GHSA Boys Basketball Quarterfinal Preview

AAAAAA

#1 Pebblebrook (25-5) @ #1 Norcross (27-3)

In what could easily be a State Championship caliber game, the battle-tested Falcons visit the streaking Blue Devils. After trailing at the half to Pope, Pebblebrook blew past the Greyhounds and won in convincing fashion, 78-59. Ty Hudson (Clemson) led the way with 26 points while potential X-factor Trhae Mitchell finished with 16. Hudson, Derek Ogbeide (UGA), and Jared Harper are the main focuses for opposing teams to stop, but the 6-foot-5 Mitchell is a competitor on both ends of the floor averaging 12.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and two steals and over a block a game. With the win the Falcons have now won nine straight. That win streak however, pales in comparison to Norcross’s. The Blue Devils have ripped off 18 consecutive games including a 102-59 shellacking of Lowndes. It will be an all-out war inside as Pebblebrook’s Ogbeide will have to tussle with the likes of Rayshaun Hammonds and Ricky Madison. Madison, a High Point-commit, can score both inside and out. On the perimeter, guards Tim Cameron, Devin Huffman, and Amir Butcher may have the size advantage over Hudson and Harper, but don’t expect anything to come easy. Both teams have featured national powers on their schedules. The Falcons have picked up wins over top programs such as Prestonwood Christian (TX), Mater Dei (CA) and Damien (CA). Pebblebrook’s only instate loss came to Laney, 65-59. Norcross also lost to Laney, 70-59.

#2 Alpharetta (25-5) @ #1 Shiloh (27-3)

The Generals have yet to be beaten on Georgia soil. Shiloh’s only three losses came in succession at the Montverde Academy Invitational Tournament in late January. Region 8 Player of the Year Josh Okogie leads the attack along with Kareem Brewton. Both players average upwards of 18 points per game and control the action on offense. Cedric Guillaume roams the paint and Dejon Waters is also a threat. Okogie posted a 17 point 13 rebound double-double as the Generals advanced past Rockdale County, 55-45. Alpharetta has the size and experience down low to potentially give Shiloh fits. UNC-Wilmington-signee Devontae Cacok is a smooth 6-foot-7 forward. He pairs up with fellow 6-foot-7 senior Jaylon Gamble to control the glass on most nights. Sophomore Carlos Carriere has proven to be lethal from deep. Greg James scored 19 points to lift the Raiders over McEachern in overtime, 70-69. Mark Eze runs the offense and is coming off an 11 point, six rebound, nine assist game.

#2 Hillgrove (23-5) @ #1 Tucker (28-2)

The Tigers seamlessly transitioned into being a 5A powerhouse into becoming a 6A juggernaut. Auburn-bound guard Bryce Brown ignites the offense for Tucker. He teams up with Ayinde Russell and Josh Parker to form a sweet shooting backcourt. Jonathon Stephens is a strong forward who can score inside and out. Tucker erased Archer from the postseason with a 55-32 victory in round two. The Hawks are led by Collin Sexton and Jourdan Julian. Both players can fill it up and can get hot from deep. Point guard Antonio Wade is a strong ball handler with a knack for making plays while Brandon Schick provides some size inside. The Hawks are coming off a 73-59 win over a banged up Lambert squad.

#4 Newton (22-8) @ #1 Wheeler (27-2)

Wheeler, another school that has yet to lose to a team from Georgia, has had some close calls along the way. Pope challenged them three times but came up short each attempt. The Wildcats’ most impressive win came against Montverde Academy (FL) who is ranked No. 2 nationally. Five-star prospect and No. 2 ranked senior forward Jaylen Brown is the catalyst for Wheeler. He pairs up with Tennessee-signee Shembari Phillips to make one of the scariest lineups in Georgia. The Wildcats blew out Douglas County 87-68 in front of UNC Head Coach Roy Williams. 6-foot-7 Hakeem Anchrum and shooting guard Cam Jordan must support Brown and Phillips if Wheeler wants to reclaim its spot as state champions. The Newton Rams will be up to the challenge. The giant slayers have not backed down from any contest this postseason. In round one the Rams stunned defending state champ Tift County, 52-49. The party didn’t stop there as Newton then survived Dacula, 58-54. They may not have the size Wheeler has, but they have enough heart to go a long way. JaNaud Notae and Jaquan Simms pace a talented backcourt. D.J. Hill mans the point guard position and Donovan Grubb, who scored 12 points in the win over Dacula, battles inside at 6-foot-1.

AAAAA

#3 Jones County (21-9) @ #1 Brunswick (26-2)

The Pirates have battled their way through South Georgia skepticism to find themselves knocking at the door of a Final Four berth. With 18-straight wins, Brunswick has the second longest remaining win streak in 5A. Forwards Jabril Heck and Roger Davis have come up big thus far in the tournament. Davis is averaging 27 points and 14 rebounds while Heck is adding 23 points per game. Kymani Dunham and Zach Moore both pitched in 14 points in a 76-59 win over South Paulding. The Greyhounds have kept fans on the edge of their seat with wins over Harris County (75-73) and Gainesville in overtime (65-64). At 5-foot-9, Devin Wooten leads the team in scoring at 14.8 points. Sophomore Nick Singleton and junior Landrevius Bowden both chip in 10.3 per game. NyJel Lewis leads the Greyhounds in rebounding with 9.3 a night.

