Last year, the state CIF implemented an open division for the first time and there was some confusion among coaches about the selection process. This season, the massive CIF Southern Section will add an open division of its own. Today we wanted to go over what this means for the Southern Section’s top teams, explain the process and how the bracket might look on selection day.
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In most years, the CIF Southern Section dominates Cal-Hi Sports’ weekly top 20 boys basketball state basketball rankings. It used to be a mixture of the CIFSS and L.A. City Section, which has lost in a Division I state title game only once. Besides six-time champion Westchester of Los Angeles, however, city teams are not perennially in the top 20 anymore. El Camino of Woodland Hills, last year’s section Division I runner-up to Westchester, is at No. 20 this week with a big game on MLK Monday at La Salle of Pasadena against No. 17 Chino Hills of the CIF Southern Section.
Currently (not counting games so far this week), there are 14 CIFSS teams in the state top 20 so it’s not going out on a limb to say the section’s new open division will feature many of California’s top teams battling it out for up to four consecutive games beginning February 21 or 22. It basically will be the best six to eight teams from the CIFSS Division I-AA ranks plus the top team or two from the section’s other top divisions (I-A, II-AA, IV-AA, IV-A).
Some Southern Section coaches have asked Cal-Hi Sports will the new open division really be that tough since only four from each division can be chosen? That is incorrect, the limit is 10 teams per any of the section’s 11 divisions. Also, in order to be considered for the open division, a team must be ranked in the final Southern Section SCIBCA Top 10 poll.
Some coaches are getting the CIF state open division criteria confused with the CIFSS open division criteria. For the state’s open division, there is a limit of four per section that can be selected for the NorCal or SoCal open division regional championships. Others have questioned why there is a need for a CIFSS Open Division, but regardless of their feelings, they don’t really have any choice of where their team is placed. A vast majority of the CIFSS’ open division teams will be placed back in their original CIF state division based on the four-team limit for the regional.
We asked the Southern Section office if there will be an attempt (or an unwritten rule) to take teams from as many different Southern Section divisions as possible, or at least the stronger ones.
“There is no consideration to have to do this,” CIFSS spokesman Thom Simmons said. “We want the best teams (for the open division).”
The Blue Ribbon committee selecting the teams for the CIFSS open division that will be announced February 14 doesn’t have to select 16 teams, either. In our best estimation, there will be 16 teams selected because there are enough quality teams to make each of the eight first round games competitive. And yes, Division I-AA and likely 4-A will be gutted of its better teams.
First round winners will have an automatic berth into the SoCal regional playoffs. Since the CIFSS open division playoffs begin February 21 or 22, some have complained that many quality, state-ranked teams will have to sit idle for a long period of time before the SoCal regional tournament begins. To alleviate some of those concerns, a consolation bracket has been implemented and its winner will also have an automatic regional playoff berth. First round losers and those that lose other consolation bracket games will get at-large consideration using the same at-large criteria already in place.
Using the Cal-Hi Sports state top 20 as a guide, here’s how the Open Division bracket could look:
No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana) I-AA vs. No. 16 Rancho Cucamonga I-AA
No. 2 Loyola (Los Angeles) I-AA vs. No. 15 J.W. North (Riverside) I-A
No. 3 Etiwanda I-AA vs. No. 14 Mayfair (Lakewood) I-AA
No. 4 Centennial (Corona) I-AA vs. No. 13 St. John Bosco (Bellflower) II-A
No. 5 Chaminade (West Hills) III-A vs. No. 12 Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) I-AA
No. 6 Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) II-AA vs. No. 11 Chino Hills I-AA
No. 7 Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) IV-AA vs. No. 10 Compton II-A
No. 8 Cantwell Sacred Heart (Montebello) IV-A vs. No. 9 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) IV-A
Cal-Hi Sports Analysis: We have Centennial ranked higher in our state rankings, but we understand why Etiwanda is higher in the SCIBCA Top 10 poll. Etiwanda beat Centennial at full strength, then the Eagles lost three games in which last year’s CIFSS Div. I-AA co-Player of the Year, Jordan McLaughlin, was injured. If Chaminade were to beat Loyola two out of three times, it would obviously get the higher seed. Same applies to Long Beach Poly. The Jackrabbits are coming off a big win over Compton in the Moore League, but overall we would still have the Tarbabes ranked higher based on their overall resume. Right now, Long Beach Poly is ranked behind Damien of La Verne and Rancho Cucamonga in that SCIBCA Top 10 Poll but that could change next week.
Right now the way we look at it, the last spot would come down to Rancho Cucamonga or El Toro from I-A. No. 15 seed J.W. North owns a win over Rancho Cucamonga, with its other loss coming against No. 11 seed Chino Hills. El Toro, coming off a big league win over Mission Viejo, has lost to Compton and an out-of-state opponent. Rancho Cucamonga has to play league foe Etiwanda Friday night and a second time on February 7. If it gets a split with Etiwanda, it would boost Rancho Cucamonga’s resume tremendously whereas El Toro has to sweep Mission Viejo to stay in contention.
If we stayed with our order in the state rankings, St. John Bosco would open up with Redondo Union, but we don’t envision the top two-ranked teams from the same division (in this case II-AA) playing each other in the open first round.
This is just a snapshot of what the brackets could look like and for a team such as No. 8 seed Cantwell Sacred Heart, things could change quickly. On Friday night, Cantwell faces a big league showdown vs. one-loss Cathedral of Los Angeles, on Saturday plays “watch list” team Serra of Gardena and then comes back to play Sierra Canyon on Monday in a MLK showcase game.
Obviously, there is still more showcase games and league contests to be played that will change the seedings. Keep in mind, league games are extremely important for seedings. A team could have a stellar non-league record, stumble in a league and get penalized with a much lower seed than probably deserved. We saw this happen to Etiwanda in last year’s CIFSS Div. I-AA playoffs. For the CIFSS Open Division, first round home teams will be selected by higher seed or higher league placement.
For the exact criteria the Blue Ribbon committee will use to select and seed the teams for the CIFSS Open Division, please visit the CIFSS.org website.