Bubble teams and more complete writeups have been added as we take a deeper look at the state’s best teams. Salesian goes to No. 1 and Etiwanda inches up to No. 2 following big win over Mater Dei.
By Ronnie Flores
Contributing: Mark Tennis, Paul Muyskens
(After all section championship games played Saturday, March 2; Previous ranking in parentheses)
1. (3) Salesian (Richmond) 30-3
Salesian vs. Cardinal Newman was a relatively close game for one half, then The Pride turned up their defense in the second half to capture the CIF North Coast Section Division IV title and move up to No. 1 in the state following losses by previous No. 1 Long Beach Poly and No. 2 Mater Dei. It was 24-21 at one point in second quarter, but Salesian held Newman to five points in the third quarter and 13 in the second half to win going away, 65-34. The head-to-head rankings criteria came directly into play for the NorCal Open Division top seed as The Pride was awarded the top seed. During the regular season, Salesian defeated No. 3 Sheldon, 69-60, and also had a win over CCS champ Archbishop Mitty (which has a win over Sheldon). The Pride have a bye to open the regional playoffs and then shockingly could face Sheldon in the Open Division regional semifinals.
2. (5) Etiwanda 27-3
The Eagles move up three spots following back-to-back wins over previous No. 1 Long Beach Poly (in overtime) in the semifinals and No. 2 Mater Dei in the title game of the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs. Etiwanda’s defense was the major key in both wins. Coach Dave Kleckner’s club held Mater Dei to 33 percent shooting from the field to capture the school’s second Division I-AA title (2005) while Jordan McLaughlin and Kenny Barnes combined for 30 points. Etiwanda led 43-30 entering the fourth period before Mater Dei made a frantic comeback. Kleckner didn’t know exactly how the criteria for the new SoCal Open Division works when asked, but said after beating the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the state he does feel his team deserves the top seed. Etiwanda was awarded it and has a bye before facing the winner of Bullard-Westchester in the regional semifinals March 12.
3. (2) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 30-2
The Monarchs technically moved up to No. 1 in the state after Long Beach Poly lost to Etiwanda last Tuesday night and we updated our state divisional rankings. Their stay, however, was short-lived after falling in the CIFSS Division I-AA title game 54-51 to Etiwanda. Elijah Brown led the way for Mater Dei with 21 points, but he made only 6-of-18 field goal attempts, as the Monarchs were unable to get clean offensive looks most of the game. If Mater Dei was blown out (and it looked that way for three quarters), we would have ranked the Monarchs below Sheldon and Long Beach Poly, but they actually had a chance to tie the game on their final possession. It was also Mater Dei’s first loss to an in-state opponent. Mater Dei was awarded the No. 2 seed in the SoCal Open Division behind Mater Dei and faces No. 13 El Camino Real in its regional opener.
4. (4) Sheldon (Sacramento) 25-5
The Huskies downed a good Pleasant Grove of Elk Grove team for the third time this season, 60-57, to win their fourth consecutive CIF San Joaquin Section Division I title. Washington-bound Darin Johnson led the way with 21 points, but it was four-year starters Dakari Allen and D’Erryl Williams who made a huge impact down the stretch. Allen had a block that led to a Johnson dunk and Williams scored on a key offensive rebound putback to round out the scoring and ice the game. After winning its section title, Sheldon was a lock for the NorCal Open Division and should have been the No. 2 seed, but instead was slid down to No. 4 in a shocking decision. We figured the Huskies would slide to No. 3 because of a head-to-head loss to Archbishop Mitty, but to place Sheldon behind Bishop O’Dowd was not logical. Now Northern California’s two best teams will potentially face off in the regional semifinals instead of the regional final.
5. (1) Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 27-3
The Jackrabbits forced overtime against No. 2 Etiwanda before falling to the Eagles 59-55 in the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA semifinals. It was Poly’s first loss to a California opponent. Considering the Jackrabbits beat both CIFSS Division III-A champ St. John Bosco and Loyola (who beat CIFSS IV-A champ Pacific Hills) they were a no-brainer choice for the open division. Poly was given the No. 3 seed ahead of Bullard, but now must “hit the road” at Cerritos College to face No. 9 St. John Bosco in probably the most anticipated game of the opening round of the regional playoffs. Poly already has a win over St. John Bosco, but didn’t get any breaks by opening against a talented team most figured was headed to the Division III regional.
6. (6) Bullard (Fresno) 27-2
A 66-53 victory over Clovis West gave the Knights their third consecutive CIF Central Section Division I title. Junior strongman Calvin Young played a fantastic all-around game with 15 points and 13 rebounds. A scenario where the Knights, as a section champion and by virtue of making last year’s SoCal Division I regional final, were seeded second behind Etiwanda actually made sense to us. The two CIFSS Division I-AA teams ranked ahead of Bullard that didn’t win section titles (Mater Dei, Long Beach Poly) were seeded higher. We figured Bullard was going to be No. 2 or No. 4. The Knights open with No. 12 Westchester with the winner getting top seeded Etiwanda.
