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Coaches scrambling for 1st-round scouting reports

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Head coach Jim Agostini and East Union were elated to find out that they will play a first-round playoff game. The No. 8 Lancers open with No. 9 Placer next Tuesday in the Sac-Joaquin Section Divis...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED February 22, 2014 1:02 a.m.


The Bulletin

Area coaches should have a better understanding of what their teams are up against by now.

It was a different story Wednesday afternoon when the Sac-Joaquin Section released its postseason basketball brackets. Leading up to that point, most teams were in the dark as to where they would be seeded and with whom they would be matched for the opening round.

For more than two decades, the SJS’ now-defunct playoff power ratings system gave coaches a heads up on where their teams could land seeding-wise, and they could get a head start on scouting out potential first-round opponents.

The good ol’ days, says Sierra coach Scott Thomason said.

“I liked the old way better,” he said Wednesday.

The new way involves little, if any, number crunching. Finish in the top three in your league and you’re in, period. Nine leagues with the best winning percentage over the previous three years in the SJS playoffs were each awarded a fourth qualifier. Seedings are decided behind closed doors with the section’s playoff committee using certain criteria — such as overall strength of schedule and MaxPreps rankings — as a guide.

Thomason thought his reigning Valley Oak League champion Timberwolves deserved better than the No. 6 seed it got, and they’re paired up against Central Valley for an intriguing first-round matchup of 20-win teams.

“It is what it is,” Thomason said. “Now we’re going to move forward and get to know as much about Central Valley as possible.”

The playoffs officially tipped off Friday with out-bracket games, none involving area schools. Here’s a closer look at who Sierra and other local teams are facing next week:

Division III boys

Three days ago, Thomason knew very little about the current Central Valley squad, but he’s not going in completely blind having coached opposite Daryyl Dickson in the past.

The Hawks (21-6) of Ceres visit Sierra (20-6) next Wednesday in what will be their first-ever postseason appearance in their eighth varsity season. Central Valley started out in the VOL when it opened in 2005-06 and moved to the Western Athletic Conference in 2010-11.

“We have nothing to lose,” Dickson told the Ceres Courier. “Nobody expects us to win. We definitely have no fear going in playing them. They’re beatable. Our goal is to win our next four games.”

Both teams are going in feeling slighted by their placement in the bracket. Central Valley is slotted at No. 11 despite owning the third best record among Division III squads. The Hawks are led by 6-foot-6 forward Ryan Donnelly (17.1 points per game), guard Jaron Dickson (15.1 ppg) and Modesto Christian transfer Deavon Brown (15.1 ppg).

Manteca (19-8), the second-place team out of the VOL, is the area’s hottest boys team having won seven in a row, a streak that includes a 47-45 triumph over rival Sierra. All that got the Buffaloes was a first-round meeting with No. 4 Christian Brothers (18-9), a battle-tested group that, other than top-seeded Modesto Christian, played the toughest schedule in Division III.

The Falcons were the runners-up in the Capital Valley Conference. They are deep with talent and can scoring from anywhere with guards Prestin Barnett (10 ppg, 4.6 assists) and Matt Vanenburg (8.0 ppg) and 6-4 wing Brandon Thompson (9.6 ppg, 5.4 rebounds) leading the way.

Division III girls

Coaches for both eighth-seeded East Union (18-8) and No. 9 Placer (14-12) were both pleased with where their teams were placed.

Jim Agostini of EU was pleasantly surprised to have been awarded a first-round home game after taking third in the VOL. Placer coach Tony Camillucci told the Auburn Journal he is “not complaining” for having to travel all the way down from Auburn to open the playoffs next Tuesday.

“It’s a great experience for the younger kids and it’s nice for the seniors. It’s all icing on the cake now,” Camillucci said.

Strange. Agostini said almost the same thing Wednesday.

“It’s just a great experience for our younger girls, and I’m happy for our seniors who get to play at Dalben Center one last time,” Agostini said.

The Hillmen finished in a three-way tie for third place in the competitive Pioneer Valley League. They are anchored by 6-foot-1 sophomore Baylee Vanderdoes (16.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.6 blocks) and 5-11 senior Elena Daniel (16 ppg, 10 rpg, 2.2 bpg).

Sixth-seeded Weston Ranch (18-8) will also be home Tuesday, when they entertain tradition-rich El Camino (13-13). The Eagles, however, have had four different head coaches in the last four years. Madalyn Bates (12.0 ppg), Alexis Price (11.6 ppg) and 6-foot center Destinee Bowie (6.8 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 4.4 bpg) lead the Capital Athletic League runners-up.

Division IV boys

Lathrop (16-10) squeaked out a 66-62 overtime win over Sierra in the regular-season finale to squeak its way into the postseason as the VOL’s No. 3 team. Being a Division IV school allows the sixth-seeded Spartans to host a playoff basketball game for the first time.

They are paired up with Southern League champion Mariposa (23-3), which boasts an inflated record because of a weak schedule. The Bears are dangerous, nonetheless. While low on post players, Mariposa is loaded in the backcourt. Similar teams in the VOL gave Lathrop fits in the regular season; two losses to vertically-challenged Weston Ranch and another to Kimball forced the Spartans into their win-or-stay-home predicament against Sierra this past Tuesday.

With Ripon Christian leaving the SL, Mariposa could have a dynasty-in-the-making with sophomore brothers Dalton (10.6 ppg) and Noah (8.0 ppg) Rockwood among its top players. Seven different Bears average at least 6.2 points, but senior point guard Sam Tucker (11.6) is their go-to guy.

Ripon (8-19) is the area’s lowest-seeded squad at No. 15, matching it up with No. 2 Natomas (15-8). The Nighthawks are champions of the tough Tri-County Conference, which has Division II and III schools.

Natomas has a big-time scorer in 6-4 Phillip Morgan, who erupted for 34 points in a league win over Yuba City. He averaged nearly 20 ppg in conference play last year.

Division V boys

Buckingham Charter (12-9) is an unknown around these parts, but No. 5 Ripon Christian (21-5) will get a good look at the 12th-seeded Knights out of Vacaville who share the same mascot. Guard/forward Joey Moralez is Buckingham’s top scorer.

Division V girls

Unlike other area teams, No. 3 Ripon Christian (21-3) has an opportunity to go out and scout its next opponent. The top three-seeded squads in this bracket all have byes in the 11-team field.

Whoever the Knights play, they’ll be big favorites while carrying an 18-game winning streak into the postseason. They’ll await Tuesday’s No. 6 Sacramento Waldorf-No. 11 Western Sierra winner. Sac Waldorf is 12-12 and led by 6-foot sophomore Lili Olson (15.7 ppg, 14.7 rpg, 3.6 rpg). The Wolves of Rocklin are 7-11.

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