The AIA State Playoffs taking place in March equals more icing on the MARCH MADNESS CAKE. The boys and girls brackets have been very exciting to watch and observe. Over the last two days there were a few games that shook up my boy's bracket predictions. Here is a closer look . . .
My projected Final Four included Brophy-Sunnyslope and Mesa-Perry match-ups. There was one huge upset in the 6A Boys Bracket. The big shakeup came when #15 seeded Mesa-Mountain View Toros knocked off the #2 seed Mesa Jackrabbits. The Toros edged the Jackrabbits 56-48. Legendary Boys High School Basketball Coach Gary Ernst found a way to slow down Mesa’s "Big 3" in Jimari Grayson, Tanner Crawford, and Steven Cervantes.
Despite the early playoff exit, Mesa Coach Scott Stansberry still has my nomination and vote for Big School Coach of the Year. His team won the 6A East Valley Region with a 16-2 overall record. His team finished with a 6-13 record last season, and he still was able to turn around his record this season during a pandemic. The future looks bright next season with wing Talbot Cummard coming back for his senior campaign.
The biggest shake up in 5A was with 12th seeded Sunrise Mountain edging 5th seeded Buena. Sunrise Mountain Head Coach Gary Rath does a phenomenal job with his program. His teams are always well disciplined, play fundamentally sound defense and execute his offensive system efficiently.
Rath’s Mustangs bring in a 10-9 regular season record, however don’t let their record fool you, as they played one of the toughest schedules in 5A and have been very competitive. For Buena, they got a late start to the season, by only competing in (10) games. Having only (10) games can hurt you by the shortened schedule, where Sunrise Mountain had (19) games to prepare and make adjustments prior to the playoffs.
The biggest shakeup in the 4A bracket was with 12th seeded Mesquite edging 5th seeded Pueblo. Pueblo’s Head Coach Harry Whitaker Jr. also has my nomination and vote for Big School Coach of the Year. He helped his Warriors improve their record from 10-8 the previous season to 13-2 this season. The Warriors will be a team to make a lot of noise next season, as they return their "Big 3" in Armari Carraway, Zach Morgan and Marcus Coleman.
Mesquite is a dark horse team with legendary coach Shawn Lynch leading the way. He also has a nice core of young pieces to make noise this season, and the next, in Nate Calmese, Cohen Gonzales, and Nick Rogers. I feel the Wildcats have the best chance to shock some teams, and take that valuable playoff experience into next season.
The curse of the 2nd seed started with 3A on the 10th of March, with #15 seed Northwest Christian upsetting #2 seed Winslow. Northwest Christian Coach Jason Cook and Athletic Director Dave Inness have done an amazing job with the entire athletic program. Besides being a football powerhouse, Coach Cook does a phenomenal job with his basketball program. They produce great multi-sport athletes.
The Crusaders bring in a losing record, but played a tough schedule. They are battle tested and seem to be peaking at the right time. The Falcons of Fountain Hills need to prepare for their quarter-final match-up with giant-slayer Northwest Christian.
The 2A Bracket had the upper seeds winning their first round free and clear. The quarter-finals will have a shake up with #5 seed San Tan Charter riding an 11-game win streak. Coach Derek Freeman has my vote and nomination for Small School Coach of the Year. His team won the CAA Division-3 State Title last season and made the transition to the AIA with ease.
His team is loaded with college prospects led by Demetrus Johnson, who has several college Division-I offers. The Roadrunners have the pieces to match up with Scottsdale Christian. If all goes as planned, the Roadrunners will meet the Eagles in the Final Four which will be a game for the ages.
The biggest surprise of the 1A Boys Bracket is #14 seeded Patagonia upsetting #3 seed Leading Edge, then upsetting #6 seed El Capitan. Coach Nate Porter has done a fantastic job with his Lobos, and has my nomination for Small School Boys Coach of the Year.
I have in-laws from Patagonia and it seems their community is blue collar. Their kids are tough and love to compete. The Lobos pack a tough one-two punch in Lalo Aguilar and Santiny Aguilar. They combined for 28.2 points per/game. I’d like to see this Cinderella story make their way into the 1A State Championship game.
This season has been fun, and as the brackets start to dwindle down, it gets more exciting. As a former coach, I always preach to my players that it is about peaking at the right time. It looks like that will be the formula for teams winning their respective Division’s championships. I wish all the teams luck and look forward to covering the upcoming match-ups in the coming days.