#2 ML King (24-5) @ #1 Cedar Shoals (22-8)

The Lions of MLK came away with a massive upset of undefeated McIntosh, 66-65. Juquan Jones would not be denied as he scored 35 points including two free throws with 6.1 seconds left to stun the McIntosh crowd. ML King’s gym burnt down before the season started and has caused the Lions to play every single game on the road. A team could easily wilt under that burden, but Head Coach Tony Brinson would not allow it. Seniors Kevon Harris and Jordan Martin lead the team in scoring. Harris averages 15.8 points and 11.6 rebounds while Martin pitches in 11 points. 6-foot-8 senior Andre Brooks gives the Lions a strong rim protector averaging 10.4 rebounds 3.1 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. Cedar Shoals slipped by Northside WR, 57-56 on a D’andre Mahaffey 3-pointer. The VMI-signee has had a knack for hitting big shots this season. He has scored over 20 points in three of his past four games. Sophomore Phlandrous Fleming also is a high-scorer for the Jags and is a threat to score 20 on any given night.

#1 Warner Robins (23-4) @ #1 Miller Grove (27-3)

In a finals rematch from a year ago, the Demons will try to end Miller Grove’s warpath to seven straight titles. The Wolverines dumped Warner Robins last season 70-43. Alterique Gilbert has emerged as a defensive stalwart and the point guard position averaging over five steals per game. Couple his defense with his team-high 18.5 points and 6.2 assists per game and you have a junior floor general who flirts with a triple-double almost every night. Transfer Lamont West has fit in nicely on the low block and averages 15.8 points and 7.7 rebounds. Raylon Richardson cleans up mistakes inside and swats nearly three shots per game. 21-conescutive wins, national victories and local wins over St. Francis, Tucker, and Jenkins are all impressive. The Wolverines’ only instate loss came by 21 points to Jonesboro. Miller Grove has not been as dominant as usual in the tourney, with a three point win over Chapel Hill and a 50-42 victory against Statesboro. Warner Robins has a chance to get the monkey off its back and get some revenge after getting hammered in the state championship. The Demons have good length inside that can harass the best of scorers; ask Apalachee’s Kamar Baldwin who was held to just 19 points. Marquez Callaway and Nate Curtis can both light up the scoreboard while Stephon Raybon likes to bang inside with his 6-foot-2, 225 pound frame. The Demons’ average margin of victory thus far in state has been 20 points.

#1 LaGrange (22-7) @ #1 Allatoona (27-2)

The Bucs search for their first ever semifinals appearance after dropping in the quarterfinals last season to Stephenson. Head Coach Markus Hood has built the young program into a powerhouse and will attempt to take the next step in securing themselves as a perennial favorite. After a season opening 69-49 loss to GAC, the Buccaneers righted the ship and now ride an 18-game win streak. Allatoona’s only other loss came to previously unbeaten McIntosh by five. Rodney Brown is the go-to scorer, but fellow seniors Bradley Brevet and Chris Ifill both play big roles. Ephraim Tshimanga is a strong junior and Trey Doomes has blossomed into a scoring threat as a freshman. The Buccaneers handled Coffee County, 61-38 in the second round. LaGrange seeks to reach the finals for the first time since 09-10 when it fell to Columbia in the AAA championship. Fiery head coach Mike Pauley gets the best out of his players each year. Guards Rico Smith and Laperion Perry spark the Grangers offense while Danterrius Bray also impacts the game with his ball handling and defense. Convincing wins over Houston County and Heritage-Conyers, has the Grangers firing on all cylinders.

AAAA

#2 Americus-Sumter (26-5) @ #1 Liberty County (23-4)

The high-scoring sophomore duo of guards Devion Mitchell and Richard LeCounte lead the way for Liberty County who is riding a 14-game win streak. Both average 19 points per game while Mitchell dishes out 7.4 assists and LeCounte grabs 9.8 rebounds. It took overtime for the Panthers to escape Henry County in round one, 74-72. Things were a little more comfortable in round two against Woodward Academy as the Panthers scored a 72-62 victory. Americus-Sumter has improved from 11-16 a year ago to 26-5 this season. Dwight Harris and Juwan High lead the Panthers in scoring at 16 and 14.7 points respectively. Americus-Sumter’s average margin of victory in the tournament has been 26.5 points including a 54-33 win over Cartersville.

#1 Jonesboro (29-1) @ #1 Johnson-Gainesville (29-0)

It will be a battle of styles as Jonesboro will attempt to keep its hopes of repeating alive with its hard-nosed defense while the Knights will try to space things out and let star guard Ty Cockfield continue his historic season. Jonesboro knocked off a disciplined St. Pius team 67-57 in round two. Now five-star sophomore guard M.J. Walker Jr. will try to power the Cardinals into the semifinals. Walker Jr. averages 17.1 points per game and is flanked by seniors Tracy Hector Jr. and Deantre Mack who both score over 11 points on average. Chattanooga-signee Austin Donaldson runs the show at the point. The Cardinals have not lost in Georgia yet and have massive wins over Miller Grove (21 points) and Spain Park (AL) by six. The Cardinals will put their 28-game winning streak on the line as they visit the Steele Factory where Johnson and its own 29-game win streak will welcome them. Unsigned senior guard Ty Cockfield plays with a chip on his shoulder and will attempt to gun down Jonesboro with his scoring prowess. Cockfield pours in 28.6 points on average and is flanked by fellow senior Rod English who chips in 19.2. Johnson does not have much size, so it is imperative for Cockfield and English to knock down their shots. The duo has combined for 105 threes this year and both have attempted over 210 free throws. Andrew Sims is a 6-foot-3 post that plays with energy inside and battles for rebounds. Signature wins over Whitefield Academy, North Cobb Christian, Gainesville, and Buford give the Knights the confidence they can beat anybody. A 75-60 win over West Laurens sets up this matchup between the two hottest teams in AAAA.

