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Painting the playoff picture
Manteca currently No. 1 in D-III; 3 others on the bubble
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Fourteen Sac-Joaquin Section playoff tickets have already been punched.

After the final regular-season games are played out this week, 50 more berths will be claimed in the Divisions I-IV brackets.

The Bulletin took on the painstaking task of mapping out the current postseason seeds in each division, including the six-team Division V and IV brackets, only to find out that nothing is close to be settled. The complexion of the playoffs could change dramatically this week.

The section will reveal the final pairings Saturday evening.

Projecting first-round matchups is much tougher these days after the section went with its current postseason format last year.

Here’s a quick review:

• In Division I-IV, 64 teams qualify out of 20 leagues, with conference champions and runners-up earning automatic bids. The rest of the 24-team pool will be made up of at-large qualifiers, which must win at least two league games to be considered.

Under this format, several teams are on the bubble between divisions depending on how other teams fare. So, one team in Week 8 could be sitting in Division II, but this week is solidly entrenched in III.

There are few cases — such as that of St. Mary’s, Christian Brothers, Will C. Wood and Sacramento — where teams cannot drop more than two divisions lower than their league placements no matter where their enrollment stands.

• The 16 largest schools, enrollment-wise, will be placed in the Division I bracket, with the next 16 in Division II and the next in Division III.

Division IV is separated into two, with the eight largest of the group in IV-a, and the next eight in IV-b. The IV-A and IV-B winners meet for the championship.

• In the smaller divisions, V and VI, a 12-team field will split in half to separate the two brackets. The top two seeds in each division are granted first-round byes.

• Playoff seeds are first determined by number of wins. Tiebreakers include head-to-head results, league standing (outright and co-champions would be seeded above other qualifiers), combined wins of all opponents and Calpreps rankings — in that order.

The section’s playoff committee reserves the right to move teams up and down to avoid first-round contests between league rivals. In addition, low-seeded league champions could be bumped up a few rungs and may even host a first-round game against a higher-seeded team.

As it stands, only one area team, Manteca (9-0), is 100 percent guaranteed a postseason berth.

Rival East Union (6-3), the Buffaloes’ opponent this Friday, is likely in no matter the outcome. Last year, only one 6-4 team in the section failed to make the playoffs, though four sub-.500 and five 5-5 teams qualified by earning automatic berths through their leagues.

Manteca, with already a share of the Valley Oak League title in hand, currently holds the top seed in Division III.

Even if the Buffaloes were to lose Friday, a lot would need to happen up north for them to lose that spot.

Pioneer (9-1), Division III’s third-seeded team, poses the only threat to Manteca for the No. 1 position, with the Patriots holding the edge on quality of opponents.

But for Pioneer to be No. 1 it has to beat Woodland (5-4), Tri-County Conference rival Inderkum, the league’s first-place team and Division-II contender, would have to get upset by 4-5 Natomas to force a two-way share of the TCC title, and Manteca needs to lose to East Union.

No. 2 Patterson has no shot at No. 1 because Manteca’s opponents will have more combined victories by season’s end.

If the playoffs were to start today, No. 11 East Union would travel to No. 6 Casa Roble. Sierra (5-4) is 13th but could assure itself a berth with a win over Weston Ranch Friday.

Should Sierra do its part, the 2010 season would mark the first in which all three schools in Manteca are represented in the playoffs in the same year.

The team no one wants to face in the first-round of the Division III playoffs is Del Oro. Never mind the Golden Eagles’ unflattering 5-4 record — their losses have come against powerhouses, including Las Vegas-based and nationally regarded Bishop Gorman.

Del Oro is in line to earn a piece of a championship in arguably the most competitive top-to-bottom conference in the section, the Sierra Foothill League. Clinching the co-title Friday would move it up from its current position at 12 while guaranteeing it a first-round home game regardless of its final seeding.

Ripon is another area team that remains in the hunt.

Simply put, if the Indians end the Trans Valley League season with a win at Orestimba Friday, they are in. Orestimba just so happens to be the eighth- and last-seeded team in Division IV-B.

Escalon (8-1) is an automatic qualifier out of the TVL and is No. 1 in Division IV-B.

If the Cougars remain there, Orestimba-Ripon would probably switch spots with No. 7 Central Catholic of the Western Athletic Conference. That would make for an interesting 1-8 matchup between small-school powerhouses from the southern half of the section.

In Division IV-A, Sonora of the VOL is the No. 8 seed with Calaveras at 1. That potential first-round meeting would be a rematch of their non-league thriller earlier this year won by Sonora, 48-47.