Four months of preparation have led 167 boys and girls basketball teams to this: the second season.
Holiday tournaments, nonleague games and league races, some of which were decided in the final contest, served as a warmup to what area coaches anticipate will be a sizzling Sac-Joaquin Section playoff stretch into March. Upsets defined the last month of the regular season, and what is the postseason without underdogs making a move?
The section playoffs include six divisions each for boys and girls large schools, medium and small. The girls tip off tonight and the boys Wednesday. Section finals in Divisions I-V will be played at Sleep Train Arena on March 7-8, extending a partnership with the NBA arena that began in 1988. The NorCal finals are March 22, and the CIF State Championships are March 28-29, also at Sleep Train Arena.
The Bees No. 1-ranked boys team, Capital Christian, embraced a national schedule to test the two-time defending D-V section champion. The Cougars, led by 6-foot-8 Michigan-bound forward D.J. Wilson, were not challenged in the Golden Empire League, and as the D-V top seed, Capital Christian is the biggest favorite of any section team in any division to storm to another championship.
The D-I and D-II top seeds hail from the Delta River League. No. 2 Folsom (D-II) edged No. 3 Jesuit (D-I) twice, and both expect to keep winning. Both schools impressed in the DRL finale. Folsom won 73-69 after prevailing 58-55 in overtime in the first meeting.
Playing Jesuit, that was the ultimate exhibition, Folsom coach Mike Wall said. This was a dress rehearsal for the playoffs. Are we ready? Yeah, I think both teams are ready.
In a rarity, there are no top seeds among area girls teams in D-I, D-II, D-III or D-V.Half of the top seeds St. Marys (D-I), McNair (D-II) and Brookside Christian (D-V) are Stockton schools. Others are Vanden of Fairfield (D-III), Bear River of Grass Valley (D-IV) and Valley Christian of Roseville (D-VI).
A look at story lines to follow:
How deep is D-II? Its never been stronger for the boys, making it quite a challenge to seed this division. Folsom is joined by Bee top-10 teams Cosumnes Oaks, Del Oro, Del Campo, Sacramento, Grant and Burbank.
Its incredible, the best Ive ever seen, said Del Oro coach Geoff Broyles, whos in his 12th season. There are so many teams that can win it.
Cosumnes Oaks was the most difficult team to seed. The Wolfpack is 26-1 in games played but had to forfeit 15 wins for using an ineligible player. Without the forfeits, the Wolfpack could have been the No. 2 seed. Instead, Cosumnes Oaks is seeded sixth, opens with dangerous Antelope and could face St. Marys in the second round. The Wolfpack is the last team to beat St. Marys on the court.
Folsom sits on top of the bracket and Del Oro at the bottom. Those schools finished No. 1 and 2, respectively, in The Bees final football rankings and in basketball have combined for a 51-3 record with no losses against Sac-Joaquin Section schools.
Quick vs. length Burbank opens at Del Campo in a D-II boys game that features the quickness and grit of Titans guard Jalen Coates against the skill and height of Del Campos Vasilije Saraba. Burbank needed a victory over Kennedy in its Metropolitan Conference finale to slip into the playoffs.
Big Red revival Jesuit missed the playoffs last season, a rarity, and has returned wiser from the experience with a veteran team. Guards Isaiah Bailey and Nick Hilton are joined by frontcourt players Brady Anderson and Lake Lutes. Bailey and Lutes said Jesuit is capable of playing better in the playoffs.
Playoff time is finally here, Bailey said. Time to put up or shut up.
New look Kennedy and St. Francis, two storied girls programs in the section, were in outbracket games for the first time last Friday. In D-I, Kennedy rolled Granite Bay 75-48, and St. Francis beat Edison of Stockton 51-32. Each is capable of maintaining momentum. St. Francis plays former Metro rival McClatchy tonight, and Kennedy visits Oak Ridge, a matchup that has produced down-to-the-wire playoff games.
Raiders rise A D-II or III school for years, the River City boys and girls are in the D-I scramble for the first time. Each looms as a dark horse after winning the Sierra Valley Conference.
The Raiders girls are 23-4 behind coach Jamie King and leading scorer Carmen Garcia (14.9 points). The boys are 21-6, thanks largely to frontcourt size and depth.
Upset specials If they happen early in D-I boys play, they will be the result of the DRL rivalry between Oak Ridge and Pleasant Grove. Seeded 10th, Oak Ridge opens at No. 7 Golden Valley of Merced. Oak Ridge has two wins over 11th-seeded Pleasant Grove, the defending D-I state champion that opens at No. 6 Merced. Area teams, battle tested from stronger leagues, have regularly gone south and bounced higher seeds.
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