Flowery Branch boys vs. Elbert County
When: 7 tonight
Where: Elbert County
Records: Flowery Branch (15-11); Elbert County (23-5)
Seeds: Flowery Branch No. 3 Region 7-AAA; Elbert County No. 2 Region 8-AAA
Coaches: Flowery Branch, Duke Mullis. Elbert County, Larry Brown.
Key players: Flowery Branch, G Josh Barrett (6-2, Sr.); C Ishmael Hollis (6-7, Jr.); G Phillips Chau (5-11, Sr.). Elbert County, F Rod Rucker (6-5, Sr.); F Tray Heard (6-3, Jr.); G Keldrick Rambert (6-3, Jr.).
Outlook: The Falcons enter tonight’s game having won four of their last five, but that’s still a far cry from what their first-round playoff opponent, Elbert County, put together for nearly three months.
Class AAA’s 10th-ranked Blue Devils have won 20 of their last 22, with a 16-game winning streak along the way. It ended in the Region 8-AAA finals last Saturday, when they lost to Franklin County by three points.
With the dramatic loss still fresh in the minds of Elbert County, Flowery Branch will face even more pressure, especially playing on the road. With individual Blue Devils’ players hitting double figures in rebounding 22 times this season, the Falcons must be precise with their shots, or they will find themselves back on defense quickly.
Luckily, Flowery Branch has been making its shots and finding its own rebounds. Josh Barrett scored 20 points and Ishmael Hollis had 18 points and 17 rebounds in last Saturday’s win against North Hall. The 6-foot-7 Hollis is taller than any player on Elbert County’s roster, and Barrett and Chau are more than capable of making multiple shots from behind the 3-point line.
The Blue Devils are led by forward Rod Rucker, who has 13 double-doubles this season, including a 38-point, 24-rebound performance against Hart County last week.
Lakeview boys vs. Greenforest Christian
When: 7:30 tonight
Records: Lakeview (18-10); Greenforest (24-4)
Seeds: Lakeview, No. 4 Region 8-A; Greenforest, No. 1 seed Region 7-A
Coaches: Lakeview, Seth Vining. Greenforest, Billy Anderson
Key players: Lakeview, PG Haughton Carswell (5-7, Sr.); SG Tyler Ward (5-10, Sr.); G/F Daniel Olvera (6-2, Jr.). Greenforest, F Jamel Jones (6-5, Jr.); PG Joe Chase (6-0, Jr.); F Jimmy Gibson (6-4, Sr.).
Outlook: Last year Lakeview played its first home playoff game in the program’s history and made good on the home-court advantage with its first playoff win.
The Lions seemed headed for a similar outcome in 2009, winning 13 of their first 15 region games before the season skipped the tracks two weeks ago. Since then, Lakeview has lost three of its last four, including a pair of losses in last week’s region tournament by a combined total of seven points.
The biggest challenge tonight for the Lions may be finding a way to deal with the length of Greenforest. All five Eagles starters check in on the top side of 6-feet tall, led by rangy forwards, Jones and Gibson.
Lakeview predicates its offense on running and spreading the floor to find holes in the opponents’ defense — often behind the 3-point line where Ward scores many of his points.
For Greenforest, Chase orchestrates the offense from his point guard spot. He can expect to be harassed by a Lakeview defense that thrives on pressure and forcing turnovers.
He’ll be matched by Lakeview’s undersized four-year starter, Carswell. Now in his fourth straight playoff appearance, Carswell leads the Lions with his ball-handling ability, court vision and smarts.
Lakeview girls vs. Paideia
When: 4 today
Records: Lakeview (17-7); Paideia (18-10)
Seeds: Lakeview No. 3 Region 8-A; Paideia No. 2 seed Region 7-A
Coaches: Lakeview, Buster Brown. Paideia, Paul Meiere, Jr.
Key players: Lakeview, G Louisa Jacobs (5-8, Jr.); G Maddie Haymore (5-6, Jr.); F Megan Rochester (5-7, Jr.). Paideia, PF/C Alex Abraham (5-11, Jr.); PG/SG Courtney Creer (5-8, Sr.).