7. (7) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 26-3
The Dragons secured their second consecutive CIF North Coast Section Division III title with a 89-78 victory over El Cerrito on Saturday night. A pair of 10th graders led O’Dowd as star forward Ivan Rabb had 25 points and 10 rebounds while up-and-comer Paris Austin netted 26 points. The Dragons, which have not lost this calendar year, were a no-brainer choice to be a top four seed in the NorCal Open Division Regional. We just figured it would be No. 4, not No. 3 in front of Sheldon. The Dragons open with No. 6 seed Modesto Christian with the winner most likely facing No. 10 Mitty in the regional semifinal.
8. (8) Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 29-1
The Knights remain in this spot even though they lost to La Verne Lutheran in the CIFSS Division IV-AA semifinals. Looking over their overall body of work, Bishop Montgomery owns three wins over CIFSS Division IV-AA champion Serra of Gardena, plus a 74-63 victory over No. 9 St. John Bosco. Montgomery was not eligible for the open division under the criteria and did not request to be moved up to the open division. Bishop Montgomery was seeded No. 6 in the SoCal Div. IV regional and don’t have state-ranked clubs Serra, Brentwood, Pac Hills or La Verne Lutheran on its side of the bracket. The seed might have been bad, but the road to the regional final is not overwhelming.
9. (9) St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 24-6
A 79-56 rout of West Hills Chaminade (a bubble top 20 team) enabled the Braves to capture the CIFSS Division III-A title on Saturday morning. It gave Bosco coach Derrick Taylor titles in both the Southern Section and L.A. City Section (where he previously coached at Taft of Woodland Hills). The CIFSS has stated teams do not have the option to dictate placement in playoff brackets and sure enough St. John Bosco was moved up to the SoCal Open Division. Considering its potential opponents in the Division III state final, the fact few coaches even knew the criteria and didn’t know how to formally petition up, it wasn’t a shock at all the Braves were moved up. St. John Bosco will get a second crack at Long Beach Poly to open the regional after losing to the Jackrabbits at the Nike Extravaganza.
10. (11) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 25-5
The Monarchs captured the first-ever CIF Central Coast Section Open Division title by beating state-ranked and WCAL rival Serra of San Mateo for the second time in three tries this season. State Mr. Basketball and Mr. Basketball USA candidate Aaron Gordon led the way with 24 points and 23 rebounds. Mitty, two-time defending Division II state champs, now seeks a third straight state title but its road will be much tougher in the NorCal Open Division. Mitty (which opens the NorCal Open Division regional against unranked and 23-7 Newark Memorial) has struggled at times this season, but if Gordon plays to his maximum potential and avoids foul trouble there is no player in the state that can carry a team like he can.
11. (13) Pacific Hills (Los Angeles) 24-4
As a two-time divisional champ, the Bruins were one of the CIF Southern Section teams on the board for a potential open division berth, but the only team outside the I-AA bracket taken was No. 9 St. John Boco. Even if the Braves had remained in Division III, Pac Hills would have been a worthy selection with regular season victories over No. 12 Westchester and No. 16 Deer Valley. In its 74-65 victory over Brentwood in the CIFSS Division IV-A title game, Washington-bound guard Jahmel Taylor led the way with 21 points. Pac Hills is the No. 5 seed in the SoCal Division IV regional and opens against 21-8 Chowchilla of the Central Section.
12. (15) Westchester (Los Angeles) 28-6
The Comets won their 12th L.A. City Section major division title under veteran coach Ed Azzam with a 65-59 victory over No. 13 El Camino Real and will be a tough out in the SoCal Open Division playoffs. The Comets earned the No. 5 seed and travel to face No. 4 seed and No. 6 ranked Bullard of Fresno. Senior guard Matthew Grant scored five key points down the stretch to help Westchester pull out a nip-and-tuck affair. Grant (14.2 ppg) is the leading scorer on a team where nine players average between 3.3 and 7.9 ppg. According to long-time assistant coach Brian Henderson, he felt next year’s team was the one that was going to put Westchester among the state’s elite once again, but Azzam said the team’s unselfishness has it ahead of schedule.
13. (10) El Camino Real (Woodland Hills) 28-3
Losing to Westchester in the L.A. City Section championships costs the Conquistadors three spots in this week’s rankings, but no more. As we predicted, if the CIF was going to pick more than one team from any section in SoCal besides the CIF Southern Section for the open division, it would be El Camino Real and that’s what happened. Last year El Camino Real won the L.A. City Division II title and its “reward” for an overall great season with five returning starters is a road game against No. 2 seed Mater Dei in the opening round of the SoCal Open Division regional. If ECR is going to have any chance in the regional, it will have to find a way for Hawaii-bound Michael Thomas to get more involved offensively (two points) than he did against Westchester.
14. (19) Serra (Gardena) 25-6
The Cavaliers are a two-time CIFSS divisional champion following their 72-50 victory over No. 17 La Verne Lutheran in the Division IV-AA final. The main difference in the game was a 19-9 advantage for Serra that turned a 17-13 lead after one quarter into a comfortable 36-22 halftime lead. Junior Ron Freeman led the way with 16 points, as he did not miss a shot from the field and connected on 5-of-6 free throws. When asked about a potential move up to the Open Division, coach Dwan Hurt didn’t know much about the criteria (as did other coaches we interviewed this weekend) and had mixed feelings about the whole concept. He just didn’t like the idea of finding out late on a Sunday about a totally unknown opponent. As it is, Serra earned the No. 1 seed and a bye in the SoCal Division IV regional and plays the Mater Dei of Chula Vista and No. 15 Brentwood winner in the second round. Talk about a reward for earning the top seed.
