The road to Macon begins for 10 area boys teams on Friday with Towns County tipping off the action at 6 p.m. when they play host to Georgia Military College. It's the first of six games slated for Friday.
On Saturday, Buford and Dawson will play at home, while North Hall and Union County will be on the road.
THE FINAL REGULAR SEASON RANKINGS
In Class 2A, Banks County is ranked ninth in the ajc.com poll and unranked in Kyle Sandy's.
In Class 3A, Dawson County remains the highest-ranked area team in both polls. The Tigers are third in the AJC and second in Sandy's poll. Jefferson is fourth and sixth.
In Class 5A, Buford rolls in at fourth and seventh.
-- Class 6A No. 6 Sequoyah (R6/3S) at Gainesville (R8/2S) -- If you look at this matchup on paper, you might lean toward Sequoyah. It's actually not a bad pick... on paper. They're 22-5, won 16-straight to end the regular season and are ranked sixth in the Class 6A. Gainesville, on the other hand, is 12-14, unranked and finished second to No. 4 Lanier in the Region 8-6A championship on Monday. So yeah, go ahead and pick Sequoyah. But as Lee Corso says, "not so fast my friend." It's plain and simple, Gainesville is deceivingly good. Sure, they started 0-10, and there were a ton of doubts. But things started clicking in the Lanierland tournament. And the clicking began to get faster as the Red Elephants reeled off 10 straight. The bottom line: the Red Elephants have the firepower to make a serious run. The only question ... can they put it all together in one joyful melody? With Donsha Gaither, Robert Reisman, Eli Pitts, Walt Dixon and Dee Buffington in the rotation, along with a solid bench, the Red Elephants are not a team you want to mess around with in the playoffs.
-- In Class 3A, Cherokee Bluff (R8/3S) travels to No. 7 Westminster (R5/2S) -- Cherokee Bluff has proven they are a good team, but they could be better. The Bears had second-ranked Dawson County on the ropes earlier this season, took Class 4A No. 4 Denmark down to the wire and dominated in most of their 17 wins. This contest pits two of the best regions in the state against each other -- Region 7-3A & 5-3A. So this is not about the schedule, it's about who's got the power. Griffin Neville, Bosco Norman, Jacob Carlson and Jason Evrett will be the key to the second round door for the Bears. But if they don't lead, a somber ride home could be in their future.
A TOUGH DRAW
North Hall's welcome back to the Class 3A playoffs, after missing last year, might be a rough one. Entering as the No. 4 seed out of Region 7-3A, the Trojans (18-10) will face Region 5-3A juggernaut Pace Academy in their 13th overall tournament trip. Pace has been ranked No. 1 most of the year and is averaging just over 70 points per game. The Knights' four losses -- Woodward Academy (No. 2 in Class 4A), St Francis (No. 1 in Class A-Private), Bloom, Illinois (No. 5) and Briarcrest Christian, Texas (ranked No. 5 as well). And 4-star recruit 6-foot-6 forward Matthew Cleveland, who has a laundry list of Power 5 offers, including Georgia and Georgia Tech, adds an inside advantage for the Knights. A tall task, yes. Can North Hall pull the upset? Absolutely. If there's one thing about North Hall, they don't back down. And playing in a tough Region 7-3A all season should have them ready to go.
WILL THE FIRE CONTINUE?
Dawson County -- The Tigers (25-2) enter their fourth straight Class 3A tournament having won 15 straight games, including the Region 7-3A championship on Monday. In 2019, the Tigers blitzed through the first three rounds but hit a buzzsaw in the semifinals at Hart County. The offense has been on target and the defense has improved with every game. If they keep hitting on all cylinders, they might just find themselves in Macon.
Jefferson -- After starting the season 9-7, the Dragons (18-7) won nine in a row to capture the Region 8-3A title and clinch their third straight playoff appearance -- 26th overall. The Dragons made a first-round exit last year and are hungry for more in 2020. Jefferson is the only top-10 ranked team in its quadrant of the bracket and the route to the semifinals seems to be a pretty good one.
Buford -- The Wolves (20-6) are making their 10th consecutive trip and last to the Class 5A tournament (moving to 6A next season). After a rocky start to the season, in particular, Region 8-5A play, the Wolves won the last 8-of-9 games and the region title. The defending state champs have only gotten better since Game 1 and have a pretty good path to the semifinals.
FIRST TIME IN A LONG TIME
In Class 4A, Chestatee berthed its first trip to the tournament since 2008. The War Eagles only have two appearances on record and an overtime win over White County in the opening round of the Region 7-4A tournament punched their third-ever ticket to the playoffs. Chestatee played in an incredibly tough region with Denmark, Blessed Trinity and Marist. It doesn't get any easier for the War Eagles in the first round as they face third-ranked Sandy Creek on the road.
CAN THEY BREAKTHROUGH?
In Class 2A, Banks County is headed back to the tournament sixth straight season, 12th overall. The 86-83 loss to Callaway last season broke the Leopards streak of four consecutive second-round trips. It also was another close loss in the playoffs for the Leopards. They have won seven straight since losing to Rabun and Putnam County earlier this season. If they want to break through the second-round barrier this year, Carl Cleveland, who's averaging 20-plus points per game and 11 rebounds, must pull his teammates with him -- Pierce Martin, Clay Gosnell, Dakota Orr, Sawyer Pace and Gavin Brown. They're favored against Washington. If they win the first-round game, however, they'll face either Butler or Vidalia -- both are ranked in the top-10.
In Class A-Public, Towns County has put together its best season since 2016 -- the last time the Indians made the state tournament. They were the No. 2 seed in the region tournament but fell to Riverside Military in the finals of the Region 8-A tournament. Their tournament history is short with only six appearances. The Indians face No. 21-seeded George Military at home on Friday and should advance to face No. 5 seed Dooly County.
STATE PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
(Listed by date and from largest classification to smallest)
(Seeding in parenthesis)
(Games listed in order of visiting team and by time)
Friday, Feb. 14
Sequoyah boys (R6, S3) at Gainesville (R8, S2), 7 p.m. -- 94.5 FM The Lake
Chestatee boys (R7, S4) at Sandy Creek (R5, S1), 8 p.m.
Adairsville boys (R6, S4) at Jefferson (R8, S1), 7:30 p.m.
Cherokee Bluff boys (R7, S3) at Westminster (R5, S2), 7:30 p.m. -- AM 550/FM 102.9 WDUN
Washington boys (R6, S4) at Banks County (R8, S1), 7:30 p.m.
Georgia Military College boys (21) at Towns County (12), 6 p.m.