Outlook: Paideia comes in as the ninth-ranked team in the state having won nine of its last 11 games. The Lady Pythons don’t just play one defense nor are they great in one area, but instead do a little bit of everything well.
On paper, the matchup is even. Both teams average just over 40 points per game and allow only 34.
However, what’s been the case all season still rings true in the first round of the state playoffs: Lakeview is, on average, smaller than its opponent and that could cause problems.
The ninth-ranked Lady Pythons boast two 5-11 post players in Abraham and sophomore Aneesah Daniels, meaning rebounds will be harder to come by for Lakeview and scoring in the halfcourt will be diffcult.
The Lady Lions have made a practice of beating their opponents down the floor all season and tonight’s game should be no exception. A key to victory for Lakeview will be making the easy shot opportunites that come its way by running the floor, and Haymore, Jacobs and Brittany Moore hitting 3-pointers and short jumpers.
"We’re going to have to play really well to have a chance to win," Brown said.
North Hall boys vs. Franklin County
When: 7 tonight
Records: North Hall (20-8); Franklin County (23-5)
Seeds: North Hall boys No. 4 seed Region 7-AAA; Franklin County No. 1 seed Region 8-AAA
Coaches: North Hall, Benjie Wood. Franklin County, Harry Marsh
Key players: North Hall, SG Kanler Coker (6-3, Fr.); SF Chase Syfan (6-0, Jr.); PG Ethan Satterfield (5-11, Sr.). Franklin County, G Demario Mayfield (6-4, Sr.); SF Rico Mayfield (6-2, Sr.); SG Lee South (6-0, So.).
Outlook: North Hall’s coach doesn’t think that his team has been deflated by its finish in the Region 7-AAA tournament.
The Trojans qualified for the playoffs with a win against East Hall, then dropped games that determined seeding for the postseason against West Hall and Flowery Branch.
"We lost to two good teams in the region tournament and had a chance to win both of them," Wood said. "It’s the playoffs now and the bottom line is you have to play someone good this time of year."
Franklin County has no such issues with consistency down the stretch. The Lions captured their first boys basketball region title with a 58-55 win against Elbert County last Saturday. The Lions came from behind in the final minute to win, thanks to free throws from Demario Mayfield, Rico Mayfield and Dashun Merritt.
University of Georgia signee Demario Mayfield is the Lions’ primary scoring threat. He scored 33 for Franklin County in its region semifinal victory against Eastside, topping 2,000 career points. Mayfield went over 20 points scoring in a single game eight times this season.
"Everything goes through (Mayfield) on that team," Wood said. "But they have several guys that can shoot the ball and score."
Riverside Military vs. Pepperell
When: 4 today
Records: Riverside Military (13-6); Pepperell (12-13)
Seeds: Riverside Military No. 1 Region 8-AA; Pepperell No. 4 Region 7-AA
Coaches: Riverside Military, Matt Bohon. Pepperell, Steve Horne.
Key players: Riverside, F Brandon McKinney (6-5, Jr.); SG Steven Frady (5-11, Sr.); PF John Ogunniya (6-6, Sr.). Pepperell, G Kendric Cheeks (5-11, Sr.); F Jonathon Waters (6-3, Jr.).
Outlook: Riverside’s opening round opponent should be fairly familiar, as Pepperell was the team that knocked the Eagles out of the state football playoffs this year.
Riverside’s basketball team should fair better as the Eagles come in riding a nine-game winning streak that included the program’s first GHSA region title.
After starting the year 2-5, the Eagles are playing their best basketball right now in large part due to the play of McKinney, Frady and Ogunniya. McKinney and Ogunniya are just half of the four 6-5 or taller players on Riverside’s roster, which could cause a huge matchup problem for the Dragons.
Pepperell, which has lost 4-of-6, only has two players listed at 6-3 or taller, and although it gets solid guard play from Cheeks and Ben Lovingood, the Eagles’ size inside will be tough to contain.
