Have no fears: Whether it be tonight or later this coming week, we’ll be back to basketball soon enough, following North Georgia’s recent spate of freezing temperatures, spitting rain and dustings of snow.
And that’s where the real drama begins.
The Gainesville High boys basketball team has a shot to show off its muscle in Region 8-AAAAA play, Buford and North Hall are in a dead heat in 8-AAAA, and contenders are looking to knock off powerful Banks County in 7-AAA.
Each team will need to finish strong in the final games of the regular season in order to be in contention for a coveted No. 1 seed in its region tournament.
Here are my predictions, based on how I see the final region standings shaking out.
Gainesville has long maintained a mantra of taking care of business in the regular season. Such a dedication will serve the Red Elephants well as they tackle Flowery Branch on Tuesday, Discovery on Friday at home, before travelling to Apalachee (Feb. 2) and Winder-Barrow (Feb. 5).
No. 3 Gainesville (13-4, 10-0 in region) currently sits at the top of the 8-AAAAA North standings, with Apalachee in second place. Below them is a three-team scrap for third, fourth and fifth place between Lanier, Flowery Branch and Discovery.
The Red Elephants are seeking their first region tournament title since the 2012-13 season when Gainesville finished as state runners-up under former coach Todd Cottrell.
The road trip to Winder will give Gainesville its toughest challenge to an undefeated region slate, but Flowery Branch has a habit of staying close in games. The Falcons (12-7, 3-6) earned a hard-fought Lanierland tournament victory over East Hall in the title game this December and led by two in the third quarter over Gainesville when the two teams met earlier this month.
What makes Gainesville so strong is its depth of talent. Spearheaded by Georgia State signee D’Marcus Simonds, the Red Elephants are a sum of their parts which include sharpshooters Messiah Dorsey and Harry Oliver, slashers Tae Turner and Xavier Bledson, and strong post players KJ Buffen and Bailey Minor.
Flowery Branch’s upcoming matchup against Apalachee will likely shape the seeds below Gainesville. Should the Falcons pull out a home win, it may give them the confidence needed to knock off Lanier at home on the final day of the regular season. The Longhorns beat the Falcons earlier this week in Sugar Hill.
The Falcons will have to contend with Apalachee’s Kamar Baldwin, who dropped 29 points in a strong effort against Gainesville. The Butler University signee knocked down shots from every spot on the floor, and is nearly unstoppable on his best day.
Flowery Branch’s John Mills and Gabe Holston may need to match him as a tandem on the offense.
David’s projected finish
4. Flowery Branch
1. Cedar Shoals
4. Clarke Central
Stephens County, the region’s surprise package of the year so far, was scheduled to tackle Buford at home in what may be an early de facto region title matchup on Friday prior to the winter weather.
Still, the winner of that eventual game will take the lead of the region race in the final games of the regular season. The Indians — who finished 8-19 last year — have won seven of their last eight games to build up a 15-4 record with an unblemished 3-0 region mark.
Buford (9-11, 4-0) will travel to Toccoa with a win over gritty North Hall on Jan. 15 in hand, looking to extend its impressive state playoff streak. The Wolves have made it to the postseason each season since 2010-11.
The Indians are hot shooters, averaging 65 points per game. But they still had to struggle in a double-overtime home win over Madison County, which is tied for second-bottom in the region.
North Hall (15-5, 3-1) has winnable games against North Oconee, Johnson and Chestatee before ending the regular season against Stephens County. If the Trojans can pick up at least three wins from that stretch, they can just about guarantee a top-four seed.
David’s projected finish
2. North Hall
3. Stephens County
4. White County
5. Monroe Area
7. North Oconee
8. Madison County
It’s not the Zez Steeple Show in Homer, but it’s pretty close. The senior point guard has shown style and poise during No. 7 Banks County’s run to the top of the region standings.
He dropped 39 points for the Leopards (18-2, 8-0) during a recent win against No. 9 East Hall, and should continue to produce as the regular season wraps up. Banks County finishes the season with just one game against an opponent at the top half of the standings.
That home matchup against Lumpkin County (Feb. 2) will be talk of the town, but should matter little as long as the Leopards sweep Dawson County, Franklin County and Fannin County, who are all .500 or less on the season.
Lumpkin County (16-5, 6-2) has already flourished under former Johnson High coach Jeff Steele. The Indians are tied with East Hall for second place in the region and have several high-motor contributors in the starting lineup. Lumpkin County finished 9-20 last season before Steele left Oakwood.
The biggest matchup of the regular season should be Lumpkin County’s trip to East Hall on Tuesday. The Vikings (13-6, 6-2) fought with passion in the Lanierland title game to Flowery Branch. Their one region loss since then has been to Banks County.
East Hall has shown remarkable balance so far this season. Look for Tylor Brown to be deadly from mid-range, while Triston Cooper, Andy Lara and Markese Jackson should lock down on defense against Lumpkin’s Jack Howard. Howard recently surpassed his 1,000th point for the Indians in a win against Dawson County.
David’s projected finish
1. Banks County
2. Lumpkin County
3. East Hall
4. West Hall
5. Franklin County
6. Dawson County
7. Fannin County