Riverdale 53-52, Creekside 79-59, Fayette County 64-59, Banneker 68-51, Banneker 62-53, Fayette County 73-58
Notable losses: Norcross 57-62
Notes: The Lions have all of the parts of the puzzle to win the AAAA state championship. Led by Mr. Georgia candidate Ray Willis, Westlake is a big team with plenty of depth to do work throughout the tournament. The sheer size of every player at every position is the difference maker on both ends of the floor. Westlake is the No. 3 team on the Georgia Hoops Top 20 power poll for a reason. The team has a fairly easy ride to the Gwinnett Arena, too.

Statesboro 8-11
Region 3 tournament champions
Wins against tournament teams
: Richmond Academy 74-49, Evans 56-39
Notable losses: Savannah Johnosn 49-58, Beach 47-64
Notes: Long time coach Lee Hill has been around long enough to know how important the region tournament is. He and his team advanced through the tournament and claimed the top spot out of Region 3 and a number one seed. According to the records on, Statesboro and Lee County, the team's first round match-up, have a combined nine wins on the year.

Riverdale 17-8
Region 4 tournament champions
Wins against tournament teams
: Forest Park 70-69, Forest Park 64-46, SACA 66-60, Jonesboro 67-32
Notable losses: Mundy's Mill 62-70, Jonesboro 62-72, Long County 64-65, Westlake 52-53, Mundy's Mill 57-59, Forest Park 51-53
Notes: The Raiders are rolling into the post-season with a lot of steam and a lot of confidence. Winning region 4-AAAA is no easy task. Senior Rashad Hassan is one of the biggest sleepers in the state and the team has size, experience in senior guard Ishmael John and potential in junior forward Terrell Barnes. The first round game against Creekside won't be easy. After the first round, things look brighter en route to Fort Valley State.

Pebblebrook 26-2
Region 5 tournament champions
Wins against tournament teams
: Banneker 68-40, Sprayberry 75-58, Jonesboro 72-50, Stephenson 87-84, Campbell 73-68, Hillgrove 63-59, Lithia Springs 77-65, Cherokee 65-48, Cherokee 52-50, Lithia Springs 71-53
Notable losses: Lithia Springs 55-58
Notes: If there is a team that can do some damage in the bracket, this is the team. Good guard play, check that, great guard play is the foundation for Bennie Gibbs's team. Seniors Chris Beasley and Chris Deny are two of the biggest sleepers in the AAAA bracket. Beasley is a jet quick guard that can score with the best of them. Watch for the Falcons to press and cause havoc on the defensive end of the floor. The team's quickness and defense could be the thing that pushes the team over a club like Columbia.

Miller Grove 23-5
Region 6 tournament champions
Wins against tournament teams
: Stephenson 84-65, Redan 51-50, Tucker 70-62, Wesleyan 53-51, Stone Mountain 83-81, Stone Mountain 65-46, Redan 57-47, Tucker 68-48, Stone Mountain 64-63
Notable losses: Columbia 66-82, Columbia 59-61, Wheeler 77-82
Notes: Winning the Region 6 tournament is a major plus for the Wolverines as it is one of the best regions in the state. Junior Mfon Udofia has been one of the best guards in Georgia this year and junior forward Stephen Hill is starting to come into his own. Athletically, he's one of the best in the Atlanta area while senior Justin Allen helps steady the rotation. A trip to the Gwinnett Center is not out of the picture for Miller Grove.

Rome 19-3
Region 7 tournament champions
Wins against tournament teams
: Dalton 57-49, NW Whitefield 70-62, Pepperell 47-16,Coosa 77-50, Cartersville 77-72, Ridgeland 65-54, Dalton 58-54, NW Whitefield 56-43, Ridgeland 66-63
Notable losses: Dunwoody 65-67
Notes: The kids from the mountains are pretty good. Wake Forest bound big man Tony Woods is the toughest big man in the AAAA bracket. He's athletic, long and a defensive presence. Still a bit unknown in the state, Rome could very well be a nice sleeper on its side of the bracket.

Dacula 26-2
Region 8 tournament champions
Wins against tournament teams
: Central Gwinnett 67-64, Parkview 71-55, GAC 62-49, Winder-Barrow 72-50, Clarke Central 51-41, Cedar Shoals 51-49, Clarke Central 42-36
Notable losses: Wesleyan 48-55, Winder-Barrow 61-63
Notes: Is there a bigger surprise in AAAA this year than these guys? Probably not. The team has great size and go to it often inside the paint. Junior Brian Cole and senior Trent Kammerer. Things won't be easy for the Falcons in the first round as the team plays host to Tucker.

