Three teams in which the season is complete are replaced by two teams that are still alive plus Corona Centennial, which now has to go back in as the best team not to participate in the regional playoffs and has wins over two potential state champs.
By Ronnie Flores
Contributing: Mark Tennis, Harold Abend, Paul Muyskens
(After games played Saturday, March 9; Previous ranking in parentheses)
1. (1) Salesian (Richmond) 30-3
Similar to the top seeded SoCal team in the open division (No. 2 Etiwanda), NorCal’s top seeded open division team had an opening round bye. Salesian hasn’t played since March 2 and neither has the No. 2 Eagles. In fact, Salesian’s last real competitive game came exactly one month earlier (February 2) against No. 4 Sheldon — its opponent in Tuesday’s monster NorCal Open Division semifinal at St. Mary’s College. The Pride beat Sheldon at home 69-60 in a game that McDonald’s All-American Jabari Bird dominated at times. Salesian will be comfortable playing at St. Mary’s College, but beating the Huskies a second time won’t be easy by any means. It’s also a shame more NorCal basketball fans won’t be able to see what are clearly NorCal’s two best teams play on a weekend date for the right to play SoCal’s best team. Instead, the game will be played on a weekday and a lot less people will be in attendance.
2. (2) Etiwanda 27-3
The Eagles had a bye in the opening round of the SoCal Open Division playoffs. Some coaches felt the CIF should have avoided byes, but Etiwanda was rewarded for surviving the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA bracket. Even if the Eagles would have faced a San Diego section champ (likely Mission Hills of San Marcos), they would have been prohibitive favorites. Next up is a open division semifinal game versus No. 7 Westchester. It’s a matchup of Etiwanda’s great man-to-man defense against a line change subbing system employed by the Westchester coaching staff and made famous locally by Phil Matthews (current UCLA assistant) while at Ventura College. Etiwanda wants to keep Westchester’s Matthew Grant from getting hot and will have to defend at a high level basically against two teams.
3. (3) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 31-2
The Monarchs opened the SoCal Open Division regional against an El Camino Real of Woodland Hills team that was a bonafide Division I state title contender, but probably just a bit in over its head in the open division. The game was relatively close in the first half, but Mater Dei pulled away after intermission behind Stanley Johnson (23 points, 10 rebounds) and Elijah Brown (21 points and four assists). Mater Dei is eyeing a rematch with Etiwanda in the SoCal Open Division title game, but it can’t afford to overlook a Long Beach Poly team coming off an emotional victory over St. John Bosco in its open division opener. Poly is better defensively and more athletic than El Camino Real, so Mater Dei can’t just rely on Stanley Johnson to have a monster game in order to win. Make no mistake, Johnson needs to play well, but Brown, Jordan Strawberry or Mario Soto is going to need to have a big game in order for the Monarchs to win.
4. (4) Sheldon (Sacramento) 26-5
The Huskies opened the NorCal Open Division playoffs with a 71-50 victory over Serra of San Mateo that knocked that club from this week’s state top 20. Serra tried to slow down the pace, but in a game plagued by personal fouls, Sheldon woke up offensively in the fourth quarter to pull away. D’Erryl Williams and Darin Johnson led the way with 20 points apiece. Now comes the matchup NorCal basketball fans have been waiting for — Sheldon versus top-ranked Salesian. It’s a matchup of NorCal’s deepest team (Sheldon) against a team that has won 75 consecutive games against regional foes (Salesian). Most fans figured this game would be played on Saturday in the NorCal Open Division regional final, not the semifinal. As Joe Davidson of the Sacramento Bee mentioned, the CIF blew an opportunity to showcase a great NorCal matchup to help get this open division concept off on the right foot.
5. (5) Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 28-3
The Jackrabbits hang on to their rankings position after hanging on for a last second victory over No. 12 St. John Bosco to advance to the SoCal Open Division semifinals against No. 3 Mater Dei. Poly was able to pull out the victory because of Jordan Bell’s put back as time expired. Lost in all the hoopla surrounding the atmosphere and the lead changes in the final minutes was the fact Poly guards K.J. Feagin and Brandon Staton shot a combined 7-for-11 from the field. That duo will need to shoot well from the field again against Mater Dei if Poly is going to pull out the road win. If they do beat Mater Dei, 6-foot-7 junior guard Kameron Chatman, a transfer from Jefferson of Portland, will be eligible for the regional final and potentially the CIF state final.
6. (8) Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 31-1
The Knights move up two spots this week after two relatively easy victories to open the SoCal Div. IV regional playoffs. Bishop Montgomery downed Coalinga (87-24) and St. Joseph of Santa Maria (70-44), but the big news is the Knights will be without two starters in Tuesday’s regional semifinal against Army-Navy of Carlsbad after both were ejected late in the St. Joseph game. With 3:23 left in the game and the lead at 20 points and counting, Lamond Murray Jr. and Ognjen Miljkovic were involved in a skirmish with St. Joseph’s Case Bruton. According to CIF rules, an ejected player is not allowed to play in his team’s next game. Murray is Montgomery’s leading scorer and Miljkovic is a stretch four who would have been key in getting Army-Navy standout center Cheikh N’ daiye away from the basket. It could be a sour note to the end of an otherwise spectacular season, but if the backcourt of Justin Bibbins and Stevie Thompson Jr. step up it might be just a footnote.