15. (12) Brentwood (Los Angeles) 27-4
Coach Ryan “Moose” Bailey’s club lost its second game of three this season to Pac Hills in the CIFSS Division IV-A final. In one of the most bizarre decisions of the whole regional playoff bracket in both boys and girls, Brentwood was given a No. 9 seed in the SoCal Div. IV regional playoffs. A state-ranked team which has beaten teams such as No. 13 El Camino Real, Pac Hills and Windward was seeded behind a team from the L.A City Section that didn’t win a section title with an overall record under .500. It just defies logic.
16. (18) Deer Valley (Antioch) 24-5
After capturing the school’s first ever CIF North Coast Section title 73-65 over San Leandro behind monster performances from Kendall Smith (27 points) and Marcus Lee (22 points, 19 rebounds, eight blocks), the Wolverines get a two-spot bump. They were not eligible for the NorCal Open Division playoffs based on the established criteria and because they decided not to petition up. The team therefore enter the NorCal regionals as the highest ranked team from Northern California not selected for the Open Division. The slight favorite to capture the NorCal Division I title, the top-seeded Wolverines have a first round bye before playing the winner of Freedom of Oakley and Bella Vista of Fair Oaks on March 9. During its run to a section title, Deer Valley avenged two losses with victories over Heritage of Brentwood and San Leandro with two of their other losses coming against Open Division entrants Sheldon of Sacramento and Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland.
17. (14) Lutheran (La Verne) 25-7
The Trojans got murdered on the glass (40-23) and made only 35 percent of their shots in a 70-52 CIFSS Div. IV-AA title game loss to Serra of Gardena. Lutheran was red-hot in the earlier rounds of the section playoffs and first year coach Brandon Lee felt a week off between the semifinals and the championship game didn’t make much of a difference if the players in his five-guard offense didn’t box out and take care of the ball. He’s hoping they’ll heat up again in the SoCal Div. IV regionals, as the No. 4 seed Trojans open up with 18-11 Sierra of Tollhouse of the Central Section.
18. (NR) Loyola (Los Angeles) 22-7
The Cubs move back into the top 20 and, as predicted, were the highest seed in the SoCal Division I regionals among teams that lost in the CIFSS Division I-AA quarterfinals. The No. 7 seed Cubs open with L.A. City quarterfinalist Taft of Woodland Hills. With a healthy Parker Jackson-Cartwright running the point, Loyola is a serious contender for the CIF Division I state title.
19. (16) Serra (San Mateo) 25-5
Despite losing in the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division finals 54-46 to No. 10 Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, Chuck Rapp’s Padres were rewarded with a spot in the first-ever NorCal Open Division regional. Serra earned the No. 5 seed, but is stuck facing No. 4 in the state Sheldon of Sacramento, who received a No. 4 seed in one of many puzzling decisions by the CIF in their first go-around with the open division format in basketball. During the regular season, Serra did pick up a win over Aaron Gordon and the Monarchs while finishing second in the WCAL. Serra’s only loss this season to a team it didn’t defeat at some point was to No. 16 Deer Valley.
20. (NR) St. Augustine (San Diego) 25-4
The Saints break into the top 20 following La Costa Canyon’s upset loss to Hoover of San Diego and their complete rout (62-36) of Cathedral Catholic in the CIFSDS Division III title tilt. They captured their first San Diego Section Division III championship since 2005. Brynton Lemar led the way in the win with 23 points and 12 rebounds while Trey Kell also had a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. It was a shocking result because Cathedral Catholic had beaten St. Augustine three times previously during the season. As the top seed, St. Aug has the lone bye in the SoCal Division III bracket and will wait to face the winner of Hamilton of Los Angeles and Leuzinger of Lawndale on March 9. It’s toughest test on the way to the state finals could come in the regional semifinals were St. Aug could face Cathedral Catholic of San Diego for the fifth time.
Teams That Dropped Out: Previous No. 17 De La Salle (Concord), No. 20 La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad).
Teams on the Bubble:
Army-Navy (Carlsbad) 27-4
Centennial (Corona) 26-3
Chaminade (West Hills) 24-7
Crespi (Encino) 22-9
De La Salle (Concord) 24-4
Hoover (San Diego) 29-5
Independence (Bakersfield) 32-1
J.W. North (Riverside) 28-3
La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad) 27-5
Loyola (Los Angeles) 22-7
Mission Hills (San Marcos) 27-4
Mission Viejo 26-4
Modesto Christian 28-3
Newark Memorial (Newark) 23-7
Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove) 24-6
Price (Los Angeles) 24-4
Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) 23-8
San Leandro 23-6
Santa Monica 25-6
St. Augustine (San Diego) 25-4
Windward (Los Angeles) 20-9
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