Another column from our friend Justin Young of Georgia Hoops. This guy knows hoops in the state of Georgia, and he'll be contributing to our SportsGPB blog throughout the year. Also check out his national blog, the National Hoops Report.
Norcross High School raised it’s third straight state championship banner earlier this season and the Blue Devils looked skyward and watched history hang above them all season long.
But gone is Eddie Martin. Gone is Al-Farouq Aminu. Gone are the high-major signees. A new batch of Blue Devils are hanging strong. And the new batch of players and new coach Jesse McMillan won 25 games and only losing two all season long.
While the faces have changed, the goal remains the same. The goal is the fourth state championship. The quest for that goal is now beginning. For 31 other teams, the goal is starting a new legacy.
Can Wheeler finally make it happen? Can a team outside the Atlanta area finally win the AAAAA state championship this year? Will there be an upset? Will there be any surprises? Will there be a breakout performance from a star in the waiting?
Those questions will be answered over the next three weeks. And that is why we love Georgia high school basketball so much.
MUST SEE GAMES
Walton at McEachern - This is the best game of any first round match-up in the state tournament. The two Cobb County teams are both stocked with talent.
McEachern is deep inside, anchored by Furman bound center Collin Reddick and Providence bound power forward Kadeem Batts. Wings Charlie Reddick and Alioune Diouf are two of the more versatile players in the AAAAA bracket. Junior Trae Golden, the Georgia Hoops Region 5 Player of the Year, glues it all together. He’s one of the best scorers in the tournament.
Walton is paced by the scoring prowess of Glen Rice, Jr. and Ryan Harrow, who will both play college ball in the ACC, can easily score 30 points in any game. Rice is a triple double in waiting in every game while Harrow’s speed will clearly be a factor. Defense has been the Achilles heel all season long for Walton. It could be the difference maker in this one.
McEachern’s size inside, overall depth and home court advantage make the Indians my pick for the victory.
The winner of the game will likely have Norcross in the second round. How’s that for a reward for a battle in the first round?
Milton at Marietta - The young Eagles looked good in the region tournament but so did Marietta. Marietta’s Chris Tanzy is playing the best basketball of his career and his match-up against sophomore Shannon Scott will be entertaining to say the least. Mix in the fact that the two coaches, Milton’s David Boyd and Marietta’s Charlie Hood, have a combined five state titles between the two of them and you have a game that is very intriguing on so many levels. Marietta’s magic will make this game close but Milton’s talent could shine through.
Riverdale at Groves - Very intriguing match-up here. Riverdale is a scrappy bunch. Grove is a deep and big bunch. Riverdale has a long scorer in Judson Dillard. Groves is paced by balance yet organized chaos on defense. Riverdale comes to the tournament after being battle tested in Region 4 while it could be argued that Groves is the best team in Savannah. Groves is my pick in this one. Playing in Savannah is a tough task.
Meadowcreek at Norcross - The Mustangs are hungry for an upset after a disappointing region tournament. The Blue Devils are ready for redemption after losing the Region 7 tournament. Emotions should be high in this game. If this game comes down to a shooting match, which it very well could, Norcross should prevail.
TOP FIVE SLEEPERS
Reed Buck, SF, Collins Hill – The senior shooter is coming on strong in tournament play and people are starting to notice. The Eagles have size, thanks to Utah bound Jeremy Olsen and Derek Hood, and speed from point guard Saah Nimley. Buck has been the beneficiary of laying under the radar and having clean looks from the perimeter. Having shooters is the difference between packing up and going home or moving on the tournament. Collins Hill could be an Elite Eight (or higher) level team because of that.
Chris Tanzy, PG, Marietta – The football star is playing like a man possessed in the tournament. He’s been healthy, a major plus for the Blue Devils, and because of that, he picked apart Cherokee and nearly beat McEachern with his play. Milton will be a major test right out of the gates. He should be ready.
Judson Dillard, SF, Riverdale – The wiry senior will have his hands full in the first round against Groves, one of the best teams in Savannah. The 6-4 wing is always around the basket and finds ways to get involved in every play. He is a high energy player that can score big points in a hurry.
Jarvis Brown, SG, Meadowcreek – The tough-minded senior is the heart and soul of the over-achieving Mustangs this season and he’s been one of the toughest players to defend in Gwinnett this season. He’s a bull to the basket and he could be the toughest guard the Norcross will play this season. Keep an eye on that first round match-up.
