Region tournament previews: Wheeler is site of boys’ royal rumble

Metro Atlanta’s most exciting boys basketball region – 2-AAAAAAA – will be putting on a heck-of-a tournament this week at Wheeler’s new 3,000-seat Wheeler Arena in Marietta.

The three top boys teams – No. 2 Pebblebrook (17-7, 8-2), No. 5 Westlake (16-9) and No. 6 Wheeler (17-7, 7-3) – have played national schedules and have been nationally ranked.

Westlake is the defending state champion and No. 1 seed. The Lions swept Pebblebrook, winning once in overtime, while Pebblebrook has swept Wheeler. Westlake and Wheeler have split. Most losses against these three giants have come against out-of-state teams. Pebblebrook has played a tougher all-around schedule and is ranked the highest of the three.

Players to watch: Westlake’s Chuma Okeke (Auburn), Jamie Lewis (No. 60 junior nationally) and Danny Lewis (Central Florida); Pebblebrook’s Collin Sexton (Alabama, Team USA member), Elias Harden (Xavier), Jared Jones (Auburn) and Drue Drinnon (4-star junior recruit); Wheeler’s Darius Perry (Louisville); Jordan Tucker (No. 50 senior nationally); and E.J. Montgomery (Auburn).

Watch Drue Drinnon’s highlights from the Pebblebrook-Wheeler game last week. The teams could meet again at Wheeler Arena on Friday.

The action begins Monday night with girls games. Wheeler’s boys open Tuesday. The likely Wheeler-Pebblebrook semifinal would be Friday night.

Here is a region-by-region look at this week’s tournaments:

Region 1 @ Lowndes
This is a four-school region, and only the top three boys and girls finishers are guaranteed playoff berths. There will be a wild card (or ‘’at-large’’ playoff team, as the GHSA calls it) chosen among the seventh fifth-place finishers and the No. 4 from Region 1. Let’s get back to that in minute. First of all, Tift County’s boys (ranked No. 7) and Colquitt County’s girls (ranked No. 10) have byes into the region championship game and are guaranteed of a first-round home state-playoff game. Lowndes and Colquitt County have been in the boys Top 10 this season, and Lowndes’ girls have a win over Tift’s girls, so it will be suspenseful.

Back to the wildcard: The Camden County boys (2-19) are likely to be one-and-done and be eliminated, which opens the wild card to a metro Atlanta fifth-place finisher, which actually might be a good team that gets upset in the first round. So there’s a safety net there for the boys. But all four girls teams in Region 1 have good records, so there’s a good chance Region 1 will qualify all four teams of its teams in the end.

Region 2 @ Wheeler
The boys’ tournament runner-up might get the real short straw here. The No. 2 seed could face a second-round game at third-ranked Newton (24-1), the predicted champion of Region 8. That’s why Westlake’s regular-season title won’t mean much unless the Lions can win Saturday night against what is expected to be the Wheeler-Pebblebrook winner. The girls’ draw should also be tight. Westlake, Wheeler and Pebblebrook went into the final day of the season tied for first. None is ranked. Here is the state bracket if you’re interested.

Region 3 @ North Paulding
McEachern’s No. 1 boys and No. 2 girls (who are three-time defending state champions) are heavily favored. The boys are 24-0 (ranked No. 6 nationally by MaxPreps) and beat second-place Hillgrove, its arch-rival, by 11 and 12 points this season. McEachern sophomore Isaac Okoro is having a monster year. McEachern’s girls, led by Georgia signee Que Morrison, have beaten second-place and eighth-ranked Marietta by 32 and 36.

Region 4 @ Woodstock
Roswell’s boys (20-4) and Cherokee’s girls (16-9) are the No. 1 seeds. Neither is ranked. Roswell has one of its best teams since its 1997 state championship, although the Hornets have advanced only one round in the state playoffs since. Roswell is ranked only No. 21 in AAAAAAA by the unpublished computer Maxwell Ratings but should win the region. The girls’ draw is much more wide open.

Regon 5 @ Milton
Lambert’s boys are 22-3, and while some have seen fit to rank them, the AJC has not – yet. That could prove to be a mistake, but Lambert’s schedule, according to the computer Maxwell Ratings, is No. 48 out of 48 in the highest class. No other Region 5 team has a winning record. Lambert’s girls (22-2) are getting more love. They are ranked No. 3. Both were 10-0 in the region, and each is highly likely to win their region tournaments.

Region 6 @ Mill Creek
Collins Hill’s boys (ranked No. 9) and Collins Hill’s girls (ranked No. 4) are the No. 1 seeds. No other teams in the region are ranked. For the boys, this is a deep region without a run-away best team. Consider that Mountain View is a No. 6 seed despite a 17-8, 6-6 record. Look for this region to qualify a fifth seed as a wild card, as the Maxwell Ratings compute that Region 6 has six of the classification’s top 23 teams. On the girls side, Collins Hill (22-3, 11-1) is loaded and figures to run away with things, as the Eagles have beaten fifth-ranked and second-seed Mill Creek by 22 and 12. But Collins Hill strangely lost last week to unranked Duluth (14-11) 48-44.

Region 7 @ Brookwood
Expect the finalists to be No. 4 Norcross and No. 8 Berkmar (boys) and No. 1 Norcross and No. 7 Brookwood (girls). Both Norcross teams have been nationally ranked this season. The boys’ top player is Rayshaun Hammonds, who has signed with Georgia, while Lance Thomas is headed to Louisville. Berkmar’s Aljami Durham (Indiana) and Jay Estime are major D-I recruits also. Norcross’ girls, led by Miami-bound guard Taylor Mason, are still No. 10 in MaxPreps. Brookwood’s 6-3 N’dea Jones is headed to Texas A&M.

Region 8 @ Archer
Newton’s boys, ranked No. 3, were cruising undefeated last week until a loss to unranked Shiloh, which Newton coach Rick Rasmussen calls ”a sleeping giant” with stars such as 6-9 T.J. Massenburg and 6-6 Shamarie McLeod. Newton’s top player is sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans. Tenth-ranked Grayson also must be reckoned with, so this will be a tourney worth watching. In the girls’ bracket, No. 6 Archer (20-4) and No. 9 Newton (19-5) are the teams to beat. Archer has a 6-foot-2 post player, Autumn Newby, who has headed to Vanderbilt.


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