7. (12) Westchester (Los Angeles) 29-6
There was controversy at the end of the Comets’ game with Bullard of Fresno in the opening round of the SoCal Open Division regional, but there is no such controversy about the way the Comets are streaking right now. Westchester moves up five spots with its 60-58 win and will face No. 2 Etiwanda in a SoCal Open Division semifinal on Tuesday. It appeared previous No. 6 Bullard tied the game on a tip-in before time expired, but the basket was not allowed. At first, it appeared the basket didn’t count because time had expired, but it was later confirmed that basket interference was the call. Matthew Grant and Elijah Stewart led a balanced attack for Westchester, which has now done enough to overcome an early loss to Pacific Hills and hop that team and Mitty this week.
8. (10) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 27-5
A gritty Newark Memorial team threw a scare at the Monarchs in their NorCal Open Division opener when Joey Frenchwood hit four 3-pointers to give coach Craig Ashmore’s team a commanding 18-7 lead after one period. Frenchwood only scored five points the rest of the way, as Mitty rallied for a 63-51 victory. Mr. Basketball candidate Aaron Gordon didn’t have a monster game statistically (14 points, 17 rebounds) but his thunderous dunk in the second quarter began to swing the momentum. Mitty will host No. 18 Modesto Christian in a big NorCal Open Division semifinal game on Tuesday.
9. (11) Pacific Hills (Los Angeles) 26-4
Moving into the top 10 this week, the Bruins advanced to the CIF SoCal Division IV semifinals where they will face No. 10 Serra of Gardena after wins against Chowchilla (84-50) and previous No. 17 La Verne Lutheran (63-56). Despite the absence of head coach Ivan Barahona (coaching El Salvador’s national team), the Bruins survived as Jahmel Taylor scored 28 points and Marcus Jackson added 16 points in the victory over the Trojans. Pac Hills has done enough since its loss to Bishop O’Dowd to pass them in the rankings after the previous No. 7 Dragons were upset in the first round of the NorCal Open Division playoffs.
10. (14) Serra (Gardena) 26-6
After earning the top seed and a first-round bye in the SoCal Div. IV regionals, the Cavaliers defeated Mater Dei Catholic of Chula Vista 65-49 as they outscored the Crusaders 53-36 over the final three quarters of play. Things will get tougher on Tuesday when they face No. 9 Pacific Hills in the SoCal Div. IV regional semifinals. Five of their six losses this season have been against teams still playing: No. 7 Westchester of Los Angeles, No. 1 Salesian of Richmond and No. 6 Bishop Montgomery of Torrance three times.
11. (6) Bullard (Fresno) 27-3
Season complete. The hosts made it close, but in the end it was a Westchester team that had the experience in big games, and tougher overall competition this season, that won in the opening round of the SoCal Open Division. Coach Tony Amundsen and his Knights are one of two in-state teams to pin a loss on current No. 1 Salesian — a 60-54 victory at the Gridley tournament. One of Bullard’s three losses is to the Sheldon team that faces Salesian on Tuesday, and that was by 11 points. The other loss is to new No. 17 Corona Centennial. With what they accomplished this season and given the controversial finish against the Comets, Bullard certainly will move up a few spots for the final rankings.
12. (9) St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 24-7
Season complete. There was a bit of a controversy when the Braves were selected for the SoCal Open Division playoffs, but little doubt they were going to give Long Beach Poly all it could handle in a rematch of a game Poly won by six points doing the regular season. More than one thing went wrong for St. John Bosco in the final 30 seconds of a game it eventually lost at the buzzer on a lay-up by Poly’s Jordan Bell, but giving up that shot was really not one of them. St. John Bosco led by 11 points before an 18-2 Poly run put the Jackrabbits in position to win. The Braves stay ranked ahead of Loyola, a team Poly beat more handily.
13. (18) Loyola (Los Angeles) 24-7
With a healthy Parker Jackson-Cartwright, the Cubs are a serious threat to capture the Division I state title. They have bounced back from a six-point loss to Long Beach Poly in the CIFSS Division I-AA quarterfinals with wins over Taft of Woodland Hills and El Toro of Lake Forest. Trailing by as many as 14 points early in the third quarter against the Chargers, Loyola rallied to take the lead at the end of the quarter with a 3-pointer by Jackson-Cartwright, who finished with 25 points, as the Cubs outscored the Chargers 18-9 over the final eight minutes. Looking at their overall resume, the decision was made to move Loyola ahead of Deer Valley but the two squads could meet in the CIF Division I state final.
