Class A-Public Elite Eight Preview

#1 Treutlen (25-3) vs. #8 Hawkinsville (17-9)

No. 3 Treutlen’s only Class A-Public loss came to defending state champion No. 6 Calhoun County on Jan. 23, 66-51. The Vikings have dominated in southeast Georgia the past three years but are still in search of their first title. Region 3 hasn’t provided Treutlen with the toughest competition, making the Vikings still a bit of a question mark even with their great record. Seniors Titus Benjamin and Elijah Johnson are among Coach Tyree Coney’s top two scoring options. The Vikings put up over 80 points per game and have blown out nearly everybody they have beaten. Hawkinsville, who rose as high as No. 4 in the state earlier in the year, uses a contrasting style which should be a good test for the Vikings. The Red Devils allow just 55 points per game and will try to slow things up. Junior CJ Smith and freshman Javon Singletary have helped turn an 11-14 team into an Elite Eight participant. The Red Devils escaped Central-Talbotton 59-57 in round one.

#5 Wilkinson County (23-6) vs. #13 Lincoln County (17-7)

Throw out the seedings on this one. Wilkinson is ranked No. 1 in the state while Lincoln County comes in at No. 10, but has risen as high as No. 5 during the season. Some of the best big men in the classification will meet in this Elite Eight tussle. Lincoln County has made strides this season after a 10-11 mark a year ago thanks to 6-foot-7 junior Ahmad Rand and Head Coach Wesley Wuchte. The Red Devils made history in the first round winning their first playoff game in over 20 years, rallying to beat No. 7 Randolph-Clay 87-79 in overtime. The Red Devils came back from down 11 with 1:57 left. Rand collected another triple-double with 24 points, 20 rebounds and 15 blocks and hit a free throw with two seconds left to send the game to overtime. Rand has slowly become a household name, averaging a triple-double on the season with his explosive leaping ability. Zach Crite is a well-built guard that can get past his man and finish at the basket. He scored 29 in round one. Devon Holloway is a bull in a china shop inside, throwing his body around and working the high post with patience. He chipped in 14 in the win. Maciah Gunby runs the offense with Ty Elam providing a spark offensively and Zae Gartrell tabbed as Coach Wuchte’s defensive stopper. Rand and company will be challenged going up against Class A-Public’s largest frontline. Jonathan Baehre is a skilled 6-foot-9 forward while Greg Couson is a bruising 6-foot-7 junior forward that will test Rand’s toughness. Clarence Jackson is an aggressive 6-foot-5 wing that averages over 13 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game. So do the Red Devils have any hope against the 7-time state champs? Take into account that No. 4 Hancock Central split the season series with WilCo, taking a 70-62 victory in meeting number two. Lincoln County lost to Hancock by five in their first meeting before beating the then No. 1 Bulldogs 61-59 at Lincoln, the first time in over 25 years that the Red Devils beat the Dogs on the hardwood.

#3 Turner County (22-6) vs. #6 Calhoun County (18-9)

No. 2 Turner County meets reigning champs No. 6 Calhoun County in Valdosta. After a slow start, Tasha Kimble has controlled the reigns of the Rebels in her first year as both the girls and boys head coach at Turner County. Tammarion Terry is a beast inside averaging 20.2 points and 13.3 rebounds. He doesn’t have the size as other bigs across the state (6-3), but he does have the heart and tenacity. Jarvis Hall (11.4 ppg), Deandre Pierce (8.4 ppg 5 rpg), Cedrick Leggett (7.9 ppg) and Briand Wynn (7.4 ppg) surround Terry as ancillary options. Turner County beat Calhoun County in their lone meeting this year 60-47 back on Jan. 9 in Ashburn. Back from Coach Marcus Shaw’s championship team are Rashun Williams, Jerrek Solite, Jalin Gray and Reginald Ross who all contribute in different ways. They will need to ride the momentum of their 57-47 win over No. 8 Clinch County in round one into the Elite Eight.

