The Northern California playoffs are here, and that means more showdowns, more pressure cookers and a tinge of controversy.
The controversy comes in the form of the new NorCal Open Division, designed to put the heavies in one grouping and to allow other programs a better shot to reach the title games. The Open concept is a good one, but how does Sheldon, ranked the last few weeks right behind Salesian, end up with an Open 4-seed?
So instead of the top two teams in Northern California facing off in the title game at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento for a true showdown, they could meet in a semifinal in a much smaller venue in the East Bay.
All told, the six boys regional top seeds hail from the Bay Area. The Open is especially muscle-bound with Salesian, Mitty, Bishop O'Dowd, Sheldon, Serra, Modesto Christian and Newark Memorial.
In brief, game on!MaxPreps Northern California Top 25 Boys Basketball Rankings1. (Last week 1) Salesian (Richmond) 30-3
The Pride stand tall despite their Division IV status, but to understand high school athletics any more, small-school classification is misleading — Salesian is a big-time program with big-time talent. It has won 75 consecutive games against NorCal foes, including taking another North Coast Section title, beating a good Cardinal Newman team 65-34 after a second-half defensive clinic. The No. 1 seed in the Open Division with a 20-game winning streak, the Pride has regular-season wins this season over Sheldon, Mitty and De La Salle. Cal-bound guard Jabari Bird
is one of the nation's elite talents.2. (2) Sheldon (Sacramento) 25-5
The Huskies are rolling with team play and big moments, and they bound into the Open Division a bit miffed at their No. 4 seeding, but all the more motivated. Sheldon beat rival Pleasant Grove 60-57 to 4-peat as Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champions, a record for large schools in that section.
had 21 points in the title game, two days after wowing his soon-to-be Washington Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar with a strong semifinal showing to beat Bethel (Vallejo). Dakarai Allen
and D'Erryl Williams
had big plays down the stretch as fourth-year starters. Sheldon begins Open play with Serra (San Mateo), no easy draw, with the winner getting a well-rested Salesian bunch.3. (3) Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland) 26-3
The Dragons repeated as North Coast Section D-III champions with an 89-78 victory over El Cerrito, thanks to the efforts of super sophomores in 6-foot-10 post Ivan Rabb
(25 points, 10 rebounds) and Paris Austin
, who had 26. O'Dowd was a surprise No. 3 seed for the Open and starts against Modesto Christian, a team it beat last month, 71-62. O'Dowd has won 19 consecutive games and has lost only to national power Mater Dei (Santa Ana), Windward (Los Angeles) and Mundelein of Illinois.
4. (4) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 25-5
The two-time defending state D-II champions are now in the Open, coming off a Central Coast Section Open Division title by beating West Catholic Athletic League rival Serra 55-46. It was the third time in four meetings that Mitty beat Serra, making for a section title 4-peat. All-American Aaron Gordon
had 24 points, 23 rebounds, eight assists and four blocked shots.5. (9) Deer Valley (Antioch) 24-5
Two of the best players in the state finally got a piece of the program's first section title as the Wolverines beat San Leandro 73-65 to take North Coast Section D-I honors. UNLV-bound guard Kendall Smith
had 27 points and Kentucky-bound post Marcus Lee
had 22 points, 19 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Deer Valley beat De La Salle 51-48 in the semifinals. The Wolverines are not in the Open as they did not have established criteria (this is its first section title, for one), and it now stands as the No. 1 seed in the D-I field. Deer Valley lost earlier to Sheldon and O'Dowd with wins over De La Salle and Sacramento.6. (5) Serra (San Mateo) 25-5
The Padres lost the debut Central Coast Section Open title game to rival Mitty 54-46, a team the earlier beat in West Catholic Athletic League action. Serra now faces another monster in the first NorCal Open in facing Sheldon. Henry Caruso
leads the Padres in scoring at 18 a game.7. (6) De La Salle (Concord) 24-4
The Spartans fell in the North Coast Section D-I playoffs in a semifinal to eventual winner Deer Valley and now jump into the NorCal D-I field. De La Salle expected — and wanted to be — elevated into the Open Division. Instead, the Spartans prepare for Palo Alto. Elliott Pitts
is the Spartans' star.
8. (7) Modesto Christian 27-3
The Crusaders beat Sierra (Manteca) 66-54 to win the Sac-Joaquin Section D-III title — the program's 15th overall such title since 1997 under coach Gary Porter. T.J. Wallace
had 20 points and Raymond Bowles
13. Now it's time for the Open, where MC takes on O'Dowd in a rematch of a tight game won by O'Dowd 71-62 last month.9. (8) Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove) 24-6
The Eagles can't figure out Sheldon, falling to their Delta League rivals for the third time, each game that much more agonizing. This time, Sheldon prevailed 60-57 at Sleep Train Arena in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-I finals despite Cole Nordquist
going for 19, Malik Thames
18 and Matt Hayes
13. Pleasant Grove drew a very favorable No. 2 seed in the D-I field and could face De La Salle in a semifinal.10. (10) Newark Memorial 21-7
The Cougars extended their winning streak to 13 games since last falling to Deer Valley, 55-54. The streak included beating Dublin for the third time this season, this time 74-60, to take the North Coast Section D-II title as Joey Frenchwood
scored 30, Chandler Rockwell
16 and Jo Jo Zamora
14. Newark drew a No. 7 seed in the Open and plays Mitty on Saturday night. Newark lost earlier this season to Pleasant Grove 64-57 and suffered a one-point setback to Salesian.11. (14) Antelope 25-6
The Titans defended their Sac-Joaquin Section D-II champion with a spirited victory over Grant 70-63 as Gabe Bealer
went for 24 points and Isiah Quintero
blocked a remarkable 10 shots. Rashard Thornhill
had a late corner three to seal it. The bad news for Antelope is it may not have the services of top defender and inside presence in 6-7 senior Isaiah Ellis
, who went down in the first half against Grant with a foot injury. Antelope gained the No. 2 seed in the NorCal D-II field and has an opening bye. Close losses include Sacramento (59-48) and three-time Central Section champion Bullard (Fresno) (65-60).12. (11) Dublin 24-6
The Gales fell to Newark Memorial in the North Coast Section D-II finals, and they've had just about enough of that team. Dublin is 0-3 against Newark but won't see those Cougars again. Newark is in the Open and Dublin is the top seed in the NorCal D-II scramble. Joe McGlaston
, as he has all season, led Dublin in the title game with 18. Dublin opens with a bye and sits opposite No. 2 Antelope.12. (12) Sacramento 24-7
The Dragons were upset by Grant in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-II semifinals in a thriller but have new life with a favorable 5-seed in the D-II NorCal field. This means a possible second-round game on Saturday at Grant with revenge in mind. Sacramento is young, including 6-foot-6 freshman post Devin Young
, but it is very talented. Early wins include Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove), Antelope, West Ranch (Valencia) and Chaminade (West Hills). Losses include Deer Valley, Dublin and Bishop O'Dowd.13. (13) San Leandro 23-6
The Pirates earned the No. 1 seed in the North Coast Section D-I field, got to the finals and lost to No. 2 Deer Valley 73-65.
