Defending champions Tri-Cities (boys) and Lanier (girls) and top-ranked Tucker (boys) and Lovejoy (girls) will be among the teams to watch as the Class AAAAAA high school basketball state tournament gets under way Friday night.
Thirty-two boys teams and 32 girls teams will be vying for the championships, which will be determined on March 7 at the Macon Centreplex.
Here are a few of the intriguing stories of the first round:
*Favorites: The Tucker boys and Lovejoy girls were runners-up last season and enter this year’s state tournament ranked No. 1. Tucker (24-3) went undefeated in Region 4 and suffered its only losses against Norcross (No. 4 in Class AAAAAAA), Dutchtown (No. 2 in AAAAA) and Lafayette, an undefeated team that’s ranked No. 1 in Alabama’s Class 2A. Lovejoy (24-4) won the title in 2018 and is seeking its third consecutive trip to the championship game. The Wildcats have one of the state’s best backcourts in Genesis Bryant (signed with N.C. State) and Anaya Boyd (Georgia Tech). Both are former Class AAAAAA players of the year.
*Defending champs: The Tri-Cities boys and Lanier girls have gotten hot at the right time of the season. Ninth-ranked Lanier (17-10) lost the Region 8 championship game against No. 4 Dacula 46-42 in overtime, but the Longhorns are 12-2 in 2020 after starting the season 5-8. Three of Lanier’s losses this season have come against Dacula by a total of 11 points. Third-ranked Tri-Cities (23-5) closed the regular season with back-to-back losses and entered the Region 5 tournament as the No. 3 seed behind Hughes and Alexander. However, the Bulldogs rolled past Mays, Alexander and Douglas County by an average of 22 points to win the title.
*Most unexpected: There is likely no more surprising playoff team, boys or girls in any classification, than the Sprayberry boys. The Yellow Jackets went 3-21 in the regular season and entered as the No. 9 seed in the nine-team the Region 6 tournament. There, they upset No. 4 seed Dalton 65-60 and No. 5 seed Harrison 41-39 to earn a spot in the semifinals. After losing to No. 1 seed South Cobb and No. 2 seed Sequoyah, the Yellow Jackets settled for fourth place. Sprayberry is making its third consecutive state playoff appearance and seeking its first tournament victory since 2000. The Yellow Jackets will face fourth-ranked Lanier on Saturday.
*Best first-round game (boys): Grovetown visits fifth-ranked Valdosta at 4:30 p.m. Saturday for an early matchup of two teams that finished in first place in their regions during the regular season. Grovetown went into the Region 3 tournament as the No. 1 seed but lost to No. 5 seed Lakeside-Evans 66-63 and No. 3 seed Heritage-Conyers 61-58 to finish in fourth place. Grovetown (21-5) is making the second tournament appearance in school history. Valdosta (23-3) took the No. 1 seed into the Region 1 tournament and beat Houston County 72-68 and Lee County 72-45 to earn the top spot for state. The Wildcats lost in the first round the past two seasons.
*Best first-round game (girls): Stephenson travels to Brunswick at 6 p.m. Friday for a battle of teams that have fallen out of the AJC’s top 10 but remain highly regarded by the MaxPreps power ratings (Brunswick is No. 8, and Stephenson is No. 12). Brunswick (17-9) was the No. 3 seed in the Region 2 tournament but advanced to the championship game, where it lost to fifth-ranked Glynn Academy 44-34. Stephenson finished in third place in the Region 4 tournament behind top-ranked Lovejoy and No. 3 Forest Park, just as it did during the regular season. Stephenson is 19-9, with five of the losses coming against Lovejoy and Forest Park.
*First-round state tournament matchups:
(R8 #3) Dacula at (R6 #2) Allatoona, 7:30 p.m. Friday
(R2 #4) Effingham County at (R4 #1) Tucker, 5 p.m. Saturday
(R1 #3) Houston County at (R3 #2) Lakeside-Evans, 6 p.m. Friday
(R7 #4) Johns Creek at (R5 #1) Tri-Cities, 7 p.m. Saturday
(R6 #3) Sequoyah at (R8 #2) Gainesville. 7 p.m. Friday
(R4 #4) Morrow at (R2 #1) Richmond Hill, 6 p.m. Saturday
(R3 #3) Heritage-Conyers at (R1 #2) Lee County, 6:30 p.m. Friday
(R5 #4) Alexander at (R7 #1) Chattahoochee, 7:30 p.m. Friday
(R4 #3) Stephenson at (R2 #2) Glynn Academy, 8 p.m. Friday
(R6 #4) Sprayberry at (R8 #1) Lanier, 6:30 p.m. Saturday
(R5 #3) Hughes at (R7 #2) Cambridge, 7 p.m. Saturday
(R3 #4) Grovetown at (R1 #1) Valdosta, 4:30 p.m. Saturday
(R2 #3) Brunswick at (R4 #2) Lovejoy, 7:30 p.m. Friday
(R8 #4) Winder-Barrow at (R6 #1) South Cobb, 6 p.m. Friday
(R7 #3) Pope at (R5 #2) Douglas County, 7:30 p.m. Friday
(R1 #4) Coffee at (R3 #1) Evans, 5:30 p.m. Friday
(R8 #3) Winder-Barrow at (R6 #2) Harrison, 7 p.m. Friday
(R2 #4) Richmond Hill at (R4 #1) Lovejoy, 5:30 p.m. Friday
(R1 #3) Coffee at (R3 #2) Heritage-Conyers, 6:30 p.m. Friday
(R7 #4) Alpharetta at (R5 #1) Hughes, 6:30 p.m. Friday
(R6 #3) Sequoyah at (R8 #2) Lanier, 5 p.m. Saturday
(R4 #4) Mt. Zion-Jonesboro at (R2 #1) Glynn Academy, 6:30 p.m. Friday
(R3 #3) Greenbrier at (R1 #2) Houston County, 5:30 p.m. Friday
(R5 #4) Tri-Cities at (R7 #1) Johns Creek, 6 p.m. Friday
(R4 #3) Stephenson at (R2 #2) Brunswick, 6 p.m. Friday
(R6 #4) South Cobb at (R8 #1) Dacula, 6 p.m. Saturday
(R5 #3) Alexander at (R7 #2) Cambridge, 5:30 p.m. Saturday
(R3 #4) Evans at (R1 #1) Valdosta, 3 p.m. Saturday
(R2 #3) Bradwell Institute at (R4 #2) Forest Park, 6 p.m. Friday
(R8 #4) Habersham Central at (R6 #1) Sprayberry, 7 p.m. Friday
(R7 #3) Pope at (R5 #2) Douglas County, 6 p.m. Friday
(R1 #4) Northside-Warner Robins at (R3 #1) Grovetown, 5:30 p.m. Friday
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