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Open Division boys' basketball matchups are as good as first-round playoffs get

Open Division boys' basketball matchups are as good as first-round playoffs get
Junior guard Oscar Lopez helped Bishop Montgomery finish unbeaten in the regular season. (Nick Koza)

The Open Division boys basketball matchups released Saturday are about as good as any first-round playoff games in Southern Section history.

No. 1 Torrance Bishop Montgomery (25-0) will play host on Friday to Bellflower St. John Bosco (21-6), the third-place finisher in the Trinity League that ended Santa Ana Mater Dei’s 69-game league winning streak this season.

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No. 2 Etiwanda (27-1) will play host to No. 7 Santa Margarita (20-6), the second-place team in the Trinity League. If the high seeds prevail, Bishop Montgomery and Etiwanda would meet in the championship game on March 2 at The Pyramid in Long Beach.

Then there’s No. 3-seeded Mater Dei (20-6) hosting Encino Crespi (25-2), which won the Mission League with a 12-0 record and has Arizona-bound guard Brandon Williams.

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Finally, there’s No. 4 Temecula Rancho Christian (26-2), led by the Mobley brothers, 6-foot-10 Evan and 6-9 Isaiah, taking on No. 5 Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (21-3), the team with five highly touted transfer students in its starting lineup.

The tournament, reduced from 16 teams to eight this season, will be a challenge. Instead of two or three games a week, the eight-team bracket means playing once a week. But all eight teams wanted to be in the tournament.

“It’s unique and a situation we’ll embrace because we’re respected as one of the best teams in California,” Crespi coach Russell White said.

Teams have engaged in a season-long grind. Players have been banged up and stricken with flu, but for some, the season won’t end until the state championship games in Sacramento on March 23-24.

Teams that win their opener automatically advance to the state Open Division playoffs. Teams that lose their opener will be in the state Division I playoffs and also participate in a consolation bracket.

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