#7 Hancock Central (22-6) vs. #2 Taylor County (21-7)

What a raw deal for both programs as they have to meet in the Elite Eight. No. 4 Hancock Central will put No. 5 Taylor County’s two-seed to the test in what could be a toss-up game. Taylor County has put together a nice resume with wins over 4ANo. 5 Upson-Lee, St. Anne-Pacelli, Hawkinsville, Central-Talbotton and Macon County. They are active in the paint and attack every loose ball. Hancock battled through the deep Region 7 and finished the regular season with an 11-1 mark. Guards Alex Brooks and Devojia Tucker set up Coach Anthony Webb’s offense while Martravious Smith can either put it on the floor or shoot it. Brooks is the Bulldogs’ best three-point shooter and was a First Team All-Region selection along with power forward Phillipe Scott, who has injected a toughness and a scoring threat in the low post after missing the first half of the season due to grades. Dallis Meminger likes to mix it up on the glass as a junior center as well. Taylor County has three state titles to its name while Hancock has just one, coming in 2008. In the Region tournament, Hancock lost to 1A-PrivateNo. 5 Stratford Academy 59-53 before drilling 1A-PrivateNo. 9 Tattnall Square Academy, 72-53.

Class A-Private Elite Eight Preview

#1 Greenforest (27-2) vs. #9 Tattnall Square (18-9)

No. 1 Greenforest has held the top ranking in the state the entire season making them and 5ANo. 1 Miller Grove the only teams to do so. The Eagles have been ranked in the top 25 nationally and are regarded as the best team in the state regardless of classification, cementing that status in the opening two weeks of the season where at Holiday Hoopsgiving they destroyed 6ANo. 7 Pebblebrook 87-59 and 6ANo. 3 Norcross 77-48. The Eagles have the biggest frontcourt in the state and one of the tallest in the country with five-star junior center Ikey Obiagu (7-0), junior Abayomi Iyiola (6-10), sophomore Mohammed Abdulsalem (6-9), junior Victor Enoh (6-8) and 6-foot-7 senior Precious Ayah, who is committed to play at Miami (OH).  Obiagu is recognized as the best shot blocker in the nation. He swatted away 20 No. 4 Our Lady of Mercy shots in the Region 5 championship. As jaw dropping as first-year Head Coach Larry Thompson’s size is, its Greenforest’s guard play that makes them elite. Junior Justin Forrest leads the team in scoring at 19.5 per game while John Ogwuche, a New Hampshire signee, pitches in 13.6. The tandem work in perfect sync together up top and are always looking for each other in the open floor. Coach Jarvis Smith has a strong guard of his own in junior Calvin Slaughter. He poured in 30 points in a 55-47 win over 1A-PublicNo. 10 Lincoln County in the Region 7 tournament. He or Aubrien Kemp, who averages close to 18 points per game, will need to find the hot hand early if the Trojans want to hang around. Throughout the season No. 9 Tattnall Square Academy has shown an ability to play with the big boys, scoring wins over 1A-PublicNo. 1 Wilkinson County, No. 5 Stratford Academy, St. Anne-Pacelli and 2ANo. 9 Swainsboro before knocking off No. 7 SWAC 55-51 in the opening round.

#5 North Cobb Christian (23-4) vs. #4 Stratford Academy (20-5)

Both rosters may be completely different as Macon meets Kennesaw in what could be the game of the day in Class A-Private. No. 3 North Cobb Christian grabs a virtual home game as they welcome No. 5 Stratford who looks to make it back home and play in the Centreplex for all the marbles in another week. It is a rematch of Dec. 12th’s 69-52 North Cobb Christian victory. North Cobb Christian has length that causes other teams problems. Brothers Will and Jonny Crumly are both 6-foot-7. Will prefers to play on the perimeter and shoot threes. Demiere Brown has been the Eagles’ go-to scorer. The stout forward likes to rumble his way into the paint. He scored a team-high 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds in their opening round 71-50 win over Christian Heritage while Will Crumly added 13 points and nine rebounds. Point guard Nick Flemming is a key piece that gets Coach Greg Matta’s offense running. He missed time earlier in the season with an elbow injury but is fully healthy now. Flemming has missed the Eagles’ last four games due to disciplinary reasons while Kobe Wilson, a 6-foot-7 Alcorn State-commit, has a broken bone in his foot which has cut his senior season short.  If Flemming isn’t cleared to play against a powerful Stratford squad, the Eagles could be in trouble. Coach Jamie Dickey has a few horses of his own to rely on. Quintez Cephus is Stratford’s all-time leading scorer and a former Furman-commit before deciding to further his football career as a Wisconsin signee. O’Showen Williams and James Mitchell round out a high-scoring backcourt. Cephus went for 21 points in their 87-59 beat down of No. 10 Walker in the first round. North Cobb Christian will have to be ready for one of the state’s toughest blossoming big men, junior Nate Brooks. Brooks at 6-foot-7 did not play in their previous meeting. He is a force inside with his powerful dunks and ability to rebound. He pitched in a team-high 23 points against Harvard signee Robert Baker of Walker.

