With just two weeks until the start of the Sac-Joaquin Section boys and girls basketball playoffs, the league races are well past the boiling point and potential postseason entrants are bubbling toward the top of the standings.
This season, the section is doing away with power rankings – a mathematical brain-twister that determined the seedings for boys and girls in every division – and simply will award playoff berths to the top three teams from the section’s 27 leagues (nine leagues will receive an extra berth).
On the boys side, the Modesto Metro (Davis, Beyer, Gregori), Central California (Golden Valley, Turlock, Merced) and Western Athletic (Central Catholic, Patterson, Central Valley) conferences, as well as the Southern League (Mariposa, Ripon Christian, Turlock Christian) and Central California Athletic Alliance (Brookside Christian, Elliot Christian, Sierra Ridge/Rite of Passage), have pretty much settled which teams will advance.
The Trans-Valley (Modesto Christian, Riverbank, Escalon) and Mother Lode (Calaveras, Argonaut, Amador) leagues – two of the four-berth conferences – also are pretty much set on their top three, while the fourth seed remains up for grabs.
In the Valley Oak League, Sierra is a virtual lock to wrap up the No. 1 spot but the battle for the second and third spots rages on
It’s virtually an identical situation on the girls’ side.
The MMC (Enochs, Davis, Gregori), CCC (Buhach Colony, Atwater, Merced), VOL (Kimball, Weston Ranch, Sonora, WAC (Patterson, Central Catholic, Los Banos), SL (Ripon Christian, Gustine, Turlock Christian) – leagues that qualify three teams – are taking shape. The four-berth TVL has Modesto Christian, Riverbank and Hughson looking like locks, while Ripon and Hilmar battle for the final spot; the MLL has Bret Harte, Argonaut and Calaveras lapping the field, while Linden and Summerville remain alive for fourth-place.
Brookside Christian is the automatic No. 1 seed from the CCAA, which only gets two qualifiers, and Big Valley Christian is looking strong for the second berth.
There’s a beautiful simplicity that exists under the new format: Take care of business during league play and you’re in.
However, teams that finish out of the money will no doubt wonder what might’ve been under the old power-ranking format.
Boys teams such as Pitman, Atwater, Manteca, Lathrop, Kimball and Delhi conceivably could win 16 games, with records well above .500, and not qualify; the same could happen to East Union’s girls.
That would make for a long offseason, especially when you consider that boys teams such as Escalon (11-12), Ripon (6-16), Summerville (6-13), Bret Harte (5-16), and girls teams Ripon (7-14), Hilmar (9-12), Linden (5-11) and Summerville (6-16) could land a ticket to the dance.
Still, that might be easier to take than getting aced out by some algorithm that didn’t give enough credence to an early-season, nonconference victory.
“The problem we had last year was that a team might finish below another in league but qualify ahead of them for the playoffs,” says Will DeBoard, the section’s Director of Communications and a former Bee sports writer. “We inserted a rule last year that gave an automatic berth to 15-win teams. The problem with that was teams started loading up their schedules with cupcakes, so that didn’t work either.”
The new format is much more streamlined and much more equitable – finish near the top of your league and you’re in.
What could be easier?
The Modesto Metro Conference has a new commissioner to replace the outgoing Chuck Edmonds.
Ed Felt, a longtime educator who is retiring after serving the last three years of his career as superintendent of the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District, will take over for Edmonds after the conclusion of this school year. Felt informed the NCLUSD board Tuesday night of his impending retirement and is eager to get down to business.
“This is really ideal for me with the type of time I’ll have available,” said Felt, a graduate of Rio Vista High School and Sacramento State. “I thought it was a perfect time to transition back into high school athletics.”
Felt’s athletic background is extensive ... as player, coach and athletic director. He guided Benicia High to back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 championship appearances in 1981-82, winning the whole thing in ’82.
Building relationships with the people he’ll be working with is his first order of business. That, and learning how to schedule football games with just three available stadiums as opposed to seven.
“I think the big task facing the league is trying to keep it in tact,” said Felt. “I stood at that podium at the (section) realignment meetings, trying to get Orestimba moved back into the Southern League. And I heard Modesto pleading to keep the district schools in one league.
“I think it’s important ... and I know the schools are working on enrollment to even the playing field.”