Jareal Smith, SG, Johnson – The 6-3 junior was the Region 3 player of the year. That’s impressive considering the talent in the region. He and his Johnson teammates have a tough draw against Westlake but if there is an area to attack the Lions, it is in the backcourt. Don’t be surprised to see Smith impressing while on the west side of the ATL on Saturday.
TOP FIVE YOUNGSTERS TO WATCH
Jay Rome, SF/PF, Valdosta – The 6-5 forward is one of the toughest players to defend because of his natural strength, scoring ability and touch on the glass as a rebounder. The sophomore is a football star and plays with that reckless abandonment that you’d expect from a gridiron star. Valdosta’s side of the bracket is filled with physical players and Rome will be tested right out of the gate.
Four of Milton’s starting five – The youngsters have lived up to the hype all season long and will now be challenged at the state level. The road to Gwinnett won’t be easy but the Eagles have proved themselves against Walton, GAC, Riverdale and Brookwood but lost against Wheeler and Centennial during the season. Can the Dai-Jon Parker, Shannon Scott, Julian Royal and Evan Nolte step up to the plate?
Dominique McCoy, SF, Meadowcreek – The 6-6 sophomore wears a lot of hats for the Mustangs and he’ll have to bring all of them when Meadowcreek takes on Norcross in round one. He can handle the ball, he can rebound, he can defend the perimeter and he can score in the paint. He’ll need to touch the ball more than he did when Parkview almost beat Meadowcreek in the region tournament. If he can score in double digits, Meadowcreek is always in good position to win.
Chris Bolden, SG, Brookwood – The freshman is known for his quick trigger and he was firing away in the region tournament. It seems the bigger the stage, the better he plays. The Broncos will need a big game from Bolden right out of the gates as the team travels to Peachtree Ridge for a tough battle in round one.
Cory Blackwell, PF/SF, Peachtree Ridge – See Jay Rome. How do you defend the 6-5 monster truck with legs? Blackwell is one of the most unique players in the state and he’s one of the toughest kids to defend because he can burn you inside but also step out and knock down the midrange jumper. The sophomore is a dynamic rebounder and one that can quickly pull down 10 boards before the half. A potential match-up between he and Richard Howell at Wheeler would be fun to watch.
STORYLINES TO WATCH
Depth from Region 6. There is no denying the strength of the region. All four teams that advanced (Wheeler, Centennial, Milton and Walton) can win the state tournament. Lassiter and Campbell, two teams from the region that were ousted early in the region tournament, could have very easily been a No. 2 seed in the tournament, too.
Ari Stewart, a senior at Wheeler, believes Region 6 is a great test for the state tournament.
“We have one of the toughest regions in the state. We have Walton, Centennial, Milton, Lassiter, Campbell. The list goes on and on. I do think we have one of the toughest regions in the state. I do think this was the hardest part, winning the region tournament,” Stewart said minutes after winning the region tournament.
“But we still have to play hard. We still have to play good teams like a Centennial. We don’t know anything about the teams we are about to play. We’ve never seen them play. We have to go and play good defense. I find it will be really hard for teams to beat us if we play like we did [against Centennial].”
Russell Powell is the best player in metro Atlanta that no one is talking about. Win. He has a string of winning DNA in his system and that’s all he has done in high school. He quarterbacked his team deep into the state playoffs. In hoops, he has changed the mentality of his team and can easily score 25 points, glue his team together like a Tom Brady and also defend like Bruce Bowen. Keep an eye on the Jacksonville bound point guard. He’ll be playing on March 12 and 13th in Gwinnett.
What non-ATL team will have success? Every year there is one that makes a run to the Final Four. Valdosta? Groves? Savannah? Coffee? Which one can it be? Valdosta makes the most sense as the Wildcats sit at 26-1. The South Georgia power destroyed the competition all season long and looks to be rolling at the right time.
Top No. 1 seed: Wheeler
Top No. 2 seed: Centennial
Top No. 3 seed: Milton
Top No. 4 seed: Walton
FIRST ROUND PREDICTIONS
Valdosta over Greenbrier
Groves over Riverdale
Redan over Northside Warner Robins
Newnan over Camden County
South Gwinnett over Mill Creek
Centennial over North Cobb
Collins Hill over Central Gwinnett
Milton over Marietta
Savannah over Creekside
Coffee over Union Grove
Westlake over Savannah Johnson
Stephenson over Tift County
Wheeler over Harrison
Peachtree Ridge over Brookwood
McEachern over Walton
Norcross over Meadowcreek
FINAL FOUR PICKS
Newnan vs. Centennial
Westlake vs. Wheeler
Wheeler over Newnan