SACRAMENTO, Calif. —
The creation of the Open Division was largely set up to start an exciting, high-powered, top-tier tournament while opening the door for new programs to get a taste of state finals play in the lower divisions.
Judging from the initial 2013 matchups, mission accomplished.
Two nationally-ranked juggernauts, Mater Dei and Archbishop Mitty, a pair of two-time defending state champions, will take center stage and culminate the CIF's first six-division, 12-game tournament.
Meanwhile, Division I, II and III games feature programs which have combined for just five state title game appearances. Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove (D1), College Park-Pleasant Hill (D2) and Redondo Union (D2) all are making a first entrance into the elite championship event.
After winning three of five games last year, Southern California has taken a 94-49 lead overall in the modern championship games, which started in 1981.
SoCal owns edges in four of the five divisions: I (25-7), II (22-9), III (17-13) and IV (18-7). The North owns a 13-12 edge in Division V.
Here is a capsule look at all six divisions: OPEN DIVISION, 8 p.m. Saturday Mater Dei (Santa Ana) (33-2) vs. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) (28-5) WIN STREAKS:
Mater Dei 3, Mitty 11 STATE RECORD:
Mater Dei 9-4, Mitty 2-2 STATE RANKINGS (MaxPreps.com):
Mater Dei No. 1, Mitty No. 2 TERRIFIC TRIOS:
Mater Dei – F Stanley Johnson
, G Elijah Brown
, G Jordan Strawberry
. Mitty — F Aaron Gordon
, F Brandon Farrell
, G Connor PetersonPOINTS PER GAME (ALLOWED):
Mater Dei 72.1 (49.7), Mitty 65.3 (54.4)
Terrific matchup and storylines, the best perhaps being the showdown between multi-talented 6-foot-7 forwards Johnson (19.2 points, 8.7 rebounds per game), one of the best juniors in the country, and Gordon (22.9 points, 16.5 rebounds, 3.5 blocks per game), one of the top seniors.
Gordon guarded Sheldon's top player, Darin Johnson, in Saturday's surprising 70-50 win and held the high-scoring 6-4 shooting guard to no field goals and six points. Stanley Johnson, who played with Gordon on the Oakland Soldiers' AAU team this summer, is a much different player than Darin Johnson.
Stanley Johnson is strong and physical, like Gordon, an inside presence. Add to that the Mater Dei standout is a capable three-point shooter with 52 of them this season.
Mater Dei is a tremendous three-point shooting team with 251 this season — 7.2 per game — led by Brown (60), Johnson, James McGee
(52) and Mario Soto
(36). Soto, a two-year starter, came down with plantar fasciitis just before regionals and is out for the season.
Despite losing their top two players from last year's title team — Katlin Reinhardt (UNLV) and Xavier Johnson (Colorado) — the state's winningest coach Gary McKnight simply plugged in some holes and got Mater Dei off and running again.
Brown, the son of former Lakers' coach Mike Brown, has been superb at 17.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
McKnight said he had a good sense about the squad following a sparkling 36-4 summer that was played largely without Stanley Johnson and point guard Jordan Strawberry.
Mater Dei is trying to become the first program in state history to win three consecutive large-school division titles.
"I didn't know what we had heading into the summer," McKnight said last month. "But the kids really jelled and shared the ball and played exceptionally well offensively. We played better offensively than we are now. But our strength overall has been on defense. These guys really get after it."
They'll need to on Saturday to slow down Gordon, who had 29 points and a record 22 rebounds in the victory over Sheldon. In the state title game last season at Sleep Train, he had 33 points and 20 rebounds.
"I always say (Gordon) plays best when the lights shine the brightest," Mitty coach Tim Kennedy said. "I could say all sorts of things about him but ultimately the best thing is he just won't let us lose."
Said McKnight: "(Gordon) is as talented a player as I've seen at this level. He's going to be in the NBA in a couple of years. He's that good. … But he has a lot of good players around him too."
Plenty surrounded him against Sheldon, with Peterson holding down the point, athletic 6-6 Farrell crashing the boards and Brandon Abajelo
and Davis Messer
, among others, hitting clutch shots and playing superb transition defense.
They'll have to do the same against Mater Dei, which loves to push and shoot.
"They're tough on the boards too," Kennedy said. "We can't allow ourselves to give them second chances."
Stanley Johnson got a second-half chance last week after going 0-for-10 in the first half of the team's 60-37 win over Etiwanda, a team it lost to in the Southern Section semifinals.
Like his team, Johnson took advantage of the two extra periods, hitting four three-pointers and scoring 16 of his game-high 25 in the third quarter.
"Our seniors are good," Johnson told Ronnie Flores of Calhisports.com. "They know how to play and we can't seem to convince people how good our coaches are."
With 967 wins, a state record nine state titles and a 92 percent winning percentage, McKnight has a pretty good record.
He's beaten Mitty twice, in fact, for back-to-back state Division II titles starting in 2006-07. Those Mitty teams were led by Gordon's older brother Drew.
"Little Gordon (Aaron) isn't going to be too happy we beat his brother," McKnight told Flores. "We'll head up there Friday and go to the Spaghetti Factory and make a night of it."Click 'Next' for the rest of the state championship previews.