#4 Cairo (19-11) @ #1 Lithonia (27-2)

Lithonia clinched its first winning record in over ten years. Wallace Corker has overseen the growth of the program from 12 wins last season to 27 this year but it hasn’t been easy. Battles with St. Pius have been must-see games with the Bulldogs taking two of three including the region title by two points. Rodney Chatman has helped carry the Bulldogs with strong guard play along with Kesean Warren and Tyheem Freeman. Lithonia has rolled thus far with a 20 point first round win over Fayette County and an 81-60 victory over Mt. Zion-Jonesboro. The fourth-seeded Syrupmakers stunned Perry in round one and then disposed of Monroe Area, 65-50. Stacy Masten and Trey Sparrow pace senior ladened Cairo scoring 20 and 19 points per game respectively. 6-foot-7 Deon Patterson is a rebounding specialist grabbing 8.1 on average while blocking a shot each game.

#4 Upson-Lee (19-9) @ #1 Carrollton (27-2)

The Carrollton Trojans are back after falling in the quarterfinals last season. Jarel Rowe and Georgia Southern-signee Montae Glenn power the Trojan offense that scored 84 points in a win over Burke County. Rowe can slash and get to the bucket, while Glenn prefers to do his work on the block at 6-foot-8. The big man had a monster game in the second round with 19 points, 17 rebounds, and seven blocked shots against Burke County. The fourth-seeded Upson-Lee Knights have enjoyed their first winning season in five years. Wins over Albany and Buford have helped Upson-Lee shake up the bracket. The Knights knocked of number one-seeded Albany 66-54 then handled Buford 84-71. In win against Buford, O’qualon Harris paced the Knights with 20 points while Jarvis Atwater tossed in 16 points and seven rebounds. Malik Crafter and Dinasis Walker also scored 15 and 13 points.

AAA

#1 Laney (28-1) @ #1 East Hall (24-5)

It’s safe to say Laney has transitioned well after moving from AA, where they lost in the Final Four to eventual champ GAC, to AAA. Pound-for-pound, Laney makes one of the best cases as the top team in the state of Georgia regardless of classification. The Wildcats fell 67-64 to St. Francis to open the season but has since reeled off 28-straight wins including impressive wins over Morgan County (2x), Pebblebrook, Norcross, Jenkins and Buford. Coach Buck Harris leads a team that is unselfish and will do whatever it takes to win. Senior JaShawn Brooks leads the team in scoring at 13.1, but Christian Keeling and Collin Young are two juniors right behind him at 11 points per game. Zep Jasper is another quick guard who runs the offense and harasses opposing ball handlers. Laney has unsurprisingly romped through state thus far with wins over North Clayton (85-61) and Rockmart (68-31). East Hall, though the might not have the same resume, has been equally impressive. A 19 point win over Jefferson and a 95-62 thrashing of Peach County has seen the Vikings score at will. Brothers Luke Cooper and Triston Cooper are snipers from behind the three point line. Jacquen Hopkins scored 19 points in the win over Peach County while Kyvon Davenport controlled the paint with 31 points. The 6-foot-7 senior is a dominant rebounder and rim protector and gives Coach Joseph Dix a huge option offensively inside. This is the deepest playoff run for East Hall since 2011

#1 Morgan County (22-7) @ #1 South Atlanta (27-4)

Defending state champ Morgan County is back for seconds behind the sensational guard play of the diminutive Tookie Brown. A Mississippi State-signee, Brown scored his 3,000th point of his career this season and looks to continue to add on. The star guard stole the show last season in the finals when he scored 36 points in a rout of Buford. Brown teams up with the springy Jailyn Ingram who is known for his thunderous dunks. The Bulldogs knocked off Macon-Central 69-61 in round two. Marteveous Favors, Orlando Beebe, and Devontae Dean all play big roles in the Hornet attack. South Atlanta dropped to AAA this season after its final season in AAAA went without a playoff berth even though the Hornets were 18-8. After an 11-point win over Butler in round one, the Hornets stung Carrollton-Central, 103-38.

#2 Cedar Grove (20-4) @ #1 Rutland (26-3)

The high scoring Rutland Hurricanes average 81.4 points per game thanks to their potent balanced attack. Seven seniors return to the Hurricanes who were apart of back to back Elite 8 finishes in 2013 and 2014. Tylik Evans at 5-foot-7 leads the Canes with 22.4 points 6.7 assists, and 5.1 steals. The jitterbug quick guard surpassed the all-time scoring record at Rutland after starting for four years. Jeremy Braswell pours in 19.8 points while Dallas Smith contributes 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Timori Northcutt rounds out the scoring at 10.1. Rutlans blew out Burke County 80-40 in round two. The Saints are led by Jacara Cross, Christopher Fredrick and Kenneth Lewis. Cross averages over 15 points and six rebounds to go along with three blocks. Fredrick nets 13 points on average while Lewis chips in nearly 12. Wins over South Atlanta and Gainesville are impressive, along with a four point loss to Miller Grove. Cedar Grove edged Calhoun 52-42 in round two.

