The second season begins later this week and next for roughly half the high school basketball teams in the Stanislaus District.
Modesto Bee projections indicate 23 boys and 23 girls teams will reach the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, with the brackets in six divisions to be unveiled at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The section’s criteria to reach postseason play is clear – the top three finishers in 23 of the 26 leagues, including all in the Stanislaus District, receive automatic playoff berths. The Sierra Foothill League and Delta League receive four bids each, while the five-team, private, small-school Northern Pacific Athletic Conference receives two.
In addition, teams finishing below the automatic berth threshold earn at-large bids if they rank high within their division. In Divisions I through IV, a top-12 ranking, according to the computers at MaxPreps.com, guarantees a playoff spot. In Divisions V and VI, a ranking of No. 8 or better earns an at-large spot.
Two boys teams in the district not only could get at-large berths but perhaps even first-round home games next week.
Central Catholic finished fourth in its first go-around as a member of the tough Valley Oak League, but strength of schedule has the Raiders at No. 7 in Division IV. Likewise, entering Tuesday’s games, Argonaut was in position to finish tied for third or alone in fourth place in the Mother Lode League but holds a Division V ranking of No. 5.
The system creates situations in which more teams qualify for the postseason than the brackets can handle. Divisions I through IV have 16-team brackets, while Divisions V and VI have eight-team brackets. Last season, 20 teams qualified in Division II, forcing four play-in games. If play-in games are needed this season, they would be played Friday night on the home court of the higher-seeded team.
According to avid bracketologist Jerry Rucker, the former basketball coach at Bret Harte, there could be as many as 19 teams in boys Division I, which would force three play-in games. If that turns out to be the case, Central California Conference champion Turlock should be playing at home Friday.
Rucker’s projections also call for two play-in games in boys Divisions II, III and IV and one play-in game in girls Division I.
The rest of the teams get back to action next week, with girls games Tuesday and Thursday and boys games Wednesday and Friday, all on home courts. Semifinals are March 3-4, and finals are March 6-7 at Sleep Train Arena for all divisions except VI, which plays March 4 for the girls and March 5 for the boys, both at Galt High School.
Matchups will be posted at modbee.com shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday, with boys and girls bracket breakdowns following on the website in addition to Thursday’s editions of The Modesto Bee.