7A basketball: Predictions, suggestions for state playoff bracket

The state basketball tournament gets underway Friday. Below are predictions of each round of the Class AAAAAAA boys and girls draws.

Here’s to expecting McEachern’s boys to win their first state title in history while Collins Hills’ girls get their first title in a decade, ending the four-year run of the McEachern girls.

Also contained in this space are some issues that the GHSA is liable to consider changing, with this year’s AAAAAAA draws as exhibits. One issue is the lopsided draw. The other is the placement of the wild-card playoff team.

First, the draw: The brackets are significantly imbalanced in the high class this season. It’s literally a luck-of-the-draw thing, but if games go as expected this year, No. 1 McEachern will face No. 2 Norcross in the boys quarterfinals, and No. 1 Westlake will face No. 2 Collins Hill in the quarterfinals of the girls quarters. And rather than those mega-teams meeting at Georgia Tech, or any neutral floor, a coin toss will give one the major advantage of playing on its home floor.

There is only one top-10 team in the third quarter of the boys’ draw, and that’s No. 6 Meadowcreek, which has a greased path to its first state semifinal in history. [Not that it wouldn’t be deserved. The Mustangs are a legitimate state contender.] But there are four ranked teams in the second quarter of the boys draw (No. 3 Newton, No. 7 Mountain View, No. 9 Wheeler, No. 10 Etowah).

The girls’ draw is not so lopsided, but in addition to the Collins Hill-Westlake quarter, it’s also likely to produce a Norcross-McEachern game in the elite eight. That’s an all-too-early rematch of the 2017 state final, again with the luck of a coin toss to decide which is at home.

In the Region 7 boys final last week, Norcross defeated Meadowcreek on a last-second 3-point shot. Norcross’ ‘’reward’’ was a potential elite-eight meeting with nationally ranked McEachern. Norcross also has borderline top-10 Duluth in its path.

Norcross coach Jesse McMillan didn’t complain on his own. But when asked, he did have an opinion.

‘’The brackets and seeding matchups are predetermined by GHSA, and some people think this is a flawed process,’’ McMillan said.

Those matchups put the eight region champions on a path for one another in the quarterfinals, which is nice, but those matchups are just short of random, with no consideration for the ranking of those teams.

“For several years, coaches complained that Final Four games were unevenly matched, and many semifinal scores justified this, so the GHSA attempted to eliminate that by ‘crossing over’ in quarterfinals,’’ McMillan added. “But as you can see, that only brings about more controversy.’’

‘Crossing over’ is hard to explain, but in short, it fixed the old system whereby regions 1-4 had two teams in the semifinals and 5-8 had two teams in the semifinals. The ‘’cross overs’’ are friendly to strong regions, assuring that their teams don’t get in the way of each other.  But crossing over doesn’t solve the problem of the state’s best teams meeting as early as the quarterfinals.

McMillan has a proposal.

‘’The logical solution is seeding the tournament 1-32 via the same basic process used in the Single A brackets,’’ McMillan said. “The first-round of the state playoffs start either Friday or Saturday for every team, one week after region tournaments. Therefore, there is ample time to seed the tournament, hear any appeals and allow teams to prepare for a game. I'm sure there will be a proposal submitted in the off-season to suggest this.’’

Then, there’s the issue of the at-large (or wildcard) playoff team. Beginning last year, AAAAAAA began awarding an at-large berth to the highest-rated team that didn’t make the state tournament on its own. Regions 2 through 7 qualify four teams apiece, but Region 1 gets only three automatic bids because it has only four teams. That leaves a spot open. The at-large berths this season went to Collins Hill (boys) and Camden County (girls).

The at-large teams are matched to play a No. 1 seed. Problem is, these at-large teams are generally better than half the automatic qualifiers. That’s because the at-large choice is liable to be a really good team that happened to get upset in its region tournament. Case in point,  Collins Hill (20-5), which has been ranked in the top 10 virtually all season.

Pebblebrook, the fourth-ranked team in AAAAAAA, is the unlucky region champion that drew Collins Hill.

‘’That needs fixing,’’ Pebblebrook coach George Washington said. “It does not reward you for being No. 1.’’

BOYS

First round

R6 #3 Duluth d. R5 #2 West Forsyth

R7 #1 Norcross d. R8 #4 Archer

R2 #3 Westlake d. R1 #2 Colquitt County

R3 #1 McEachern d. R4 #4 Walton

R6 #2 Mountain View d. R5 #3 Milton

R8 #1 Newton d. R7 #4 Central-Gwinnett

R2 #2 Wheeler d. R1 #3 Lowndes

R4 #1 Etowah d. R3 #4 North Cobb

R7 #2 Meadowcreek d. R8 #3 South Gwinnett

R6 #4 Mill Creek d. R5 #1 Lambert

R3 #2 Kennesaw Mountain d. R4 #3 Woodstock

R2 #4 Campbell d. R1 #1 Tift County 

R8 #2 Grayson d. R7 #3 Berkmar

R6 #1 Peachtree Ridge d. R5 #4 South Forsyth

R4 #2 Roswell d. R3 #3 Hillgrove

R2 #1 Pebblebrook d. At-large: Collins Hill

Second round

Norcross d. Duluth

McEachern d Westlake

Newton d. Mountain View

Wheeler d. Etowah

Meadowcreek d. Mill Creek

Campbell d. Kennesaw Mountain

Peachtree Ridge d. Grayson

Pebblebrook d. Roswell

Quarterfinals

McEachern d. Norcross

Newton d. Wheeler

Meadowcreek d Campbell

Pebblebrook d. Peachtree Ridge

Semifinals

McEachern d. Newton

Pebblebrook d. Meadowcreek

Final

McEachern d. Pebblebrook

GIRLS

R6 #3 North Gwinnett d. R5 #2 South Forsyth

R7 #1 Norcross d. R8 #4 Archer

R1 #2 Tift County d. R2 #3 Pebblebrook

R3 #1 McEachern d. R4 #4 Etowah

R5 #3 Lambert d. R6 #2 Mill Creek

R8 #1 Newton d. R7 #4 Central Gwinnett

R1 #3 Colquitt County d. R2 #2 Wheeler

R4 #1 Cherokee d. R3 #4 North Cobb

R8 #3 Grayson d. R7 #2 Brookwood

R5 #1 North Forsyth d. R6 #4 Mountain View

R3 #2 Hillgrove d. R4 #3 Roswell

R1 #1 Lowndes d. R2 #4 Campbell

R8 #2 South Gwinnett d. R7 #3 Parkview

R6 #1 Collins Hill d. R5 #4 West Forsyth

R3 #3 Marietta d. R4 #2 Woodstock

R2 #1 Westlake d. At-large: Camden County

Second round

Norcross d. North Gwinnett

McEachern d. Tift County

Newton d. Lambert

Cherokee d. Colquitt County

North Forsyth d. Grayson

Lowndes d. Hillgrove

Collins Hill d. South Gwinnett

Westlake d. Marietta

Quarterfinals

Norcross d. McEachern

Cherokee d. Newton

North Forsyth d. Lowndes

Collins Hill d. Westlake

Semifinals

Norcross d. Cherokee

Collins Hill d. North Forsyth

Final

Collins Hill d. Norcross

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