Must see games

Tucker, last year's AAAA state champs, are coming into the tournament as a four seed and that is a scary thing for Dacula, the biggest surprise in AAAA this season.

Tucker is led by the 1-2 punch of junior Manny Atkins and senior Aric Miller. Both players can go for 25 points (or more) any given game. The Tigers will press all game long and that could be a difference maker against Dacula.

Dacula, a team that relies on size and strength in the halfcourt, has an advantage against Tucker. Atkins gives up five inches to Brian Cole, Dacula's best player. The home court advantage could prove to be the difference maker. The match-up is the best in the opening round. I like Tucker by six in this one.

Others we are watching closely: Rome vs. Hillgrove; Riverdale vs. Creekside; Jonesboro vs. Banneker; Fayette County vs. Upson Lee; Americus-Sumter vs. Richmond Academy

News & Notes

The first two rounds of the state tournament will be played on the home court of the higher seed.

Top 1 seed: Westlake
Top 2 seed: Lithia Springs
Top 3 seed: Columbia
Top 4 seed: Tucker

Keep an eye on

The state tournament always brings out the sleepers. Here are five sleepers to watch:

Chris Beasley, Pebblebrook – A good part of Pebblebrook's success can be traced to the 5-11 senior. He's a pure scorer and one of the best players in Cobb County this season. You could argue that he is the leading contender for Region 5 Player of the Year. A couple of Division I schools will be on hand to see him play on Friday night, too.

Kevin Murphy, Creekside – The unsigned senior slept a little under the radar is in his own region as guys like Westlake's Ray Willis and Fayette County's Noel Johnson dominated the headlines all season. Murphy might be more of a MVP to his team than the other two 6-5 scoring wings. Murphy can shoot the rock, handle the ball and is one of the deadliest scorers in the AAAA bracket.

Brian Cole, Dacula – Aptly named Big Red, the red-headed center can also be called Big Fundamental. The 6-8 junior knows what he is and does fine simplistic work down low in the blocks. He's one of the biggest sleepers in the state and has a body of work that proves his consistency this season.

Brandon Holsey, Jonesboro – When it comes to scoring the ball, the 5-9 senior is one of the best. His match-up against Banneker, a team that loves to press, is an intriguing one. Holsey should shine in it. A rematch of he and Beasley would be fun to watch. Beasley and Pebblebrook won big earlier in the year.

Rashad Hassan, Riverdale – Slowly and surely, the 6-5 senior has improved and now he's playing the best basketball of the year for his team. His recruitment could really receive a shot in the arm with a great showing in the state tournament. His match-up against Murphy in the first round is one of the best in the entire AAAA bracket.

Four young players to watch

Jershon Cobb, Columbia – The 6-4 guard is next in line at the AAAA power. He's a start for Phil McCrary and knows his role. Much like Travis Leslie a couple of years ago, Columbia could lean on the sophomore down the stretch en route to another trip to Gwinnett. Cobb is a likely high-major player at the end of the day.

Heath Houston, Hillgrove – The 6-7 sophomore has a big test right out of the gates as he and his teammates face Tony Woods, a 7-footer headed to Wake Forest, and his Rome teammates. Houston faced off against Shawn Kemp, Jr. from Cherokee in the region tourney and had a tough time. This one won't be any better. But keep an eye on Houston. He's pretty talented.

Maurice Dorsey, Fayette County – When it comes to scoring numbers, Fayette County looks to upperclassmen. When it comes to rebounds and energy, the 6-5 freshman is the man to look for. He's had a good year for a rookie and certainly has the tools of becoming one of the top players on the south side of the city.

Tres Houston, Banneker – The sophomore played a big role in a big win against McIntosh in the Region 3 tournament. His ability to get to the foul line is his biggest strength. Facing Jonesboro is no easy task either. However, Houston can really score the ball.

First round predictions

Thomas County Central vs. Ware County

Fayette County vs. Upson-Lee

Statesboro vs. Lee County

Jonesboro vs. Banneker

Riverdale vs. Creekside

Evans vs. Bainbridge

Westlake vs. Forest Park

Richmond Academy vs. Americus-Sumter

Pebblebrook vs. NW Whitefield

Columbia vs. Clarke Central

Rome vs. Hillgrove

Stone Mountain vs. Winder-Barrow

Cherokee vs. Dalton

Miller Grove vs. Cedar Shoals

Lithia Springs vs. Ridgeland

Tucker vs. Dacula

Bolded and italicized teams are my picks to win