Class AAAAA Blog: First-round games to watch

The upsets that occur in the region basketball tournaments often have unintended consequences for the teams involved. That is true again this season in Class AAAAA, where some stumbles by some of the state’s highest-ranked teams have altered the landscape for the state tournament that begins this weekend.

In the boys division, the biggest game-changer came in Region 5, where Lithonia, which entered the playoffs as the No. 1 team in the state, lost two games. That dropped the Bulldogs all the way to the No. 4 seed.

As a consequence, Lithonia must play on the road as long as it remains alive and the now-No. 6 Bulldogs draw a hot Hiram club, ranked No. 9, in the first round and winners of 10 straight. The Lithonia misfortune also intensified the competition in the lower left quadrant of the bracket, which includes No. 3 Cedar Shoals, No. 7 Veterans, 2019 runner-up Fayette County and Region 2 winner Wayne County.

In the girls division, No. 3 Veterans lost its region semifinal and finished third in Region 1. That dropped the Warhawks into a road opener against a talented Griffin club, with a possible showdown with No. 7 Southwest DeKalb.

But the toughest quadrant of the girls bracket appears to be the top right, where No. 2 Buford (the three-time defending state champions), No. 4 Wayne County, No. 9 Carrollton and Region1 champion Harris County await.

The same school produced a boys and girls champion in three regions: Eagle’s Landing in Region 4, Southwest DeKalb in Region 5 and Buford in Region 8.

Here's a look at some of the top first-round boys games.

Fayette County at Veterans: Veterans (24-3) enters the tournament as the No. 2 seed from Region 1 after suffering a two-point loss to Warner Robins in the final. Jaylyn Williams (10 points, 5.5 rebounds), T.J. Grant (11.4 points, 5.4 rebounds) and DeAngelo Hines (13 points) lead the Warhawks. Fayette County (16-10) is led by Region 4 Player of the Year JeKobe Coleman (18.6 points) and all-region selections Terry Brown and King Calhoun (11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds). Veterans lost to Dutchtown in first round last year. Fayette County nipped New Hampstead by two in the opening round and ended up in the state final a year ago.

Lithonia at Hiram: The Bulldogs (24-3) dropped to No. 5 in the state after falling twice in the Region 5 tournament. Lithonia is led by Region 5 Player of the Year Eric Gaines, who remains one of the top-recruited unsigned players in the state, and Javonte Jackson. The Bulldogs reached the Final Four last year. Hiram (22-6) is led by All-Region 7 selection Deandre Brown, Javyen Brown, Arshad Crepsac and Jackson Price. The Hornets did not make the playoffs a year ago, but bring a classification-best 10-game winning streak into the state playoffs.

Miller Grove at Kell: Miller Grove (19-10) is trying to regain its place among the state's elite; the program has won seven state championships and was second two years ago. The Wolverines finished second in the Region 5 tournament thanks to All-Region 5 players ZyAir Greene and Shomik Shahjahan. Kell's Scoota Henderson, the Region 7 Player of the Year, leads an experienced cast that includes all-region choices Nahjae Colon, Xavier Presley and Jaylen Brown. The Longhorns (23-5) reached the quarterfinals last season before falling to Fayette County.

Other first-round games: Clarke Central at Maynard Jackson, New Hampstead at Eagle's Landing, Harris County at Griffin, Paulding County at Southwest DeKalb, Carver at Cedar Shoals, Fayette County at Veterans, Woodland (Stockbridge) at Statesboro, Decatur at Buford, Jonesboro at Warner Robins, Warne County at Dutchtown, Loganville at Riverwood, Cass at Columbia, Bainbridge at Riverdale.

Here is a look at three of the top girls game:

Jones County at Statesboro: Jones County (22-5) was ranked No. 5 in the state when the final regular season rankings were issued, but the Greyhounds lost twice in the Region 4 playoffs and dropped to the fourth seed. That puts them on the road to play No. 6 Statesboro, hardly the opener either team wanted. Jones County is led by Lu Woolfolk, the Region 4 co-player of the year, and all-region selection Jada Morgan. Statesboro (22-5) is led by Lacy Robins (15.8 points) and Bailee Roberts (7.8 points, 8.9 rebounds). Both teams lost in the second round a year ago.

Columbia at Carrolton: Columbia (15-9) is a dangerous team, one that's athletic and has been tested. The Eagles reached the semifinal last year. The Eagles feature a pair of first-team All-Region 5 players in India Terrell and Elise Harden. No. 9 Carrollton (18-10) are led by Region 7 Player of the Year De'Mauri Flournoy and first-team all-region pick Kanija Daniel.

Villa Rica at Arabia Mountain: These teams aren't strangers to the postseason. This is the third time they've met in the playoffs over the last four years. Arabia Mountain stunned the Wildcats in the firsts round in 2017, but Villa Rica bounced back to win in the second round last season. Villa Rica (22-6) lost all-state standout Deisia Merrill (now at Kentucky), but return Aliyah Hindsman and Dekyia Cofield from last year's state runner-up. Arabia Mountain (22-5) brings a pair of all-Region 5 players in Sydney Bunkley and Myori Pruitt.

Other first-round games: Clarke Central at Riverwood, South Effingham at Eagle's Landing, Veterans at Griffin, Rome at Southwest DeKalb, Lithia Springs at Loganville, Jonesboro at Bainbridge, Lithonia at Kell, Union Grove at Wayne County, Grady at Buford, Fayette County at Harris County, New Hampstead at Woodland (Stockbridge), Cedar Shoals at Maynard Jackson, Warner Robins at Starr's Mill.