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South Paulding boys, Northview girls put No. 1 rankings on the line

Scheme basketball game on sheet of paper with basketball on woodThe Class AAAAAA basketball tournament begins Friday night, and both the boys and girls will have new champions when the winners are determined March 8-11 at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.

The Miller Grove boys won seven state championships in the past eight seasons in the second-largest class and the Southwest DeKalb girls won five of the past nine titles, but both are in AAAAA now after the most recent reclassification.

That leaves the field wide open in 2017. Here’s a look at some of the top stories to watch in the first round and beyond:

No. 1 teams

– South Paulding (boys): The Spartans are making their fourth consecutive playoff appearance and trying to advance past the quarterfinals for the first time in school history. South Paulding lost to Miller Grove 66-41 in the final eight last season. The Spartans (26-1) have won 17 consecutive games since their only loss, a 51-49 defeat against Class A power North Cobb Christian on Dec. 17.

– Northview (girls): The Titans are making their fourth playoff appearance in school history. They were 16-13 last year in the highest classification and were eliminated in the first round of the state tournament by Mountain View 46-41. Northview (25-3) is the 7-AAAAAA champion and has won 13 consecutive games since a 63-38 loss to T.C. Williams (Va.) on Dec. 30.

Sleepers

– Allatoona (boys): The Buccaneers were under the radar for most of the season after a 7-8 start, but they come into the state tournament on an 11-game winning streak that helped them to the regular-season and tournament championships in Region 6-AAAAAA. Allatoona (18-8), now ranked No. 9, was the state runner-up in Class AAAAA each of the past two seasons.

– Tucker (girls): DeKalb County teams won 10 of the past 11 girls championships in the second-largest class, and the eighth-ranked Tigers appear to be the best hope to continue the streak. Tucker (21-6) has won 13 of 15 games since a four-game losing streak in December. The Tigers won the Class AAAAA championship in 2014 and lost to McEachern in the AAAAAA final last season.

Favorable draws

– Dacula (boys): The sixth-ranked Falcons are a No. 2 seed, but they are in position to make a run. Their first-round opponent, Osborne, has a losing record (13-16), and its potential second-round opponent, Brunswick, is an unranked region champion. Dacula’s biggest hurdle in reaching the semifinals figures to be eighth-ranked Pope, the Region 7 champion, in the quarterfinals.

– Winder-Barrow (girls): The No. 3 Bulldogs will be without their top player – Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the nation’s top-ranked junior, is out with a knee injury – but they will be the favorite to reach the semifinals. The only other ranked team in their quarter of the bracket is No. 10 Northside-Warner Robins. No. 5 Creekview, No. 6 Grovetown or No. 7 Lovejoy could be the semifinal opponent.

Tough draws

– Jonesboro (boys): The third-ranked Cardinals’ loss to Stephenson in the Region 4 final dropped them to a No. 2 seed and put them in a quarter of the bracket with No. 5 Alpharetta, No. 7 Lakeside-Evans and No. 9 Allatoona. Jonesboro’s first-round opponent, Richmond Hill, won the regular-season title in Region 2 but lost in the region-tournament semifinals and finished as a No. 3 seed.

– Habersham Central (girls): The Raiders earned their first playoff berth since 2012 with an upset of Lanier in the Region 8 tournament, but their road in the state tournament is rugged, if they even survive the first round. Habersham Central opens with No. 5 Creekview and could face No. 7 Lovejoy, No. 6 Grovetown and No. 3 Winder-Barrow in the weeks ahead.

Players to watch

– M.J. Walker, Jonesboro (boys): The 6-foot-6 senior guard was selected as a McDonald’s All-American and the 4-AAAAAA player of the year. He is averaging 27.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists for the 22-5 Cardinals, and he had 32 points in a 61-58 loss to Stephenson in the region championship game. Jonesboro is 14-1 in the playoffs, with two state titles, during Walker’s career.

– Sydne Wiggins, Harrison (girls): The health of the Region 6-AAAAAA player of the year will go a long way toward determining the Hoyas’ postseason fate. Wiggins, a second-team all-state player in the highest classification last season, missed the region championship game with an injury, and the Hoyas lost 54-38 to a Creekview team it beat by 15 and 28 points earlier in the season.

First-round games

Boys

(R8 #3) Lanier at (R6 #2) South Cobb

(R2 #4) Glynn Academy at (R4 #1) Stephenson

(R1 #3) Coffee at (R3 #2) Heritage-Conyers

(R7 #4) Cambridge at (R5 #1) South Paulding

(R6 #3) Osborne at (R8 #2) Dacula

(R4 #4) Forest Park at (R2 #1) Brunswick

(R3 #3) Greenbrier at (R1 #2) Northside-Warner Robins

(R5 #4) Mays at (R7 #1) Pope

(R4 #3) Tucker at (R2 #2) Effingham County

(R6 #4) Creekview at (R8 #1) Gainesville

(R5 #3) Hughes at (R7 #2) Dunwoody

(R3 #4) Alcovy at (R1 #1) Lee County

(R2 #3) Richmond Hill at (R4 #2) Jonesboro

(R8 #4) Winder-Barrow at (R6 #1) Allatoona

(R7 #3) Alpharetta at (R5 #2) Tri-Cities

(R1 #4) Valdosta at (R3 #1) Lakeside-Evans

Girls

(R8 #3) Dacula at (R6 #2) Harrison

(R2 #4) Bradwell Institute at (R4 #1) Tucker

(R1 #3) Houston County at (R3 #2) Heritage-Conyers

(R7 #4) Pope at (R5 #1) Douglas County

(R6 #3) River Ridge at (R8 #2) Gainesville

(R4 #4) Stephenson at (R2 #1) Brunswick

(R3 #3) Evans at (R1 #2) Valdosta

(R5 #4) South Paulding at (R7 #1) Northview

(R4 #3) Jonesboro at (R2 #2) Glynn Academy

(R6 #4) Sequoyah at (R8 #1) Winder-Barrow

(R5 #3) Mays at (R7 #2) Alpharetta

(R3 #4) Greenbrier at (R1 #1) Northside-Warner Robins

(R2 #3) Richmond Hill at (R4 #2) Lovejoy

(R8 #4) Habersham Central at (R6 #1) Creekview

(R7 #3) Chattahoochee at (R5 #2) New Manchester

(R1 #4) Coffee at (R3 #1) Grovetown


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