#1 Callaway (20-4) @ #1 Jenkins (26-3)

The Jenkins Warriors ride a 17-game win streak and have yet to be challenged in the tournament. A 75-55 win over Westside-Macon kicked off the playoffs before an 89-51 thumping of Hart County in round two. Georgia State-signee Malik Benlevi was injured during the middle of the season but has returned healthy and ready to make an impact. The 6-foot-6 senior wasted no time making his presence felt scoring 32 points in round one and 21 against Hart County. Trevion Lamar and Dimetri Chambers both flank Benlevi. 6-foot-8 Nicholas Severado is versatile and can handle the ball. He also leads the Warriors with 2.9 blocks per game. Callaway likes to run and gun and sometimes play a helter skelter type of pace. Jenkins likes to shut down teams with its defense, but Callaway’s guards will test them. Quadrius Patillo, Braylon Sanders, and Dre Martin all ignite the explosive Cavalier offense. Callaway lost to Buford last year in the semifinals. After blitzing Sonoraville 96-70 in the opening round, the Cavs grinded out a 58-56 win over Blessed Trinity.

AA

#1 Model (23-4) @ #1 Swainsboro (20-9)

After a controversial score keeping error, Swainsboro advanced 57-52 over Holy Innocents’ in overtime. Seniors Steven Howard and Da’korey Somerville power the Tigers offense, both averaging 14 points. Last season at 15-14 the Tigers made a run to the quarterfinals before being ousted by Callaway, 71-68. Model has won seven-straight contests and stands on the brink of the Final Four for the second time in three years. The Blue Devils are led by VJ Saxton, Tyler Dean, Dax Bishop and Dwight Hall. Model defeated Early County 62-55 to make it to the Elite Eight.

#3 Thomasville (22-8) @ #1 Crawford County (25-3)

The Eagles upended defending state champion GAC, 88-81 in front of a raucous home crowd. Star guard William Jarrell did the majority of the damage scoring 28 points. On the season, the 6-foot-4 junior averages 25.8 points, 13.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 3.5 steals, and 3.9 blocks. Though he may sound like a one man team, he isn’t. 6-foot-5 sophomore Marcal Knolton averages 17.8 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 blocks. Thomasville, who drilled number one-seeded Greene County 72-54, is led by junior guard Jordan Willis just under 15 points per game. Running mate Jay Bowdry is a senior who tosses in 13.6 a night.

A Private

#9 Aquinas (18-9) @ #1 St. Francis (26-3)

Aside from a blowout loss to Miller Grove 66-43, no Georgia team has been able to solve the Knights. Four-corners didn’t work and resulted in St. Francis’ players dancing and going viral. FSU-signee Malik Beasley heads the attack scoring 21.9 points while snatching seven rebounds. Five-star junior Kobi Simmons pours in 20.9 points and Xavier-bound big man Kaiser Gates scores 13.4 points and hauls in 7.1 rebounds on average to give St. Francis possibly the best big three in the state. Wins over national powers and Laney have made St. Francis the favorite to repeat as state champs. The Knights beat Lakeview Academy 103-59 in round one. Aquinas is led by San Antonio Brinson, a do-it-all small forward. The Irish beat Tattnall Square 55-39.

#5 North Cobb Christian (19-9) @ #4 Whitefield Academy (21-9)

Whitefield is seeking another finals appearance after losing to St. Francis a year ago 65-60. Four players average double figures led by Norman Harris’ 14.4 points. 6-foot-7 senior Courtney Alexander averages a double-double with 12.5 points and 10 rebounds. Brendon Myles and Isaiah round out the scoring at 12 apiece. Whitefield handled Hebron Christian 68-36. The Wolfpack beat the Eagles 57-43 in the region semifinals. North Cobb Christian’s paint is anchored by Chattanooga-signee Trey Kalina who stands at 7-foot. Nick Flemming is coming off a 29 point game in which NCC defeated Calvary Day 76-59.

#6 Landmark Christian (21-8) @ #3 Athens Christian (28-0)

The War Eagles may not have much size, but they can sure shoot the ball. Six players have made 30 or more threes this year led by Zack Allen’s 77. Allen is Landmark’s leading scorer at 19.2 per game. Jackson Schultz teams up in the backcourt to add 17.3 points and 6.4 assists. Landmark defeated St. Anne Pacelli 83-75. For Athens Christian Will “Turtle” Jackson, a UGA-signee runs the show. Turtle averages 21.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists to go along with over three steals and one block. Demetrius McWhorter does his damage inside at 17.7 points and 7.4 rebounds while Chris Tate adds 12.6 points and seven rebounds of his own. Athens Christian beat Mt. Pisgah 91-48 in round one.

#7 Stratford Academy (18-6) @ #2 Greenforest (25-1)

After a disappointing second round by one point to Calvary Day last season, the Eagles are out to claim the title away from St. Francis. Greenforest annihilated Southwest Atlanta Christian 103-31 in its opening game. The Eagles are loaded with talent and length. Ikey Obiagu is a 7-foot-1 center who changes each game. Justin Ravenel, John Ogwuche, and Justin Forrest solidify the backcourt while Precious Ayah and Faisal Abdulmalik control the paint. Stratford won a high scoring game over Providence Christian 95-80. Duel-sport star Quintez Cephus will be relied on heavily to pull the upset. The high-scoring guard leads the attack and is flirting with 2,000 career points.

GHSA High School Basketball Preview & Predictions

Move over March Madness, the GHSA State Basketball Tournament has begun and with it brings the new phrase, “February Frenzy”. No ice storm can prevent some of the best players in the state from taking the court and putting on a show for all in attendance. A few Tuesday games have been pushed back to Wednesday due to the weather, but the action has already begun. It’s time to break down the brackets and see how things might pan out.