#3 Lakeview Academy (25-4) vs. #6 Whitefield Academy (19-10) 

No. 6 Lakeview Academy faces its toughest test all year long as they meet No. 8 Whitefield Academy. The Lions’ sexy record has come primarily against a weak Region 8. They played Hebron Christian for a fourth time this year in the first round of the state playoffs and had to use overtime to escape 82-76. Coach Todd Cottrell’s team is extremely balanced and shares the ball well with Daniel Fadool leading at point guard. Tre Gober and Drew Cottrell attack from the outside while Josh Randolph and Carter Reeves are usually tasked with hitting the glass and scoring inside the arc. Coach Cottrell will need to focus on stopping the two leaders of the Wolfpack, junior Isaiah Hart and senior Brendon Myles. Hart averages 20.1 points and 4.9 assists while the 6-foot-4 Myles plays bigger than his size, putting up 19.8 points and 11.4 rebounds a night. Whitefield has played against some of the state’s best and have even beaten a few such as No. 2 St. Francis 75-73 and Southwest DeKalb, 53-52. The key is to slow down Myles and Hart. Jimmy McCarthy and Tyson Jackson must be boxed out and not allowed to earn Whitefield any second chance points. Jackson is a 6-foot-7 sophomore that is beginning to take steps toward reaching his potential, averaging 7.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.

#10 St. Anne-Pacelli (17-9) vs. #2 St. Francis (21-7)

If the Vikings can come out of the gates strong, this game has the makings of becoming a dog fight. If not, the Knights will overpower them. Two explosive guards will go head-to-head. No. 2 St. Francis’ highly touted five-star Arizona-commit Kobi Simmons averaging 26 per game against St. Anne-Pacelli’s Tre Sudberry, a rim-attacking guard posting 22.5 points while hitting 51% of his three-point attempts. Simmons isn’t the only option Coach Drew Catlett has. Anthony Showell has provided stability at point guard averaging 13.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists while 6-foot-7 forward Chance Anderson might be the most valuable asset aside from Simmons. The versatile big man has been an unsung hero with his ability to score, rebound and defend. He is also a very willing passer that knows when to get his guards the ball. He has scored 11.9 points and grabbed 8.6 rebounds a game his senior season. The Vikings, who were ranked for a majority of the year, will try to create mismatches with their dynamic backcourt. Triston Wells averages 16.5 points and can bury three-pointers, nailing 60% of his attempts. Armon Prophet mans the point and shares the ball as well as anyone in the state, putting up 14.5 points and 9.2 assists per game. The Vikings stunned No. 4 Our Lady of Mercy in round one 85-79. If Coach Alan Griffin’s team can get hot from three, they can ride their shooting to the Final Four. As a team they have made 166-of-316, good for a smokin’ 53%.

Class AA Elite Eight Preview

R5 #1 Manchester (23-5) vs. R6 #2 Lovett (22-6)

Coach Ryan Koudele has turned around a 13-15 program into the No. 6-ranked team in the state in his first year at the helm of Lovett. A strong senior class has helped guide the Lions into the Elite Eight for the first time since 2008. Henry Richardson has been a sharpshooter all year long and scored 18 points in their win over Long County in the Sweet 16, 76-61. Charles Nastopoulos added 16 points and seven rebounds while providing Coach Koudele with his best size at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds. Underclassmen have made major impacts as well with sophomore Crawford Schwieger and freshman Ryan Greer providing stability from the guard positions. Greer posted 16 points and seven assists in the second round. No. 10 Manchester is the last of the Mohicans, the lone team standing from Region 5, while Lovett is one of three Region 6 squads remaining.  The Blue Devils receive contributions from sophomores point guard Jahnile Hill and wide body Jerquavion Mahone. Hill is quick with the ball and Mahone is a 6-foot-4, 255-pounder that throws his weight around inside. Demarcus Addie and Marquavious Jackson help round out the backcourt. Bobby Stevenson and Garrett Brown provide size at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7. Lovett will have to be ready for the Blue Devil press which Coach Curtis Noble likes to deploy.

R4 #2 Monticello (20-10) vs. R3 #1 Dublin (25-4)

Back in Week 3 I pegged Monticello as a team to keep an eye on. Low and behold, a couple months later and the Hurricanes are in the Elite Eight. De’Miria Glover leads a balanced scoring attack at 13.7 points per game while bringing down 9.6 rebounds. Sophomore Ashton Bonner (10.5 ppg) and junior CJ Adams (10 ppg) round out Coach BJ Thomas’ offense. Jordan Stone pitches in 9.9 points per game from his off-guard position. The Hurricanes outlasted Fitzgerald in round one 63-58 and Rabun County in overtime in the Sweet 16, 81-73. Glover tagged on 24 points and 14 rebounds while Adams finished with 24 points, five assists and five steals. Bonner sank three three-pointers on his way to 17 points. Monticello lost to high-flying No. 2 Crawford County three times, but even the Eagles’ offense doesn’t compare to the run-and-gun juggernaut of No. 4 Dublin. The Fighting Irish lead the entire state in points per game, averaging 85.4; 2477 scored on the season. Through the first two games of the tournament, they have showed no mercy trouncing Bryan County 96-61 and cruising past GAC 101-88, the fourth time eclipsing the 100-point mark. Kameron Pauldo is the engine for Coach Paul Williams. The sophomore has already netted 1,000 points in his career and is quickly on his way to becoming one of the top scorers in school history. Pauldo is lethal from beyond the arc but also can share the ball as well, going for 28 points and 10 assists in their Sweet 16 win. He totaled 22 points and 10 assists in just three quarters against Bryan County. Torian Holder and Gerald Phillips are two more jitterbug-quick guards that Monticello will have to slow down. Dublin is no stranger to post season success, winning state titles in 2006 and 2009 under Clint Thomas and Marvin Latham.

R1 #1 Thomasville (28-1) vs. R6 #1 Pace Academy (18-10)

The records tell completely different stories. No. 1 Thomasville’s 28-1 mark is as legit as it gets, coming out of the brutal Region 1 with just one loss, 71-65 at No. 7 Seminole County, the defending state champs led by UGA signee Jordan Harris and Anfernee King, who saw their high school careers end in a blowout loss to No. 2 Crawford County in the first round, a rematch of the 2015 title game. Thomasville has jaw-dropping size for a Class AA school. The Perry brothers transferred in from Tallahassee and have helped transform the program along with freshman Titus Wright. The frontline reads: 6-foot-6 senior Alex Perry, 6-foot-8 sophomore Reggie Perry and 6-foot-8 freshman Titus Wright. The younger Perry, Reggie, is already being recruited by Oklahoma, Florida, Florida State, Arkansas and Iowa State. The trio of towers join Jordan Willis. The senior guard led the Bulldogs in scoring last year and still might be the most important piece to a potential state championship puzzle. He did not play in the first quarter of the Seminole County game due to disciplinary reasons but still managed to score a team-high 16 in the losing effort. Shedric Cooper and Gregory Hobbs round out a sturdy backcourt that is as physically imposing as the frontcourt. No. 3 Pace Academy has 10 losses, starting the year 2-8 after taking its lumps on the national circuit. After losses to 6A No. 2 Westlake and 1A-Private No. 1 Greenforest to kick off the year, Pace’s only other two in-state losses came to GAC 55-49 in the third game of the season dropping them to 0-3, and at No. 6 Lovett in overtime 66-63 on Jan. 30. All eyes will be on five-star junior center Wendell Carter Jr. and versatile 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Isaiah Kelly as they battle against Thomasville’s long interior. Carter went for 35 points in Pace’s 69-58 win over Jefferson County in the Sweet 16 while Kelly added 14. Penn-commit Zack Kaminsky must play tough to advance the Knights deep in the tournament. The 6-foot-6 small forward netted 14 in their latest win and needs to stretch the defense. Pace loses some firepower with Caleb Holifield no longer on the team, but the Knights have still won 10 of their last 11 games.

