Our breakdown of the SJS Division I-V basketball playoffs prior to the start of the section tournaments on Feb. 15.
THE FAVORITE: Sheldon-Sacramento (21-5, 10-0 Delta River League). The Huskies are unbeaten against Section foes and have logged lots of miles in search of top national competition to prepare for another lengthy playoff run. The backcourt duo of D’Erryl Williams and Dakarai Allen (both San Diego State signees) are just two of a host of returners from last year’s state finalist squad. Head coach Joey Rollings’ team got even stronger this season with the addition of senior transfer Darin Johnson, who will head to Washington on scholarship, and freshman point guard Devin Greene. Since the first day of practice, Sheldon was the pick to repeat as Div. I champs, and nothing has changed that so far.
THE BRACKETBUSTER: Kennedy-Sacramento (16-10, 11-3 Metro League). Despite finishing the season with a three-game skid that ended the Cougars’ quest for a league title, the Cougars are a confident bunch under coach Rob Fong. Senior captain To’A Kolokihakaufisi is a solid player who can fill the stat sheet as needed while providing a steadying court presence. Junior forward Joey Healow has been an invaluable do-it-all hustler (Kennedy went 2-5 early in the season when Healow was out with a broken thumb). The court leader is 5-foot-6 freshman Cole Taira, a fearless point guard whose confidence and poise under pressure could allow the Cougars to pull off more upsets.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: Tyler Berkness (Bella Vista-Fair Oaks). The senior wing is a three-year varsity letterman, and one of a trio of players that became the first Mustangs to win three consecutive league championships. Berkness is a sharpshooter (better than 55% FG percentage) and consistent scorer who has stepped up in clutch situations this season. The Mustangs (22-5, 10-0) could ride a Berkness hot streak far in the playoffs despite moving up to Div. I after a semifinal loss to Div. II champion Antelope last year.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: Sheldon 85, Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove 72
THE FAVORITE: Antelope (21-6, 10-0 Capital League). The defending section champions graduated valuable backcourt leadership, but return with one of the top frontcourt combinations in the area. Seniors Gabe Bealer and Isaiah Ellis have dominated the paint for the Titans this season, combining for 33.4 points, 15.5 rebounds, and three blocks per game. Ellis also leads the team with the most charges taken. Senior Tyler Winston has transitioned nicely from a receiver on the football team to quarterback of Antelope’s offense, handing out four assists per game while running the offense. Add a surge in scoring (more than 10 ppg in the last 10 games) from Rashard Thornhill and the Titans are poised to repeat and attempt a deeper run in the NorCal Playoffs.
THE BRACKETBUSTER: Rocklin (18-9, 6-4 Sierra Foothill League). The Thunder are no strangers to tight games with more than half of their scheduled contests being decided by eight points or less. Thus, playoff intensity will not be much of a change. Coach Casey Cutts’ squad has been battle-tested by its SFL showdowns against playoff qualifiers like Granite Bay, Roseville, and Del Oro. Senior Devin Moss leads a scrappy bunch, and demonstrated Rocklin’s grit and clutch play with a sprinting full-court run for a buzzer-beating lay-up to defeat Roseville in a recent overtime slugfest. Give the Thunder an opening, and the team is capable of taking advantage in a big way.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: De’Sean Parsons (Grant-Sacramento). Parsons is a multi-talented guard who can run the offense and distribute the ball, but the senior has been asked to step up his scoring this season, especially after the loss of junior wing Cameron Oliver. The results have been impressive as the lean 6-foot-6 senior has filled the bucket to the tune of 18 points per game, leading the Pacers (20-7, 8-2 Delta Valley League) to a somewhat surprising league title and high playoff seed.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: Antelope 72, St. Mary’s-Stockton 63
THE FAVORITE: Modesto Christian (24-3, 12-0 Trans Valley League). The Crusaders are the defending Div. IV section champions, but have played a Div. I schedule this season. Their most recent test was a showdown with Bay Area heavyweight Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland on Feb. 9. Despite losing to the Dragons, co-coaches Gary Porter and Richard Midgley believe the experience will pay off in the postseason. The entire starting five from last year’s team returned, including seniors Raymond Bowles and Zerrion Payton as well as super sophomore Anthony Townes. The Crusaders also added University of Pacific-bound star T.J. Wallace, a transfer from McNair.
THE BRACKETBUSTER: Placer-Auburn (19-8, 6-4 Pioneer Valley League). The Hillmen grinded their way through the tough PVL that qualified four of its six schools for the playoffs. Senior Isaiah Pineiro seamlessly went from ball-hawking safety on the gridiron to a similar role patrolling the paint on the hardwood. Seniors Peter Kean, Andrew Dahlin, Brennen Entz, and Michael McNamara bring lots of experience to the court to make Placer a threat to the division’s young guns.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: Dylan Alexander (Weston Ranch-Stockton). Alexander is the shooting half of a potent backcourt for the Cougars (19-8, 13-1 Valley Oak League). He is averaging 18.1 ppg and combines with point guard Eric Duncan for 65 percent of the team’s offense. Alexander brings leadership and experience as a co-captain and is one of a group of 10 seniors on the 12-man roster.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: Modesto Christian 74, Casa Roble-Orangevale 57
THE FAVORITE: Colfax (22-5, 8-2 Pioneer Valley League). The Falcons soared to the PVL title on the strength of senior trio Taylor Dorsey, Will Buell, and Matt Larson. Dorsey, the team’s long-range shooter, has been key for Colfax’s return to the top of the league and division this year, coming up particularly clutch in big games. Buell is a consistent inside presence who can do it at both ends of the floor. The only question mark for head coach Mike O’Connell is the health of center Matt Larson, who missed some action down the stretch before returning for the PVL-clincher in the regular season finale.
THE BRACKETBUSTER: Mesa Verde-Citrus Heights (20-7, 8-2 Golden Empire League). The Mavericks enter the playoffs on a four-game winning streak that included a surprising 66-58 victory over league champion Capital Christian. Sophomore Bret Lynch leads a trio of scorers averaging double-digit points per game with 15.3 ppg, and senior Roman Zazhitskiy is nearly averaging a double-double with 11.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per contest. The forward pulled down 121 boards in 10 league games to pace an improved inside game for head coach Patrick Pavelchik.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: Michael Meserole (Liberty Ranch-Galt). Meserole leads the division with a 25.7 ppg average and has scored in double figures in every game for the Hawks (19-8, 9-3 Sierra Valley League). The 6-2 senior can fill the net from all over the court, and is shooting 66 percent from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc. He scored a season-high 40 points in a recent loss to Cosumnes Oaks-Elk Grove, making 15 of 22 shots while also contributing seven rebounds and seven steals.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: Colfax 64, Riverbank 59
THE FAVORITE: Capital Christian-Sacramento (21-4, 8-2 Golden Empire League). The Cougars enter the postseason with a rare two-game losing skid, but is still the favorite to repeat as Div. V champs. Prior to the pair of league losses that dropped coach Devon Jones’ squad into a shared GEL title, the group had not lost to a Sac Joaquin Section team since last February’s regular season finale. Juniors Nifae Lealao, Jr. (12.2 ppg) and Uchenna Iroebgu (11.5 ppg) lead a balanced offense that spreads the ball well. With just one senior on the roster, inexperience may be Capital Christian’s toughest foe in the postseason.
THE BRACKETBUSTER: Brookside Christian-Stockton (25-1, 10-0 Central California AA League). The Knights have outscored opponents by an average of 88-42 while compiling a near-perfect record. Senior guard Eric DeAnda leads five players averaging double digits with a modest 13.4 ppg average, and adds 4.6 steals per contest. Head coach Adam Lichter’s defensive scheme has yielded more than 22 steals per game on average, many of which lead to easy points for the Knights. A year after falling in the Div. VI semifinals, Brookside Christian hopes to pressure opponents into submission for a shot at a section crown.
ONE PLAYER TO WATCH: John Fenton (Central Catholic-Modesto). The 6-foot-9 senior center is a beast on the inside, averaging 18.1 points and 17.8 rebounds per game. He has 26 double-doubles on the season and even recorded two 20-point-20-rebound efforts during the regular season. Fenton’s inside dominance also included 87 blocked shots (3.3 per game) for the Raiders (24-3, 11-1 Western League).
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION: Capital Christian 80, Central Catholic 68
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