March 9, 2019 Macon - Tucker’s Jermontae Hill (4) fights a losse ball against Tri-Cities in the GHSA Class AAAAAA championship game at the Macon Centreplex in Macon on Saturday, March 9, 2019.  Tucker and Tri-Cities will meet again in the 2020 quarterfinals. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Quaterfinals preview: Tucker vs. Tri-Cities, Woodward vs. Sandy Creek spice up round

The quarterfinals mark the first time that region champions can face each other in the state basketball tournament, and the occasion has generated several blockbusters Tuesday and Wednesday. Of the 64 quarterfinal games, 24 match region champs. 

Coin flips determine home-court advantage in those games, but Tucker, the No. 1-ranked boys in Class AAAAAA, isn’t feeling lucky despite how the coin landed.

Tucker (26-3) is playing host to No. 3 Tri-Cities (25-5) on Wednesday in a rematch of the championship game won by Tri-Cities 46-43 last season. Both teams have spent several weeks at the top of the rankings this season.

Woodward Academy, the No. 2 team in AAAA, won the coin flip but must play No. 3 Sandy Creek on Wednesday. Woodward (27-2) is led by the consensus No. 1 senior prospect, 7-foot Walker Kessler. Sandy Creek (25-4) is led by the consensus No. 1 junior prospect, 6-10 Jabari Smith. Both teams are chasing their first state titles in boys basketball.

Johnson-Savannah’s No. 1-ranked girls team (24-1) is the two-time defending AAA champion but lost a coin flip and must travel 300 miles to Sonoraville (23-6) of northwest Georgia on Tuesday. Johnson beat Sonoraville 64-52 in the 2019 semifinals, but that game was in Savannah.

Other highly ranked teams that lost coin flips were AAAA No. 2 Americus-Sumter, which must travel to No. 3 Spalding, and AAAAAA No. 2 Valdosta, which is playing at No. 4 Dacula, a team in the quarters for the first time since 1993.

Not all of the best games are between region champions, though. No. 1-ranked Grayson’s boys (28-1) of AAAAAAA is at home against No. 4 Norcross (24-3). Those two were ranked 1-2 most of the season, but Norcross was upset in its region tournament, which cast the Blue Devils into Grayson’s quarter of the draw. 

While almost half of the quarterfinal qualifiers are back from last season (62 of 128), many others are making a different kind of history.

Ten are in the quarters for the first time. Those include Brookwood’s girls, whose school opened in 1981, and Sequoyah’s boys, whose school opened in 1990. Other first-time girls quarterfinalists are Georgia Military, Johns Creek and Kell. Other first-time boys teams are Cross Creek, Lanier, Mount Pisgah Christian, Pinecrest Academy and Trinity Christian.

Evans’ boys are in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1950. Rockmart’s boys are in for the first time since 1969. It’s also been a long time for Monroe Area’s boys (1979) and Ringgold’s girls (1986).

Quarterfinal winners won’t have much time to celebrate. The semifinals are Friday and Saturday, and the two-day turnaround is the shortest between any two rounds in the tournament.

The finals four will be played at Buford City Arena (AAAAAAA, AAAAAA), Fort Valley State (AAAAA, AAAA), Georgia College and State (AA, A-Private) and Valdosta State (AAA, A-Public).

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author