Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Breaking down the brackets: AAAA
Columbia held a strong hold on the AAAA level for the last couple of years but now that the Eagles are in AAA, the field is wide open.
Or is it?
Miller Grove would often run into the Columbia buzzsaw but now it is the Wolverine’s turn to wear the AAAA bulls-eye. Seniors Mfon Udofia, Stephen Hill, Joe Caldwell, Malcolm Frank and Xavier McGahee have been through the rigors of talent rich Region 6 long enough to know what it takes to win it all. After all, the last three state champs hail from Dekalb County’s tough region.
This year the AAAA title is up for grabs and Miller Grove is sitting in position to take it.
STORYLINES TO WATCH
Sleepers abound. See below. There are a number of players that are lying under the state’s radar. Expect a lot of players to step into the big spotlight over the next three weeks.
Marist. Last year the team watched Stone Mountain come from behind and take their spot in the state tournament away in the region tournament. Marist watched the state tournament from the stands. Not this year. The War Eagles are ready. You should be scared to death, too. Senior J.J. Mann is putting up ridiculous numbers this year, scoring and rebounding with the best of them. Point guard Dee Goens is one of the best at his position in the tournament and playing under control and with a goal in mind. Junior Kash Manzelli is one of the toughest players to match-up on the wing. Throw in one of the best young coaches in the state in Greg McClaire and you have a team that can, and will, be playing in Gwinnett.
Atlanta vs. everyone else. The Atlanta area has produced the state champion every year but one since 2001. Dougherty won it that year. Since then it has been an ATL domination. There are a number of contenders from other parts of the state. Statesboro, Richmond Academy, Glynn Academy, Bainbridge and Glenn Hills could all make a surprise run to the Final Four.
MUST SEE GAMES
The class AAAA bracket doesn’t have many games that stand out as must-see games in the first round. The later rounds are intriguing with some monster match-ups. But for the time being, there are two games that stand out from the get go.
Tucker at Lithia Springs – This one will be a physical one. Count on that. Both James Hartry and Jason Slate have their teams ready for a battle. Both teams enter the state tournament mentally tough after a knock-down, drag-out region tournament. Tucker has good balance and size while Lithia Springs will press and rely on it’s start to finish intensity. Expect this one to go down to the wire and expect players from both teams to find the trainer as soon as the game is over.
Evans at Jonesboro - The tournament will start out strong on Friday night as these two fight it out on the south side of Atlanta. Jonesboro always plays teams tough and Evans makes the trip down Interstate 20 from Augusta with a sense of urgency. Over the last 11 games, Evans is 4-7. It doesn’t help that Jonesboro is nearly impossible to beat at home. Look for the Cardinals to win this one.
SLEEPERS TO WATCH
Trey Bussey, SG, Lithia Springs – When the 6-2 junior missed his team’s game against South Cobb, Bussey sat on the sidelines with a hip injury. If he doesn’t play in the region tournament, Lithia Springs could be sitting at home this week and not in the state tournament. He is a good shooter that can slide over and point the point when asked. Bussey is on the radar for some mid-level schools and a good showing in the tournament could shake things up for him.
Chris Davis, SG, Stockbridge – The junior is the latest of sleepers to hail from Stockbridge. The other two, Markel and Quin Humphrey, have done pretty well for themselves at the college level. The 6-2 guard could be next. He’s a capable scorer but he can also put on his passer’s hat when he needs to.
Ricardo Glenn, PF, Richmond Academy – Anchoring the frontline for the top team in Augusta, the 6-7 forward has enjoyed a great senior year and would certainly like to finish the year up in Gwinnett. He’s a capable scorer, a tough rebounder and an intriguing post player for low Division I schools still looking for a player to fill a post spot. This is his stage to earn the offers.
Marquis Cuyler, SF, Glynn Academy – The 6-4 junior wing is playing at a high level as he and his teammates enter the state tournament. He plays bigger than his size and is scoring the ball at a high rate right now. After a competitive year in Region 2, Cuyler and his teammates will be ready for a hefty challenge of playing Upson Lee in round one.
Santoine Butler, PF & Jahmad Saleem, PG, Cross Creek – The 1-2 punch of Butler and Saleem is one of the best in Augusta. Butler, a junior, is a bouncy forward that rebounds well on both ends of the floor while Saleem, a senior, can score and pass with the best of them in East Georgia.
Quin Bivins, PG, Westside Macon – The 6-1 point guard has been a steady performer for what seems like an eternity in central Georgia. He knows how to run his team. He limits his mistakes. He scores the ball. Experienced guard play goes a long way in the tournament.
James McRae, PF, Brunswick – The 6-5 post player is all grit all the time. He’s a blue collar forward that keeps it simple. Sometimes keeping it simple works. That simplicity will fare well in the first round against Bivins and Westside Macon.
Mario Jackson, PG/SG, Statesboro – Lee Hill always has players and this year’s go to guy is Jackson, a 5-11 senior scorer. He’s quick to the hole and experienced in post-season play and in big time match-ups.
YOUNGSTERS TO WATCH
Tony Parker, C, Miller Grove – The 6-8 freshman is one of the top big men regardless of class in the AAAA bracket. He’s been one of Mfon Udofia’s go-to guy in the pain this year and Parker has delivered when his number was called. Few teams can match his size and skill in the post. In fact, it could be argued that he is the most skilled of any big man in the AAAA tournament. Parker will get his first taste of what will be several trips to the state tournament.
Kevin Ware, SG, Rockdale County – The 6-3 guard might be the most explosive player in the tournament. Think Senario Hillman. Ware’s role with Rockdale is a little mystifying. He’s one of the first players off the bench and isn’t a big scorer for the Bulldogs. Ware is clearly a match-up problem for whoever Rockdale County plays. Perhaps the state tournament is where he can prove himself with his high school team.
The Fayette County’s Malcolm Brogdon, Adam Smith and Maurice Williams – Brogdon and Smith are the second and third leading scorers for FC, behind USC bound wing Noel Johnson. Williams is the third leading rebounder and the best post defender on the team. All three players have played large roles in Fayette County’s success this season. Brogdon stepped up in the region championship with his scoring while Smith is a fine shooter and Williams has helped win games with his length in the post. All three sophomores are worth watching.
Top No. 1 seed: Miller Grove
Top No. 2 seed: Lithia Springs or Marist
Top No. 3 seed: Tucker
Top No. 4 seed: Evans
FIRST ROUND PREDICTIONS
Bainbridge over Wayne County
Stockbridge over Cross Creek
Statesboro over Thomas County Central
Glenn Hills over Forest Park
Cass over Loganville
Marist over McIntosh
Hillgrove over Heritage
Tucker over Lithia Springs
Richmond Academy over Alcovy
Brunswick over Westside Macon
Jonesboro over Evans
Glynn Academy over Upson Lee
Miller Grove over Sandy Creek
Rockdale County over Murray County
Fayette County over Stone Mountain
Clarke Central over Sprayberry
FINAL FOUR PICKS
Richmond Academy vs. Miller Grove
Statesboro vs. Marist
Miller Grove over Marist
at 9:53 PM