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Semifinal primer: Only 32 will survive Super Saturday

The high school basketball tournament will shrink to 32 teams from 64 in a single Super Saturday of semifinals at eight neutral sites around the state.

After a peaceful first two rounds, the quarterfinals earlier this week claimed No. 1-ranked boys teams South Paulding and Westside-Macon. South Atlanta, the No. 1 boys team in AA, survived Washington County 75-69 in overtime.

It should get tougher still in the final four. Here is a primer for what’s in store.

Where are we? The first three rounds were played at the home courts of the higher-seeded teams. Now, each of the eight class gets its own private venue, each staging two girls and two boys games. They are West Georgia (AAAAAAA), Fort Valley State (AAAAAA), Columbus State (AAAAA), Augusta University (AAAA), Armstrong State (AAA), Georgia College (AA), Valdosta State (A public) and the Cobb Civic Center (A private).

Where they’re from: Gwinnett and Fulton counties are home to nine surviving teams apiece, or 18 total of the 64. Only two DeKalb public schools remain (Miller Grove’s boys, Southwest DeKalb’s girls). Both are reigning champions but not the highest-ranked teams left in their classifications. DeKalb schools have had 31 champions since 2004, at least one each season.

First-time girls: Eight girls programs are in the semifinals for the first time, including Northview (AAAAAA) and Cross Creek (AAAA), both ranked No. 1. The others are Bleckley County, Flowery Branch, Harrison, Lovejoy, Rabun County and Woodville-Tompkins. Rabun, dating to the 1940s at least, is the oldest.

First-time boys: Seven boys programs are in the semis for the first time, including McEachern (AAAAAAA) and Upson-Lee (AAAA), both undefeated and ranked No. 1. McEachern, opened in 1937, had been 0-5 in quarterfinals. Upson-Lee, opened in 1992, had won only two state-playoff games (boys or girls) until this season. Others are Grayson, Langston Hughes, Lakeview Academy and 65-year-old Henry County, which had been 0-6 in quarterfinals until Wednesday, when the Warhawks came from 14 down in the fourth quarter to beat LaGange 62-61.

Drought-breaking girls: Telfair County is in the semis for the first time since 1968 and has never made a final. Griffin last went in 1998. Collins Hill is in its first final four since the Maya Moore-led 2007 championship team.

Drought-breaking boys: Clinch County is in the semifinals for the first time since its Class A championship of 1989, when the Panthers swept state titles in football, boys basketball and baseball. St. Pius had been 0-4 in the quarters since its 1992 runner-up team and has never won a state title in boys basketball. Also making long-awaited appearances are Macon County (first since 1996), Josey (1999) and South Cobb (2001). It was South Cobb that upset top-ranked South Paulding in AAAAAA, holding the Spartans scoreless in the final 3:40 of a 40-37 victory.

Both are here: Seven schools have sent their boys and girls to the semis. They are Buford, Lakeview Academy, McEachern, Morgan County, Norcross, Sandy Creek and St. Francis.

Best girls matchups: Top-ranked St. Francis, the defending Class A private-school champion, faces Holy Innocents’, the 2016 AA champ. No playoff opponent has come within 37 points of beating them so far. Buford, ranked No. 2 in AAAA, has won four state titles and finished second twice since 2009. The Wolves face No. 1 Griffin, never a champion and playing in its first semifinal since 1998. Several half-dozen major Division I prospects will take the court in the AAAAAAA game between No. 1 Norcross and No. 4 Collins Hill. Those include point guards Taylor Mason (Miami) of Norcross and Bria Harmon (Purdue) of Collins Hill.

Best boys matchups: No. 1 Upson-Lee and No. 2 Henry County are playing in their first-ever semifinals. Liberty County, the 2016 AAAA champion, plays Pace Academy, the 2016 AA champion, in the new AAA semifinals. Pace beat No. 1 Westside-Macon in triple overtime on Wednesday. Miller Grove has seven state titles in the past eight years but is a slight underdog against second-ranked Cedar Shoals in AAAAA. Cedar has lost in the semifinals the past two seasons by one and two points.

