With the regular season serving as a warmup, expect the Sac-Joaquin Section basketball playoffs to be equal parts exciting and nerve-racking. The fun starts with outbracket games Friday.
The theme is survive and advance. Upsets happen. Upstarts appear. Defending champions have the weight of expectations.
Here are some intriguing questions after the unveiling of the brackets Wednesday:
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Will powers collide in the Division I finals at Sleep Train Arena on March 7?
If not, there were upsets in the wind.
Folsom, the defending D-II section and NorCal boys champion, inched into the D-I fray, where it is the top seed in a formidable field. The Bulldogs face the winner of the Tokay-Enochs outbracket game, and if they advance, they meet the winner between Jesuit and Granite Bay.
Jesuit, the defending D-I champion, features one of the section’s most prolific scorers in Isaiah Bailey. Folsom has reigning Bee Player of the Year Jordan Ford and a superb supporting cast that includes Tre Finch, Jared Wall, Colin Russell and Josiah Deguara.
Coming on strong is second-seeded Sheldon. The Huskies, the D-I champions from 2010-13, missed the playoffs last season but bounced back with authority in winning the Delta League. Sheldon has a wealth of quick guards with outstanding ballhandling skills, including Devin Greene and Isaiah Brooks, and features a strong shooter and rebounder in Matt Manning.
And look out for third-seeded Woodcreek, which beat Folsom 60-57 on Feb. 11. Senior guard Noah Blackwell and 6-foot-9 freshman center Jordan Brown lead the Timberwolves.
In the girls bracket, longtime national power and top seed St. Mary’s of Stockton seeks a three-peat and a section-record 16th title.
Second-seeded Oak Ridge is balanced and plays superb defense. Bee No. 1 McClatchy, seeded third, has an inside presence in Gigi Garcia and a shooter in Jordan Cruz.
Is D-II as good as D-I?
For the boys, Bee No. 1 Sacramento is the top seed opposite No. 2 Modesto Christian, winner of a record 16 section titles in various divisions. Despite no senior starters, Sacramento has two veterans in center Solomon Young and guard Christian Terrell, both juniors, third-year starters and Pacific-12 Conference recruits.
Cosumnes Oaks – with the 1-2 punch of Eric Toles and Jaaron Stallworth – Antelope and St. Mary’s deepen the field considerably..
For the girls, top-seeded Modesto Christian, last season’s D-III state champion, moves up a division and expects another long playoff run.
No. 2 Antelope is young but skilled with sisters Nia and Nadia Johnson keying a 15-game winning streak.
How relieved are teams in D-III?
The euphoria is palpable for programs delighted they don’t have to face Modesto Christian’s girls or boys.
With both teams rolling to D-III titles last season and now favorites in D-II, the D-III field is wide open. Christian Brothers is the top boys seed, winner of 11 straight games behind Elias King, Joseph Delgadillo and Finn Whetstone.
Lurking is No. 4 Cordova, led by the section’s leading scorer in Jordan Roberson, who’s averaging 31.8 points.
In the girls bracket, Vanden is the top seed, and Inderkum is the second seed with several talented teams in the mix, including Christian Brothers, led by versatile forward Kira McKechnie.
Florin was the upstart last season, losing in the final and making a run in the NorCal playoffs. The Panthers are seeded seventh this season.
Is Capital Christian still a factor?
The Cougars’ boys rolled to the D-V title last season and reached the NorCal Open final. A cast of newcomers seeks to continue the winning tradition as the top seed in D-IV.
No. 2 Liberty Ranch is led by 6-6 wing DeAndre Stallings, who can score, rebound and run the floor. Foothill, the third seed, has won 10 of its last 11 games.
Capital Christian’s girls are seeded third in D-V behind No. 1 Woodland Christian and No. 2 Argonaut.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.