We break down the eight teams in boys basketball that should be selected for the CIF Southern Section’s Open Division playoffs. It’s the fifth season for the massive section’s open division and it’s probably a good thing the section reduced the amount of teams because had it remained 16, the bottom seeded teams wouldn’t have been at the level we saw when the concept began in 2013-2014. The field should include seven teams ranked in this week’s Cal-Hi Sports State Top 20.
For the actual CIFSS Open Division selections, check back on Saturday afternoon.
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Below is our predictions for how the CIFSS Open Division should look:
(Listed with final regular season record, section division and overall state ranking)
No. 1 Torrance Bishop Montgomery (25-0, I, No. 1) vs. No. 8 Bellflower St. John Bosco (21-6, I, NR)
No. 4 Temecula Rancho Christian (26-2, 2A, No. 6) vs. No. 5 Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (21-3, I, No. 4)
No. 3 Santa Ana Mater Dei (20-6, I, No. 5) vs. No. 6 Encino Crespi (25-2, I, No. 7)
No. 2 Etiwanda (27-1, I, No. 3) vs. No. 7 Santa Margarita (20-6, I, No. 14)
Cal-Hi Sports Breakdown
No. 1 Torrance Bishop Montgomery: Easy no-brainer pick as the defending CIF and CIFSS Open Division champs sport a 40-game winning streak. The Knights have won two of the last three CIFSS open division titles.
No. 2 Etiwanda: The Eagles ran through the rugged Baseline League unbeaten and could have their best shot at winning coach Dave Kleckner’s his first ever CIF state title. Etiwanda lost a bad early matchup against projected No. 4 seed Rancho Christian, but later won The Classic at Damien, a tournament in which that team also competed in the same bracket.
No. 3 Santa Ana Mater Dei: It would seem as if Sierra Canyon has the more gaudy resume, but Mater Dei too has only lost one game in-state and later avenged that loss (to projected No. 8 seed St. John Bosco). Mater Dei won the Trinity League by two games over No. 7 projected seed Santa Margarita.
No. 4 Temecula Rancho Christian: The Eagles earn this seed by completing a successful regular season in which they easily won the South Valley League. Similar to Mater Dei and Sierra Canyon, the Eagles only lost one game in-state. That lost to projected No. 8 seed St. John Bosco, but the Blue Ribbon Committee will reward this talented team for its 78-54 win over projected No. 2 seed Etiwanda and its late regular season 64-39 victory over a JSerra of San Juan Capistrano club that played projected open division participants closer than that score.
No. 5 Chatsworth Sierra Canyon: The Trailblazers are FAB 50-ranked, but they don’t own a win over a projected open division entrant, as the best regular season win is a 76-57 victory over current state No. 10 L.A. Fairfax. The Blue Ribbon Committee won’t reward Sierra Canyon for losing to state No. 1 Bishop Montgomery while that team was missing three regulars, but this talent-laden team could make noise if the breaks go its way.
No. 6 Encino Crespi: The Celts earned a spot in the open division after going unbeaten in the rugged Mission League. Similar to Mater Dei, Rancho Christian and Sierra Canyon, Crespi lost only one game in-state but only Mater Dei was able to avenge that loss. Crespi’s loss was to projected No. 8 seed St. John Bosco (which also beat Rancho Christian), but the Celts have the stronger overall resume and closed the regular season better. They just hope Mr. Basketball candidate Brandon Williams didn’t hurt his ankle too badly in the regular season finale Friday night after he missed his junior season with injury. This projection is done with the assumption Williams will participate in the post-season.
No. 7 Santa Margarita: The Eagles are the No. 2 team in the Trinity League and beat league foe and projected No. 7 seed St. John Bosco two out of three times this season, including a 81-63 win in the last go-around. There are three programs nicknamed the Eagles in our projections and we have Santa Margarita traveling to face the Eagles from the Inland Empire.
No. 8 Bellflower St. John Bosco: The Blue Ribbon Committee can go in plenty of directions for the last spot, but it will reward the Braves for the quality of their wins. Bosco is 5-4 in its last none games, but it also owns wins over projected open entrants Crespi, Rancho Christian, Mater Dei, and Santa Margarita. The Braves are battle-tested but also inconsistent and basically fielded two different teams this season: one when Alpha Okoli was in the lineup and the other when he was no longer part of the team and junior Jonathan Salazar became eligible.
Cal-Hi Sports Analysis: As it did last year, the CIFSS will hold its open division semifinals at one venue, Saturday February 24 at Cal Baptist University. Last year, the semis were held before a sold-out crowd at The Galen Center at USC, but this year’s CIFSS open division playoffs doesn’t have the same buzz around it. The section lost plenty of star power in the off-season, but that has brought perhaps a bit more parity as the only first-round game that would be considered a colossal upset should the projected lower seed win would be Bishop Montgomery vs. St. John Bosco. Unlike last season when the field was 16 teams, there are excellent matchups right away and in the projected No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5 games, there are teams we project will be seeded lower than their Cal-Hi Sports state Top 20 ranking. Bishop Montgomery is looking to show it has one of the nation’s best teams for the second consecutive season, while Etiwanda could reach that level provided it wins section and state open division crowns. Seven of the eight projected entrants should come from the CIFSS D1 ranks (Rancho Christian is 2A). With eight less teams in this field, however, the D1 playoffs will be quality as opposed to what we’ve seen in recent seasons where a vast majority of the focus is on the open division field.