East Hall vs. Manchester
When: 6:30 tonight
Where: Manchester High, Manchester
Records: East Hall (22-7, No. 3 Region 8-AA); Manchester (20-2, No. 1 Region 5-AA).
Coaches: East Hall, Joe Dix; Manchester, Curtis Noble
Key players: East Hall, G J.C. Hampton (6-2, Sr.); SG Brian Edwards (6-1, Jr.); SG Hayden Chapman (6-0, Jr.). Manchester, SG Saiquan Terry (5-11, Sr.); PG Kevis Martin (5-10, Sr.); G Damien Turner (5-11, Sr.).
Outlook: Playing on the road isn't necessarily a bad thing for the Vikings. Hampton scored 40 on the road in a first round win against Dade County last Saturday in Trenton, marking one of five times this season he's had more than 35 in a road game.
Of course, the way the rest of East Hall's players are shooting, it's hard for an opposing team to use all its resources to shut down Hampton (26 points per game, four assists this season).
Against Dade County, Chapman finished with 16 points, just a shade above his season average. Edwards is also capable of taking pressure off of Hampton, scoring about 16 points and seven rebounds per game.
"We expect some team to eventually double and triple team him (Hampton), but it hasn't happened yet," Dix said. "The way Brian and Hayden are shooting the ball, it makes that hard to do."
"East Hall has too many shooters to concentrate just on (Hampton)," Noble said.
Meanwhile, second-ranked Manchester is also very talented, sporting a roster loaded with quick, athletic guards.
Terry and Martin, both under six feet tall, are the Blue Devils' leading scorers, averaging 14 points a night, and Turner scores about 10 points a game. This game is a rematch of last year's second round in the playoffs, a 76-68 win for East Hall.
"Knowing (East Hall's) personnel already, I expect this game is going to be a track meet up and down the court the entire game," Noble said.
Manchester is seeking its first trip to the state quarterfinals since winning the Class AA state title in 2007.
Tonight's winner faces the Greater Atlanta Christian/Jefferson winner in the state quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton.
North Hall vs. Carrollton
When: 7 tonight
Where: Carrollton High, Carrollton
Records: North Hall (24-5, No. 2 Region 8-AAA); Carrollton (26-3, No. 1 Region 6-AAA)
Coaches: North Hall, Benjie Wood; Carrollton, Tim Criswell
Key players: North Hall, PG Ebo Smith (6-2, Jr.); F Adam Kelly (6-3, Jr.); G Griffin Olson (6-1, Jr.). Carrollton, PG Telvin Brown (5-8, Sr.); SG Josh Barge (6-1, Sr.); SG Tory Johnson (6-1, Sr.).
Outlook: Wood says his team hasn't backed down from a challenge all season, which is exactly what the Trojans have on their hands tonight against second-ranked Carrollton. During the season, North Hall's coach repeated the fact that no one expected his team to find success with a young and inexperienced group, but they responded with a 14-game winning streak and finished as Region 8-AAA runner-up.
Ebo Smith has been the leader all season scoring with about 18 points a night. However, a handful of players have also been steady contributors to a group that plays predominately juniors and sophomores. Last Saturday, Preston Smith led the Trojans with 14 points in a 62-52 victory against Cartersville.
"This team has been an absolute joy to coach all season," Wood said. "They trust each other, the coaching staff and playing in our system."
Tonight, North Hall is going up against a talented group from Carrollton, led by senior Josh Barge (18 points, five rebounds a game). Not far behind for Carrollton in scoring is Johnson with 12 points and four rebounds a night, and Brown scores about eight points a night.
The Carrollton Trojans have also glided into the second round with a win against Troup to secure the Region 6-AAA title two weeks ago, followed by a 13-point win against Grady last Friday in the first round of state.
"Carrollton's very athletic and doesn't have any weaknesses that I can see," Wood added. "They are certainly deserving of the No. 2 ranking in the state."