R4 #1 Crawford County (24-3) vs. R6 #4 Holy Innocents’ (20-9)

No. 2 Crawford County looked unbeatable in an emotional 95-64 massacre of No. 7 Seminole County, taking out their frustrations after losing in the finals a year ago, but the Eagles came back to earth and struggled with Temple in the Sweet 16, trailing 37-33 at the half before pulling away 69-55. The Eagles have a rabid fan base that will try to pack Georgia College & State to support their team. William Jarrell and Marcal Knolton are absolute handfuls for opposing front courts. Jarrell is a 6-foot-5 small forward posting video game numbers of 25-11-7-4-4. Knolton can be a monster as well and is a 6-foot-7 junior averaging over 20 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks a night. Monkeize Moore is a scrappy guard averaging over 16 per and almost eight assists. A finally healthy Holy Innocents’ team is on the mend and ready to make a run. 6-foot-7 Brent Duncan missed much of the season after an injury while fellow 6-foot-7 post Richard Surdykowski has dealt with a stress fracture in his foot and is likely out for the year. Three-point specialist Cole Smith has been clutch. He went the length of the court before hitting a whirling 30-foot prayer to stun host Model 54-51 in the first round. Duncan posted 23 points and 10 rebounds in the first round “upset”. In the Sweet 16, the Golden Bears had a date with destiny, traveling to No. 9 Swainsboro who ended Holy Innocents’ season a year ago in the same round after the home score keepers added on a phantom point to the Tigers’ total which helped them force overtime and eventually beat the Bears. This time it was Holy Innocents’ doing the spoiling, winning an emotional rematch 61-58 behind Smith’s 18 points, Duncan’s 15 & 7 and Jules Erving’s 17-point 11-rebound double-double. Role players Harrison Cobb, Matthew Meadows and point guard Ibrahim Shabazz have made steady contributions throughout the year and will need to play well against an explosive Crawford County team.

Class AAA Elite Eight Preview

R4 #3 South Atlanta (24-6) vs. R2 #1 Central-Macon (27-2)

No. 6 South Atlanta and No. 4 Central-Macon is one of four intriguing Elite Eight matchups. The Hornets hold the best in-state win in the entire state regardless of classification, stunning 1A-Private No. 1 Greenforest at the BCB MLK Classic 62-57; the Eagles only loss of the season in Georgia. South Atlanta’s depth will put Central-Macon’s talented trio to the test. Orlando Bebee, Frank Bailey, Devontae Dean and Devonta Pullins lead a deep backcourt that likes to get after opponents. Veteran Head Coach Michael Reddick has size inside with Tyler Thornton, Korbian Bell, Artavious Banks and Demonte Roberts who all contribute. The Hornets have scored wins over Johnson-Savannah 63-57 and No. 7 Callaway 79-73, both coming on the road. The March to Macon doesn’t get any easier as the Chargers bring a 20-game winning streak into Augusta. Senior point guard Derrick Evans Jr. (16 ppg, 5 rpg, 9 apg), junior shooting guard Antarius McCoy (16.7 ppg, 6 rpg, 3 apg) and junior 6-foot-11, 280-pound center Kentrevious Jones (18 ppg, 13 rpg, 4 bpg) make up a balanced inside-out attack. Central-Macon defeated Josey in the first round 77-45 behind Jones’ 13-10 double-double, McCoy’s 19 points and Evans’ 12 points and five steals. Rakwon Iverson added 17 points and can be an X-factor moving forward. The Chargers rallied past Banks County 69-67 using an Evans buzzer beater to stun the Leopards. Jones posted another double-double with 16 and 10 while McCoy poured in 24 points and 10 rebounds. Central-Macon has not lost in 2016, their last loss coming to 5A No. 10 Effingham County on 12/22.

