Deasia Merrill (right) is greeted by teammate Hannah Goen (No. 20) during introductions for the state championship game.

Class AAAAA blog: Wrapping up the best of basketball season

The state basketball tournaments are finally over and the champions have been crowned. But an examination of the season shouldn’t stop there. There are questions that inquiring minds want -- no demand – to have answered. 

So here we go. Sorry in advance if your question didn’t get answered. 

Did the best teams really win the state championships? Sometimes the best team will stumble early in the tournament and not even reach the final. That wasn’t the case this year. The Buford boys and Buford girls were without a question the best teams in the state. The Buford boys were deep and experienced – they won the Region 8 championship while their best player was suspended for the tournament – and the Buford girls were a turnover-creating tornado that was could be dealt with for a half or so, but not for a full game. 

Who were the best players in the state? Buford’s Marcus Watson is the closest to a potential one-and-done player in the classification. He’s got a tremendous all-around game and already has the physical maturity that most college players crave. Barring something crazy, he’s got a great chance to play in the NBA. On the girls side, Villa Rica’s Deasia Merrill was as a good as advertised. She’s big and strong and has great offensive skills. Beyond that, she may be the best passer in the state – regardless of classification. She got in early foul trouble against Buford in the championship game and only scored 11, but she had eight assists. She will do well at Kentucky. 

Who were the biggest overachievers? The Dutchtown boys entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed from Region 4. Only three teams seeded third escaped the first round and only Dutchtown reached the Elite Eight. Jamal Basit’s Bulldogs out gobsmacked by Buford in the third round, but bring back a roster that was extremely young. Dutchtown should be in the mix to challenge for a region title in 2020. The Columbia girls emerged from a difficult Region 5, one that includes powers Southwest DeKalb and Arabia Mountain, and wound up as the No. 2 seed. The Eagles wound up playing their way to the Final Four before falling to Villa Rica. Coach Eric Bell has the team on the path toward becoming a player again.

Which regions were really the best? For the girls it had to be Region 5, which included state semifinalists Southwest DeKalb and Columbia and Arabia Mountain, which exited against finalist Villa Rica in the second round. Likewise, Buford won state despite playing in a weak girls region, one that suffered when Flowery Branch was allowed to drop to Class AAAA.  On the boys side, there were some good leagues – Region 5 with SWD and Lithonia, Region 7 with Kell, Rome and Carrollton – but the vote here goes to Region 3, which produced finalist Fayette County, Woodland and Dutchtown. There’s a lot of defense that gets played in that competitive region. 

Who are the teams to watch next year? On the boys side, the smart money may be on Southwest DeKalb, which had the misfortune of butting heads with Buford in the state semifinals. But coach Eugene Brown will have Region 5 Player of the Year Kadarius “KD” Johnson returning and will have Gene Brown back from the knee injury that kept him out all season. Both are DI guys. The loss of dependable James Glisson will hurt, but the Panthers are loaded. On the girls side, it’s got to be Buford again. They Wolves lose three seniors, among them the underrated Ebony Grant, but they played with a deep roster and show no sign of going away. Coach Gene Durden preaches team and, if the girls buy in again, they could produce a fourth straight title.

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