Class AAAAAA

            There is no shortage of dangerous teams in the tournament this year. Defending champ  Tift County (26-1) have to potential to set up a rematch of last year’s state title with Wheeler (25-2) if the two schools are able to advance to the Elite Eight in the bottom right side of the bracket. A potential dark horse is No. 3 seed, North Gwinnett (14-13). After a slow start, the Bulldogs have won eight of their last ten games and are led by the explosive Kam Calhoun. They first will have to get past Dacula (19-8) who is loaded Kevon Tucker, Keshawn Gibbs, and Derek St. Hilaire. The top right bracket features an interesting first round matchup between Langston Hughes (21-7) and Hillgrove (21-5). The youthful Panthers are led by sophomores Chuma Okeke and Khalil Cuffee. Cuffee however has been sidelined with an ankle and is questionable to play. Coach Ed Morris has built Hillgrove into a perennial power and guards Collin Sexton and Jourdan Julian make them a tough out. Tucker (26-2) has transitioned to 6A smoothly after dropping to rival Miller Grove a year ago in the 5A Elite Eight. Auburn-signee Bryce Brown leads the Tigers along with running mates Avinde Russell and Jonathon Stephens. No. 2 Duluth (20-8) is another battle tested team coming out of Region 7. Anthony Showell, Joseph Gordon, Khair Jefferies are all lethal surrounding AJ Cheeseman and Obinna Ofodile inside. The top left bracket seemingly will lead to a crash course between Norcross (25-3) and Pebblebrook (23-5). The Blue Devils have won 16-straight games and would meet the Falcons in the Elite Eight. High Point-bound Ricky Madison and Rayshaun Hammonds fuel the Norcross front court. A tussle with Pebblebrook’s Derek Ogbeide (UGA) and guards Ty Hudson (Clemson) and Jared Harper would make for one of the best games in the tournament. Shiloh (23-3) looks like the favorite to come out of the bottom left. Kareem Brewton and Josh Okogie give the Generals a dynamic duo that can challenge any tandem. Prediction: Tift, Tucker, Pebblebrook, Shiloh

The girl’s field may be the strongest in all of the state. The lower left side of the bracket is loaded with North Forsyth (23-4), Parkview (24-3), and Osborne (24-2). On the top side, Westlake (27-2) already survived a scare from Hillgrove, but things won’t get any easier as they play the winner of Woodstock (26-1) and West Forsyth (21-5). It will be a tough matchup for Woodstock who is coming off their first loss of the season in the Region 5 championship against Pope. The Wolverines are not very big, but use their great guard play to get past opponents. Sophomore Devyn Lowe is the next in a long line of great guards, as she was named Region Player of the Year. West Forsyth will feed Maryland-signee Jenna Staiti the ball inside. The six-foot-five versatile post is no stranger to big games as she already has a 42 point 17 rebound game under her belt this season. Defending champions McEachern (18-5) is grouped with the likes of Mountain View (22-5) and South Forsyth (24-4) who they would likely meet in the second round. South Forsyth was ranked No. 1 in the state for a majority of the season before tough back-to-back losses to West and North Forsyth to end the season. The War Eagles look to be back on track however as they revenged their loss to North Forsyth by beating them by three to win the Region 6 title. Sarah Myers averages over 20 points per game and is heading to Maryland. Archer (24-5) headlines the bottom right quadrant but Harrison (19-7) and Pope (24-4) should not be slept on. Prediction: Osborne, Norcross, Mountain View, Archer

Class AAAAA

Miller Grove (25-3) is the favorite to win their seventh straight title. Alterique Gilbert is one of the best floor generals in the state and has the hands of a thief. Lamont West gives the Wolverines an inside presence both offensively and defensively.  If Apalachee (19-8) can meet the Wolverines in the Elite Eight, expect Kamar Baldwin to put on a show. The do everything guard averages 27 points and 10 rebounds per game. Allatoona (25-2) looks to be the favorite coming out of its quadrant and would likely face Miller Grove in the Final Four. Bradley Brevet, Ephraim Tshimanga, and Rodney Brown are all dangerous for the ‘Bucs. McIntosh (28-0) is the only undefeated left and should make a deep run behind Jordan Lyons, Will Washington, and Dishon Lowery. Gainesville (24-4) is an extremely dangerous No. 4 seed in the top left quadrant. The Red Elephants feature a balanced attack which is led by Mississippi State-commit D’Marcus Simonds. Along with Simonds, freshman Xavier Bledson, Luke Maddox, and Messiah Dorsey are all dangerous. Freshman forward Bailey Minor is also an x-factor. Prediction: Miller Grove, Allatoona, McIntosh, Gainesville

The field is wide open in the girls bracket. Brunswick (27-0) is a favorite, but they are in a loaded bracket which features Sequoyah (25-3), Stephenson (24-5), and Grovetown (22-5). The Sequoyah Chiefs feature an intimidating frontline anchored by sisters Kelley and Lauren Hartman. Megan Garcia is a three-point specialist that needs to be watched from deep. Greenbrier (25-3) and Mays (24-2) should meet in the Elite Eight. The lower right quadrant seems like the weakest out of the four as No. 1 Hiram has already been disposed of by Miller Grove (15-11). Prediction: Brunswick, Forest Park, Northside, Greenbrier

