First-round basketball primer: East Forsyth, Screven make for intriguing storylines

The state basketball tournament gets underway Tuesday and Wednesday with 512 teams and 256 first-round games, the first of five rounds toward crowning 16 champions next month in Macon.

There are favorites, such as defending champions Wheeler, Eagle’s Landing Christian and Pace Academy among boys teams and Woodward Academy among girls teams.

And there are Cinderellas, such as East Forsyth, whose boys and girls qualified in the school’s first year of existence, and Screven County’s girls team, which won a region title last week just four seasons after ending a 97-game losing streak.

Here are more details and storylines from the first round:

– History: This is the 100th anniversary of the first boys state basketball tournament held in 1922 at the Macon City Auditorium, which still exists. The girls tournament began in 1945.

– Newcomers: East Forsyth, which opened last fall, qualified its boys and girls teams. That’s almost certainly a first for a new school, according to Becky Taylor of the Georgia Basketball Project. East Forsyth’s boys (11-18) finished eighth in Region 7-3A but upset two higher seeds in the region tournament to qualify. The girls (19-8) earned a home game Tuesday night against Cedar Grove. Also making their first state-playoff appearances will be the boys teams at ACE Charter and Hampton.

– Up-and-comers: Screven County’s girls ended their losing streak, believed to be the second longest in state history, on Dec. 27, 2017. This season’s team, with one senior, is 20-3 and ranked No. 3 in Class A Public. A victory over Randolph-Clay on Tuesday would be Screven’s first playoff win since 2007. Social Circle’s boys team is another sudden contender. They won their first region title in 40 years last week. They’re 27-0 in Class A Public and seeded to make the quarterfinals for the first time since 1974.

– Long time coming: Murray County’s girls are in the state tournament for the first time since 2000 and play at home against Franklin County. Schley County’s girls had last made it in 2001. They’re ranked No. 4 in Class A Public. Others that have waited more than 10 years are girls teams at Stockbridge (2005), East Paulding (2006), Chattahoochee County (2011) and Warren County (2011) and boys teams at Habersham Central (2003), North Forsyth (2006), Charlton County (2009) and Paideia (2011).

– Girls teams to beat: The No. 1-ranked teams are Brookwood in 7A, River Ridge in 6A, Woodward in 5A, Luella in 4A, Lumpkin County in 3A, Fannin County in 2A, Holy Innocents’ in A Private and Lake Oconee Academy in A Public. Woodward is a defending champ, and only Fannin County and Holy Innocents’ among the rest have won state titles.

– Boys teams to beat: The No. 1-ranked teams are Pebblebrook in 7A, Wheeler in 6A, Eagle’s Landing in 5A, McDonough in 4A, Sandy Creek in 3A, Pace Academy in 2A, Greenforest Christian in A Private and Drew Charter in A Public. Pebblebrook, McDonough, Sandy Creek and Drew Charter have never won state titles.

– Best first-round girls matchup: Wesleyan, the No. 6 team in Class A Private, is 21-0 in first-round games this century but will be up against it Wednesday when traveling to No. 2 Mount Paran Christian. Wesleyan was forced on the road as the third seed from a region with three top-six teams.

– Next-best girls game: Hebron Christian coach Jan Azar also is 21-0 this century in first-rounders. She was Wesleyan’s coach for 19 of those seasons. Her defending Class A Private champion Lions, ranked No. 4, don’t have it easy Tuesday, either. Opponent Darlington is 20-6 and ranked No. 10.

– Best first-round boys matchup: Shiloh began the season 21-0. Osborne started 16-0. In mid-January, they were ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in Class 6A. Now they’ll face off in the first round at Shiloh, which overcame a stunning five-game losing streak to win its region title last week. Osborne has lost six of its last eight games, two in overtime, one against No. 1 Wheeler, but remains dangerous.

– Next-best boys game: With three major Division I prospects, Newton was ranked No. 1 in 7A for much of the season but fell to sixth-ranked Grayson in its region tournament final and plays No. 9 McEachern at home in the first round.

– What’s next: The second round will be Friday and Saturday at the gyms of the higher-seeded teams.