First round of the GHSA basketball tournament tips off Feb. 13, 2020.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

State basketball playoff primer: Games begin tonight

The state basketball tournament gets under way tonight with 13 games, the first of 224 first-round contests that will be played into the weekend.

Most girls games are Friday, and most boys games Saturday, but the GHSA gives leeway, so several schools — mostly in Forsyth and Gwinnett counties — chose to play Thursday night to create a longer holiday weekend for themselves.

MORE BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS

» FIRST-ROUND SCORES: BoysGirls
» BRACKETS: BoysGirls

The first three rounds are played at the home gym of the higher-seeded teams. In the third round, when same-seeded teams can meet for the first time, a coin flip determines the home team. The semifinals (Feb. 28-29) and finals (March 4-7) will be played at neutral sites.

Bew are more facts, figures and trivia from the tournament.

Who: There are 240 boys teams and 240 girls teams still playing. Classes AA through AAAAAAA have 32-team draws. Class A has 24-team draws. There are only some 450 schools in the GHSA, so most Georgia high schools are represented. Just 20 years ago, only 64 boys teams and 64 girls teams made it.

Best boys teams: The No. 1-ranked teams are Grayson (AAAAAAA), Tucker (AAAAAA), Eagle’s Landing (AAAAA), Americus-Sumter (AAAA), Pace Academy (AAA), Swainsboro (AA), St. Francis (A private) and Treutlen (A public). Grayson, ranked No. 2 nationally by MaxPreps, has never won a state title, nor has Americus-Sumter or Treutlen, both undefeated.

Best girls teams: The No. 1-ranked girls teams are Westlake (AAAAAA), Lovejoy (AAAAAA), Kell (AAAAA), Carver-Columbus (AAAA), Johnson-Savannah (AAA), Laney (AA), St. Francis (A private) and Central-Talbotton (A public). Only Kell (28-0) has never won a state title. Central-Talbotton last won in 1986. The others all won state in the past four years, including Westlake, Carver and Johnson last season.

Best boys players: Walker Kessler, a 7-foot center at Woodward Academy, is a five-star prospect signed with North Carolina. Sharife Cooper (Auburn) of McEachern and Dwon Odom (Xavier) of St. Francis are point guards who led their teams to state titles in 2019. Deivon Smith, another point guard, has led Grayson to new heights. He’s signed with Mississippi State.

Best girls players: Five-star Lovejoy guard Anaya Boyd and teammate Genesis Bryant are signed to play in the ACC, Boyd with Georgia Tech, Bryant with N.C. State. Carver-Columbus forward Olivia Cochran is the highest-rated senior prospect. She’s signed with Louisville. Raven Johnson of Westlake and Kayla McPherson of Madison County are rated by ESPN the No. 2 and No. 3 point guards in the country respectively. 

Best boys’ first-round matchup: Lithonia, ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAA most of the season, lost twice in its region tournament and barely qualified as a fourth seed. The Bulldogs and four-star point guard Eric Gaines now must open at No. 9 Hiram. 

Best girls’ first-round matchup: Rabun County, ranked No. 10 in Class AA, has made the quarterfinals or better each of the past four seasons and might give No. 3 Douglass, the defending champion, a run.

Other games to watch: The only other games between ranked teams are Class AAA No. 7 Lovett at No. 9 Greater Atlanta Christian (boys) and AAAAAAA No. 6 Campbell at No. 8 Woodstock (girls). East Coweta’s boys, frequently ranked this season, can win their first state playoff game since 1964 with a victory at Walton. Camden County’s boys can win their first since 1975 with a home win against Hillgrove. 

Made it: This is the 75th anniversary of the girls tournament, first held in 1945. The only school that fielded a girls team in 1945 that had never qualified for state was LaFayette. This season, the Ramblers are in. With a 15-11 record, they finished fourth out of Region 6-AAAA and will play at St. Pius on Friday night. Also in the tournament for the first time are Cherokee Bluff’s boys, North Paulding’s girls and Trinity Christian’s girls.

Didn’t make it: Defending Class AAA champion Morgan County failed to qualify. The Bulldogs also won state titles in 2014 and 2016 and hadn’t missed the state tournament since 2011. Dodge County’s girls failed to qualify for the first time since 1991. The streak of 28 seasons is the state record. Every team that finished the regular season in the top 10 qualified through its region tournament.

What’s next: The second round is Feb. 21-22. 

TONIGHT’S GAMES

Class AAAAAAA
Boys
R8 #3 Newton at R6 #2 Collins Hill
R5 #4 West Forsyth at R7 #1 Berkmar
R5 #3 Lambert at R7 #2 Norcross
R7 #3 Parkview at R5 #2 South Forsyth

Girls
R8 #4 Newton at R6 #1 Collins Hill
R5 #3 South Forsyth at R7 #2 Brookwood
R7 #3 Parkview at R5 #2 Forsyth Central
R6 #3 Duluth at R8 #2 Archer
R5 #4 West Forsyth at R7 #1 Norcross

Class AAAAA
Boys
R4 #4 Jones County at R2 #1 Wayne County

Girls
R6 #3 Lithia Springs at R8 #2 Loganville

Class AAA
Boys
R8 #3 Monroe Area at R6 #2 North Murray

Class AA
Girls
R6 #4 Therrell at R8 #1 Union County

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