Class 2A blog: State playoff predictions

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The title defense for Pace Academy boys, Josey girls tips off Tuesday

The state playoffs have arrived and so have my annual predictions. Please be advised: I’m almost never correct in these predictions, so if you’re picked to win, maybe I jinxed you. I sure hope not. If I picked you to lose, use it as bulletin board material. If you’re a fan, I never hear from you until the exact moment your team — which I picked to lose — wins, at which point beat the AJC. Well played.

Regardless, this is all meant to be entertaining blather while this tournament is played.

Last year, Pace Academy won on the boys’ side — a surprise to hardly anyone, seeing as how they moved down a classification after winning 3A the year prior. Can the Knights repeat and deliver fourth-year coach Sharman White a third straight title and 10th overall? They’re certainly in good shape, having reclaimed the No. 1 ranking with a Region 6 championship win over then-No. 1 Columbia, which had beaten the Knights on Dec. 7 to knock them from the top spot.

(For the last rankings release until champions are crowned, go here for the boys and here for the girls.)

On the girls’ side, it was the Josey Eagles who, after emerging from the shadow of crosstown rival Laney, won their first title since 1998. The Eagles snapped Laney’s win streak over them, which had reached 37 games and dated to 2007. They entered last year’s playoffs unranked, but this year coach Jawan Bailey has them at No. 6. As the defending champs, there will be no flying under the radar.

Now, on to the predictions ...

Boys

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Credit: Predictions by Adam Krohn

Credit: Predictions by Adam Krohn

Random thoughts:

  • I picked the Knights to win last year — and the last two years of their previous stint in 2A during the Wendell Carter era — and they basically left me no choice but to pick them again after they beat Columbia by 21 in the region championship. The Knights also beat the Eagles 73-42 in last year’s title game. The Knights and Eagles stand out among the rest of the field, and they’re solid choices to reach the championship again. I’m not counting out the Eagles to win it all, either. Longtime Eagles coach Dr. Phil McCrary has five titles at Columbia since 2006, and the “Cardiac Kids,” as he labeled the Eagles during last year’s tournament run, are more experienced now.
  • Just like in football, Travion Solomon leads the Raiders and – also like in football – the No. 8 Raiders are really good this season. That’s why I have them playing Columbia in the semis, beating No. 9 Callaway and No. 5 Vidalia along the way. Solomon leads the team with averages of 17.2 points, 3.8 assists and 2.3 steals months after quarterbacking the football team to the brink of the semifinals, losing in overtime of the quarters.
  • I perhaps got a little bold in the lower-right bracket in picking No. 10 Rabun County to have a breakthrough season and reach the semifinals, where it has never been. I have them beating No. 6 Thomasville and, remember, there’s more to that rivalry. Just like in football this season, should these two meet, it will be in the quarterfinals, and it will come down to a universal coin toss. Funny how that worked out.
  • No. 3 Butler and No. 4 Westside would meet Pace Academy and Columbia in the second round, respectively, should both advance. That gives 2A fans two top-five matchups in the second round, which will be played later this week. That’s a lot of exciting basketball and, who knows? Maybe one of the Knights or Eagles fall. The odds are against that, but there’s a reason the games are played, and the possibility of the upset is what “March Madness” is all about.

Girls

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Credit: GHSA

Credit: GHSA

  • With the girls, the field seems more open, but I think No. 6 Josey has the best chance of winning for the second year in a row. Most key contributors from last year’s Eagles return, and their freshmen have stepped up to produce. What stands out most about their season is how they responded to a 54-51 home loss to their crosstown rivals, the Laney Wildcats, in a Region 4 contest on Jan. 18. For starters, they haven’t lost since and are riding a nine-game win streak into the playoffs. On Feb. 18, they beat the Wildcats 69-27 at Laney. In the Region 4 championship last Friday, they beat No. 10 Laney 63-58 in double overtime, with senior Aqoyas Cody posting 23 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Last year, the Eagles won the title after trailing Fannin County late. They are proving this season to be a tough out as well, just with a year more experience.
  • In the upper-right quadrant, I have No. 4 seed Union County beating top seed Columbia (21-6). Don’t let the Panthers’ 12-13 record fool you. They play in the same Region 8 as Elbert County and Rabun County, so they’re easy to overlook. The Panthers played a tough non-region schedule, and they took Rabun County down to the wire, losing 74-73 on Jan. 11. I took a risk here, seeing as how the Panthers enter the playoffs on a four-game skid, but I can’t ignore their 12.9 strength-of-schedule rating on MaxPreps, No. 2 in 2A. They’re also ranked No. 11 in the MaxPreps computer rankings, ahead of the Eagles, whose strength-of-schedule rating is minus-5.2. The Eagles could very well win this game, but if there’s a No. 4-vs.-No. 1 upset to be had, it’s most likely here.
  • I have Northeast emerging from the upper-right quadrant — and ultimately to the championship — with Laney knocking out Union County in the second round before losing to the Raiders in the quarters. The Raiders are led by senior Jakia Little, who is averaging 22.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.8 steals in 26 games. Junior Laniya Richardson averages 15.2 points and 3.1 steals. Little’s scoring average is No. 2 in 2A on MaxPreps behind Toombs County’s KayKay Mobley (24.0), but Mobley is listed as playing just 14 games to Little’s 26. The Raiders’ wins include No. 5 Callaway and No. 8 Dodge County twice, including 62-45 in the Region 3 championship.
  • No. 3 Elbert County went 1-2 against No. 2 Rabun County after going 3-0 against the Wildcats last season. Still, I like them to emerge from the upper-right quadrant to meet Josey in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals, which Josey won 46-44. The Blue Devils could win this time, though. Their core is mostly juniors, and they have years of experience playing together. The moment won’t be too big for them. I also like Rabun County over Thomasville — again, payback for the football Bulldogs’ win over the Wildcats in the quarterfinals. More to the point, the Wildcats, who beat Elbert County 47-40 in the 8-2A championship, are really good this year.