The region tournaments were completed on Saturday, which finalized the seedings for the Class AA state tournaments. Now it’s time for my annual predictions.
We’ll start with the boys but first, here are the AJC’s final rankings heading into the tournament:
1. Woodville-Tompkins (27-0)
2. South Atlanta (23-4)
3. Vidalia (22-4)
4. Therrell (21-7)
5. Elbert County (25-3)
6. Northeast-Macon (21-5)
7. Washington County (19-7)
8. Laney (20-8)
9. Butler (19-5)
10. Early County (22-5)
Now, drumroll please, here are the predictions:
(Find the official Class AA bracket on GHSA.net)
As you can see, I peg the undefeated, top-ranked Woodville-Tompkins Wolverines to extend their win streak by another four games to claim their first state title in program history. Bold, I know, but still — they’ve given no indication of a letup in their first season in AA after competing in A-Public.
The twist however — and maybe a not-so-obvious choice — is picking the Wolverines’ rival in 2-AA, the No. 3 Vidalia Indians, as the team that meets them in the championship game. Should the Indians advance to the championship game for a second year in a row, after losing there last year to Thomasville, it will make the fourth time the Wolverines and Indians have played this season.
The Wolverines beat the Indians 55-48 (Dec. 4), 53-50 (Jan. 18) and 59-46 in the region championship on Friday.
To get to the championship game, I have the Indians winning one of a handful of what I predict will be bracket-altering games. I see Vidalia topping No. 2 South Atlanta on the road. It will be a tall order, for sure, especially with South Atlanta coming on strong toward the end of the season. The Hornets reclaimed Region 6 from Therrell with a late season push, beating the defending 6-AA champions twice at the end of the year to snatch the No. 1 seed and surge to No. 2 in the rankings, pushing the Panthers to No. 4 in the process.
For the Hornets to get to the quarterfinals for a likely matchup with Vidalia, they must first beat a very tough Spencer team. The Green Waves were all set for a No. 1 seed in 5-AA before Bremen stunned them with a buzzer-beating half court shot to win 53-51 in the region championship.
In the lower-left quadrant, I have the No. 6 Northeast-Macon Raiders earning the privilege to lose to Woodville-Tompkins in the semis. That would mean they beat the Therrell Panthers in one of my other bracket-altering games, which would come in the quarterfinals. It’s tough to tell if Therrell’s play has dropped recently, or if South Atlanta’s has picked up, but the Panthers had 6-AA locked up heading into the final week of the season and let it slip — first by losing in the regular season standings to the Hornets, then losing to them again in the 6-AA tournament.
The real tragedy with Therrell, however, is that they should be in the midst of a dynastic run of potentially three consecutive titles. However, over the past two seasons, they’ve lost Anthony Edwards — the country’s top player and potentially the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft — and Deandre Brown (18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 steals last year for Therrell) as transfers to Holy Spirit in the GISA.
Regardless of hypotheticals regarding Therrell, Northeast-Macon has been playing steady and solid all season and have been a perennial presence in the postseason, so I have the Raiders advancing to the semis.
No offense to those in the upper-right quadrant, but I consider it to be the least competitive of the four. It’s the only one that features no top five teams. It also features the last of what I consider a bracket-altering game, and it comes in the second round when the only two ranked teams in it ‚ No. 8 Laney vs. No. 7 Washington County, play in what should decide which team reaches the semis.
- Noticeably absent from the tournament are the Swainsboro Tigers. Ranked in the top 10 as recently as Jan. 22, the Tigers (9-5 in 2-AA) were eliminated from postseason contention in the Region 2 tournament by the Toombs County Bulldogs (4-10). How perplexing is this? Just five days before the two met in the region tournament, Swainsboro beat Toombs County 78-47. In their first meeting on Jan. 11, the Tigers beat the Bulldogs 76-46. After shaking up the 2-AA tournament with a stunning upset, the Bulldogs returned to earth, losing their next two games by an average of 36.5 points. They’ll face Northeast-Macon in the first round as a No. 4 seed.
- Some potential sleeper teams to keep an eye on: Hapeville Charter, Spencer, Chattooga, Bremen, Butler, Glenn Hills
Now, onto the girls. First, here are the final rankings before a champion is crowned:
1. Fitzgerald (25-0)
2. Rabun County (26-1)
3. Dodge County (24-2)
4. Laney (25-2)
5. Early County (23-4)
6. Douglass (22-6)
7. Woodville-Tompkins (23-5)
8. Bryan County (25-2)
9. Swainsboro (22-4)
10. Washington County (20-7)
Now, the predictions:
(Find the official Class AA bracket on GHSA.net)
In my scenario, the Fitzgerald Lady Purple Hurricane stay undefeated to claim their first state title in program history and, as is with the boys’ side, I have them beating a region rival to do so in the No. 5 Early County Lady Bobcats.
The top-ranked Lady Hurricane, who are a No. 1 seed from Region 1, are led by junior Trinity Jones, a 5-foot-5 point guard with averages of 20.6 points, 3.8 assists, 3.7 steals and 3.1 rebounds. She is one of three double-digit scorers for Fitzgerald, with the others being 5-foot-5 senior wing Hayleigh Ross (14.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.2 steals, 3.3 assists) and 5-foot-10 wing Keyara Boone (12 points, six rebounds, 3.7 steals, 1.2 blocks).
The No. 5 Lady Bobcats are led by sophomore standout Makayla Timpson, one of the country’s top recruits for her class. The 6-foot-2 prodigy can play all five positions and at times has played point guard for the Lady Bobcats — the position she wants to play at the next level. She’s averaging 19 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.4 blocks and 2.5 steals. She also has a capable and experienced supporting cast in junior Ta’Ziaya Jones (13.1 points, seven rebounds, two steals) and seniors Janya Williams (8.8 points, 3.4 steals) and Taliah Wesley (8.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.4 steals).
The teams met three times this season, with Fitzgerald winning 62-60 (Jan. 12), 75-65 (Jan. 26) and 66-64 on Friday in the 1-AA championship.
To get to the title game, the Lady Bobcats will presumably have to get past a red-hot No. 7 Woodville-Tompkins and No. 2 Rabun County, which won’t be easy as either team is more than capable of eliminating them. Further, I expect No. 3 Dodge County to be waiting for them in the semifinals. The Lady Indians were ranked No. 1 for much of the season but slid after a 70-66 loss to Wheeler County on Jan. 29.
In actuality, it would be no surprise to see any of Dodge County, Woodville-Tompkins, Rabun County or Early County in the championship, but I’m going with the Lady Bobcats because of the special talent of Timpson.
Of course, if Fitzgerald wins, that means, for the first time since 2016, a team other than Laney will be AA champions. The Lady Wildcats have won state championships in three of the four previous seasons and are still one of the state’s best this season. But I believe this year there are better teams, and Fitzgerald is one of them. I have the Lady Purple Hurricane eliminating the Lady Wildcats in the semifinals.
To get there, Fitzgerald will likely have to beat another ranked team, No. 10 Washington County, and a tough-but-unranked Banks County.
- As noted several times over the years, most recently in the football playoff predictions under the “Other takeaways” section, the GHSA refuses to spell “Douglass” correctly in its official playoff brackets.
- Potential sleepers: Model, Lamar County, Thomasville, Elbert County
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