By James Butler
In the 10 boys basketball teams from the Southern Crescent to make the state tournament field, four classifications and five regions are represented. There’s no chance for an all-Southern Crescent Final Four in Class 4A, but it, along with our area’s Class 5A schools, leads the way with four area representatives who will compete for a state crown.
Among the legit championship contenders, Jonesboro (4A) and McIntosh (5A) — just as last season — are the two squads most likely to bring home a title to the four-county area.
Here, we perform a quick breakdown of what each boys Southern Crescent team will face in this week’s opening round of action.
LOVEJOY (8-17, 3-7 in Region 2-AAAAAA)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. at No. 1 seed Westlake (22-4, 12-2 in 3-AAAAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Wildcats are the only Southern Crescent team to make the state field with a losing record. Lovejoy captured the fourth seed in a six-team region that is top heavy with Tucker, Newton, and Rockdale County.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Westlake is vying for the title of best in state regardless of classification, so the Lions may be even better than the top teams in Lovejoy’s Region 2. Head coach Gregory Freeman can use this game and the season as a learning experience headed into next season.
MORROW (21-7, 14-4 in Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. at No. 2 seed Shaw (19-9, 9-4 in Region 1-AAAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Mustangs have improved greatly throughout the season, eventually becoming one of the better teams in the Southern Crescent. Morrow’s loss to Mundy’s Mill in the Region 4 semifinals was just its fourth in its last 17 games.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Morrow travels to Columbus to meet Shaw, the second-best team in Region 1 this season, but one with little experience facing Metro Atlanta teams. A win could mean future games with undefeated Allatoona (second round) and Southwest DeKalb (third round/quarterfinals), who Morrow defeated in December.
MUNDY’S MILL (18-10, 12-6 in Region 4-AAAAA, Div.A)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. vs. No. 3 seed Northside-Columbus (18-9, 8-6 in Region 1-AAAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: After defeating Morrow, Mundy’s Mill went into the fourth quarter of the region championship game tied with McIntosh before falling by 14 points. Over the last two-plus weeks the Tigers have been impressive, beating Morrow twice, and only losing twice to McIntosh.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Future Middle Tennessee forward Davion Thomas leads Mundy’s Mill’s first-round opponent Northside-Columbus. Like Shaw, the Patriots have not faced top teams from the Metro Area this season, so the matchup is intriguing. Class 5A heavyweight Cedar Shoals likely awaits the winner in Round 2.
MCINTOSH (26-2, 18-0 in Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Tue. vs. No. 4 seed Carver-Columbus, (18-5, 9-5 in Region 1-AAAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Chiefs lived up to expectations by going undefeated in Region 5. Wing Isaac Kellum gives McIntosh perhaps one of the most balanced lineup in the entire state with five players capable of scoring in double figures every game.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Carver-Columbus has played better than a normal four seed. The Tigers look to be just as good as the top-three Region 1 teams. A win by McIntosh would likely mean facing a Gainesville team who is also better than a two seed in Round 2, and perhaps one-loss Riverwood in the quarterfinals.
DREW (13-9, 11-6 in Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. at No. 1 seed LaGrange (22-5, 10-3 in Region 1-AAAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Drew experienced peaks and valleys, but a second-straight state appearance (even as a four seed), is a successful season. Guard James Ruiz filled the scoring void left by 2014-15 senior Maleek Taylor. Ruiz is a player opposing teams have to focus on.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Naturally Region 1 champion LaGrange is the region’s most highly regarded team. The Grangers defeated Mundy’s Mill and Whitewater this season, but are not a club Drew is incapable of beating. The same is true of possible second round opponent South Paulding.
EAGLE’S LANDING (24-4, 12-3 in Region 4-AAAA, Div. A)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. at No. 2 seed Bainbridge (20-8, 13-3 in Region 1-AAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Despite finishing the season 2-3 over its last five games, Eagle’s Landing body of work firmly puts them in the category as a dangerous team in the 4A bracket. The Eagles are deep and are capable of holding their own offensively and defensively against most teams.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Eagle’s Landing’s Region 4 semifinal loss to Jonesboro means a trip to meet Bainbridge and University of Georgia signee Tyree Crump. The Eagles have the bodies, the skill, and the experience to not let Crump single-handedly beat them.
SANDY CREEK (19-7, 9-3 in Region 5-AAAA)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. vs. No. 4 seed North Oconee (7-20, 3-5 in Region 8-AAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: In Anthony McKissic’s first-year as head coach the Patriots won their first region championship in 13 years. Sandy Creek won the Region 5 championship game by hammering Woodward Academy 70-48. The Patriots appear to be clicking headed into state.
THE ROAD AHEAD: First-round opponent North Oconee has a losing record, but potential second round opponents, Eagle’s Landing or Bainbridge, would figure to give Sandy Creek a great test. Lithonia will likely be the team waiting in the quarterfinals for whoever advances that far.
FAYETTE COUNTY (14-11, 4-7 in Region 5-AAAA)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. at No. 1 seed Buford (16-11, 8-0 in Region 8-AAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Fayette County snuck by Whitewater in the Region 5 quarterfinals to clinch a state berth, but subsequently lost to Sandy Creek in the semifinals and Carrollton in the consolation game to get the four seed.
THE ROAD AHEAD: Buford went undefeated in Region 8, but lost 11 games outside of its region. Buford does not look as strong as in previous years and may be a vulnerable one seed. Should the Tigers pull the upset, Monroe or Walnut Grove may provide a stiffer test in Round 2.
JONESBORO (24-4, 13-0 in Region 4-AAAA, Div. B)
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. vs. No. 4 seed Worth County (20-7, 9-2 in Region 1-AAAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The two-time defending state champions went unchallenged in what some may call a not-so-strong Region 4, while competing against some of the top teams in America in its non-region schedule. Senior guard Eric Lovett has emerged as a scoring complement to junior James “MJ” Walker, averaging 21 points per game during the region tournament.
THE ROAD AHEAD: A disappointing showing in the Region 1 Tournament puts Worth County as Jonesboro’s first-round opponent, but the Rams are by no means “sacrificial.” Worth is likely the second most talented team on Jonesboro’s part of the bracket, only behind the Cardinals themselves.
NORTH CLAYTON (18-10, 8-2 in Region
FIRST ROUND GAME: Wed. vs. No. 3 seed Tattnall County (18-9, 8-3 in Region 1-AAA)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: North Clayton lost 60-55 to Cedar Grove in the championship game of a wildly competitive Region 4 Tournament. Head coach Martisse Troup’s team weathered the loss of eight seniors from last year’s team to return to state with an even better seed.
THE ROAD AHEAD: A competitive Tattnall County team from the basketball hotbed of Southeast Georgia visits the Eagles in the first round. A victory over the Warriors would likely mean North Clayton would visit Class 3A powerhouse Morgan County in the second round.