The big game in the CIF’s new open division won’t be a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, but the winner will assuredly be the Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year. Mitty’s big win over Sheldon is also good news for Serra of San Mateo, one of four newcomers in the next-to-last state rankings.
By Ronnie Flores
Contributing: Mark Tennis, Harold Abend, Paul Muyskens
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(After games played Saturday, March 16; Previous ranking in parentheses)
1. (3) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 33-2
The Monarchs move up to the top spot following their 60-37 victory over Etiwanda in the SoCal Open Division Regional final. Mater Dei is not only a cinch for the top spot because Sheldon beat previous No. 1 Salesian and then lost itself to No. 4 Mitty (Mater Dei’s opponent in the Open Division state final), but also because it just avenged its only in-state loss in convincing fashion. The Monarchs shot only 33 percent in the first half against Etiwanda, but played good team defense before All-American candidate Stanley Johnson helped break open the game in the third period. Now comes the ultimate test for Johnson and his teammates: try to stop or even slow down Mitty Mr. Basketball USA candidate Aaron Gordon.
2. (2) Etiwanda 28-4
Season complete. The Eagles stay put in the No. 2 position for a couple of key reasons. One, they did beat Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly to win the coveted CIF Southern Section Division I-AA title. Two, it could be a case where we either overvalued Sheldon and undervalued Mitty a bit (it’s probably a case of Aaron Gordon is that good) and third, the SoCal Open Division could just be that superior to its NorCal counterpart. Great thing for us is, we’ll get the answer to the last two when Mater Dei and Mitty square off for all the marbles. Etiwanda, which shot 27 percent from the field in the rematch with Mater Dei, looks like it will be no lower than No. 3 in the final rankings next week.
3. (5) Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 28-4
Season complete. The Jackrabbits’ basketball program had one memorable season for a variety of reasons. The girls’ team can win a fifth CIF state title this weekend and the boys’ team spent most of this season ranked No. 1 in the state. For Poly’s faithful, it will always be a case of what the season would have been like had junior Kameron Chatman been eligible throughout. The Jackrabbits were still a nationally-ranked unit without him, but lost in all the social media frenzy when Chatman actually played in the final minute of Poly’s loss to Mater Dei (when he was still technically ineligible per a CIFSS ruling on his eligibility) was the fact Poly didn’t shoot well and lost to Mater Dei by 20 points. Poly actually moves up two spots this week after Mater Dei handily beat Etiwanda in the SoCal Open Division regional final, but will remain behind Mater Dei in the final ratings. The result of the open division final will ultimately decide the Jackrabbits’ final ranking.
4. (8) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 28-5
These Monarchs move up four spots this week after dispatching previous No. 18 Modesto Christian 58-54 and No. 4 Sheldon 70-50 in the NorCal Open Division regional final. Sheldon was coming off an emotional and thrilling overtime victory over previous No. 1 Salesian. Beating Sheldon was a bit of a surprise, but the margin was more shocking as Mitty’s Aaron Gordon dominated against a team with perhaps the state’s best players one through 10. However, if you recall, we have mentioned on more than one occasion that if any player can get hot and lead his team to the first open division state title, it’s Gordon. His stat line (29 points, 22 rebounds and three blocks) is actually similar to what he’s done in the past two Division II state title games. Both Mater Dei and Mitty will be gunning for a third consecutive state title. It’s not a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, but it’s pretty simple. If Mitty wins, it would clearly deserve the jump to No. 1 and would be named Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year next Monday.
5. (4) Sheldon (Sacramento) 27-6
Season complete. It was quite a roller coaster of a week for the Huskies, as they knocked off previous No. 1 Salesian of Richmond, 63-59 in overtime, to put themselves in position to play for the new open division title. It all came crashing down when the Huskies were dominated by Aaron Gordon and new No. 4 Mitty in the regional final, 70-50. Sheldon will remain ahead of Salesian and Bullard in the final rankings and its final position will be determined by the Mitty’s performance against No. 1 Mater Dei. Should Mitty lose next Saturday, the Huskies could be hopped by another teams or two, but will end the season in the top 10.
6. (1) Salesian (Richmond) 30-4
Season complete. It’s a tumble of six spots for The Pride after losing in overtime to No. 5 Sheldon in the NorCal Open Division semifinals, 63-59. Had Sheldon defeated Mitty in the regional final, Salesian would be No. 4 this week. Salesian actually had a six-point lead halfway through the fourth period but could not hold it. The Pride were done in by a monster performance by Sheldon’s Darin Johnson (24 points, five 3-pointers) and the inability to muster much offense inside. Salesian won’t fall far from the top six in the final rankings because they split with Sheldon this season.
