Updated: Feb 9, 2022
After much anticipation, our first round of CCS boys basketball playoff projections have arrived with the seeding meeting a week away. Typically, our first projections come out earlier, but with so many teams hovering around the .500 mark and needing to win games to qualify, it would have been misleading to release projections with half of the field’s likelihood of reaching the postseason changing day-by-day. Now that most teams’ fates have become a bit clearer, we’re ready to take a shot at predicting where teams will end up.
Before unveiling our projections, a couple of changes to the playoff format should be noted. First, the only neutral site game across all divisions will be the Open Division Championship Game, to be played at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz. All other games across all other divisions will be at home sites, just as they were in the 2021 season. This is a deviation from the pre-COVID tradition of holding semifinals and championship games at neutral sites, and it places more of an emphasis than ever on having a high seed.
Furthermore, the Open Division has been completely revamped to follow a pool play format similar to the one used by the Southern Section. All teams will play three games within their pools, with the higher seed hosting each game. Pool A will have teams seeded 1, 4, 5 and 8, and Pool B will have the 2, 3, 6 and 7 seeds. The winner of each pool will advance to the championship game.
As always, these projections would be impossible to do without teams reporting their scores to MaxPreps. We thank all of the coaches and statisticians who regularly update their teams’ results, and we strongly urge the teams that don’t have their complete schedules and updated results on the site to fix them immediately. It’s especially hard to project some of the PCAL schools, especially in the lower divisions, and many of the small Division V private schools, as they’re constantly slow to upload their results, if they get uploaded at all.
With the new format for the Open Division, teams will be preparing for a much wider breadth of possible opponents, as they’ll have three pool games on the docket instead of a single quarterfinal matchup. Those games are scheduled for Friday 2/18, Monday 2/21 and Wednesday 2/23.
The main debate to be had when selecting teams for the Open Division will surround seeding Sacred Heart Prep. SHP is by far the most accomplished team from outside the WCAL and owns head-to-head wins over both Riordan and St. Francis, but lost to Bellarmine.
Riordan beat Bellarmine twice, which could supersede the head-to-head result from early December. Riordan, St. Ignatius and Serra are still battling for second through fourth place in the WCAL, even if Mitty has the top spot virtually wrapped up. Their order, and SHP’s, in turn, will be decided on the court over the next week. Theoretically, St. Francis could also crack the top four by closing the regular season strong.
Six WCAL teams appear to be headed for the Open field, with Bellarmine likely to make a seventh straight appearance after rounding into shape following a mid-January swoon. With those six and SHP, only one spot remains to be decided, and it’s likely going to Santa Cruz now that Los Altos was swept by rival Mountain View.
There don’t seem to be any other real challengers for the last Open spot, though Palma does have a spotless record in the PCAL-Gabilan. However, the Chieftains lost by 39 to Serra and 38 to Dougherty Valley, an NCS team that’s comparable to the top CCS Open teams. Palma has also barely beaten the likes of Alisal and Monterey in recent weeks and would likely be in for three blowout defeats if selected for the Open Division.
Los Altos and Santa Cruz look far more competitive, even if both would be underdogs. Pioneer could also get some slight consideration, and the Mustangs do own a win over an Aptos team that split with Santa Cruz, but the Cardinals’ resume includes a one-point loss to a Lincoln-Stockton team that nearly defeated Mitty and Campolindo. That result by itself should be enough to qualify them.
Current projections would create a pair of thrilling rivalry rematches. Serra and St. Ignatius could tangle for a third time for a second season in a row, and as of now, it would be at Serra as the Padres hold a head-to-head tiebreaker after defeating a COVID-depleted Wildcats squad on Jan. 4. Their Feb. 15 rematch could affect the order of teams. Bellarmine and St. Francis are set to meet on Feb. 15 as well, and could line up to square off in Pool B as the sixth and seventh seeds. The first time they met at St. Francis, attendance was limited to players’ immediate household members, and a potential rematch could rectify the situation before a crowd befitting of such a great rivalry.
With an extremely deep and balanced SCVAL, Division I will be the deepest enrollment division the CCS has seen in years, perhaps even dating back to pre-Open days. Unfortunately, there will certainly be more qualified teams than available spots, even with Bellarmine going to the Open Division. Twenty-one of 25 Division I teams are currently eligible for the playoffs, and Salinas is likely to join as a 22nd. That would mean that five qualified teams aren’t selected.
The PCAL provides a couple of interesting situations for the seeding committee. Normally, teams from the Gabilan Division would get placed on the board for seeding before any lower division, but after the league made the head-scratching decision to maintain last season’s divisions, Alvarez has dominated almost all local competition despite hailing from the Mission Division.
In turn, we expect the Eagles to be the first PCAL team placed on the board for Division I by virtue of their wins over Alisal and Salinas. They have a head-to-head loss to Silver Creek, but that was without superstar Jalen Brown. Whether or not that factors into how the committee places the Eagles remains to be seen.
Much of seeding Division I will rely on how coaches make their case to their league representatives. With teams in ‘B’ divisions owning wins over teams from ‘A’ divisions, it’s not like all ‘A’ teams will automatically be put up for seeding before all ‘B’ teams. With head-to-head results in mind, representatives may have to strategically place teams in order to ensure their league gets as many teams in as possible.
