Class 6A blog: Wheeler boys, Westlake girls put championship streaks on the line

Westlake players celebrate their 64-46 victory over Carrollton in the girls 6A state title game in Macon.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Westlake players celebrate their 64-46 victory over Carrollton in the girls 6A state title game in Macon.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

The Wheeler boys team and the Westlake girls will put their long championship reigns on the line when the Class 6A basketball state tournament begins Tuesday night.

Wheeler is favored to win its third consecutive state championship, and that journey begins Tuesday when it hosts Winder-Barrow at 7 p.m. The Wildcats won the Class 7A title in 2020 and won 6A in 2021 after moving down during the reclassification process. Wheeler, which has won eight state titles overall, is the No. 1 seed from Region 6. Winder-Barrow (12-16) finished in sixth place during the regular season in seven-team Region 8 but won two games in the region tournament to earn the No. 4 seed.

The odds are much longer for Westlake, which is trying to become the fourth school in GHSA history to win five consecutive state championships in girls basketball. The Lions lost three all-state players from last year’s team – two to graduation and one to transfer – and finished in third place in the regular season and the region tournament in Region 4. Westlake (13-9) opens the tournament at Region 2 runner-up Bradwell Institute (20-5) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

First-round games continue Wednesday, with the second round to follow Friday and Saturday.

Here’s a look at the tournament:

Girls

– The favorites: River Ridge (26-1) took over the No. 1 spot in the rankings on Jan. 17 and hasn’t let it go. The Knights, seeking their first title, have won 19 consecutive games since their only loss, 63-58 to Class 7A No. 2 North Forsyth on Dec. 11. No. 2 Lovejoy (23-3) has been playing as well as anyone. The Wildcats have outscored their opponents by an average of 48 points in their current 14-game winning streak. Only three games in that stretch were closer than 24 points, and seven were decided by 50 points or more.

– Best first-round game – Statesboro at Hughes, 6 p.m. Tuesday: Statesboro enters the state tournament unranked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution but is No. 9 in the MaxPreps rankings. The Blue Devils are 21-5, with plenty of quality wins in the early part of the schedule, but settled for a No. 3 seed after losing to Bradwell Institute in the Region 2 semifinals. Hughes (22-6) moved up two spots in the AJC rankings to No. 4 despite losing to Lovejoy in the Region 4 final. Three of Hughes’ six losses this season came against the second-ranked Wildcats.

– A look at the bracket: Three of the four quadrants of the bracket contain three top-10 teams, but the one to watch is the bottom left, which includes No. 1 River Ridge and No. 2 Lovejoy. They could meet in the quarterfinals. Lovejoy likely would need to get past No. 9 Sprayberry in the second round. Sprayberry’s lineup includes senior guard Flau’Jae Johnson, who was the only McDonald’s All-American selection from Georgia. No. 7 Sequoyah has perhaps the best draw, with no ranked team in its path until the semifinals.

Boys

– The favorites: Top-ranked Wheeler (23-4) is clearly the team to beat, especially if it can advance out of its quarter of the bracket, which includes three other top-10 teams. Three of the Wildcats’ four losses came against out-of-state opponents. If the Wildcats stumble, No. 3 Shiloh, No. 4 Buford or No. 5 Tucker could be in position to make a deep run. All three have much easier roads to the semifinals. Don’t overlook unranked Kell, which lost to Wheeler in the final last season and has played well down the stretch.

– Best first-round game – Osborne at Shiloh, 7 p.m. Wednesday: On Jan. 18, Osborne and Shiloh were both 16-0 and the last remaining unbeaten teams in Class 6A. In the month since, they combined to lose 12 times. Shiloh (21-5 and ranked No. 3) suffered a late five-game losing streak but righted the ship in time to win the Region 8 title, beating Buford 54-44 in the final to earn the No. 1 seed. Osborne (20-7), which went 8-14 last season, lost to Kell and Pope in the Region 6 tournament and fell to the No. 4 seed.

– A look at the bracket: The fireworks will start early for the boys, with a potential second-round matchup between No. 1 Wheeler and No. 2 Westlake in the upper-right quarter of the bracket. Westlake fell into that unenviable position when it lost in the Region 4 final to fifth-ranked Tucker, a team it had beaten twice during the regular season. The winner of the Wheeler-Westlake game likely would meet No. 8 Grovetown or No. 9 Alexander, which are also scheduled to meet in the second round.

First-round state tournament matchups:

Girls

(R1 #3) Valdosta at (R3 #2) Rockdale County

(R7 #4) Creekview at (R5 #1) Carrollton

(R6 #3) Osborne at (R8 #2) Buford

(R4 #4) Lakeside-DeKalb at (R2 #1) Brunswick

(R3 #3) Lakeside-Evans at (R1 #2) Lee County

(R5 #4) Dalton at (R7 #1) River Ridge

(R8 #3) Habersham Central at (R6 #2) Sprayberry

(R2 #4) Glynn Academy at (R4 #1) Lovejoy

(R2 #3) Statesboro at (R4 #2) Hughes

(R8 #4) Winder-Barrow at (R6 #1) Kell

(R7 #3) Cambridge at (R5 #2) Rome

(R1 #4) Northside-Warner Robins at (R3 #1) Grovetown

(R4 #3) Westlake at (R2 #2) Bradwell Institute

(R6 #4) Pope at (R8 #1) Dacula

(R5 #3) East Paulding at (R7 #2) Sequoyah

(R3 #4) Heritage-Conyers at (R1 #1) Houston County

Boys

(R1 #3) Houston County at (R3 #2) Evans

(R7 #4) Centennial at (R5 #1) Carrollton

(R6 #3) Pope at (R8 #2) Buford

(R4 #4) North Atlanta at (R2 #1) Statesboro

(R3 #3) Rockdale County at (R1 #2) Lee County

(R5 #4) Paulding County at (R7 #1) Sequoyah

(R8 #3) Habersham Central at (R6 #2) Kell

(R2 #4) Bradwell Institute at (R4 #1) Tucker

(R2 #3) Glynn Academy at (R4 #2) Westlake

(R8 #4) Winder-Barrow at (R6 #1) Wheeler

(R7 #3) Chattahoochee at (R5 #2) Alexander

(R1 #4) Northside-Warner Robins at (R3 #1) Grovetown

(R4 #3) Hughes at (R2 #2) Effingham County

(R6 #4) Osborne at (R8 #1) Shiloh

(R5 #3) Rome at (R7 #2) River Ridge

(R3 #4) Heritage-Conyers at (R1 #1) Valdosta