For the most part, the CCS boys basketball seedings that were unveiled on Wednesday lined up with our projections. Save for a few teams in Division V, we came within three spots of predicting almost every team’s placement, and while we don’t like to brag, it was a difficult task to achieve in a year with so much unpredictability and so many teams playing games with key parts missing.
Among the more significant deviations from our projections were the ordering of SCVAL and BVAL teams in Division I. We had Independence slotted in the eighth spot and Cupertino 10th, assuming that teams would be placed on the board in accordance with the same procedures used to assign automatic bids as laid out in league bylaws. However, those bylaws are solely for determining the recipients of automatic bids, and teams don’t have to be placed in that order. In turn, Independence ended up with the 11th seed, while Cupertino was unseeded and drawn to visit Gunn on Friday night.
SCVAL representative Craig Ellegood and BVAL rep Skip Yenchik should be commended for their objectivity. Ellegood coaches Cupertino, while Yenchik is the head man at Independence. Both could have chosen to favor their own teams in the meetings by simply following the method indicated in bylaws, but they chose to place other teams over their own after examining teams’ overall bodies of work.
For example, Independence did have a tiebreaker with Silver Creek for an automatic berth from the BVAL Mount Hamilton, but the two teams split head-to-head. Independence needed overtime to win when the teams first met, and Silver Creek claimed the rematch in blowout fashion. Not only did Yenchik put the Raiders ahead of his own team based on those head-to-head results and Silver Creek’s superior overall résumé, he also put Santa Teresa ahead of the 76ers. The Saints hailed from a lower division but claimed a head-to-head matchup.
“I think we got it right with respect to these three teams’ bodies of work,” Yenchik said in a text message. “We are charged with putting together the best section tournament possible, and I’ll sleep well tonight knowing I did my best to meet that goal.”
Aside from Division V, where it can be difficult to guess which schools will even enter the postseason, we only predicted one team to be included that was left out of the field entirely. Division III had 19 teams eligible for 16 spots, and we projected both St. Ignatius and Santa Cruz to move from Division III into the Open Division, leaving just one qualified team, Rancho San Juan, out of the postseason. Instead, Santa Cruz was shockingly left in Division III with the top seed as Valley Christian was given the eighth and final spot in the Open Division. That left a second Division III team, King City, without a place.
While we can only speculate on what happened within the meeting, Santa Cruz seemed to have a sound argument. The Cardinals went 19-5 on the season, splitting the season series with Aptos and losing non-league games to Lincoln-Stockton, Northgate, Oakland and St. Francis. The five criteria used to select teams for the Open Division are head-to-head results, common opponents, significant wins, strength of league and playoff history. Comparing Santa Cruz with Valley Christian, there were no head-to-head results, and the only common opponent the two had was St. Francis, losing to both. Valley Christian did have more significant wins, splitting with Bellarmine and Serra, but both those wins came with 6-foot-9 junior Jacob Bannarbie, a Division I prospect who won’t be with the team for the remainder of the season. Strength of league undoubtedly goes to the Warriors, while playoff history favors Santa Cruz. The Cardinals have appeared in four straight championship games, losing all of them. They fell to Half Moon Bay in 2018 and Carmel in both 2019 and 2020. For 2021, a bump in enrollment moved the Cardinals from Division IV to Division III, and they received the top seed after an undefeated regular season but lost to Burlingame. Valley Christian did win the Division II crown in 2018, but went one-and-done in both 2019 and 2020. In 2021, the Warriors beat Lynbrook in the quarterfinals but fell to Pioneer in the semis. That adds up to one playoff win in the last three years against Santa Cruz’s six.
Admittedly, the most resounding argument in favor of Santa Cruz isn’t one that’s included in the bylaws, but the committee is allowed to use subjectivity. Section 5C of the bylaws states “Selection and seeding criteria to be considered by the Selection & Seeding Committee for the Open Division, in no specific order, include the following:” and then list the aforementioned measures, but the wording doesn’t exclude considering other factors. The biggest element in favor of the Cardinals is looking at who they lost to and how close those games were. The loss to Aptos was canceled out by a win with a similar margin, and Northgate beat the Cardinals by 18. That game was played in the middle of both teams’ league schedules, the sort of high-level contest a team with Open Division aspirations schedules to break up a stretch of lesser opponents in league play. Furthermore, Northgate had been awarded the fifth seed in the NCS Open Division on Sunday. The Broncos lost a pair of down-to-the-wire games to Campolindo, the top team in Northern California (although they did have to storm back in the first one after getting down by 19). That same Campolindo team handed Valley Christian a 74-32 shellacking on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and that was a Valley team with Bannarbie, though he was benched in the second quarter.
