The two-time defending Class AAAAAA champion Hughes boys basketball team has had a rough go of it over the first month of the season.
After losing all-classification player of the year Landers Nolley to graduation, the Panthers started the season 2-5 but have won two of their past three and currently sit in fifth place in rugged Region 5 with a 2-3 record in league play. Three of the teams from their region – Tri-Cities, Alexander and South Paulding – are all ranked in the top 10 in at least one poll.
Patrick Carter Jr. and Tyrel Morgan, two key members of last season’s championship team, are averaging about 40 point per game between them, and they’ve helped the Panthers stay competitive against some of the best teams in Georgia. Hughes lost at Alexander 76-74 on Dec. 4, lost to 10-2 South Paulding 60-58 in overtime three days later, and lost 56-48 to undefeated Upson-Lee, the two-time defending champion and No. 1-ranked team in Class AAAA.
Hughes will travel to Northgate on Tuesday for a region game then play in the Tournament of Champions Holiday Classic (Dec. 26-29) at Wheeler.
The Panthers’ slow start this season could open the door for a few of the other contenders to make some noise in the postseason. Here are some of the Class AAAAAA boys teams to keep an eye on as the new year approaches.
*Alexander: The Cougars (8-2, 6-1), ranked No. 2 by Score Atlanta, suffered their first Region 5 loss on Friday, 63-61 against South Paulding, but can get back to the top of the standings Tuesday when they play at top-ranked Tri-Cities. Malik Battle, a transfer from Douglas County, averages 18.9 points. Guard Jaylon Brown (12.4 points) and F/C Brady Spence (10.2 points, 8.0 rebounds) are other players to watch.
*Coffee: The Trojans (6-1) took a big step toward establishing themselves as the biggest threat outside of metro Atlanta when they beat Brunswick 72-57 on Saturday. Mackenzie McFatten, Kevon Moore and Jayce Moore have led the way. Moore, a second-team all-state pick last year who is averaging a double-double, scored 24 points against Brunswick. Coffee is Score Atlanta’s No. 3 team.
*Mundy’s Mill: The Tigers (10-1, 6-1) are in second place in Region 4 but handed first-place Tucker its first region loss, 63-48 on Friday. SG/SF Rayquan Brown was averaging 21.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists through the early part of the month and has had big games recently against Lovejoy (20 points), Franklin County (22 points, 13 rebounds) and Tucker (team-high 14 points).
*North Atlanta: The Warriors are coming off a 63-55 loss to Class AA No. 1 GAC but are 8-3 on the season. North Atlanta is one of three one-loss teams in Region 7, having already beaten one (Cambridge 61-49 on Friday) and visiting Pope on Jan. 5 after participating in the Tournament of Champions. Leading scorer Messiah Thompson was honorable mention all-state last year.
*South Paulding: The Spartans (10-2, 6-1) are one of the most improved teams in AAAAAA, already surpassing their win total from a 9-17 record last season that included a first-game exit in the Region 5 tournament. A 63-61 victory over Alexander last week moved them to No. 9 in the MaxPreps and put them in the thick of the region race. Cam Armstrong and Pat Love scored 14 points each.
*Sprayberry: The Yellow Jackets, ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps, improved to 10-0 overall and moved into sole possession of first place in Region 6 with an 83-71 victory over Allatoona on Saturday. Sprayberry is 6-0 in region play and leads the region by one game. Sophomore Jaylin Galloway scored 21 points against Allatoona, and Justin Day averaged 17.3 points in three games last week.
*Tri-Cities: The Bulldogs (7-2, 6-0) reached the quarterfinals each of the past two seasons and enter the week at No. 1 in the most recent Score Atlanta rankings. Guards DaMarcus Johnson and Peyton Daniels are the leading scorers. Tri-Cities lost to Village Christian (N.C.) on Friday but bounced back with a win over Clinton (Tenn.) the next night. The Bulldogs host Alexander on Tuesday.
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