Joe Davidson

Why Folsom might create Open Division chaos, plus other NorCal playoffs storylines

Sheldon center Chris Wriedt (23) battles Folsom's Martis Johnson  and Mason Forbes (25) for a rebound in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal on Feb. 28.
Sheldon center Chris Wriedt (23) battles Folsom's Martis Johnson and Mason Forbes (25) for a rebound in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal on Feb. 28. jvillegas@sacbee.com

The next round of the high school basketball playoffs are here, and what's a tournament without some upsets?

Boring.

That doesn't figure to be the case in the CIF Northern California Regional tournament that starts for all divisions on Wednesday except the prestigious Open Division, which begins Friday.

Before there are any seedings upsets, there are plenty of coaches who are upset with their seedings. 'Tis the season where no one wants to play a powerhouse, or travel. Everyone wants a stiff.

The CIF went with a new "competitive-equity" model in seeding seven NorCal divisions, meaning teams are no longer aligned by enrollment but by strength. Head-to-head results don't always matter now, and neither does winning a section crown. It used to be that a section champion would host a first-round NorCal game. That is no longer true.

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In essence, the tournament teams were seeded 1 through 96, with the top eight placed in the Open, the next 16 in D-I, the next 16 in D-II and right on down to the last eight in D-VI. Each of the 10 sections in the state has different seedings criteria, with some going strictly by MaxPreps computer rankings, which is curious since human rankings at least include people who have seen games.

The intent is to have competitive games from the get-go, unlike past seasons where a lot of openers were savage blowouts. Time will tell. The CIF is always open to change, and the member schools and section pushed for such changes.

Bottom line: appreciate that you're in, and do something about the seeds – win.

Open injustice? – Bellarmine of San Jose won perhaps the toughest boys league in Northern California, the West Catholic Athletic League, and then won the Central Coast Section Open Division championship behind standout Jake Wojcik, but at 24-3 the Bells still wound up with only a No. 6 seed and an Open opener at No. 3 Modesto Christian (28-3), which edged Sheldon in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-I finals.

How? Well, the CCS Open Division is essentially a league tournament as Bellarmine beat three WCAL rivals, and the Sac-Joaquin Section D-I tournament was, without question, a much more challenging field, so much so that for the third successive season, four Sac-Joaquin Section (and three Sacramento-area) teams were pulled into the Open.

Sheldon (26-5) is the No. 4 seed and will host San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno (25-6), which split with Modesto Christian and features 6-foot-6 guard Jalen Green, averaging 28.3 points.

Folsom fun – Folsom (25-5) lost to Sheldon in overtime in a section semifinal this season and was pushed down to the No. 8 seed in the NorCal Open, thus an opener at CalHi Sports state No. 1 Salesian of Richmond (30-1).

But here's the rub. Folsom beat seven-time Nevada state champion Gorman, which beat Salesian. Folsom can turn the Open field upside down with a win here.

Fresno fury – And there's Central of Fresno (24-7). Winner of the Central Section title, it gained only a No. 12 seed in D-I and plays at No. 5 Saint Francis of Mountain View, which didn't even reach a section final. Still, at 19-6, Saint Francis was deemed better with a stronger schedule. That's a lot of guess work.

Small-school angst – Corning went 29-1 last season, beefed up its schedule and won the Northern Section D-IV championship – and wound up only a No. 13 seed in NorCal.

For its opener, it will play at one of the most storied and difficult venues to play in – Placer's Earl Crabbe Gym.

Seeded fourth, Placer (23-8) is coming off a section-title loss to West Campus.

How about Mount Shasta? It wins the North Section D-V title to move to 26-3 and is rewarded with a No. 13 seed and has to travel to San Francisco to face No. 4 Urban (15-15).

Boys upset watch – There a number of area teams with a good chance of disrupting brackets.

Franklin (20-9) lost in a section semifinal by a point to Open Division entry Capital Christian and gained a D-I at-large berth as the No. 15 seed. Superbly coached by Ken Manfredi and led by unsung performers such as Leland Estacio, Raymond Sim and Keilen Valdry, the Wildcats are capable of beating No. 2 Las Lomas (27-3) in Walnut Creek.

In D-II, Oak Ridge (17-12) lost to rival Folsom in a section quarterfinal and is the No. 16 seed, taking on top-seeded Alameda (24-5), which will have to deal with 6-9 Cade Hoppe, whose inside game is on par with his 4.4 GPA.

Also in D-II, battle-tested Whitney (23-7) plays at No. 3 Campolindo (19-10). Whitney is puzzled by its low seed despite losing by two in overtime to NorCal No. 2 seed St. Mary's of Stockton in a section semifinal.

Whitney has been slowed by injuries and had a key player quit. Said coach Nick French, "This is the most resilient and overachieving group I have ever had the pleasure coaching."

Girls upset watch – Potential upsets include Divisions I and II.

Oak Ridge (16-13) lost to Cosumnes Oaks in a second-round sectional game and gained a No. 15 seed, earning a date at longtime D-V heavyweight Eastside Prep (20-6) of Palo Alto. With the competitive equity formula, the selection committee rightly deemed this no ordinary D-V program and seeded Eastside as the No. 2 D-I team.

Oak Ridge coach Steve White has navigated his team through the NorCals successfully in the past, but never as this big of a seedings underdog.

Sacramento (18-11) lost to Del Oro in a sectional quarterfinal and gained a No. 16 seed in D-II, thus a trip to Chico to face top-seeded Pleasant Valley (21-4), a talented team to be sure, but one that will have its hands full with guard RyAnne Walters.

Then again, the Vikings do own an early season win over Bee No. 1 Folsom (59-57).

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