had 18 for San Leandro, which defeated Deer Valley 67-62 earlier and also has an early loss to Sheldon (77-72). The Pirates are the 3-seed in the NorCal D-I playoffs on the same side of the bracket with No. 2 Pleasant Grove.14. (16) McClymonds (Oakland) 20-7
Mack won its fourth Oakland Section title since 2007 with a 52-49 triumph of Oakland with Oakland Athletic League MVP Tahjee Williams
going for 21. Mike Walker
had a go-ahead three and two free throws to seal it. Mack is the 5-seed in the D-I playoffs, opening against Santa Teresa (San Jose) on Wednesday.15. (NR) Bellarmine (San Jose) 19-9
The Bells, battle tested from the rigors of a WCAL that includes Mitty, Serra and Sacred Heart Cathedral, beat Santa Teresa (San Jose) 49-43 to capture the Central Coast Section D-I finals. Bellarmine earned a No. 4 seed in the NorCal D-I tournament and opens at home Wednesday against Lincoln (San Francisco).16. (17) El Cerrito 22-10
Seeded third in the North Coast Section D-III field, the Gauchos fell to top-seeded Bishop O'Dowd 89-78 in the finals. El Cerrito has three losses to league rival Salesian but looms as a real threat in the NorCal D-III field as the 2-seed.17. (24) Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) 18-11
Yet another West Catholic Athletic League bruiser in the NorCal mix as the top seed in the D-III field. The Central Coast Section Open semifinal loss was to WCAL rival Serra 54-49.18. (18) Freedom (Oakley) 19-9
The Falcons lost to San Leandro in the North Coast Section D-I semifinals 55-53 and enter the NorCal D-I race as the No. 8 seed. They take on Bella Vista (Fair Oaks) in a Wednesday opener with top-seeded Deer Valley looming in the next round behind 6-6 wing Elliot Smith
.19. (19) Bella Vista (Fair Oaks) 24-6
The Broncos lost to Pleasant Grove 68-60 in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-I semifinals, taking the lead into the fourth quarter. Next is an opening round NorCal D-I game at Freedom for a decades-old program in the D-I field for the first time after years of D-II play. Tyler Berkness
, a 6-3 wing, averages 12.6 points and 7 rebounds.
20. (21) Enterprise (Redding) 24-3
The Hornets of the Northern Section have won 16 consecutive games, last losing in a showcase game to El Cerrito 56-49 on Dec. 21. Enterprise beat Shasta (Redding) 61-42 to take the North Section title and open NorCal D-III play as a 3-seed with a bye.21. (15) Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa) 29-3
The Cardinals had a 19-game winning streak halted by the top team in the state in Salesian, 65-34, in the North Coast Section D-IV finals. Still, the season was strong enough to grant the Cardinals the top seed in the D-IV NorCal field and an opening bye behind leaders Kenny Love
and Corey Hammell
.22. (NR) Soquel 22-7
The Knights have surged of late, impressing even in defeat. Soquel nearly upset Mitty in a Central Coast Section Open opener, falling 59-57, then rebounding with a 47-46 victory over Palo Alto and then downing Piedmont Hills, 72-61, in the CCS Consolation game. Next is a NorCal D-IV opener against Colfax of the Sac-Joaquin Section.23. (NR) Burlingame 21-8
Seeded second in the Central Coast Section D-III playoffs, the Panthers beat Santa Cruz 54-51. It was the program's first section title after falling in the finals the previous six seasons, five times to WCAL foes. Nick Loew
had 17 for the Panthers, who open the NorCal D-III as a 7-seed against Miramonte (Orinda) on Wednesday.24. (23) Archbishop Riordan (San Francisco) 18-11
The Crusaders of the muscle-bound West Catholic Athletic League snapped the 22-game winning streak of Palo Alto in the Central Coast Section Open playoffs, then lost to league rivals Mitty (59-51) and Sacred Heart Cathedral (57-52) but still gained a NorCal D-IV 2-seed opposite Cardinal Newman. Riordan opens with a bye.25. (24) Palo Alto 23-2
The Vikings had their 21-game winning streak halted by Riordon in the Central Coast Section Open playoffs, lost key player Keller Chryst with a leg injury and then lost a crusher to Soquel in the CCC Open Consolation game, 47-46. Their reward for their recent misery? A NorCal D-I opener at De La Salle.