The first round of the Class AAA GHSA basketball tournament left us with sixteen teams on each side of the classification, vying for a ticket to the quarterfinals.
There are several quality boys matchups to focus on, but the best has to be the defending-champion Pace Academy Knights against a Greater Atlanta Christian team that was knocked out in the first round last season by Lovett, 62-58.
The Spartans felt their time in the tournament was cut short after being the No. 2 seed from Region 7 and falling to a No. 3 seed from Region 5. But this year's team has the talent to make a deep run.
The program has put together a 24-3 record and has lost games to Peachtree Ridge (68-61), East Hall (88-74) and Trinity Christian (62-57) in the War Eagle Classic at Woodward Academy on Dec. 19. Since that loss, the Spartans have won 17 consecutive games.
Pace Academy is 17-11 but has lost several sloppy games that could have added a few more notches in the victory column. This game could go either way, but the likely outcome is a GAC victory and quarterfinal appearance.
Another focal point on the boys bracket is in the bottom left quadrant, where Morgan County continues its trek to a fifth consecutive title appearance. The Bulldogs must go through an 18-9 Towers team to keep its chances alive.
Towers, a third seed from Region 5, defeated Region 6, No. 2-seed Bremen in the first round, 81-59, and if the Titans carry that kind of momentum into the second round, it could speak trouble for Morgan. But Morgan, which defeated North Hall 61-29 in the first round, are favored to make another deep run. Towers will need to limit Morgan's scoring opportunities and control offensive and defensive rebounding to take control of the game.
The teams that made up last season's Final Four – Beach, GAC, Morgan County and Johnson-Savannah – are still alive after the first round.
Beach held Pike County to 13 points in its first-round victory and advances to play Cook County in the second round. Cook's Rodrica Styles leads the Lady Hornets with an average of 20.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. Teammate Taliyah Carter is averaging just shy of 10 points per game. The struggle for Cook will be to find scoring from other players. Only five average more than one point per game.
Beach, on the other hand, spreads its offensive scoring around and has 12 players on the 15-player roster scoring at least a point per game and six players scoring more than six points per game. Tatiyanna Morris leads the Lady Bulldogs is scoring with 10.8 points and averages 3.4 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game.
The GAC Lady Spartans could have fallen off after losing Robyn Benton to a season-ending injury during the holiday tournaments, but that hasn't been the case. GAC stormed through the remaining regular-season games, won its region and then moved easily past Monroe Area, 70-39, in the first round. In the second round, GAC will face a Coahulla Creek team that upset Pace Academy, the No. 2 seed from Region 5, in the first round, 53-44.
Johnson-Savannah, last year's runner-up behind rival Beach, will have to handle a high-scoring Monroe team in the second round after moving past Rutland 60-33 last weekend. The 14-12 Lady Tornadoes beat Liberty County 67-28 in the first round, and it will take every bit of offensive power to hang with the Lady Atomsmashers in Round 2.
Last season, Morgan County fell to Johnson-Savannah 48-39 in the semifinals, and if things go right, we could see a rematch. The Lady Bulldogs defeated North Hall 64-52 in the first round and will have to silence the Haralson County offense in Round 2 to set the rematch with Johnson. Haralson County had little trouble with Stone Mountain in the first round, and the momentum from the 61-34 victory should aid its second-round challenge against Morgan.
Below are the results from the first round and the schedules for the second round:
R5#2 Pace Academy 62, R6#3 Sonoraville 43
R7#1 Greater Atlanta Christian 76, R8#4 East Jackson 43
R1#2 Monroe 79, R2#3 Liberty County 69
R3#1 Johnson-Savannah 88, R4#4 Kendrick 68
R5#3 Towers 81, R6#2 Bremen 59
R8#1 Morgan County 61, R7#4 North Hall 29
R2#2 Long County 86, R1#3 Dougherty 85
R4#1 Central-Macon 67, R3#4 Beach 39
R7#2 Dawson County 66, R8#3 Monroe Area 53
R5#1 Cedar Grove 60, R6#4 Ringgold 40
R3#2 Jenkins 59, R4#3 Jackson 39
R1#1 Cook 67, R2#4 Pierce County 59
R8#2 Hart County 65, R7#3 East Hall 50
R5#4 Redan 45, R6#1 Calhoun 41
R4#2 Westside-Macon 65, R3#3 Islands 57
R1#4 Crisp County 73, R2#1 Tattnall County 62
R5#2 Pace Academy at R7#1 GACS
R1#2 Monroe at R3#1 Johnson-Savannah
R5#3 Towers at R8#1 Morgan County
R2#2 Long County at R4#1 Central-Macon
R7#2 Dawson County at R5#1 Cedar Grove
R3#2 Jenkins winner at R1#1 Cook
R5#4 Redan at R8#2 Hart County
R1#4 Crisp County at R4#2 Westside-Macon