What’s next: The finals will be played over four days, March 8-9 at the University of Georgia and March 10-11 at Georgia Tech.

Schedule:  Girls games are at 2 and 6 p.m. Boys games are at 4 and 8. Teams rankings in parentheses.

BOYS

Class AAAAAAA at West Georgia

R8 #3 Grayson vs. R7 #1 Norcross (No. 5)

R1 #1 Tift County (No. 7) vs. R3 #1 McEachern (No. 1)

Class AAAAAA at Fort Valley State

R6 #2 South Cobb vs. R2 #1 Brunswick, 4 p.m.

R5 #3 Langston Hughes (No. 4) vs. R6 #1 Allatoona (No. 9

Class AAAAA at Columbus State

R5 #1 Miller Grove (No. 4) vs. R8 #2 Cedar Shoals (No. 2)

R8 #1 Buford (No. 1) vs. R3 #1 Fayette County (No. 6)

Class AAAA at Augusta University

R8 #1 St. Pius  (No. 5) vs. R5 #2 Sandy Creek (No. 4)

R4 #1 Henry County (No. 2) vs. R2 #1 Upson-Lee (No. 1)

Class AAA at Armstrong State

R5 #1 Pace Academy (No. 2) vs. R2 #1 Liberty County (No. 4)

R8 #1 Morgan County (No. 3) vs. R6 #1 Calhoun

Class AA at Georgia College

R3 #2 Dublin (No. 5) vs. R2 #1 Swainsboro

R4 #3 Josey (No. 10) vs. R6 #1 South Atlanta (No. 1)

Class A-Public at Valdosta State

#8 Macon County (No. 7) vs. #5 Wilkinson County (No. 3)

#2 Calhoun County (No. 1) vs. #3 Clinch County (No. 5)

Class A-Private at Cobb Civic Center

#1 Greenforest Christian (No. 1) vs. #5 St. Francis (No. 5)

#2 Lakeview Academy (No. 6) vs. #6 Southwest Atlanta Christian (No. 3)

GIRLS

Class AAAAAAA at West Georgia

R6 #2 Collins Hill (No. 4) vs. R7 #1 Norcross (No. 1)

R8#1 Archer (No. 6) vs. R3 #1 McEachern (No. 2)

Class AAAAAA at Fort Valley State

R6 #2 Harrison (No. 4) vs. R7 #1 Northview (No. 1)

R5 #3 Mays vs. R4 #2 Lovejoy (No. 7)

Class AAAAA at Columbus State

R5 #1 Southwest DeKalb (No. 3) vs. R8 #2 Flowery Branch (No. 8)

R8 #1 Buford (No. 2) vs. R3 #1 Griffin (No. 1)

Class AAAA at Augusta University

R5 #1 Sandy Creek (No. 9) vs. R1 #1 Columbus (No. 6)

R1 #1 Carver-Columbus (No. 4) vs. R3 #1 Cross Creek (No. 1)

Class AAA at Armstrong State

R3 #2 Beach (No. 2) vs. R7 #1 Greater Atlanta Christian (No. 3).

R8 #1 Morgan County vs. R3 #1 Johnson-Savannah (No. 1)

Class AA at Georgia College

R4 #1 Laney (No. 1) vs. R7 #1 Model (No. 2)

R8 #1 Rabun County (No. 5) vs. R3 #1 Bleckley County

Class A-Public at Valdosta State

#1 Telfair County (No. 2) vs. #5 Woodville-Tompkins (No. 4)

#2 Wheeler County (No. 3) vs. #3 Pelham (No. 1)

 Class A-Private at Cobb Civic Center

#1 St. Francis (No. 1) vs. #5 Holy Innocents’ (No. 2)

#2 Wesleyan (No. 3) vs. #3 Lakeview Academy (No. 4)


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