A one-point loss to Lincoln-Stockton may be the Cardinals’ best showing of all. The Trojans took Mitty to overtime, beat CCS Open Division 2 seed Sacred Heart Prep by nine and lost to Campolindo at the buzzer. Valley Christian got swept by Mitty, losing the first meeting by 24. The second meeting was decided by just four points, but Monarchs star Aidan Burke, the favorite to win WCAL Player of the Year, was sidelined by an ankle injury in that game. Santa Cruz’s 10-point loss to St. Francis was a tight game until late free throws, and the Lancers beat Valley Christian by 17 and 24. The loss to Oakland isn’t a negative either. The Wildcats are 23-2, with a seven-point loss to San Ramon Valley, the top seed in NCS Division 2, and a split with Oakland Tech. MaxPreps ranks four of the five teams to have beaten Santa Cruz among the top 100 in the state, with No. 220 Aptos as the lone outlier. Within the CCS, MaxPreps ranks Santa Cruz 12th. Valley Christian, conversely, is 33rd.
If recent form is to be analyzed closely, the Warriors have lost 11 of 12 games. They’re 1-10 without head coach Raymond Townsend, who’s been on a personal leave, and are 1-6 since Bannarbie last played. Since losing to Aptos, Santa Cruz has won six straight, including two games that reached a running clock, a sign that lesser competition in the SCCAL isn’t weakening the Cardinals.
There are certainly arguments to be made in favor of giving the Warriors the eighth spot in the Open Division. Valley Christian certainly won’t complain about the automatic state tournament bid that comes with it, and before this season, the Warriors were the lone WCAL team to never appear in the tournament. Even without Bannarbie, they’d still be the favorite to win Division II, and vacating the field frees the title up for one of many deserving candidates. However, Santa Cruz has reached four straight championship games, returns much of last year’s roster and has played close games against a multitude of great teams. Even without considering the Bannarbie factor, there are more than enough reasons to put the Cardinals in the Open Division.
The consensus from the meeting was that no representative made a strong enough case for the Cardinals to be voted into the Open Division. That includes the SCCAL representative. Santa Cruz is certainly qualified to play in the Open Division, but Division III will be no cakewalk. A quarterfinal against El Camino or Monterey won’t be easy, and Aptos and Half Moon Bay loom as potential semifinal opponents. Perhaps the Cardinals would earn a rematch with Burlingame in the finals or be confronted by a Saratoga team that’s got a résumé full of quality wins.
However, the implications of Santa Cruz being chosen over Valley Christian reach far wider than the Open Division. Had the Warriors been in Division II, they would have had the top seed and all other teams would have slid down one spot. 15 teams would have been in the field instead of 14, with a quarterfinal matchup between crosstown foes San Mateo and Aragon in the works.
The much bigger effect is felt in Division III. Half Moon Bay falls from the fourth to fifth seed and will play Saturday night instead of advancing directly into the quarterfinals. El Camino slips from eighth to ninth and will need to win at home on Friday to earn a Saturday trip to Monterey, where the Colts would have to play in the house of horrors that is Randall Gym. The Colts are also on the other side of the bracket from Burlingame, diminishing the likelihood of a matchup that created heated playoff clashes in 2019 and 2020. Live Oak likely would have had the 12th seed and a Friday night home game, but instead travels to South San Francisco.
By far the biggest impact, though, is felt in King City. The Mustangs, on the Division III side of the enrollment cutoff this year instead of Division IV, were the 17th-ranked team in a pool of teams selected to fill 16 spots. A third-place team in the PCAL Santa Lucia Division may not be the Harlem Globetrotters, but for a program that’s won just one playoff game since 2010, making the field altogether would have been a substantial step forward, especially for a roster full of underclassmen looking to build a foundation to grow on. Additionally, the power points system left many of those same athletes on the outside looking in after a 7-3 football season, even as three teams with 3-7 records got in.
There are plenty of arguments for why Valley Christian got the eighth spot in the Open Division over Santa Cruz, and only those that were privy to the meeting know for sure. At the very least, those kids from King City deserve an explanation.