By Zach Shugan
The basketball state playoffs are coming down to the wire.
Out of the eight local teams who made it to the Sweet 16, six won and advanced to the state quarterfinals, otherwise known as the Elite Eight. The Roswell girls and the Blessed Trinity boys saw their season come to an end with losses in the Sweet 16.
Adding to the intrigue of this year’s Elite Eight matchups is a twist only 2020, or in this case 2021, could provide. For the first time in years, teams will be hosting Final Four games instead of playing neutral-site games at larger arenas. Some teams have the rare chance to host a state semifinal game, while others have no chance based on seeding and the GHSA’s universal coin toss, which decides who hosts games involving equal-seeded teams.
The championship games for each classification will still be played in Macon between March 10-13.
Here are previews for each remaining team’s matchup and possible road ahead:
No. 1 Milton vs No. 4 Newnan
Class 7A’s No. 1-ranked Milton (25-2) returns to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row after a 21-point win over Archer in the Sweet 16. The Eagles will host four-seed Newnan (19-8), which is in the midst of a historic season.
The Cougars earned their first state tournament berth in seven years, making it as the four-seed out of Region 2, which features Pebblebrook, McEachern, East Coweta and Campbell. Following a 2-6 finish in region play, Newnan beat Campbell in a play-in game for the fourth seed in the state playoffs.
The Cougars didn’t stop there. They pulled off back-to-back upsets in the first two rounds over Walton and Parkview, both games on the road.
Milton won handily in the first two rounds over Mill Creek and Archer, and for the third consecutive round, the Eagles will host a lower-seeded team. If they beat Newnan and make it to the Final Four, they’ll be at home again playing the winner of one-seeds Pebblebrook and North Gwinnett.
No. 1 Chattahoochee @ No. 1 Lee County
Chattahoochee (22-3) kept its season alive with a thrilling 13-point comeback in the closing minutes against Buford in the Sweet 16. The defending 6A state champs will be on the road in the Elite Eight taking on a Lee County (16-10) team which is also coming off an emotional high after winning on a buzzer-beater three-pointer in overtime.
The Trojans won the four-team Reg. 1-6A tournament, defeating Valdosta in overtime in the championship game, and have since won state playoff games against Langston Hughes and Brunswick.
Class 6A’s No. 5-ranked Chattahoochee is battle-tested, having taken down No. 6 Lanier and No. 7 Shiloh and notched two wins over No. 8 Centennial, including in the region championship game. Although Lee County isn’t ranked a Top 10, the Trojans have proven to be capable of winning big games, and they’ll have the home crowd on their side.
If Chattahoochee wins, it would host the winner of Class 6A’s No. 2 Kell and No. 9 Westlake this weekend in the Final Four.
No. 2 Centennial @ No. 1 Evans
Centennial (23-4) made it to the Elite Eight for the first time in 13 years following a comeback win over Winder-Barrow in the Sweet 16. Next up for the Knights might be their toughest test yet, as they’ll go on the road to the Augusta area to take on Class 6A’s No. 3 Evans (21-2).
One-seed Evans escaped four-seed Effingham County by three points, 67-64, in the first round and knocked off three-seed Tucker, 63-50, in the second round.
If Centennial takes down Evans, it might have the opportunity to host a Final Four game. The Knights would face the winner of Class 6A’s No. 1-ranked Wheeler and No. 10 Richmond Hill. If one-seed Richmond Hill wins, the two-seed Knights would be back on the road, making the four-hour trip toward Georgia’s coast. If two-seed Wheeler wins, Centennial would host the the defending 7A state champs this weekend with a spot in the 6A state championship game up for grabs.
Class A Private
No. 1 Mount Pisgah vs No. 1 St. Anne-Pacelli
Mount Pisgah (24-6) returns to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row following an impressive double-digit win over Class A Private’s No. 4-ranked Providence Christian in the Sweet 16.
The win set up a state-championship caliber matchup in the Elite Eight, as No. 1 Mount Pisgah will play host to No. 2 St. Anne-Pacelli (18-3). The Vikings won on a buzzer beater in the Sweet 16 against Southwest Atlanta Christian.
Mount Pisgah is looking to return to the Final Four for the second year in a row. Last season, the Patriots made it to the semifinal round, facing rival St. Francis in a neutral-site game at GCSU, but fell to the Knights for the fourth time that season.
If Mount Pisgah knocks off St. Anne-Pacelli, it would be on the road against the winner of No. 8 First Presbyterian Day (Macon) and No. 10 Christian Heritage (Dalton).
No. 2 St. Francis @ No. 1 Greenforest
St. Francis (16-9) is back in the Elite Eight for the ninth year in a row after taking down Class A Private’s No. 6-ranked Galloway, 45-42, in the Sweet 16. Next up for the No. 9 Knights is a rematch of last year’s state championship with Greenforest (19-4), which St. Francis won 76-55.
St. Francis looks different this year, obviously, with no Dwon Odom, Chase Ellis or Jordan Brown, but players like Jusaun Holt, Seth Hubbard, Kai Simmons, Drew Robinson and Toby Gaynes have kept the Knights’ winning tradition alive.
Two-seed St. Francis has been at home thus far in the state playoffs, but it’ll travel to Decatur to take on one-seed Greenforest, which is coming off a 51-48 win over No. 7 Trinity Christian. If the Knights win, they’d be back on the road in the Final Four, taking on the winner of one-seeds Holy Innocents’ and Savannah Country Day.
St. Francis has made it to the state semifinals the past eight years in a row and been to the state championship game three years in a row, winning it all the past the two years.
Class A Private
No. 1 St. Francis vs No. 2 Eagle’s Landing
St. Francis (20-4) is holding it down as the lone North Fulton girls team left standing in the state playoffs. Class A Private’s No. 4-ranked Lady Knights defeated No. 6 Wesleyan, 59-48, earning a spot in the Elite Eight for the 12th year in a row.
Class A Private’s No. 4-ranked St. Francis will host No. 8 Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy in the Elite Eight. The Chargers defeated No. 9 Trinity Christian, 53-48, on the road in the Sweet 16.
Since losing to Class 6A’s No. 3 Buford on Jan. 30, the Lady Knights have won eight straight games.
If one-seed St. Francis beats two-seed ELCA and extends its win streak to nine games, it would play in the Final Four against the winner of one-seed Deerfield-Windsor and two-seed Holy Innocents’.