The top-ranked South Paulding boys basketball team is closing in on the regular-season title in Region 5-AAAAAA, but the Spartans will have to navigate through the toughest part of their schedule to get there.
The Spartans (20-1 overall, 12-0 in the region) will play three of their final four regular-season games against teams ranked in the top eight in the classification in a little more than a week leading up to the region tournament.
First up is eighth-ranked Alexander (16-5, 10-3) on Friday. The third-place Cougars have won 11 of 12 games since a one-point loss Dec. 21 during a holiday tournament.
South Paulding and Alexander will meet again on Feb. 2 in the regular-season finale. In between, the Spartans will travel Saturday to New Manchester and host second-place and third-ranked Hughes (16-5, 11-1) on Tuesday. South Paulding handed Hughes its only region loss when it beat the Panthers 57-42 on the road on Jan. 10.
South Paulding lost to eventual champion Miller Grove in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals last season.
Here are some of the top games involving Class AAAAAA teams in the next few days:
*Gainesville at Dacula (boys), Saturday: Second-ranked Gainesville beat No. 9 Dacula 79-53 in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 20, and that victory is the difference between the teams at the top of the 8-AAAAAA standings. If both teams win their games on Friday, Dacula could move into a tie for first place by avenging the earlier loss. Gainesville could clinch the regular-season title with a win.
*Brunswick at Richmond Hill (boys), Tuesday: No. 10 Richmond Hill suffered its first 2-AAAAAA loss of the season Tuesday when it lost to Glynn Academy 60-57, but the Wildcats retained first place by a half-game over Glynn and one game over third-place Brunswick. Richmond Hill beat Brunswick 61-60 on Jan. 10, part of Brunswick’s three-game losing streak that followed a 13-2 start.
*Stephenson at Tucker (girls), Friday: No. 7 Stephenson trails No. 4 Lovejoy by one game in 4-AAAAAA and needs a victory against No. 10 Tucker to keep pace heading into its showdown with Lovejoy in the regular-season finale on Feb. 3. Tucker, which lost to Lovejoy 42-37 on Tuesday, has a shot at second place in the region but is likely to finish third, especially if it loses to Stephenson.
*Mays at Douglas County (girls), Saturday: Third-ranked Douglas County (20-3, 14-0) can wrap up the regular-season title in 5-AAAAAA with a victory against second-place Mays (11-7, 10-1), which can force a virtual tie for first place in the region. Douglas County won the first meeting 67-60 at Mays on Dec. 20, the Tigers’ only region game this season decided by fewer than 14 points.