Party of Six
For the first time since 2014, there won’t be a full, eight-team bracket in the boys Open Division. The girls never had fewer than eight teams in the Open until last season, when third-seeded Pinewod was given what officially is now called a bye after Carondelet withdrew from the tournament for disciplinary reasons. There are six teams for each this time around, as announced Sunday by the California Interscholastic Federatrion, with No. 1 Salesian and No. 2 Sheldon-Sacramento receiving first-round byes among the boys and No. 1 Archbishop Mitty and No. 2 Carondelet drawing byes among the girls. “When we looked at both, we figured what we did for one, we had to do for the other,” Pete Saco, the tournament’s director, said Sunday night. “We just did not feel to pull eight teams into each one was the right thing to do. We were filling it with teams that probably weren’t Open-caliber teams this year.” The CIF had 88 spots to fill in the Open Division through Division V but only 80 teams on the board. (Division VI is a NorCal-only playoff). The committee chose to give the top two seeds in the Open and Division I byes. “We were pretty solid going with six in boys,” Saco said. “Girls we could have gone seven if a couple of games had panned out last night.” Miramonte likely would have been on the Open board had it beaten Bishop O’Dowd in the North Coast Section Division II girls final Saturday. Instead, Miramonte was seeded fifth in Division I. “They were definitely on the board,” Saco said.
Bay Area’s Open reps
The Bay Area has three teams in the boys Open — No. 1 Salesian, No. 3 De La Salle and No. 5 Mitty. It has five teams in the girls Open — No. 1 Mitty, No. 2 Carondelet, No. 3 Pinewood, No. 4 Salesian and No. 5 St. Joseph Notre Dame.
Boys Open: Sacred Heart Cathedral a no go
For the first time in the seven-year history of the CIF Open, the Central Coast Section’s Open Division champion was not invited. Then again, the CCS never had a sub-.500 team win its premier division until Sacred Heart Cathedral — now 13-14 — beat Bellarmine 50-48 for the title Friday. As part of the CIF’s criteria, sections rank the teams they submit. “We look at the sections’ picks,” Saco said. “We have to abide by them. Through this whole seeding process, we did. There is not one time that if you were higher than me that I put me higher than you. You can imagine who was No. 1 turned into us from the CCS.” That would be … Mitty, the West Catholic Athletic League champion that lost to SHC in the first round of the CCS Open but had a fairly large win in its season opener. “Once Weston Ranch went in, their only loss was to Mitty,” Saco added. Sacred Heart was seeded 10th in Division I.
Salesian-SJND: Hey, you again?
The Salesian and St. Joseph Notre Dame girls teams won’t have to do any advance scouting before their Open Division Northern California regional first-round matches. For the second time in four days, the Pride and the Pilots will play each other. The game will be at Salesian at 7 p.m. Wednesday. “We’re happy we’re there,” said St. Joseph Notre Dame coach Shawn Hipol, whose program will be making its first appearance in the state Open Division. “We’re happy for the CIF for putting us there.” But Hipol does not understand why his team’s first-round matchup is against a team it just finished playing. He said he thought that it was a rule-of-thumb that section teams don’t play each other in the first round. In Saturday’s NCS Division III championship game at Saint Mary’s College, Salesian came back from a seven-point, second-half deficit to defeat St. Joseph Notre Dame 58-54. The Pride’s Makayla Edwards sank a 3-pointer with 59 seconds remaining to give her team the lead for good. Salesian, which had trailed by 11 points late in the second quarter, beat the Pilots 52-28 on Dec. 6 in Alameda.
James Logan: No. 1 in Division I
If the CIF had gone with an eight-team Open Division boys bracket, James Logan would have been seeded seventh and played Wednesday at No. 2 seed Sheldon-Sacramento. Instead, the Colts, who suffered a heartbreaking 54-46 loss to De La Salle in the NCS Division I final Friday, are the top seed in Division I. They will play at home Thursday night against No. 9 Folsom or No. 8 Archbishop Riordan in the second round after sitting out Round 1 with a bye. What did the Colts learn from the loss to DLS, which outscored Logan 18-2 in the fourth quarter? “We lose to correct, we lose to fix,” coach Melvin Easley said Sunday. “We learned a lot of things that night. You’re not going to win all the time. I tell the boys that. Losing is not really a setback. It’s a learning experience. That’s the conversation we had yesterday.”
Moreau coach’s friend wins Oscar
Forgive Moreau Catholic coach Frank Knight if he wasn’t glued to a computer, compiling crash-course information on Bellarmine, his team’s opponent Tuesday night in the first round of the NorCal Division I regionals. “One of my best friends just won an Oscar,” Knight said. “I’m excited.” Mahershala Ali, whom Knight knows from their days at Saint Mary’s College, won in the best supporting-actor category for his role in Green Book. “He got one for Moonlight last year,” Knight added. Not a bad way for Knight to cap off a weekend in which his program claimed its fourth NCS title with a 65-61 victory over Bishop O’Dowd in the Division II final Saturday night. Moreau was seeded sixth Sunday and will play host to CCS Open runner-up Bellarmine.
