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Bounces go Buffs way for opener
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Manteca boys basketball coach Brett Lewis feels like the bounces are going the Buffaloes’ way as of late.

Let’s start with their playoff seed.

The Buffaloes were granted a fifth seed and a home game at venerable Winter Gym when the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III bracket was released on Wednesday evening.

Favorable bounce No. 1.

“You can’t complain with that. We got rewarded for what we’ve done this season. We got rewarded for our guys and the (body) of work we’ve put together,” Lewis said. “It’s a tough matchup, though.”

Ah, yes, the opponent.

Manteca will welcome Lincoln of Lincoln, the No. 12 seed and third-place finisher in the Pioneer Valley League, when the playoffs begin on Wednesday.

The Fighting Zebras will make the 94-mile trek to Winter Gym to face an opponent confident it has dotted all the “I’s,” crossed all the “T’s,” and counted all the stripes.

In the last few weeks, Lewis called on friends in the Sacramento area to scout potential playoff match-ups. Lewis had eyes in the stands on Tuesday when Lincoln lost to PVL champion Foothill, 41-36.

Favorable bounce No. 2

“We rolled the dice and got lucky. We had stuff on them right away,” Lewis said. “Today, we got a couple of films, so we got some info on them. What’s good is that they run a lot of stuff (the University of the Pacific) runs, a lot of the same sets, and our guys know that stuff well.”

Manteca’s familiarity isn’t so much with the UOP men’s basketball program, but the high school power raised by former coach Bob Thomason’s bloodline.

You guessed it – Lincoln looks a lot like Sierra, the Valley Oak League’s four-time defending champion steered by head coach Scott Thomason.

Favorable bounce No. 3.

“It’s Thomason’s stuff. I’ve become familiar with it over the years, and we’ve got smart kids who have soaked it up,” said Lewis, who began his coaching career at East Union. “Lincoln won’t run it nearly as good, but a lot of the same looks are there.”

The Fighting Zebras are led by 6-foot-6, 210-pound senior Mitchell Holt, who Lewis says plays with the spirit and tenacity of Tyler Graves-Kelso, the Buffaloes’ undersized forward.

Jackson Sterling and Zach Green stalk the perimeter and stretch the defense with their ability to shoot from range. It all helps to create space for point guard John Reyes.

Lincoln gave up the second-fewest points in PVL play and have shown themselves to be a lock-down defensive team on game tape.

“They’re a very good defensive team. It’s going to be a challenge,” Lewis said. “It should be a defensive battle. Both of us have bigs. … It should be a challenge.”

Manteca has one of the top junior “bigs” in the section in Anand Hundal, a budding 6-foot, 8-inch prospect.

Hundal has emerged as one of the state’s top shot blockers, and his offensive game has grown to include spin moves and a fluid mid-range jumper.

But neither he, nor super sophomore Tydus Verhoeven or senior Marcus Montano, may be the key to winning Wednesday’s opening-round game.

Lewis believes his bench will play a valuable role this postseason.

As the Valley Oak League season wore on, the runner-up Buffaloes got key contributions from Frankie Lopez, Ja’Juan Freeman, Ryan Shippley and Graves-Kelso.

Lopez is second only to Montano in 3-point shooting, while Freeman started most of the season at point guard. Shippley ignited the Buffaloes’ rout of East Union last Friday with 13 first-quarter points.

“Some coaches believe in shortening the bench in the playoffs,” Lewis said. “I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t found it. You want to play with your horses; you want to win or lose with your horses, but …

“At the same time, if you have guys that can come off the bench and give you minutes, that’s huge.”

Favorable bounce No. 4.