Scrutinizing league bylaws gives us some idea of how leagues will submit their teams. For example, the SCVAL requires De Anza teams to be put up for at-large bids before El Camino teams, except for in cases where the El Camino team has a head-to-head win over the De Anza team (such as Fremont’s victory over Homestead).
Automatic berths are usually irrelevant when deciding CCS basketball bids, but with 21 teams for 16 spots, they become a significant factor in Division I. The SCVAL’s automatic berths go to the top three De Anza teams and the El Camino champion, while the PCAL’s go to the top three Gabilan teams, the top two Mission teams and the champion of each of the three lowest divisions.
The PAL’s go to the top two in each division, and the BVAL’s go to the top three Mount Hamilton teams and the champions of the other three divisions. As of now, that means there are automatic berths for Alvarez, Carlmont, Hollister, Independence, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Menlo-Atherton, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Salinas, Santa Teresa and Watsonville, though many of those are still up for grabs.
Watsonville’s only way in is through the automatic berth, as the Wildcatz - yes, they are officially known as the Wildcatz - would certainly have the weakest resume out of all possible candidates in Division I. They’re even with Soledad on all counts after losing to the Aztecs on Tuesday. For the sake of these projections, we’re going to assume Watsonville wins the coin flip.
If there are 12 automatic berths in Division I, we believe the remaining four spots would go to Cupertino, Fremont, Homestead and Silver Creek. If another opens up, whether that be by Watsonville losing a coin flip or another team falling in the standings, Gunn would be the next team up. Like Watsonville, Hollister (officially known as San Benito) would be another team at risk of missing without the auto-bid, but the Haybalers can secure that by beating Stevenson on the final night of the regular season. Santa Teresa is currently in a three-way tie for first in the Santa Teresa-East Division and currently owns the tiebreaker over Sobrato and Oak Grove.
With Mountain View currently leading the SCVAL-De Anza and Carlmont on top of the PAL-South, the Scots are in line for the top seed by way of their head-to-head win over the Spartans.
Just as Division I will have a heavy SCVAL flavor, Division II will mainly be comprised of the BVAL, with the league sending eight teams to the field. Three Division II teams will be playing in the Open Division, with usual suspects Mitty, Serra and St. Francis set to return to the field. Valley Christian was once in the Open discussion, but eight losses in a row have the Warriors pegged for the top seed in Division II.
Because of the three WCAL teams going to the Open Division, there are more than enough available spots for all potential Division II teams. Aragon, Branham, Hillsdale and Westmont are all yet to officially punch their tickets, but can do so with one more win. Of those four, Hillsdale has the toughest road, finishing the regular season with Menlo-Atherton and Aragon.
Division III will be especially PAL-heavy, with six teams coming from San Mateo County. Assuming Santa Cruz does get the last spot in the Open Division, the top five seeds should be some combination of Aptos, Burlingame, Half Moon Bay, Saratoga and Sobrato. As of now, we have the Falcons as the top seed, followed by Aptos and Sobrato. Burlingame’s mutual result against Menlo-Atherton should get the Panthers placed on the board ahead of Half Moon Bay, even if the Cougars win the PAL-North and Burlingame fails to win the South.
Saratoga has the edge over Aptos through common opponents with a win over Pioneer, though Burlingame could lay claim to the No. 2 seed by beating a Lowell team that crushed the Mariners. For now, Aptos’ overall body of work gives the Mariners the edge, and Sobrato also passes Burlingame after the Panthers suffered a shocking loss on Monday to a San Mateo team that the Bulldogs crushed in December.
It is possible that Division III ends up with more eligible teams than available spots, even if Santa Cruz does stay in the Open Division along with St. Ignatius. If Rancho San Juan and King City both qualify by way of .500 league records, whichever team finishes higher in the PCAL Santa Lucia standings should get the edge. It’s highly unlikely both teams get in.
With Riordan and Sacred Heart Prep both locked into high seeds in the Open Division and traditional heavyweights Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay falling on the Division III side of the enrollment cutoff, Division V is wide-open past top seed Palma. King’s Academy and Menlo looks like safe bets for the second and third seeds, with their order to be determined by the WBAL standings, and the following two spots should go to Terra Nova and San Lorenzo Valley. Past that, it’s anybody’s guess.
It’s very unlikely for Division IV to have a full 16 teams, but the field could get closer to 16 than the current 11 we have projected. DCP El Primero and Lick have yet to officially qualify, but both should be able to get in by way of their remaining schedules. Alpha Cindy Avitia, Latino College Prep and Seaside are still technically alive, but it’s unlikely any of them will secure the necessary league record. Gonzales, Marina and Soquel have even longer odds, though none have been officially eliminated from contention yet.
Predicting Division V is, as usual, nearly impossible. With so many small schools playing hardly any non=league games, if any at all, and many reluctant to post results to MaxPreps, there are lots of Division V teams whose status is unknown. Throw in small schools that may be reluctant to apply altogether because their athletes also make up the bulk of a spring sport team or administration citing safety concerns related to COVID-19, something that seems especially prevalent at small private schools, and the field could look wildly different than our projections.
We do, however, feel confident that the top three in the field will be Oakwood, Priory and Stevenson. Pinewood should be fourth. Summit Shasta’s overall body of work deserves consideration, but the Black Bears have a loss to Crystal Springs Uplands that could be a major hindrance in seeding. They do have two wins over a Nueva team that beat Crystal, but the head-to-head result will likely stand out to the seeding committee.