More competitive divisions and all-out battles brewing between private schools are the highlights from the Southern Section-Ford boys' basketball playoff brackets released Sunday.
Usually, the strongest divisions rank from 1 to 6, but that can be ignored because 4AA has been labeled the "Super Division," with its cast of ambitious private schools, all of whom have enrollments of no more than 1,250 students. It's going to be a demolition derby before a champion is crowned.
Top-seeded teams: 1. Santa Ana Mater Dei (24-2), 2. Long Beach Poly (23-1), 3. Etiwanda (26-1), 4. Los Angeles Loyola (21-4).
Rundown: The teams with the top four seedings should have little difficulty making it to the semifinals. Then the real fun begins. Etiwanda and Poly have played four times in the last two seasons in postseason games, all close, brutally tough defensive battles. Flip a coin to decide who wins this time. Mater Dei, behind the top candidate for player of the year, Katin Reinhardt, should have little trouble getting to the final.
The pick: Mater Dei.
Top-seeded teams: 1. Gardena Serra (24-2), 2. La Verne Lutheran (19-6), 3. Torrance Bishop Montgomery (21-4), 4. Los Angeles Price (19-7).
Rundown: There's so much talent and depth in this division that quarterfinal games will look like championship games. One team that is absent is Pasadena Muir, which finished 24-2 and won the Pacific League title but had to forfeit 20 games because of an ineligible player. Teams have taken turns beating one another. It's going to come down to who gets hot and which individuals raise their game — for example, 6-foot-10 Grant Jerrett of Lutheran, 6-8 Skylar Spencer of Price and 6-8 Zena Edosomwan of Harvard-Westlake.
The pick: Price.
Top-seeded teams: 1. Mission Viejo (23-3), 2. Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley (22-4), 3. Orange Lutheran (15-10), 4. Crescenta Valley (23-4).
Rundown: Capistrano Valley and Mission Viejo suffered late-season defeats that may indicate vulnerabilities. Orange Lutheran could crash the championship party after facing a tough Trinity League schedule and competitive nonleague games.
The pick: Orange Lutheran.
Top-seeded teams: 1. Huntington Beach Ocean View (23-3), 2. Canyon Country Canyon (23-3), 3. Riverside North (21-5), 4. Anaheim Canyon (20-7).
Rundown: Ocean View, playing its first season without longtime coach Jim Harris, who died in October after a bout with cancer, has come on strong behind 7-foot center Conor Clifford. There are no private schools to worry about in this division.
The pick: Ocean View.
Top-seeded teams: 1. Lakewood Mayfair (21-5), 2. Compton (17-9), 3. Murrieta Valley (23-2), 4. Lawndale Leuzinger (21-5).
Rundown: Compton, led by 6-5 Victor Robbins, has the talent and experience to win. Mayfair has faced top opponents. Murrieta Valley has the team chemistry to make a title run.
The pick: Murrieta Valley.
Top-seeded teams: La Verne Damien (24-2), 2. Pasadena (20-6), 3. Palm Springs (18-6), 4. Palm Desert (19-5).
Rundown: The best player in this division is Damien's 6-8 Chris Reyes, a St. Mary's signee who's versatile and tough. Pasadena can be successful if 6-5 Brandon Jolley can stay out of foul trouble.
The pick: Damien.
Top-seeded teams: 1. Calabasas (23-3), 2. San Marcos (14-10), 3. La Canada (15-11), 4. South Torrance (15-11).
Rundown: The Southern Section's new formula for placing teams based on past performance and enrollment has created a wide-open 3AA. San Marcos got attention for its rabid fans' forming a flash mob between quarters of a game, so beware of home-court advantage. Calabasas won the always competitive Marmonte League.
The pick: Calabasas.
Top-seeded teams: 1. Mission Hills Alemany (23-4), 2. Bellflower St. John Bosco (19-6), 3. Oak Park (19-6), 4. Santa Margarita (14-13).
Rundown: Don't mess with Alemany these days. The Warriors have one of the region's best starting fives. They won the Mission League and don't figure to have too many problems winning this division.
The pick: Alemany.
Top-seeded teams: 1. West Hollywood Pacific Hills (23-4), 2. Ontario Christian (21-2), 3. Montebello Cantwell-Sacred Heart (22-5), 4. Santa Maria St. Joseph (16-11).
Rundown: Point guard Brandon Taylor has led a defense-oriented Pacific Hills team that shoots well from three-point range and prepared by playing tough opponents.
The pick: Pacific Hills.
Top-seeded teams: Playa del Rey St. Bernard (19-7), 2. Sun Valley Village Christian (24-2), 3. Los Angeles Ribet (15-9), 3. San Luis Obispo Mission Prep (21-5).
Rundown: Brandon Randolph is the go-to player from a young St. Bernard team that has been making weekly improvement. Sophomore transfers Bryan Alberts and Marsalis Johnson have been impact players for Village Christian. Freshman Tyrone Dorsey of Ribet has lived up to the hype.
The pick: Village Christian.
Top-seeded teams: 1. Burbank Providence (23-4), 2. Palos Verdes Rolling Hills Prep (16-5), 3. Encino Holy Martyrs (15-11), 4. Malibu Kilpatrick (11-11).
Rundown: Providence freshman Marcus LoVett Jr., averaging 31.7 points, has been nothing short of sensational.
The pick: Providence
Top-seeded teams: 1. La Canada Renaissance (19-6), 2. Hesperia Christian (20-6), 3. Wildomar California Lutheran (15-3), 4. Los Angeles Adventist (13-8).
Rundown: Renaissance has been competing against much stronger opponents than it will face in the playoffs.
The pick: Renaissance.