The Arizona Community College Athletic Association (ACCAC) may not be considered as loaded a conference as it has been in year's past, but, trust me, it is the best it has been in a long time this season. For most basketball enthusiasts that have not seen this conference this season as much as I have, the belief is that the conference is down, but it is not. In fact, the conference is absolutely up, as evidenced by the many programs that are currently competing for first place in the division.
The hottest teams in the conference right now are definitely Pima Junior College (winners of 9 games in a row) and Scottsdale Junior College (winners of 7 games in a row). Both programs are currently tied for first place in the division among Division-II schools with a 6-2 conference record.
Currently tied for first place in the conference among Division-I schools though are two common programs, Arizona Western and Cochise JC - commonplace for both of these two programs that have consistently competed for the D-I conference title annually for many years in the ACCAC.
On Tuesday evening, Cochise blew past Chandler-Gilbert JC on the road, 82-58, while Arizona Western also won at home against Phoenix College, 95-87. Both programs looked to be headed for a end of season showdown, once again. And both teams are loaded with talent this season - making for another exciting match-up.
I was able to observe Arizona Western last weekend, as they dominated South Mountain Junior College on the road, 93-67. In the big road win, Arizona Western Head Coach Charles Harral used a well-balanced lineup of talented players to dominate the floor, inside and out. Arizona Western would build a first-half 17-point lead in the contest by halftime, and never look back in the game. In the win, as they have been all season long, 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Alfonso Plummer, one of the leading scorers in the conference and the leading scorer for AWC, would finish with a game-high 28 points. Plummer is the catalyst for this year's Arizona Western ballclub, and he will be big for their team down the stretch this junior college season.
Arizona Western starts (3) guards, and alongside Plummer, they also are led by the play of two freshmen - 5-foot-9 freshman guard Bryson Langdon and 6-foot-2 freshman guard Cash Williams. Both guard prospects compliment Plummer very well, and are among the better guard prospects in the conference as freshmen.
The frontcourt is led by the play of the conference's top overall college prospect, 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Andre Allen (University of Buffalo signee), and one of the top overall freshman prospects in the conference, 6-foot-9 freshman post Abderrahmane Hailouf. Allen and Hailouf are an excellent frontcourt combination, and the addition of a strong and very athletic 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Marvin Mapaga off the bench, gives the Matadors an excellent frontcourt that can compete with any frontcourt in America.
Arizona Western has as talented a team as they have had in years this season, and it will make for an excellent match-up with Cochise Junior College as the season dwindles down.
Cochise recently faced Arizona Western on the road in Yuma in early December (12/5), in their first match-up of the season. Cochise would get the big road victory over Arizona Western, 86-79. In the big win, veteran and Cochise legendary Head Coach Jerry Carrillo and his staff focused on shutting down Alfonso Plummer in their team's victory. Cochise would hold Plummer to a dismal shooting performance in the victory - forcing Plummer to a 2-for-11 shooting performance on the evening, which included an 0-for-8 performance from three-point distance.
Carrillo is in his amazing 23rd season at the helm as the head coach for Cochise, and he recently won his 500th game at the program - an amazing feat, and also was recently inducted into the Arizona Basketball Hall of Fame. Over the past 22 years, Carrillo has led his program to an amazing 21-consecutive Region playoff appearances, including Region-I Championship in 2000, 2001, 2011, 2015 and 2016.
This year's Cochise team is absolutely loaded once again, and has an excellent combination of size and guard play, led by the play of 6-foot-3 freshman guard Chris Whitaker, who finished with a game-high 25 points in his team's win over Arizona Western. 6-foot-8, 232-pound sophomore forward Justus Rainwater (Florida Gulf Coast signee) and 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Jamaure Gregg hold down the frontcourt for this year's team. Both are a strong and athletic duo, with Rainwater having the best motor in the conference.
A pair of freshmen posts, 6-foot-7 frosh Naje Smith and 6-foot-9 freshman Milan Szabo provide excellent depth in the frontcourt, while Smith is a versatile and lengthy prospect that can play both forward spots on the floor. 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Mahki Morris is a talented and skilled guard prospect that is capable of running the team and also scoring when he desires, while 6-foot-1 freshman guard Darnell Robateau provides nice depth in the backcourt for both guard positions.
Under the advanced leadership of Carrillo, Cochise always plays with excellent intensity and an up-tempo style which is always difficult to match-up with. The balance of this year's Cochise group, inside and out, gives Carrillo another great chance to win it all again.
Both Cochise and Arizona Western are very talented groups this junior college season, and they will face off again on Saturday, February 2nd. I am looking forward to this next match-up, as well as the potential match-up for the Division-I title at the end of the season, once again.