Cortez on Preps: Ten key Sac-Joaquin Section questions that soon will have answers

jcortez@modbee.comFebruary 24, 2014 

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Central Catholic guard Donovin Townsend converts a fast break during the Western Athletic Conference game with central Valley in Modesto on January 8, 2014.

ANDY ALFARO — aalfaro@modbee.com Buy Photo

After last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section outbracket basketball games, 44 Stanislaus District teams remain – 24 girls and 20 boys teams.

The playoff action resumes tonight with 18 girls games, before the boys return to the hardwood with 16 games on Wednesday night.

Inevitably, at this time of year, as you peruse your brackets, a few questions pop up. Questions like: Who’s the hot team coming into the tournament? Which league will fare the best? How many section titles has Modesto Christian boys coach Gary Porter won?

Stuff like that.

So, as we get ready to jump into the playoff puddle with both feet, let’s narrow it to 10 questions for which we’ll have answers in the next 12 days.

1: Can the Central Catholic boys team win its first section title in more than a quarter century?

Of course, the third-seeded Raiders can win the title – but they face stiff odds. Seeded ahead of them are No. 2 Brookside Christian (Stockton) and No. 1 Capital Christian (Sacramento), the state’s ninth-ranked team that has wins against Modesto Christian (58-48), Los Angeles power Westchester (47-43), Etiwanda (48-42), the state’s second-ranked team by Cal-Hi Sports, and two victories against D2 contender Sacramento (78-75, 79-52). Plus, the Cougars played tough in a 69-66 loss to Centennial (Corona), the No. 4 team in the state rankings.

Capital Christian, led by 6-foot-8 senior forward D.J. Wilson, who has committed to play at Michigan, wouldn’t face the Raiders until the final on March 8.

Either way, Central Catholic seems a good bet to reach the section semifinals, which would trigger an automatic berth in the NorCal tourney.

The Raiders are big, balanced and athletic, plus they have a talented big man in Jonathan Boddie, a 6-foot-6 forward who leads the team in scoring (13.0) and rebounds (8.9).

2: Of the 10 schools with both boys and girls teams alive, which school has the best shot at a double title?

Modesto Christian always has the best shot at a double title. The Crusaders brought home dual banners in 2006, ’07, ’09 and ’10 … and nearly pulled it off in 2008 and 2012, when the boys won and the girls were runners-up, and in 2011, when the girls won and the boys were bounced in the semis.

This year, MC’s boys are the No. 1 seed in the Division 3 tournament, and will get a first-round bye on Wednesday, while the girls are the second seed in D3.

Other schools shooting for doubles: Merced, Central Catholic, Turlock Christian, Patterson, Riverbank, Ripon Christian, Summerville, Calaveras and Argonaut.

3: Will Modesto Christian’s Gary Porter get his 500th victory as the Crusaders’ coach?

Of course he will. Porter needs two wins to reach the milestone, and the Crusaders have not failed in this century to win at least two games in a postseason tourney (winning titles every year since 2000, except for 2011). Porter has guided MC to 15 section titles throughout the years, in various divisions, more than any program in Sac-Joaquin Section history.

4: Will Rolaun Dunham’s ankle hold up for Riverbank in these playoffs?

I’m no doctor, and I don’t even play one on television, but I think Dunham will be fine.

I asked Dunham after the game against Modesto Christian on Feb. 14, when he had to leave the game in the first quarter, if he would’ve returned to action had it been a playoff game. He said he would have.

By the time he steps onto the court Wednesday to lead No. 3 Riverbank against No. 14 Summerville, he’ll have had 12 days of rest.

5: Which conference stands to make the most noise in the tournament?

The Trans-Valley League could make quite a commotion, thanks largely to its top two playoff qualifiers – Modesto Christian and Riverbank. As mentioned above, Modesto Christian could bring home two Division 3 banners, and Riverbank could do the same in Division 4, though its course is fraught with more danger. Hughson, the girls’ third qualifier out of the TVL, has a legit shot to upset Argonaut in tonight’s 7-10 matchup in Jackson. No. 12 Escalon, the third TVL qualifier on the boys side, faces a tough test in No. 5 Marysville, which was runner-up in the Golden Empire League to mighty Capital Christian.

6: Who is a dark horse to bring home a girls championship?

It’s hard to think of Patterson, the third seed in the Division 3 bracket, as a dark horse, but its has flown largely under the radar this season. To bring home a banner, the Tigers would have to knock off No. 1 Vanden and No. 2 Modesto Christian, or have somebody do it for them.

But Patterson is a dangerous team capable of doing its own dirty work. With a 23-4 record and perfect 12-0 league run, the Tigers lost 54-37 to Clovis West (Fresno), which also beat top-seeded Vanden by a 17-point margin. Patterson’s other losses came to Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) and Napa, the second and third seeds, respectively, in the Division 1 tourney, and to Lincoln (Stockton), seeded 11th in D1.

7: Who is a dark horse to bring home a boys championship?

Turlock Christian, the No. 3 seed in the D6 bracket. It’s likely the Eagles will have to get past No. 2 Faith Christian (Yuba City) in the semis and No. 1 Victory Christian (Carmichael) in the final to secure the school’s first boys crown.

Faith Christian defeated Victory Christian 67-62 on Dec. 27 – a very close game. Meanwhile, Victory Christian beat TC 61-57 on Dec. 7 and 65-56 on Dec. 30 – very close margins.

So, it’s not like the Eagles have a lot of ground to make up.

8: Will the Modesto Metro Conference girls fare any better than the MMC boys?

Probably not. The MMC boys – Davis, Gregori, Beyer – were defeated in outbracket games last week. The girls open play with No. 7 Enochs hosting No. 10 Davis-Yolo in Division 1, while No. 10 Gregori travels to Elk Grove to play No. 7 Cosumnes Oaks and No. 13 Davis travels to face No. 4 Rio Linda.

Gregori and Davis, obviously, have tough games on the road. And Enochs didn’t get much help from the seeding committee in hosting a tough Davis team (17-9).

Should the Eagles get past the Blue Devils, they’d face No. 2 Oak Ridge in the second round.

Ouch!

9: What are some potential big-time matchups on the horizon?

Well, maybe it’s just because I grew up in Merced, but … if Merced and Golden Valley get through the first round, as expected, then get a little lucky in the second round, we could see a Merced-Golden Valley matchup in the D1 boys semifinal at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on March 5.

It’s not likely – the Bears likely would have to beat No. 3 Franklin (Elk Grove) and GV would probably be facing No. 2 Rodriguez (Fairfield) in Round 2 – but a fella can dream, can’t he?

Also, if Ripon Christian’s boys hold serve, they’d get the opportunity to test their skill against Capital Christian (ranked No. 9 in the state) in the D5 semifinal round.

On the girls’ side, a matchup between No. 3 Patterson and No. 2 Modesto Christian seems likely in the Division 3 semifinal round on March 4.

10: When it’s all done, which Stanislaus District teams will be hanging championship banners from the gym’s ceiling?

Modesto Christian boys and girls will complete another double, giving the boys a section-record 16th title and the girls a sixth crown.

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