R8 #1 Morgan County (23-4) vs. R3 #1 Laney (26-2)

Separated by an hour and a half, this Augusta based rivalry has become one of the best in the state. Check the tale of the tape dating back to last year: Laney wins 71-67 OT, Laney wins 78-62, but when it mattered most in the Final Four Morgan County rallied from down 32-24 at the half to win 68-62 behind Tookie Brown’s 32 second half points part of his game-high 37. Tookie, a 3,000-point scorer, is now leading Georgia Southern in scoring as a freshman but No. 1 Morgan County hasn’t taken much of a step back. After a head-scratching season opening loss to 12-14 Cherokee at the Battle at The Rock at Rockdale County, 57-52, the Bulldogs fell all the way out of the rankings but quickly regained its position following a win over current 4A No. 4 Lithonia, 44-41. Then the rivalry popped back up.  No. 3 Laney trailed 43-26 at the half before coming back 65-64, outscoring the Bulldogs 21-6 in the fourth. Another chapter in the red-hot rivalry. The latest installment before their Elite Eight meeting in Augusta this Thursday saw the Bulldogs hold off the visiting Wildcats 65-63 in another classic. By now both programs are familiar with each other. Coach Jamond Sims’ Bulldogs are led by Florida Atlantic signees Jailyn Ingram and Devorious Brown. 6-foot-6 senior forward Jordan Ford and freshman guard Alec Woodard, who sank a school-record 10 threes in a 33-point performance earlier in the season, round out Morgan County’s top options. Buck Harris is no longer the head man at Laney but Head Coach Shawn Parks has kept the ball rolling thanks to two tenacious Division-1 guards. Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern) and Zep Jasper (College of Charleston) are the unquestioned heart and soul of the Wildcats. Keeling averages 23.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists while Jasper goes for 20.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists. Both players ramped up their scoring by 10+ points with the graduation of JaShawn Brooks and the transfer of Colin Young to Miller Grove. Sophomore Donald Henley might be the next talented guard in line as he averages 7.5 points as a third fiddle to Keeling and Jasper.

R1 #1 Jenkins (26-4) vs. R6 #1 Calhoun (27-0)

Defending state champion No. 5 Jenkins gets its toughest test of the tournament as No. 2 Calhoun continues to chase perfection. Malik Benlevi (Georgia State) and Eric Johnson, who hit the game-winning layup with just seconds left, have both graduated. Taking their place as go-to guys are juniors Trevion Lamar and Zion Williams. Lamar might be one of the best juniors in the state that nobody is talking about, averaging 16.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.7 blocks as a 6-foot-5 forward. Williams has taken over the point guard duties after transferring from nearby Savannah High School and has filled the void to perfection. He is second on the team in scoring at 13.5 points per game and hands out 3.6 assists. Michael Coffee (11.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Dimetri Chambers (11.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Tyrone Scott (8.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) round out a talented starting five, but the Warriors’ depth has been called into question and will be challenged by a Calhoun program that only knows winning. The Yellow Jackets are strong in the weight room and are powered by Mercer quarterback signee Kaelan Riley (15.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Wofford linebacker signee Jireh Wilson (13.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.4 apg). Chapin Rierson can be the key to how far Calhoun goes in the tournament. The 6-foot-5 junior puts up 13.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and saved his best performance for last round as he dominated Westside-Macon with 28 points and 22 rebounds in a 71-43 statement win while helping stifle five-star sophomore 6-foot-8 guard Khavon Moore who finished with just 12 points on 4-of-21 shooting and four turnovers. Riley also pounded away at the Seminoles with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Calhoun has not been challenged all year outside of Coahulla Creek losing 60-52 before pushing the Yellow Jackets into overtime while bowing out 65-58. The Jackets romped its way to a Lake City Classic bracket championship in December at Allatoona. Coach Vince Layson will have another game-plan cooked up to try and contain Lamar and Williams in Augusta to continue dancing.