7. (9) Pacific Hills (Los Angeles) 28-4
The Bruins moved into the top 10 last week and inch up two more spots this week after defeating previous No. 10 Serra in the SoCal Division IV semifinals (53-50) and previous No. 6 Bishop Montgomery (73-69) in the regional final. Head coach Ivan Barahona (an all-CIFSS guard at the school in 1996) hasn’t been with the team since it won the CIFSS Division IV-A title, but assistant Herman Nash (a former all-L.A. City running back at Manual Arts of Los Angeles) has done an admirable job in his place. Barahona is coming back for the state title game, but it actually doesn’t matter who is coaching because either way Pac Hills is a heavy favorite over Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa.
8. (6) Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 32-2
Season complete. After surviving the SoCal Division IV semifinals without Lamond Murray Jr. and Ognjen Miljkovic, the Knights didn’t have the guard play of Pacific Hills. Bishop Montgomery couldn’t stop the trio of Jahmel Taylor, Marcus Jackson and Namon Wright, who combined for 53 points in Pac Hill’s 73-69 regional final win with Murray Jr. and Miljkovic back in the lineup. Murray Jr. led Bishop Montgomery with 25 points, but the team was done in by 3-of-18 on 3-point shooting and by being out-rebounded by a smaller team. Despite a successful season, the Knights failed to win a section or regional title.
9. (7) Westchester (Los Angeles) 29-7
Season complete. The Comets hopped Mitty last week, but obviously must fall behind that team after losing against No. 2 Etiwanda 56-46 in the SoCal Open Division semifinals. Westchester just couldn’t overcome a slow offensive start and the Eagles’ vise-grip like defense. Westchester will remain in front of Bullard in the final ratings and its loss to Pacific Hills continues not to look bad at all.
10. (11) Bullard (Fresno) 27-3
Season complete. Coach Tony Amundsen’s club moves up a spot this week, but they didn’t get any help at all for the final rankings with some results from last week’s open division playoffs. Etiwanda easily dispatched the Westchester team it lost to and the earlier win over Salesian (last week’s No. 1) and the loss to Sheldon don’t look as strong anymore, either.
11. (16) St. Augustine (San Diego) 28-4
We gave some consideration to moving the Saints up in front of Bullard. After all, St. Aug is still playing (Bullard is not) and both teams have a small number of overall losses, including ones to Sheldon. Both teams also have wins over Salesian, but upon further inspection, Bullard overall is an open division team that has played tougher competition. Still, the Saints’ overall resume is beginning to look real good with two avenging wins over Cathedral Catholic, which handed them their other three losses. NorCal hoop fans are going to get a treat watching Brynton Lemar play in the Division III state final against bubble squad Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco and will be happy to know he’ll be continuing his career at nearby UC-Davis. Beating SHC will elevate St. Aug into the final top 10.
12. (12) St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 24-7
Season complete. Expectations were sky high this season and what probably gnaws at coach Derrick Taylor the most is the inability to beat Mater Dei in Trinity League play. Perhaps it won’t be as bad a feeling if Mater Dei ends up being the best team in the state.
13. (10) Serra (Gardena) 26-7
Season complete. Although the Cavaliers only lost to SoCal Division IV champion Pacific Hills by three points in the regional semifinals, they drop three spots because they were beaten soundly by No. 9 Westchester (60-45) whereas the Comets lost to Pac Hills by only five points. Serra coach Dwan Hurt had a tough task getting his team on the same page and he said that played a role in blowing a 41-34 lead to Pac Hills in the fourth quarter. Serra only had one bad loss all season — a 80-67 loss to Alemany of Mission Hills.
14. (NR) Santa Monica 29-6
With the results in for the regional semifinals and final, the highest newcomer this week is SaMoHi. After easily dispatching Mission Hills of San Marcos in the SoCal Division I regional semifinal (51-33), the Vikings faced a team they were quite familiar with in the regional final — Loyola of Los Angeles. The Cubs went cold in the first half, but battled back to tie the game at 50-50 with 1:57 left only to see Santa Monica’s Jordan Matthews knock down a game winning 3-pointer with three seconds remaining. It’s not as if it was a fluke performance, as Loyola only beat SaMoHi by a combined seven points in its previous two victories over the Vikings earlier this season. Santa Monica also swept CIFSS Div. I-AA semifinalist Inglewood in league play, so it was just a matter of this team getting over the hump.
