Before the playoffs began, I submitted my predictions for how it would unfold. On the boys’ side, it may have been the worst bracket ever submitted in the history of sports. My expertise was disproven so forcefully that I might as well have been covering Ecuadorian fencing.
After two rounds, all but one of my semifinalists have been eliminated. Gone are the defending state champs Pace Academy, along with last year’s runners-up, Columbia. Rabun County also lost. The only teams I have still alive are Northeast and Washington County, and I have Northeast losing in the semis. I have Washington County losing in the quarterfinals.
My predictions on the boys’ side are an abject failure.
That being said, I am the only one who published predictions for 2A, so I still won my bracket challenge. I’ve been getting some invited criticism over my miscalculations, but as I said before the playoffs began, it’s easy to look at a bracket in hindsight and say, “That’s wrong.” If I had my bracket to do over, I don’t see how I could have made different predictions.
The way the rankings are set up is the successful teams from the previous season usually get the benefit of the doubt when preseason rankings are made. From there, it’s up to those teams to prove they remain at the top, or they get bumped in favor of a stronger team. Well, Pace Academy and Columbia proved they remained at the top all season, playing some of the most challenging schedules in the state, regardless of classification.
Neither Pace nor Columbia lost to another 2A school this season, except when they beat each other, going 1-1 in the season series. Columbia won 71-69 on Dec. 7 and Pace won 80-69 in the 6-2A championship on Feb. 18. They had shown no sign of letting up from last year despite key losses from last year’s teams so yeah, I would pick them to reach the finals again if given the chance.
The other side of that coin is both teams, ranked No. 1 and No. 2, had a top five opponent waiting for them in the second round. Top-ranked Pace hosted No. 3 Butler, and No. 4 Westside hosted No. 2 Columbia. Heading in, I thought it was possible, yet improbable, that even one of Westside or Columbia would win, so of course both won.
Butler (20-6) knocked off the defending champion Knights 60-56, with senior Kendrell Glanton — a 6-foot-4 wing — notching a game-high 26 points on 8-for-15 shooting, including 8-for-9 from the free throw line and 2-for-5 from 3. The Bulldogs rebounded from a 52-38 loss to Westside in the Region 4 championship and have beaten Toombs County (57-42) and Pace to get to the quarterfinals, where they’ll play No. 7 Washington County (23-4).
Region 4 champions Westside (25-3) downed Columbia 82-72. What makes the Patriots impressive is they’re winning with a young nucleus. Their top scorers are three juniors — Khalon Hudson (17.5 points), Jalexs Ewing (16.7) and Amauri Tillman (15.3) — and sophomore Demarco Middleton (8.7 points). They’ll host unranked Early County (13-12), which just eliminated Region 7 champions Chattooga 70-68.
Others that made it to the quarterfinals that I missed are No. 5 Vidalia (25-1), and Woodville (17-10) and Model (22-6), both of which are unranked.
Though this was the worst bracket I’ve published since I’ve been with the AJC, in reality it’s not like there were a series of massive upsets. Both Pace and Columbia lost to top five teams. It just wasn’t there year.
On the girls’ side, my predictions are more on par with those made by someone who actually covers 2A basketball. My Final Four is still intact and the most glaring misfire is picking No. 9 Thomasville, champions of Region 1, to reach the quarterfinals. They were eliminated by No. 4 seed Lamar County in the first round.
The biggest story to emerge is that Fannin County and Josey will once again meet in the playoffs after playing for the championship a year ago. Fannin County, which lost, is No. 1 now, and Josey is No. 6. Both are playing like state champions, and I’ve picked the Eagles to win again. Both are No. 1 seeds, but the Eagles will host via the GHSA’s universal coin toss, which awarded teams on the bottom half of the bracket home-court advantage in cases where like seeds meet.
Josey (23-5) is going to be hard to beat. After narrowly escaping with the Region 4 championship in a 63-58 double overtime win over Laney, the Eagles have beaten Jeff Davis and Banks County a combined 113-49 in the first two rounds. Their win streak is at 11. Fannin County (26-2) hasn’t lost this calendar year and its win streak is at 18. The Rebels have won the first two rounds a combined 113-70 over Temple and Washington County.
Both the Rebels and Eagles return their major contributors from last year’s title game, so they’ll be familiar with each other. The Rebels had a double-digit lead in the second half but couldn’t close out the Eagles in a neutral setting. Now they’ll have to do it in Augusta. It should be a great game.