The beginning of the end of the season starts this weekend when the first round of the state high school basketball playoffs begins.
The Morgan County boys team, defending state champions that won titles in 2014 and 2016, failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Westside-Macon (Region 4), Pace Academy (Region 5), Long County (Region 1), Dawson County (Region 7), Jefferson (Region 8), Monroe (Region 1), Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (Region 6) and Windsor Forest (Region 3) enter the tournament as the top seeds and will enjoy home-court advantage until at least the quarterfinals.
No. 8 Lovett vs. No. 9 Greater Atlanta Christian features the only ranked teams meeting in the first round on the boys and girls side. GAC lost to Dawson County 70-63 in the 7-AAA region championship, and Lovett defeated Cedar Grove 60-40 in the 5-AAA third/fourth game to earn the region’s No. 3 seed.
Top-ranked and heavily favored Pace Academy enters the tournament on a 13-game winning streak, and after winning the 5-AAA title, is in the top-left of the tournament bracket with Westside-Macon, the No. 1 seed from Region 4. Pace will play at home against North Hall, and Tattnall County will travel to Westside.
On the girls side, Rutland (Region 4), Cedar Grove (Region 5), Tattnall County (Region 2), North Hall (Region 7), Jefferson (Region 8), Monroe (Region 1), Sonoraville (Region 6) and Johnson-Savannah (Region 3) enter the tournament as No. 1 seeds.
Johnson-Savannah, the top-ranked program and two-time defending champion, begins its title defense at home against Lumpkin County, the At-Large selection. The Atomsmashers have not lost a game since Nov. 25 (52-44 against Class AAAAAA No. 5 Glynn Academy). That’s a 20-game winning streak, including a 46-40 victory against No. 4 Beach in the 3-AAA championship game. Johnson is in the bottom-right quadrant of the bracket with No. 5 Sonoraville and No. 8 Westminster. Assuming that the ranked programs survive the first round, Johnson will play at home against Westminster in the second round and could face Sonoraville in the quarterfinals, not the most favorable path to the finals.
In what could become one of the most exciting draws, Jefferson, ranked No. 2 behind Johnson, is in the top-right quadrant of the bracket with No. 6 Greater Atlanta Christian and No. 10 Pierce County.
One playoff game was moved to Thursday -- Monroe Area vs. North Murray.
Boys first round schedule
R8 #3 Monroe Area at R6 #2 North Murray
R2 #4 Tattnall County at R4 #1 Westside-Macon
R1 #3 Worth County at R3 #2 Beach
R7 #4 North Hall at R5 #1 Pace Academy (No. 1)
R6 #3 Calhoun at R8 #2 Franklin County
R4 #4 Rutland at R2 #1 Long County (No. 10)
R3 #3 Johnson-Savannah (No. 6) at R1 #2 Crisp County
R5 #4 Cedar Grove at R7 #1 Dawson County (No. 3)
R4 #3 Peach County at R2 #2 Pierce County
R6 #4 Adairsville at R8 #1 Jefferson (No. 4)
R5 #3 Lovett (No. 8) at R7 #2 Greater Atlanta Christian (No. 9)
R3 #4 Benedictine at R1 #1 Monroe (No. 5)
R2 #3 Appling County at R4 #2 Central-Macon
R8 #4 Hart County at R6 #1 Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe
R7 #3 Cherokee Bluff at R5 #2 Westminster (No. 7)
At Large Murray County at R3 #1 Windsor Forest (No. 2)
Girls first round schedule
R8 #3 Hart County at R6 #2 Ringgold (No. 9)
R2 #4 Liberty County at R4 #1 Rutland
R1 #3 Crisp County at R3 #2 Beach (No. 4)
R7 #4 Dawson County at R5 #1 Cedar Grove
R6 #3 Calhoun at R8 #2 Morgan County
R4 #4 Central-Macon at R2 #1 Tattnall County
R3 #3 Savannah at R1 #2 Worth County
R5 #4 Pace Academy at R7 #1 North Hall (No. 7)
R4 #3 Kendrick at R2 #2 Pierce County (No. 10)
R6 #4 Coahulla Creek at R8 #1 Jefferson (No. 2)
R5 #3 Stone Mountain at R7 #2 Greater Atlanta Christian (No. 6)
R3 #4 Southeast Bulloch at R1 #1 Monroe
R2 #3 Brantley County at R4 #2 Jackson
R8 #4 Jackson County at R6 #1 Sonoraville (No. 5)
R7 #3 Fannin County at R5 #2 Westminster (No. 8)
At-Large Lumpkin County at R3 #1 Johnson-Savannah (No. 1)
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