The opening salvo in what should be a wide-open Modesto Metro Conference boys' basketball race was fired Friday when Johansen tripped-up three-time defending MMC champion Davis 66-60.
But before you think this outcome, or Beyer's victory over Modesto, or Gregori's win at Downey, signals some kind of change within the MMC, just step back and take a second to realize that this is a league race destined to be wide-open all the way through its conclusion on Feb. 12.
That's a very easy prediction to make, since Davis, at 7-6, is the lone MMC team with a record above .500, and none of the teams in the MMC chose to take on many challenges within their non-league schedules.
As a result, on the first release of the Modesto Bee's top 10s ratings, single lists that encompass both the area's large- and small-school programs, there are no MMC boys' teams included among the ranked teams (see Page C-4.)
What you will see is that the schools that traditionally have earned high rankings in our small-schools listings share space on these top 10s with large schools, offering a single-glimpse wider picture of the state of basketball in the Stanislaus District.
With that in mind, here are the boys' teams that bear watching in each of our leagues as we embark on the race to Feb. 15 and the opening games of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Johansen had been in a tailspin, losing five straight, before tripping up a Spartans team that had lost one conference game over the last three years.
While it's too early to call the race in the favor of the Vikings, another trend that could decide the MMC is that Beyer has emerged with the league's most consistent offense. The Patriots are hovering around .500 because they haven't found a way to stop other teams.
The constant in this league is that through Friday's game, every team in the MMC has allowed more points than it has scored. It should make for a wild race in which the league champion might find itself with three or even four losses in the 12-game double loop.
Three of the top eight teams in our initial rankings hail from the Central California Conference.
Golden Valley's last two losses were by two points at West and six points at Sierra, while Buhach Colony's five losses all have been at the hands of teams outside the region. Turlock has played the toughest schedule of any team in the CCC, while Atwater has had success against teams from much lower divisions.
Want to tap a league favorite? In this 10-game sprint, look for Golden Valley to prevail.
Circle two dates: Jan. 25 and Feb. 8. That's when Sierra and Weston Ranch will go head-to-head once again for the Valley Oak League crown.
East Union will do what it can to have a say in the race, but the Lancers chose an unchallenging non-league route, other than their two-point loss to Division 5 power St. Joseph-Notre Dame of Alameda.
Sierra is unbeaten within the Stanislaus District, and Weston Ranch raised expectations and eyebrows with its victory over Central of Fresno to reach the semifinals of the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic.
Central Catholic not only should win this league, but it will be favored to prevail in the Division 5 section playoffs. Consider that the Raiders won the Modesto City Tournament with their best guards still playing football.
But there also is some depth in this league, with Patterson off to a good start, including a victory Friday over a very improved Livingston team. Patterson and Central Catholic meet Jan. 16 in Patterson and Feb. 6 in the Raiders' gym.
Riverbank is a very good team that will get its shot at the Crusaders on Jan. 22 (at Riverbank) and Feb. 2 (at MC) but it will take an effort above and beyond what the Bruins have given thus far to hand Modesto Christian its first league loss since the final game of the 1995-96 season, a streak of wins that has reached 105.
There is hope for the rest of the TVL, since once the playoffs start MC will be boosted to Division 3, giving a chance for the Bruins or perhaps Escalon to make a run in the Division 4 bracket.
You almost can say the same of Ripon Christian's domination in the Southern League. The Knights went 28-0 in their first two seasons in the league since dropping down from the TVL after the 2009-10 season.
Southern League teams posted a 26-53 record in the preleague portion of their schedules, which is not a surprise since most games have come against teams in higher divisions. Within the league, only Turlock Christian appears to be in position to give the Knights a challenge.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2150.