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.
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.
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.