15. (NR) Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove) 27-6
The Eagles have been in and out of the top 20 this season and make a big splash this week with wins over previous No. 20 De La Salle of Concord (68-51) and previous No. 14 Deer Valley (73-60) to earn a trip to the Division I state final. Similar to upcoming foe Santa Monica, when you take a deeper look at the Eagles’ resume it’s easy to see how their playing for a state title. They have won 17 of their last 20 games with all of those losses against No. 4 Sheldon of Sacramento in games decided by seven points or less. Despite losing to No. 17 Centennial, we rank the Eagles higher this week since they are still playing. We’ll keep Pleasant Grove ahead of Centennial and it will move up more should it win the state title or fall back behind Centennial should SaMoHi win Friday night.
16. (13) Loyola (Los Angeles) 25-8
Season complete. The Cubs drop three spots after losing in the SoCal Division I regional final on a last second 3-pointer to No. 16 Santa Monica. The Cubs can’t drop any further because they have two previous wins over SaMoHi and other quality wins such as a 79-75 triumph over No. 7 Pac Hills. Loyola had aspirations of winning a state title this year, but when point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright was asked in the press conference following the loss to SaMoHi if he really got back into his groove from a bothersome ankle injury his answer was simple, “No.” Jackson-Cartwright, who had to be helped off the floor in the regional final game with 6:35 remaining, simply gave the Cubs a dynamic it couldn’t replace when he wasn’t healthy.
17. (17) Centennial (Corona) 26-3
Season complete. The Huskies moved back into the top 20 last week and stay put this week. We ranked Pleasant Grove ahead of Centennial this week since the Eagles are still playing. Should Pleasant Grove lose it will drop back below the Huskies. If the Eagles should win and move up, so will the Huskies, who also own a win over Santa Monica, Pleasant Grove’s foe in the Div. I state title game. It all just makes their CIFSS playoff upset loss to Silverado of Victorville that much more perplexing.
18. (NR) Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) 27-8
After slowly moving up in the Division II state rankings, the Seahawks finally break into the top 20 after defeating J.W. North of Riverside in the SoCal Division II regional final, 60-48. J.W. North was a team we seriously considered for the top 20 last week. Redondo Union doesn’t have overwhelming talent, but is playing with a lot of confidence and its players totally buy in to what coach Reggie Morris Jr. is teaching them. Redondo Union has won 20 consecutive games entering the Division II state final against bubble squad College Park of Pleasant Hill. Redondo Union’s last loss was a two-point setback to No. 8 Bishop Montgomery in which the Seahawks began to believe they could play with and close out games against talented teams.
19. (14) Deer Valley (Antioch) 26-6
Season complete. This is where the Wolverines fall after their loss to Pleasant Grove in the NorCal Division I regional final. They don’t fall any further due to owning a head-to-head win over CIF Central Coast Section Open Division runner-up Serra of San Mateo and also because of winning the CIF North Coast Section Division I title. With guard Kendall Smith and center Marcus Lee, some NorCal observers were beginning to think it’s one of the top duos in regional history. They probably needed to win a state title for such statements to be more solid, but both the UNLV-bound Smith and the Kentucky-bound Lee were outstanding in what they said after the loss and we agree with coach LeChet Phillips that the best is yet to come for both of them.
20. (NR) Serra (San Mateo) 25-6
Season complete. The last newcomer into the rankings this week, the Padres are just one of a handful of teams to defeat NorCal Open Division champion Mitty. Also making Serra’s resume strong enough to jump back in the top 20 is rebounding from an early loss to Div. III state finalist Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco to defeat the Irish a total of three times. Serra also has a win over Division II NorCal finalist Dublin. If Mitty loses to Mater Dei on Saturday, it will be strongly considered to move El Camino Real back into the overall top 20 for the final rankings.
Teams That Dropped Out: Previous No. 15 El Camino Real (Woodland Hills), No. 18 Modesto Christian, No. 19 Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland), No. 20 De La Salle (Concord).
Teams on the Bubble:
Army-Navy (Carlsbad) 29-5
Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 26-4
Brentwood (Los Angeles) 27-5
Cardinal Newman 32-3
Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 29-5
Chaminade (West Hills) 27-8
College Park (Pleasant Hill) 27-5
Crenshaw (Los Angeles) 21-9
Crespi (Encino) 23-10
De La Salle (Concord) 26-5
El Camino Real (Woodland Hills) 28-4
Hoover (San Diego) 31-6
J.W. North (Riverside) 31-4
Lutheran (La Verne) 26-8
Mission Hills (San Marcos) 29-5
Modesto Christian 29-4
Newark Memorial (Newark) 23-8
Price (Los Angeles) 24-4
Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) 22-11
San Leandro 24-7
Westlake (Westlake Village) 28-5
Windward (Los Angeles) 20-9
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