100th state basketball tournament begins Tuesday

Westlake's Raven Johnson (25) goes to the basket for a shot during 2020 GHSA State Basketball Class Championship game at the Macon Centreplex in Macon on Saturday, March 7, 2020. Westlake won 72-53 over Collins Hill. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Westlake's Raven Johnson (25) goes to the basket for a shot during 2020 GHSA State Basketball Class Championship game at the Macon Centreplex in Macon on Saturday, March 7, 2020. Westlake won 72-53 over Collins Hill. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The 100th Georgia high school basketball state tournament begins Tuesday with 341 schools participating in 253 first-round games over two days.

Originally an eight-team, all-boys event played over one weekend, the tournament has survived the Great Depression, World War II and now COVID-19. The pandemic effectively pushed this year’s tournament back a week and scrunched it into 19 days, four shorter than the recent usual.

As it did in 1922, the tournament will finish in Macon, but now it’s five rounds, producing 16 boys and girls champions March 10-13.

Here are some facts, figures and storylines for the tournament’s centennial edition.

Best teams: The No. 1-ranked boys teams are Milton (Class 7A), Wheeler (6A), St. Pius (5A), Spencer (4A), Sandy Creek (3A), Pace Academy (2A), Providence Christian (1A Private) and Drew Charter (1A Public). Only Milton and Pace among those have won state titles. The No. 1-ranked girls teams are Collins Hill (7A), Westlake (6A), Woodward Academy (5A), Luella (4A), Upson-Lee (3A), Elbert County (2A), Hebron Christian (1A Private) and Lake Oconee County (1A Public). Only Collins Hill, Westlake and Woodward among those have won state titles.

ExploreGirls’ tournament schedule, results

Best players: Three Georgia players are among the 10 finalists for the Naismith national boys and girls players of the year. They are Westlake’s Raven Johnson and Forest Park’s Sania Feagin (girls) and Sandy Creek’s Jabari Smith (boys). Smith is among five Georgia boys rated as five-star recruits by 247Sports. The others are juniors Matthew Cleveland of Pace Academy and Scoot Henderson of Kell and sophomores Kanaan Carlyle of Milton and Isaiah Collier of Wheeler.

Pace Academy's Matthew Cleveland shoots over a Jefferson defender in the Class AAA boys state basketball championship Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Macon.
Pace Academy's Matthew Cleveland shoots over a Jefferson defender in the Class AAA boys state basketball championship Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Macon.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Stats: Of the 451 GHSA schools that have basketball teams, 341 (75.6%) qualified a boys or girls team, and 168 (33.7%) qualified both teams. Of the 509 state qualifiers, 360 returned from 2020 for a 70.7% retention rate.

Regulars: Tift County’s boys are in for the 28th straight time dating to 1994. Close behind in consecutive appearances are Wilkinson County’s boys (since 1997), McEachern’s girls (1998), Wheeler’s boys (1998), Westover’s boys (2000), Laney’s girls (2001), Norcross’s boys (2001), Stephenson’s girls (2001) and Wesleyan’s girls (2001). Entering their 20th straight state tournaments are Buford’s girls and Fayette County’s boys.

ExploreBoys’ tournament schedules, results

Newcomers: Kennesaw Mountain’s girls are making their first state-playoff appearance as the No. 4 seed out of Region 6-6A. The Cobb County school opened in 2000. Locust Grove’s boys, from a school that opened in 2009, also are in for the first time. Heritage of Newnan and Deerfield-Windsor, new GHSA members, qualified their boys and girls teams on their first try. Others making their debuts are girls teams from ACE Charter, Denmark, Discovery and North Cobb Christian, plus B.E.S.T. Academy’s boys.

Breaking droughts: Mount de Sales girls are in for the first time since 1967, although the Macon private school was out of the GHSA until recently. All others have been in the past 10 seasons except Telfair County’s boys (2003), Pacelli’s girls (2006), ECI’s boys (2008), Jenkins County’s girls (2008), George Walton Academy’s boys (2011) and Mount Zion-Carroll’s girls (2011).

Best first-round girls intrigue: Norcross, ranked No. 7 in Class 7A, lost its region semifinal to Archer 37-36 on a buzzer-beater. That meant a lower seed and a road trip to eighth-ranked West Forsyth. Hiram’s girls, ranked No. 8 and seeded No. 1 its region, can win their first state-playoff game in history. They’re 0-5 at a 21-year-old school and face Lithia Springs at home. In Class 1A Private, No. 6 Wesleyan and No. 7 Galloway lost their region semifinals, which put them on the road — Wesleyan at Tallulah Falls and Galloway at Athens Academy.

Best first-round boys intrigue: Class 2A’s No. 7 team, Columbia is at No. 6 Chattooga. Columbia is a five-time former champion. Chattooga made the semifinals last season for the program’s best finish in history. Nine other ranked boys will start on the road, including No. 1-ranked Providence Christian, which goes to George Walton Academy. The others are Etowah, Forest Park, Galloway, Jonesboro, Luella, Norcross, Westover and Westside of Augusta.

Next: The second round is Friday and Saturday at the site of the higher-seeded team.

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