14. (16) Deer Valley (Antioch) 25-5
The best team north of Fresno not in the Open Division and the top seed in the NorCal Division I playoffs continued its march toward Sacramento with a third victory this year over league rival Oakley Freedom, this time by 14 points after three and seven point wins, respectively. As has been the case all season, it was the Marcus Lee and Kendall Smith show. The 6-foot-11 Kentucky-bound Lee had 29 points, 16 rebounds and 12 blocked shots, his sixth triple-double with those categories this season. Nevada Las Vegas-bound Smith had 32 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. The duo accounted for 61 points combined in the 83-69 victory. The win has them in a semifinal against visiting San Jose Bellarmine, a team that has a 20 and 10 point loss to a previous No. 19 Serra team the Wolverines defeated 53-48.
15. (13) El Camino Real (Woodland Hills) 28-4
Season complete. For the second week in a row, the Conquistadors drop in the rankings, this time following a 79-54 loss to No. 3 Mater Dei in the first round of the SoCal Open Division playoffs. Helping ECR’s ranking is the fact it has a blowout win over No. 18 Modesto Christian, which just knocked off Bishop O’Dowd in the NorCal Open Division playoffs. Two of ECR’s three other losses came against teams still playing: No. 7 Westchester and Chaminade of West Hills, which just missed cracking the top 20 this week.
16. (20) St. Augustine (San Diego) 26-4
If a team can keep its season going while others have it come to an end, there’s a good chance to move up in the rankings and that’s the case for the Saints. They defeated Leuzinger of Lawndale 65-45 after a first round bye in the SoCal Division III regional playoffs. After losing three times to Cathedral Catholic of San Diego during the regular season, the Saints were finally able to knock off the Dons in the San Diego Section Division III final and will once again need to defeat that team to keep their season alive. St. Aug’s lone other loss was to No. 4 Sheldon of Sacramento.
17. (NR) Centennial (Corona) 26-3
Season complete. As the season draws to a close with two more weeks left, it’s time for the Huskies to move back into the top 20. They own the best resume of any boys’ team by far that did not complete in the CIF regional playoffs. In fact, they own wins over two teams (Etiwanda, Santa Monica) with an excellent chance to win SoCal regional titles.
18. (NR) Modesto Christian 29-3
Veteran coach Gary Porter is still in the hunt for a third state championship after his boys turned some heads in Northern California’s biggest upset last week — a 57-42 open division win by the sixth-seeded Crusaders over No. 3 seed Bishop O’Dowd. Not only was the victory convincing, it came on the road, and it followed a previous 71-62 home loss to O’Dowd on February 9. The visitors used aggressive and physical defense against O’Dowd, particularly 6-foot-9 sophomore sensation Ivan Rabb, double and triple teaming him into a 12-point, seven-rebound performance. The Crusaders, meanwhile, got balanced scoring led by the 14 points of both T.J. Wallace and Raymond Bowles. The boys from Modesto return to the Bay Area on Tuesday to face No. 2 seed Mitty. Will the same double and triple team strategy work against Aaron Gordon? We’ll see.
19. (7) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 26-4
Season complete. The season is over a little earlier than the folks in the southeast hills of Oakland expected, and the fall from grace means a 12-spot tumble, but not out of the rankings despite the severity of the loss. Things like this can happen to a young team like O’Dowd that only has three seniors on a 13-player roster and starts a sophomore at post and point guard. When Ivan Rabb was corralled by Modesto Christian, there just wasn’t anyone else who stepped up other than senior Michael Perri, who had team highs of 13 points and 10 rebounds. Look for this team to be ranked pretty high in the 2013-14 preseason rankings with Rabb returning for his junior season.
20. (NR) De La Salle (Concord) 26-4
The Spartans jump back in the top 20 following their wins over Palo Alto (35-25) and San Leandro (43-29) in the NorCal Div. I regional playoffs. Arizona-bound Elliott Pitts led the way with 21 points in the win over San Leandro. The Pirates were seeded higher than the Spartans in both the regional playoffs and the North Coast Section Division I playoffs, but were seeded on the same side of the bracket as No. 14 Deer Valley and didn’t get to face them until the regional. Consideration for this spot was also given to Pleasant Grove, De La Salle’s opponent in the regional semifinals, Chaminade of West Hills, J.W. North of Riverside and Serra of San Mateo. If Chaminade hadn’t lost by such a large margin in its section title game, we probably would have went with the Eagles.
Teams That Dropped Out: Previous No. 15 Brentwood (Los Angeles), No. 17 Lutheran (La Verne), No. 19 Serra (San Mateo).
Teams on the Bubble:
Army-Navy (Carlsbad) 29-4
Brentwood (Los Angeles) 27-4
Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 29-4
Chaminade (West Hills) 26-7
Crenshaw (Los Angeles) 21-9
Crespi (Encino) 23-10
Hoover (San Diego) 31-5
J.W. North (Riverside) 30-3
Lutheran (La Verne) 26-8
Mission Hills (San Marcos) 29-4
Newark Memorial (Newark) 23-8
Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove) 25-6
Price (Los Angeles) 24-4
Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) 25-8
San Leandro 24-7
Santa Monica 27-6
Serra (San Mateo) 25-6
Westlake (Westlake Village) 28-5
Windward (Los Angeles) 20-9
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