After all CIF section boys basketball champions are crowned by Saturday night, it’ll only take a few minutes before many in the media and some coaches will start to think about Sunday when the CIF state office will release its pairings for the upcoming Northern California and Southern California regional playoffs. We start thinking seriously about it this week, though, and here are the possibilities not just on which teams may be seeded at the top but about which teams have the highest probabilities of going to the Open Division in the first place.
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Note: In all previous years of the Open Division in basketball, which began during the 2012-13 season, the CIF has posted a series of criteria that it would use for selecting which teams that were eligible for the Open Division. There also was a 50 percent rule that stated no section could have more than 50 percent of the teams in any bracket of any division in the NorCal or SoCal playoffs. Neither guideline is in place starting this season, which for the Open Division means that a section can have more than four of the eight teams in either the North or South brackets.
1. Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 23-3
Based on our own rankings, the Trailblazers are the projected winner of Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Open Division championship when they face Mater Dei. They upended previously unbeaten and defending CIF Open Division state champ Bishop Montgomery in the semifinals.
2. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 22-6
If the Monarchs win on Saturday, they would be the top seed in this bracket. If they lose, they would be ranked behind Bishop Montgomery in all state and national rankings but for the CIF pairings they likely would go higher as the CIFSS runnerup. Each section determines its own pecking order of teams that is given to the CIF and for the CIFSS it has almost always placed its runner-up team higher than a team that lost in the semifinals.
3. Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 27-1
If there ever was a year for the CIF and the CIFSS to seed a semifinal loser ahead of the CIFSS runner-up, then this would be it. The Knights bounced back from their only loss of the season on Wednesday night with a win over Etiwanda in a CIFSS Open third-place game. Montgomery even has a head-to-head win over Sierra Canyon so if Mater Dei were to win in the final on Saturday the likelihood of the Knights being seeded second behind only the Monarchs makes even more sense.
4. Etiwanda 28-3
Before the Eagles lost to Mater Dei in the CIFSS Open semis and then again to Bishop Montgomery on Wednesday, they were 28-1. They were seeded second when the bracket began. It looks fairly certain they’ll be fourth starting the SoCal Open Division.
5. Foothills Christian (El Cajon) 26-5
We’re projecting head coach Brad Leaf’s club to win the CIF San Diego Section Open Division title over Mission Bay and then would be seeded fifth for the SoCal Open Division. Whether it’s either Fairfax or Westchester that wins the L.A. City Section Open title on Saturday, the Knights have head-to-head wins over both. Foothills Christian won its semifinal game on Wednesday over Mater Dei Catholic of Chula Vista.
6. Westchester (Los Angeles) 28-5
The Comets are the top seed in the L.A. City Open but have split with their rivals from Fairfax. We moved the Lions higher in our rankings since they won the second game. Who knows who will win in the L.A. City final?
7. Fairfax (Los Angeles) 22-8
You look at those eight losses and they’re all to elite teams and some of them by razor-thin margins. Best win might have been one against NorCal power Bishop O’Dowd after the Lions lost to them by two points at the NorCal TipOff Classic.
8. St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 23-7
Well, on Wednesday night, the projected bottom of the SoCal Open bracket got very interesting when the Braves knocked off Crespi of Encino in the CIFSS Open consolation final. Plus, Torrey Pines of San Diego, which was 28-2 and thought to be a co-favorite with Foothills Christian in the SD Open Division, was beaten by Mission Bay. Head coach Matt Dunn’s squad lost most of its games in the Trinity League but also had a win against Mater Dei. If Mission Bay were to win the SD Open title, that might cause Bosco not to make it into the SoCal Open. If Foothills Christian were to win, we think the Braves clearly become the No. 8 team. Would they if Mater Dei was sitting at the No. 1 seed? We know how much the CIF doesn’t like rematches or league rivals to be playing in a regional opener. If the SD Open runner-up even has a shred of a case to be put at No. 8, look for that possibility.
*Mission Bay (San Diego) 26-5. If the Bucs win the SD Open title over Foothills Christian (the two teams have split in two earlier meetings), they’ll go Open for the SoCal playoffs. If they don’t, we see them behind Bosco with a shot at the top seed for the D1 South bracket.
*The sixth team in the CIFSS Open Division pecking order would be Crespi of Encino, which just lost to St. John Bosco. A lot of SoCal fans may not even know that the CIF can much more easily take a fifth team this year up into the SoCal Open. With Fairfax and Westchester both having been top 10 state teams for almost all of the season and with one spot seemingly guaranteed to the SD Open winner, there won’t be a sixth from the CIFSS.
*The CIF Central Section teams can be placed in either the north or south Open Division brackets. That section’s top candidate for the Open Division is San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno. The Panthers are 24-6 and expected to beat Selma for the D2 section title. They have two wins over D1 section finalist Bullard of Fresno but haven’t played the other finalist (Central of Fresno). SJM also has a win over Modesto Christian (Sac-Joaquin Section D1 finalist). With one of the most dynamic players in the state, sophomore Jalen Green, the CIF would be wise not to stick the Panthers in any Open Division to increase the odds of them getting to a state final in another division. People would come to see Jalen play. If they were to go Open, though, it probably would be in the north rather than the south.