R4 #1 Cedar Grove (20-7) vs. R3 #2 Westside-Augusta (20-4)

The No. 8 Saints have crawled out of Region 4 with the No. 1 seed while flying under the radar all season long after Jacara Cross transferred to Lithonia in the offseason. Cedar Grove opened the season with a bang beating current 1A-Private No. 2 St. Francis 72-69 outscoring the Knights 25-12 in the fourth quarter. Senior Antonio Reeves pumped in a game-high 34 points to lead the Saints to the upset. He, Jaquan Acie and Makale Carter are some of Coach James Martin’s top options. Jelani Woods is 6-foot-8 inside giving Cedar Grove a big man to turn to. Damontrez Hawes will test Cedar Grove’s perimeter defense. The 6-foot-3 senior guard is leading No. 9 Westside-Augusta in scoring around 18 per game and scored 16 in their Sweet 16 79-59 destruction of No. 10 East Hall. Dekwan Lewis poured in 19 second half points to net a game-high 23. The Patriots can hang with the best, losing to No. 3 Laney three times: 69-64, 62-60 and 65-57 in the Region 3 championship. The Saints knocked out No. 6 South Atlanta 71-61 and North Clayton 60-55 in the Region 4 championship. Cedar Grove took out Dodge County 66-48 in the first round of state and defeated East Jackson 68-54 in the Sweet 16.

Class AAAA Elite Eight Preview

R5 #1 Sandy Creek (21-7) vs. R6 #2 Lithonia (24-5)

No. 4 Lithonia meets No. 10 Sandy Creek in what looks like an evenly matched game between two highly touted programs. Sandy Creek has had its ups and downs during Coach Anthony McKissic’s first season, but for the most part the year has been a success. Christian Turner runs the show up top. Like his choice of college, Gardner-Webb, he is a bulldog on the court harassing ball handlers and making plays while handling the point guard duties. He averages over 14 points per game while adding 6.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 3.4 steals. He’s at his best when he attacks the paint looking to either finish or kick out to an open shooter, most likely Elias Harden. The 6-foot-6 junior is a hot prospect that leads the Patriots in scoring at 21 points a night. A fatal flaw for Harden and Sandy Creek is that they love the three ball, but aren’t great at making them, hitting just 29% of their shots while Harden has taken a team-high 166 but has sank just 30%. Evan Jester and Keith Heard are rebounding and shot blocking aces that anchor the Patriot defense. AJ Freeman and Javon Jackson add spacing with their willingness to pull from deep. Sandy Creek will be tested defensively with Lithonia. The Bulldogs missed out on capturing the No. 1 seed out of Region 6, the state’s best region, after No. 3 Grady flung in a buzzer beating three from half court. UT-Chattanooga signee Rodney Chatman leads the offense with his decision making. Not usually asked to score, Chatman can still fill it up when needed. In a 56-48 win on Senior Night over No. 8 St. Pius to clinch the regular season title, Chatman poured in 24 points and added six rebounds. When Chatman’s not scoring, its running mate Tyheem Freeman making big plays. Inside, Coach Wallace Corker has 6-foot-7 Jacara Cross and Tyleen Patterson to work on the low block, making their offense extremely balanced.

R1 #3 Monroe (22-6) vs. R3 #1 Liberty County (25-1)

Haven’t seen No. 2 Liberty County play yet? Well here’s your chance. The Panthers are as legit of a title contender as they come and should even be viewed as a favorite if they can dispatch of a hot Monroe team. Liberty County has now ripped off 23-straight wins since falling to Statesboro 75-74 in 2OT in the third game of the year. The Panthers average over 79 points per game, large in part due to the fact that Auburn-commit Davion Mitchell and Richard LeCounte have the reigns of the offense. Mitchell is an electrifying 6-foot-2 guard widely known for his athleticism, a video on Twitter going viral of a fastbreak windmill dunk. He averages 24.1 points and 7.4 assists per game. Richard LeCounte is a five-star UGA football commit, but he’s pretty good at basketball too, posting 20.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game as the Robin to Mitchell’s Batman. A lack of elite size could be an issue, but first-year Head Coach Julian Stokes does have some 6-foot-5 players. Having an uber-athletic team makes up for their shortcomings. Martial Washington, a Georgia Southern football signee, is the team’s leading rebounder. The emergence of Will Richardson has given the Panthers a true third option. The sophomore averages 13.2 points and 5.5 rebounds. All the potentially intimidating weapons Liberty County has won’t scare Monroe. The Tornadoes have won 12 of their last 13 games, their only loss coming to buzzsaw Westover who has peaked at the right time. Monroe put together possibly its best game of the season in a 71-45 thrashing of No. 6 Walnut Grove in round one. It took them overtime in the Sweet 16, but they were able to escape Fayette County 72-67. Emeshaun Offord is an unheralded senior guard who is starting to earn the praise he deserves. He leads the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game and has been a lethal three-point shooter, knocking down 72 at a 43% rate. The supporting cast of Trentavious Jackson, K’Naurtica George and Napoleon Harris all must perform well if they went to hang in with the powerful Panthers.