Class AAAA

Reigning champs Jonesboro (27-1) is on a warpath to repeat. A date with Johnson-Gainesville (27-0) would make for an interesting Elite Eight game. Ty Cockfield averages 28.4 points while running mate Rod English pours in 19.5 a night. The Knights have had some close calls as of late, but Jeff Steele’s team does not know what it’s like to lose. Columbia (18-10), last year’s runner up, is one of the rare teams that can match Carrollton (25-2) inside. Micaiah Henry will go chest-to-chest with Carrollton big man and Georgia Southern-signee Montae Glenn. Avi Toomer and Grady (14-14) could be a surprise No. 3 seed to come out of the upper left quadrant. Lithonia (25-2) is a favorite to make it to the final four. Prediction: Liberty County, Jonesboro, Lithonia, Columbia

Much like the boys team, Jonesboro (27-1) looks like the team to beat. In what could be a state title matchup, the Cardinal would have to face Buford (26-3) who was runner up in AAA last season. St. Pius (26-4) is also in the loaded quadrant. Louisville-signee Asia Durr has been a one woman wrecking crew averaging 31.8 points per game, but her lack of help will be too much to compete with more balanced teams. Veterans (28-1) is dangerous and should battle Marist (22-4) to come out of their side of the bracket. Last year’s champion, Redan (19-7), will have an uphill battle as the No. 4 seed. Carrollton (21-7) meets the Raiders in the first round, and Americus-Sumter (27-1) still looms in their quadrant. Prediction: Burke County, Jonesboro, Americus-Sumter, Veterans

Class AAA

Tookie Brown of Morgan County (20-7) stole the show last year and will look to do so again this season. South Atlanta (25-4) would make for a formidable foe if the two schools met in the Elite Eight. At 7-21, Jefferson snuck into the postseason and is the ultimate Cinderella story. Its bracket is not a kind one as both Laney (26-1) and East Hall (22-5) reside in it. Laney is the likely favorite to win it all this year. The Wildcats’ offense features five players averaging over eight points per game led by JaShawn Brooks’ 13.1. Laney will host No. 4 seed North Clayton (16-12). The Eagles are paced by Reginald Scurry and Taiyon Hector. Jenkins (24-3) is someone who might meet Laney in the title. Malik Benlevi, a Georgia State-signee, is back healthy after a lengthy absence and should give Jenkins a go-to scoring threat. The Warriors fell to Laney by 11 this year. Prediction: Laney, South Atlanta, Cedar Grove, Jenkins

Dawson County (27-0) is the only undefeated team after South Atlanta (27-2) lost in the region title game and then was upset by Washington County (23-6) by three on Tuesday. Dawson County has the strongest low post game in the state headed by Sheyenne Seabolt (15.6 & 7.8) and Ashley Parker (13.4 & 9.3). Karlie Bearden is a defensive stalwart and also averages 8.4 rebounds to go along with 11.5 points and 2.6 blocks. Decatur (27-2) and Kendrick (26-2), last season’s AA champs, look to duke it out for a Final Four spot. Jefferson (21-6) and Beach (23-5) are likely second round foes. The winner should be a front runner to make the Final Four. Peach County (23-3) is the hottest team in their quadrant. The Trojans are anchored by guard Nausia Woolfolk who pours in 25 points, 7.7 rebounds and an absurd 7.1 steals per game. Prediction: Dawson County, Decatur, Beach, Peach County

Class AA

Holy Innocents’ (23-5) is the most dangerous No. 3 seed in the tournament. Crawford County (23-3) could pose problems for defending champ GAC (18-9) in the second round. Pace Academy (25-2) is the favorite to win it all, but a meeting with potentially Vidalia (26-2) in the Elite Eight could cause mismatches. If Reggie Reid can get hot, Harlem (23-4) could creep into the Final Four. Reid, a FGCU-signee, flirts with a triple-double on average going for 22.6 points, 9 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game. Lovett (13-14) is a battle tested four seed that will get a chance to upend No. 1 Manchester (19-8). Prediction: Holy Innocents’, GAC, Pace Academy, Seminole County

Pelham (27-1) and Holy Innocents’ (27-0) have stood out as the teams to beat this year. The two are favorites to meet in the Final Four. Manchester (24-2) has won 22-straight and could meet the Hornets in the Elite Eight. Last year’s runner up, Wesleyan (21-7) faces a tough quadrant that holds Putnam County (23-5), No. 4 Dade County (17-9), and McIntosh County Academy (17-10) all teams with quality wins this season. Vidalia (24-4) may have a chance to thwart Holy Innocents’ championship hopes if they meet in the Elite Eight. Prediction: Thomasville, Wesleyan, Holy Innocents’, Pelham

Class A

The draws come out soon, but even without them there are some heavy favorites. In the Private bracket, St. Francis (25-3) will look to defend its title, but Greenforest (24-1) is a long talented team who could steal the show. FSU-bound Malik Beasley teams up with Xavier-signee Kaiser Gates and 5-star junior Kobi Simmons to give St. Francis one of the most talented teams in the state. Greenforest is no slouch either. Justin Ravenel, Precious Ayah, Justin Forrest, and John Ogwuche should all play at the next level. And don’t forget 7-foot-1 center Ikey Obiagu who anchors the paint inside for the Eagles. Athens Christian (27-0) point guard ‘Turtle’ Jackson is signed at UGA. The public side features Calhoun County (26-2) and Hancock Central (23-2) who will attempt to knock off Wilkinson County (24-4) from its perch. Prediction: St. Francis & Hancock Central

A loaded girls friend features St. Francis (24-3) as the favorites to take the Private crown, but defending champion SW Atlanta Christian (25-3) will look to hold off the Knights other strong challengers. Taylor County (27-0) leads the public field with Claxton (22-4) and Turner County (25-2) as head contenders. Prediction: SWAC & Turner County

Pre-Spring Training NL East Division Preview

Georgia might have just had another scare with potential snow and ice storms, but spring is in our midst and with that Spring Training is right around the corner. Pitchers and Catchers are set to report by the end of this week, while many players have already come to camp early to break off the rust and start getting their bodies back in game shape. Each spring teams enter training camp with optimism and aspirations of winning the World Series. I will be heading down to Florida to check out some Spring Training action for the first time this year. I will be attending Bradenton (Pirates) and Port St. Lucie (Mets), two teams that are primed to make the post season. With that being said, let’s take an early look at the National League East and how I think things will stack up this season.