1. Salesian (Richmond) 29-1
The Pride moved to No. 1 in the state this week and is favored to beat Campolindo of Moraga on Saturday to win the CIF North Coast Section D3 championship. The NCS still has an enrollment component to its divisions so being D3 instead of D1 for this squad doesn’t matter.
2. Modesto Christian 24-3
Whichever team wins the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D1 title, either the Crusaders or Sheldon of Sacramento, seems solid as the No. 2 seed for the North bracket. Modesto Christian beat Capital Christian on Wednesday night in the semifinals.
3. Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 24-5
This team with a dynamite backcourt (Elijah Hardy & Naseem Gaskin) advanced to the NCS D2 final on Wednesday with a win over Alameda. Las Lomas of Walnut Creek (27-2) is the title game foe and is a good one if you believe the MaxPreps computer, which has the Knights at No. 7 in the state (even higher than the Dragons). We don’t see Las Lomas with any wins over top-tier state squads, but you never know.
4. Clayton Valley (Concord) 26-2
What will the CIF do with the Ugly Eagles if they were to beat Heritage of Brentwood in the NCS D1 final on Friday? That win, of course, is no sure thing. They don’t have a win over a top-level state team and even though the winner of the NCS D1 bracket likely will be placed behind Saleasian and O’Dowd by the NCS in its ranking order given to the CIF, a No. 5 state computer ranking will be staring the seeding committee in the face. That’s even higher than Mater Dei of Santa Ana. Will they ignore it? They should, but maybe not completely. The NCS D1 winner does look Open Division bound and if that winner is Clayton Valley its seed could be anywhere from fourth to eighth.
5. Sheldon (Sacramento) 26-4
An overtime win on Wednesday over Folsom pushed the Huskies into the SJS D1 final on Saturday against Modesto Christian. We’re projecting MC to win, but it’s a toss-up. If Sheldon wins, it would likely get the No. 2 seed in the NorCal Open bracket. If Sheldon loses, we’d still have them fourth in our rankings of these teams. We just don’t know what the CIF is going to do with Clayton Valley and its very high (but probably wrong) computer ranking.
6. San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 24-6
This may surprise many to see us place the Panthers this high on the NorCal Open board. But we wanted to do it as an alert to the possibility. First, SJM has a win over Modesto Christian on MC’s home floor and if MC wins the SJS D1 title that result won’t be ignored. MC did win in an even earlier matchup between the two, however. Second, SJM can go to either the NorCal or SoCal Open Division brackets by being from the Central Section and the NorCal bracket makes the most sense. A six seed? We did that because the Panthers already have played Salesian (projected No. 1 NorCal seed) and already have played Modesto Christian twice. If we’re projecting winners and Salesian, MC and O’Dowd all win section titles, O’Dowd would be a team that the Panthers haven’t played. SJM is a big favorite in the Central Section D2 final against Selma.
7. Bellarmine (San Jose) 23-3
The Bells are playing 11-14 Archbishop Mitty in the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division final. In many years of the NorCal Open Division, there’s been more than one CCS team involved. That’s not going to be the case this time. The Bells may drop to the No. 8 slot if they were to get upset by Mitty, but the CIF in that case may not want a team with a losing record in the NorCal Open Division at all so our best guess would be that no CCS teams would be in it.
8. Capital Christian (Sacramento) 22-8
In doing tweets on Wednesday night, it was forecast that all four SJS D1 semifinalists would be in the NorCal Open Division. That was before evaluating the San Joaquin Memorial situation, however, and in today’s simulation we only have three. Which one between Folsom and Capital Christian? Well, early in the season, the Cougars beat Folsom and also beat Sheldon. They lost to Sheldon later on in a rematch.
*Folsom (25-5) still has that great win from early in the season over Nevada powerhouse Bishop Gorman. Losing in overtime to Sheldon on Wednesday in the semis also can’t be dismissed. While we think the Bulldogs are one of the top eight in the north, the San Joaquin Memorial situation and the NCS getting a third team (Clayton Valley with that computer ranking) may put them in D1 where they would be no worse than a No. 2 seed.
*Las Lomas of Walnut Creek (27-2) is similar to Clayton Valley in that the Knights have a very high (No. 7) but hard to believe computer state ranking. If they can beat O’Dowd in the NCS D2 final, however, they certainly could jump into the NorCal Open discussion. O’Dowd might not necessarily drop all the way out of it, either.
*Heritage of Brentwood (27-2) won the best game of the night in the state on Wednesday 100-98 in two overtimes over Dublin in the NCS D1 semis. The Patriots will now play top seed Clayton Valley in the final. They don’t have as high of a computer ranking as the Ugly Eagles, but they avenged one of their two losses by winning on Wednesday. The other loss is to Serra of San Mateo and there are no other wins to point to over top-tier state squads. If Heritage wins on Friday over Clayton Valley that could push it into the top eight overall for the north. For us, though, that would push up a team like Folsom instead.
*Pleasant Valley of Chico (25-2) has a win over CIF Central Section D1 finalist Bullard of Fresno and has been dominant in the CIF Northern Section. The Vikings deserve to be in the discussion for the NorCal Open Division, but a bad loss to Sacramento is what takes them out. Will they be in D1 or D2 for the NorCal bracket? They’d have much better odds of course getting to the state finals in D2 and traditionally that’s been their bracket, but competitive equity seeding likely moves them up to D1.