West Hall boys vs. Hart County
When: 7 tonight
Records: West Hall (23-6); Hart County (17-11)
Seeds: West Hall No. 2 seed Region 7-AAA; Hart County No. 3 seed Region 8-AAA
Coaches: West Hall, Warren Sellers. Hart County, Mike Cleveland
Key players: West Hall, G Kavon Williams (5-10, Sr.); PF Shunquez Stephens (6-4, So.); SF Rodney Gibson (6-4, Sr.). Hart County, PF Jeffrey Rucker (6-2, Sr.); SF Johnny Christopher (6-2, Jr.); SG Terry Brewer (6-1, Jr.).
Outlook: It’s been an up-and-down season for West Hall.
Highlighted by a Lanierland championship, the Spartans sprung from the gates, winning their first 11 games and 14 of their first 15 before stumbling early in the region schedule. They’ve rebounded since then, losing only twice (both to Gainesville) in their last 12 games.
Tonight, they’ll welcome the Bulldogs, who they defeated 77-71 on Nov. 24.
Throughout the season, West Hall has shown the ability to score at will and to function efficiently in the half-court game. Their proficiency in both was displayed in last week’s run to the region championship game when the Spartans torched Gilmer 100-30, then slowed it down for a pair of low-scoring wins over West Forsyth and North Hall.
Williams and Stephens are proven scorers from outside, but the key tonight could fall on the frontline, led by Stephens, Rodney Gibson, Marquise Stephens and Kyle Weatherly. Each big man checks in at 6-foot-3 or taller and will be key in keeping the hard-charging Bulldogs off the boards.
Commerce boys vs. Paideia
When: 5:30 tonight
Records: Commerce (13-12); Paideia (21-7)
Seeds: Commerce No. 3 Region 8-A; Paideia No. 2 Region 7-A
Coaches: Commerce, Chad Bridges; Paideia, JoJo Cadray
Key players: Commerce, SG Talmadge Green (5-9, Sr.); C Cameron Billings (5-11, Sr.); SG Bubba Bonds (5-8, So.). Paideia, PF Paul Lane (6-6, Sr.); SG Nigel Snipes (6-5, So.); SF E. Victor Nickerson (6-7, So.).
Outlook: Commerce will have its hands full against an eighth-ranked Padeia squad that has at its disposal a pair of sophomores (Snipes and Nickerson) whose play is already getting the attention of Southeastern Conference Schools.
The Tigers, who average just over 52 points per game to Paideia’s 54, will also have to contend with a stingy man-to-man defense that gives up only 46 points per game.
That said, don’t count Commerce out. The Tigers beat Lakeview in the region tournament after losing to the Lions by an average of 16 points in the two regular season meetings.
The kind of effort it took to pull off that victory will be exactly what Commerce needs tonight.
Dawson County boys vs. Chattooga
When: 7:30 tonight
Records: Dawson County (16-11); Chattooga (20-4)
Seeds: Dawson County No. 2 Region 8-AA; Chattooga No. 3 Region 7-AA
Coaches: Dawson County, Thad Burgess. Chattooga, Lamar Turner.
Key players: Dawson County, PG Stephen Scaife (5-10, So.); SF Kaleb Holbrook (6-1, So.); SG Seth Stowers (6-2, Sr.). Chattooga, PG Nic Perry (5-11, Sr.); SF Rashad Ramsey (5-10, Jr.); PF Perie Finley (6-4, Sr.).
Outlook: Despite finishing second in the region, the Tigers didn’t get any breaks with their first-round opponent. Chattooga, which averages 79.1 points per game, won 20 games this season, including 13 of its first 14.
The Tigers start the playoffs hot, as the team had won five straight before losing to Riverside Military Academy in the finals of the Region 8-A tournament.
Dawson County’s success lies with the 3-pointer, as the Tigers have several players that can shoot from deep, especially Stowers and Scaife. Scaife led the Tigers with 22 points in their semifinal win over Union County.
The shooters of Dawson County should benefit from playing on their home floor, as the Tigers are playing host to a state tournament game for the first time in school history.
While playing at home may be abnormal, playing in the playoffs isn’t, and the Tigers should bank on their experience against a tough, athletic Chattooga team.