Washington Nationals

Last year’s porous division now looks to be one of the toughest, with three of the projected top teams all having realistic sights on the playoffs. The Nationals are seemingly the new trendy pick and are 5:1 favorites to win the World Series this year after making moves that brought in Max Scherzer and Yunel Escobar. Washington has a rotation loaded with power arms, but its bullpen will need retooling. Tyler Clippard was shipped off for Escobar and Rafael Soriano is currently a free agent. Drew Storen will likely return as the closer, a full time job he had back in 2011 when he saved 43 games. While they may be the most talented team in the division, I doubt they will completely run away with it.

New York Mets

The Mets have the best young top three pitching trio in the MLB with Matt Harvey-Jacob deGrom-Zack Wheeler. Their pitching staff will be one of the strongest in the league, but questions loom on whether David Wright can ever return to the player he once was. The fences have been moved in yet again and should benefit Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda who emerged as the Mets’ number one long ball threat last year. If Wright, Granderson, and Michael Cuddyer can produce close to what their career averages are, then the Mets should be battling for the division and wild card all season long.

Miami Marlins

As they seemingly do every offseason, the Marlins have shaken their roster up like a snow globe. Mat Latos and Dan Haren give the Marlins some much needed veteran leadership atop of their young rotation that hopes to get young ace Jose Fernandez back sooner rather than later from Tommy John surgery. The addition of Dee Gordon who had a career year last season will give them speed to burn. Veteran Martin Prado was brought in to do what he always does—hit. Michael Morse should shore up first base if he can find a way to stay healthy. Miami has had strong teams on paper in the past, but they have never been able to create that type of success on the field. Now in his third year as manager, Mike Redmond will try to sneak the fish back into the postseason where they have made magic happen.

Atlanta Braves

No team in the MLB has torn down the walls as much as new GM John Hart has after the Braves decided to clean house. Atlanta has tried to replenish its beleaguered farm system and has done a decent job so far. Craig Kimbrel has been whispered to be the next one on the move. It should be a long painful season as ownership eyes 2017; the good thing for Atlanta is that Philadelphia is in the same division.

Philadelphia Phillies

No franchise has been more mismanaged in the past five years than this one. A blind loyalty to aging stars who no longer produce has crippled the franchise along with a weak farm system. Year-in and year-out, Ruben Amaro has had a chance to flip Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels for young players, but he has sat on his assets and continues to depreciate their value. Unlike the Braves, there is no light at the end of this tunnel just yet.

Hawks Migrating North For All-Star Game

No doubt it has been a magical season for the Atlanta Hawks (43-10). A 19-game winning streak shattered the former franchise record and will ever hold this year’s team in Atlanta lore no matter how the season ends up. The Hawks have been a team oriented group all season long; each player buying into their role and doing whatever it takes to win. Atlanta has shared the ball exceptionally well and rank second in the NBA in assists per game, proving that defenses can’t just key in on one player because they are more than willing to swing the ball to hit the open man. All five starters average double figures and the accolades have been rolling in. Atlanta completed January a perfect 17-0, and in return the NBA rewarded all five starters as the Eastern Conference Players of the Month, the first time in NBA history.

Though the team award was nice, every player and Coach Mike Budenholzer will tell you that as long as the team wins, receiving accolades and awards isn’t important. “We appreciate the recognition of our starters’ play during this past month. It is reflective of all the work our entire team and organization has put in,” said coach Mike Budenholzer. “We place a strong emphasis on having the right approach every day and making daily improvement. Collectively, we know that we have a lot more work to do this season and look forward to continue growing as a team.”

This Tuesday marked Atlanta’s biggest accomplishment thus far this season. Kyle Korver will be replacing Dwyane Wade as Atlanta’s fourth player to be joining the Eastern Conference as an All-Star. It is the first time in franchise history that the Hawks will be sending four players and it is also just the eighth time in NBA history that four teammates will be playing together. The last team to feature four all-stars was the 2011 Boston Celtics. Along with the four players, Mike Budenholzer will also be roaming the sidelines. “We would like to thank Commissioner Silver for selecting Kyle as an All-Star. He is an integral part of our team and we are extremely proud that Kyle will be able to join his teammates Al, Paul and Jeff in being recognized this weekend,” said Coach Bud. “This is a positive reflection on all of the work the entire team, coaching staff and organization has put in this season.”

