When the Class AAAAA playoffs begin this weekend, there will be four schools who will have both boys and girls teams entering the tournament as the No. 1 seed.
Eagle’s Landing (Region 4), Southwest DeKalb (Region 5), Riverwood (Region 6) and Buford (Region 8) swept to the boys and girls championships at last week’s region tournaments. That ensures them of a home-court advantage for as at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Because of the way the playoff bracket is structured, none of those four schools can meet until the state semifinals on March 2 at Columbus State.
The favorites in both classifications is Buford, which bring the No. 1-ranked boys and No. 1-ranked girls to the table. The Buford girls have won two consecutive championships and three of the last four. The Buford boys won it all in 2017 but were upset in the second round a year ago by Miller Grove, the Wolves’ first-round opponent.
It’s been a grand year for Buford, as both boys coach Eddie Martin and girls coach Gene Durden notched their 700th career victories. Martin was named the Region 8 Coach of the Year, but Durden finished third in the voting, despite winning ever region game by 18-plus points.
The Buford boys are 24-2 and beat Cedar Shoals by 21 in the region final. The girls are 24-2, losing only to defending Class AAAAAAA champion and No. 1-ranked Westlake and Class AAAAAAA No. 10 Norcross. The Buford girls beat Clarke Central in the region championship by 32 points.
The Buford girls have not lost a step this year, despite having to replace Class AAAAA Player of the Year Tory Ozment and honorable mention all-state pick Audrey Weiner.
“Last year we had two agendas with our program,” Durden said. “One was to maximize our seniors – we had ten great seniors – and the other was to prepare our young ones to get ready for this. So, we’ve been preparing for it and they’ve done a great job.”
The Wolves employ a 10-player rotation – they played 15 girls in the region championship game – that requires non-stop movement, pressure and effort. Buford’s aggressive style on defense is designed to take the opposition out of its comfort zone and has led to some ugly games.
“Our kids believe in our system. It’s a compliment to them because they sell out to what we do and they believe in what we do,” Durden said. “What we do is not an easy style and it gives us a chance to win against anybody.”
The Buford boys had the opposite problem. They were loaded with seniors, including all-state forward Marcus Watson, and Donnell Nixon, who was voted Region 8 Player of the year. Transfer Eric Coleman has been a great addition and Ashton Young brings non-stop effort and passion to the court. They produced their fourth straight region championship.
“It’s pretty special. You don’t think about it until it happens, but for this senior class, it’s a very special to have four region championships,” Martin said.
Martin said the difference in this year’s team has been the willingness to play hard on defense. Since Christmas the opposition is scoring just 46 points per game.
“Looking back at last year, the biggest difference is we defend pretty good,” Martin said. “Last year I felt like offensively we were very strong. We did a lot of things and scored a lot of points. We didn’t do a good job defending.”
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