R1 #1 Westover (19-11) vs. R6 #1 Grady (27-3)

Westover has hit their stride at exactly the right time, winning five-straight games including running through the deep Region 1 tournament, stunning Monroe and No. 9 Bainbridge along the way. Things didn’t get any easier in the state tournament, the Patriots surviving Eastside 70-68 in the first round and Woodward Academy 75-66 in the Sweet 16. Guard play will be paramount in deciding who will advance to the Final Four. Senior guard Allec Williams leads the Patriots in scoring at 16 points per game while handing out 6.2 assists. Jacobi Cratic, a 6-foot-7 senior, averages close to a double-double. Talented underclassmen round out a solid backcourt. Sophomore Kris Gardner and freshman Jordan “Snow” Brown have hit big shots early in their careers and will need to be ready defensively as they will likely help guard No. 3 Grady’s Avi Toomer, a guard heading to Bucknell. Toomer scored a state-high 52 points against lowly Cross Keys in a 125-31 victory. He averages 23.6 points and 9.5 rebounds. Christian Bryant and DJ Brittian are lightning quick guards that gobble up steals. As a team the Knights average 12.4 a night with Bryant leading the way with 3.7. Grady’s quickness has been a deciding factor in many games this year as they are able to overwhelm slower opponents. Coming out of Region 6, the Knights are more than ready for war. Out of their 27 wins, eight have come against teams that have held a top ten ranking at some point throughout the season.

R4 #1 Jonesboro (26-4) vs. R6 #4 St. Pius (24-6)

They meet again. One year after the Cardinals ended the Golden Lions’ season in the Sweet 16 67-57 en route to a second-straight state championship, No. 8 St. Pius looks to end No. 1 Jonesboro’s reign over AAAA. They might have contrasting styles, but at the end of the day, defense is what both Coach Daniel Maehlman and Coach Aaron Parr preach. Jonesboro lost two Division-1 players to graduation in Tracy Hector (Kennesaw State) and Austin Donaldson (Georgia State) but the Cardinals have not skipped a beat. The dynamic MJ Walker Jr. will undoubtedly be the focus for the Golden Lions. The junior is dropping in 22.5 points per game to go along with his 5.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Others have stepped up around him to fill the void left by Hector and Donaldson.  Eric Lovett (14.8 ppg) and Tariq Jenkins (10 ppg) have blossomed into key pieces while sophomore big man Jamari Smith continues his steady improvement. St. Pius will be ready for the task as they take on the state’s best. A four-seed coming out of Region 6 soured the Golden Lions’ road to Macon, but the team that has been ranked in the Top 10 all season long has proved that they are still worthy of their No. 8 billing even after faltering in the region tournament. St. Pius breezed by R7 #1 Cartersville in round one 63-46 before escaping Thomson with a 56-55 win thanks to freshman Matt Gonzalo’s free throw with six seconds left. In order to defeat the defending champs, Pius will need to control the tempo and grind out Jonesboro, beating them at their own defensive game. Kerney Lane will need to lift his team along with Christian Merrill as senior leaders. Lane averages 18 points and seven rebounds as a crafty 6-foot-6 southpaw. Merrill and Carson Seramur provide energy and shooting from the outside. Last year St. Pius held Walker to just 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting, proving Walker is human and can be slowed down. Lane on the other hand, torched the Cardinals for 26 points.