Korver, an 11-year veteran, will be attending his first All-Star game. The Creighton Blue Jay was selected 51st overall by the New Jersey Nets back in 2003 but was subsequently traded to the Sixers. He played sparingly his first season and then his next two seasons he started 100 games. After those two seasons, he was relegated to a bench role as his coaches primarily viewed him as just a three-point specialist. It was not until the 2012-13 season, his first in Atlanta, when he was pegged as a full-time starter, the first time in over six seasons. He continued to shoot extremely well, but this season the entire league has taken notice. Korver is shooting a blistering 51.6 percent from the field, 52.8 from three, and 92 percent from the foul line. If he is able to keep this up he would be the first player in NBA history to slash a line of 50/50/90, giving him the greatest shooting season ever. Korver will have a chance to show his three-point prowess to the entire nation as he headlines the 2015 Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

Another first time All-Star is Jeff Teague. The Wake Forest product has slowly progressed into the type of player Atlanta envisioned back when they selected him 19th overall in 2009. Teague is averaging career highs in points (17.2), assists (7.5), and steals (1.7). Now in his fourth full year starting, his decision making has improved and he has been a leader on the floor at the point guard position. Teague will showcase his ball handling skills as he returns to participate in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge which he previously competed in back in 2013.

Atlanta’s third All-Star is Paul Millsap. The workhorse out of Louisiana Tech led the NCAA in rebounding all three of his seasons in college, but still slipped to the 47th pick. Millsap began starting full time in Utah in 2011, where he teamed up with Al Jefferson. Though the Jazz had one of the most skilled front courts in the league, they were unable to make noise in the Western Conference. Millsap played strong as a starter for three seasons in Utah, but eventually the Jazz decided they wanted to move forward with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. That decision was a blessing for Atlanta. The Hawks pounced at the opportunity to sign the versatile big man to a two-year, $19 million dollar deal which Atlanta has gotten every penny’s worth. Millsap has been an All-Star in his two seasons with Atlanta and was a main reason why the team stayed afloat after Al Horford’s season-ending pectoral injury last year. His versatility on both offense (35% three-point shooting) and on defense (1.8 steals per game) makes him one of the most valuable players in the league.

The veteran of the group, Al Horford, will be making his third All-Star game appearance. His seven years in Atlanta make him the longest tenured Hawk. After a season-ending injury a year ago, Horford has performed admirably while healthy and gives Atlanta one of the most reliable big men in the game. The former Florida Gator has been a rock on the interior and provides 15.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per night. With such a balanced scoring team, Horford no longer has to shoulder the load offensively.

All four Hawks including Coach Mike Budenholzer will be migrating to New York for this weekend’s festivities. It is a great honor for four players to be named All-Stars as Atlanta looks to keep their mojo going and finish strong heading into the playoffs.

Silent but Deadly — The Georgia Bulldogs

Make no joke about it; the SEC is wide open outside of Kentucky. With just two teams ranked in the Top 25, no one has been able to stand out as the clear cut second best team in the conference. The top of the conference is muddled with teams a win away from claiming second place, or falling all the way into a multiway tie in the middle of the pack. Three teams are tied for second at 7-3 in the SEC, while two more are tied for third place at 6-4.

One team to keep an eye on is Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs. Now in his sixth season at UGA, Fox has compiled a respectable 100-84 record. Predecessor Dennis Felton managed just an 84-91 mark in his five-plus seasons before getting fired in 2009. Fox has brought with him a tough nosed mentality that helped him go 123-43 at Nevada before accepting the position at Georgia. The Dawgs haven’t made a trip to the NCAA Tournament since the 2010-11 season, Fox’s second season, but Georgia is off to a strong start and has a chance to sneak back into the big dance.

The season started inauspiciously when the Bulldogs were stung at Georgia Tech, 80-73 to open up the 2014-15 campaign. Georgia managed to respond well though, finishing 9-3 in non-conference play. Along the way, they were able to pick up nice wins over Colorado, Kansas State, and the emerging Seton Hall Pirates. Losses included a four-point defeat to Minnesota and a hard fought 88-76 loss to top ten Gonzaga.

In conference play, Georgia has also proven to be a tough out. The Dawgs (15-7, 6-4) have already beaten Florida, Ole Miss, and Tennessee. Their losses came to current No. 24 Arkansas by four, LSU in double-overtime by three, and most recently No. 1 Kentucky by 11 at Rupp Arena. The major blemish on Georgia’s record was a 67-50 loss to South Carolina who is just 11-11 overall and 2-8 in the SEC.

Leading scorer and rebounder Marcus Thornton missed the Kentucky and South Carolina games due to an injury. The senior forward has progressed each season and is averaging 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He leads a Bulldog team that has five players score in double figures. Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, and Nemanja Djurisic all average 11 points while J.J. Frazier comes in at 10.8. Frazier, only a sophomore, had the most eye opening game of maybe any SEC player this year when the Dawgs traveled to The Hump to face Mississippi State. The 5-foot-10 guard exploded for 37 points on 12 of 14 shooting and 7 of 7 from beyond the three-point line.

The strength of this Georgia team besides its coaching has been its balanced scoring attack and strong rebounding. With five players averaging double figures, opposing defenses cannot key on just one man. Frazier, Gaines, and Thornton can all get hot on any given night. The Bulldogs also do a good job on the glass averaging nearly 38 rebounds per game. Being able to limit second chance points has been a boon for Coach Fox.

Though they currently sit in fifth place in the standings, Georgia is just a game out of second place. Key matchups loom with Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Kentucky all on the horizon. If Georgia is able to take care of business and win the games they are supposed to, they should enter the conference tournament flirting with 20 wins. In ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s most recent Bracketology, he places Georgia as a number eight seed in the West Region. He also has a whopping six teams out of the SEC making the tournament.

The Dawgs look poised to make a run in the SEC tournament and clinch their first March Madness bid in five seasons and if Coach Fox can reach the 22 win plateau, it would be the school’s best record since 2001-02 with Jim Harrick. Coach Fox has methodically built Georgia into a respectable program and has the Dawgs hungry as a silent but deadly dark horse entering March.