San Leandro-O’Dowd: Round 3
Bishop O’Dowd and San Leandro will have very familiar opponents in the first round of the Northern California regionals – each other. The two West Alameda County Conference-Foothill League squads will play for the third time this season. The margin of victory in each of their two previous games? Two points. On Jan. 9, O’Dowd’s Iniko McNeil drove for a layup with five seconds remaining for a 52-50 victory in Oakland. Less than three weeks later, San Leandro’s Junior Maile raced to the hoop for a basket at the buzzer, lifting host San Leandro to a 54-52 win over O’Dowd. Both teams finished the league season with 9-1 records. O’Dowd coach Lou Richie looks at the upcoming matchup with a positive vibe. “I’m excited I have a team that we can scout and that we played against,” he said. “In my mind, we have four games to play and four games to prepare for. As far as preparation, we are ahead of the curve.”
Down year for CCS?
Need any proof this is a down year within the CCS? Not even CCS Open Division boys champion Sacred Heart Cathedral managed to secure a home game in Tuesday’s opening round. Instead, the 10th-seeded Fightin’ Irish (13-14) will hit the road in the Division I bracket along with No. 11 Bellarmine (20-7), the Open runner-up, and No. 14 Menlo-Atherton (24-4), only the second public team to advance past the Open quarterfinals. In Division II, No. 9 Serra (17-9), No. 11 St. Ignatius (13-13) and No. 14 St. Francis (13-13) must also board a bus, with only one West Catholic Athletic League member getting to play at home — No. 8 Archbishop Riordan (18-8) in Division I. It’s no different for the WCAL girls. Last year’s NorCal Division I champion Sacred Heart Cathedral failed to qualify for the postseason, while No. 11 Valley Christian (17-9), No. 12 St. Ignatius (16-10), No. 13 Presentation (15-9) and No. 14 St. Francis (15-9) will log mileage in the Division I bracket. The good news for CCS girls? Menlo School (21-5) is the No. 1 seed in Division II, plus the section claimed the Nos. 3-6 seeds in Division III and top two seeds in Division IV — No. 1 Silver Creek (22-4) and No. 2 M-A (16-11).
Double duty continues for Eastside coach
The boys and basketball teams at Eastside College Prep both earned a No. 4 seed at NorCals. That’s great news for Donovan Blythe, who this winter pulled double duty as head coach of both programs. It means he won’t have to discover a way to be in two places at once until at least Saturday’s semifinals. On the boys’ side, Eastside (20-7) claimed its first CCS title in a decade and was assigned to the NorCal Division V bracket. On the girls’ side, the Panthers (14-12), who reached the CIF state Division V final for three straight years, with titles in 2016 and 2017, were assigned to the NorCal Division II bracket.
Why hold playoffs at warp speed?
If it seems as if these basketball playoffs are going much quicker than pevious seasons, you’re right. The section playoffs started a week early and the state playoffs have been reduced by a week. The regionals start Tuesday and end the following Tuesday — three or four days before the state championship games, depending on the division. Last season, the regionals were held over an 11-day period, with a week between the regional and state finals. We addressed the new schedule last March in a Q&A with CIF ececutive director Roger Blake.
Here is some of his response:
“Over the last eight or nine years, when we have gone to a three-week state tournament, the biggest issue that we got from the participating teams and coaches that played this weekend, in the (state) championship, is that’s a long time. At this time of the season, it’s a whole week off. When we knew we were working the last five years to adjust the calendars — the CIF sports seasons to more match the school year because schools are now all starting in August — we were trying to time all those things to move it. That’s when we were looking at what do we need to do to adjust our tournament. We do it in girls volleyball already. We already have a model that we think works. We can make it work and it reduces the state tournament from three weeks to two. One of the pluses, we are going to be done (March 9). Those kids, especially in our lower divisions, will be playing baseball on Monday. It’s going to allow all those kids to be out in their other sports a lot quicker.”
Are Tuesday regional finals in home gyms good?
In our interview with Blake last year, he left open the possibility of moving high-profile regional championship matchups to larger facilities. Whether that happens remains to be seen.
Here was Blake’s response to that question:
“Because the expectation of the crowds will be different than in volleyball, one of the things will be looking at on those Tuesday night regional championships in the Open Division especially and possibly Division I is it’s pretty easy to look ahead with the schools, who might be there, working with them in advance. Let’s secure facilities in advance so that when you play on Friday night or Saturday night, that the following Tuesday we already have a venue.”
Private-public: Data doesn’t lie
From our Mike Lefkow:
Is it time to separate the public and private schools, at least for the North Coast Section basketball playoffs?
In the just-completed NCS playoffs, private schools won all 12 division titles — six boys divisions, six girls divisions. In eight championship games between a private and public school, the average margin of victory was 10.5 points.
Looking at the past three years, private schools have captured 33 of 36 NCS division basketball championships.
In Saturday’s Division III championship, Salesian beat Campolindo 64-53. That’s right. Salesian, MaxPreps’ No. 2-ranked team in California at 31-0, was taking on Campolindo, ranked No. 32 in California..
How about the creation of an eight-team Open Division — for both boys and girls — that would include the best of Salesian, Bishop O’Dowd, Moreau Catholic, De La Salle, St. Joseph Notre Dame, St. Patrick-St. Vincent, Branson, Cardinal Newman, Marin Catholic and maybe one or two public schools such as James Logan, Dublin and San Leandro?
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