The winner of tonight's game faces the winner of top-ranked Columbia/Dalton in the state quarterfinals at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center at 8:30 p.m. Saturday in Dalton.
Buford at Dawson County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Dawson County High School, Dawsonville
Records: Buford (22-7, No. 2 Region 6-AA); Dawson County (24-6, No. 1 Region 8-AA)
Coaches: Buford, Allen Whitehart. Dawson County, Thad Burgess.
Key players: Buford, PG Isaiah Williams (6-1, Jr.); SG A.J. Davis (6-8, Jr.); PF T.J. Shipes (6-8, Sr.). Dawson County, G Tyler Dominy (6-4, Jr.); F Bruce Clark (6-4, Jr.); G Gunnar Armstrong (5-11, Jr.).
Outlook: It's been a season of first for Dawson County: first region title since 1969, first home playoff win in program history.
Conversely, it's been a season of repeats for Buford: The Wolves are again a top-10 team, but only the No. 2 seed from 6-AA after struggling against nemesis Greater Atlanta Christian in the region title game. And again the Wolves appear poised for a deep playoff run.
Both teams would like to continue their respective trends tonight.
Ninth-ranked Dawson County has won seven straight, including wins over East Hall, Jefferson and a 54-52 win over Calhoun in the first round of the playoffs last weekend.
"It's been kind of neat with all these elite teams we've been playing," Burgess said. "Beating East Hall really gave us some confidence and I feel like pushed us over that hump. Now we've got the premiere program in the state coming in with Buford. It's going to be a great challenge."
No. 8 Buford advanced with a 78-60 win over Spencer in first round. Shipes, a Georgia State signee, scored 33.
Three of the Wolves' seven losses have been to Greater Atlanta Christian, the top-ranked team in Class AA and the team that defeated the Wolves in last year's state championship game.
Both coaches agree the battle under the boards will be key. The Wolves will hold a distinct height advantage, but Dawson County has won the rebounding battle in "28 or 29" of its 30 games this season according to Burgess.
"Regardless of how big you are or how high you jump, if you don't get good position, you're not going to be a good rebounding team," Whitehart said. "And that's something Dawson County does very well."
The Tigers have thrived this season on defense, holding opponents to less than 60 points in all but two games.
"We need to come out and be ready to play at game speed as soon as the game starts," Whitehart said. We know it's going to be a hostile environment, our kids just have to be ready to play."
The winner will face the Coosa/Jordan winner at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the state quarterfinals at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton.
Jefferson vs. Greater Atlanta Christian
When: 7 tonight
Records: Jefferson (20-9, No. 2 Region 8-AA); Greater Atlanta Christian (24-5, No. 1 Region 6-AA)
Coaches: Jefferson, Bolling Dubose. Greater Atlanta Christian, Eddie Martin.
Key players: Jefferson, SG Austin Thompson (5-10, Sr.); C Will Puckett (6-4, Sr.); PG Andre Daniel (5-9, Sr.). Greater Atlanta Christian, G/F Cole Hobbs (6-6, Sr.), G Delano Spencer (6-3, Jr.).
Outlook: Jefferson's task is a tall one: become the first Class AA team from the state of Georgia to defeat Greater Atlanta Christian in nearly three years.
The top-ranked Spartans have won back to back state titles, and haven't lost to a team in their own classification since the 2009 state semifinals.
This year's GAC team features depth and size: in addition to Hobbs, a Kennesaw State signee, and Spencer, a high-level Division-I prospect, the Spartans get solid production from its low-post combo: Robert Armstrong (6-7, Sr.) and Isaiah Wilkins (6-5, So.).
The Dragons will combat that size with an uptempo style of play. Jefferson is at its best this year when the pace is fast, and is only 6-7 when scoring less than 60 points.
The Dragons defeated North Murray 68-50 in the first round behind a career high 34 points from Thompson.
The winner of tonight's game will face the East Hall/Manchester winner at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton.