More than two dozen northeast Georgia area basketball teams will begin quests for state titles this week.
But there were plenty of coaches and fans who were not sure if the 2021 Georgia High School Association basketball state playoffs would even be a possibility.
"We are really excited to be in this position," Jefferson girls coach Greg Brown said. "Four months ago we weren't real confident we would even have this opportunity due to COVID-19. Now, it's time to take advantage of the opportunity we have."
The playoffs open on Tuesday in the state and around the area with 27 area teams in all advancing to their respective classification tournaments. First round action is set for either Tuesday or Wednesday, with the higher-seeded team playing host to one game, unless the GHSA grants schools permission to hold doubleheaders on the same day.
Five area teams -- the Buford girls in Class 6A, the Jefferson girls in Class 4A, the Dawson County boys and Lumpkin County girls in Class 3A, and the Towns County boys in Class A Public -- will take their region's No. 1 seed into their respective tournaments.
Brown's Lady Dragons, who are coming off a win over Flowery Branch in the Region 8-4A finals, take on North Clayton at The Arena on Tuesday.
"(North Clayton) very athletic with good length," Brown said. "We expect the pace of the game to be very fast and we will need to rebound at a high level."
The Buford girls, who won the Class 5A state title in 2020 and has won four consecutive state titles (all in Class 5A), are the only area team returning that won a championship last season.
Longtime Lady Wolves' coach Gene Durden, whose team was unable to play for nearly a month in the early going because of contract tracing issues, wasn't sure they would get here. Once back however, they played nearly 20 games in a six-week period. Buford, the Region 8-6A champion, will play host to Alexander on Tuesday at The Buford Arena in the first round of the Class 6A tournament.
"Just thankful to have an opportunity to play in the tournaments this year," Durden said. "Our players have had to overcome so many uncontrollable situations and has been able to get to this point. Grateful for the challenge of this loaded field of (Class) 6A state tournament teams."
The Jefferson boys were the Class 3A state runners-up in 2020 and advanced to the Class 4A tournament this season. But the Dragons are the No. 3 seed from Region 8-4A and will open on the road.
The Dawson County boys shocked Region 7-3A, taking down the top two teams as a No. 3 seed to claim the region title. First-year coach Todd Cottrell also feels blessed to be playing a postseason. The Tigers will play host North Murray on Tuesday in the opening round of the Class 3A tournament.
"We are very thankful that we got to play a full regular season and a region tournament, especially with all the uncertainty surrounding the season," Cottrell said. "We are extremely proud of our team and their ability to remain focused. There have been a lot of challenges for everyone this year, on and off the court, and our group is certainly no different.
"North Murray is an outstanding basketball team that plays really hard and is very well coached. They played extremely well in their region tournament. We must continue to defend, rebound and play together to have a chance to advance."
There are several compelling matchups, including Regions 6 and 7 on the girls side in Class 3A taking on each other other in the first round. Five of the eight teams are ranked in the top 11 in Class 3A by MaxPreps. It's almost the same on the boys side with Regions 6 and 7 as five of the eight teams are ranked in the top 24.
The Gainesville boys advanced to the playoffs in their first season in Class 7A and travel to Archer in the opening round.
(Check below for the first round schedule for the northeast Georgia area teams.)
STATE BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE FOR Tuesday, 1st round
(Games listed by highest classification and in alphabetical order of visiting team)
(All games played at the home of higher-seeded team)
(Area teams in bold)
Alexander girls (R5, S4) at Buford (R8, S1), 6 p.m.
Douglas County girls (R5, S3) at Habersham Central (R8, S2), 6:30 p.m.
Jefferson boys (R8, S3) at McDonough (R5, S2), 6 p.m.
McDonough girls (R5, S3) at Flowery Branch (R8, S2), 6 p.m. -- WDUN AM 550/102.9 FM
North Clayton girls (R5, S4) at Jefferson (R8, S1), 6 p.m.
North Hall girls (R7, S4) at Sonoraville (R6, S1), 6 p.m.
North Murray boys (R6, S4) at Dawson County (R7, S1), 7 p.m.
Rockmart girls (R6, S4) at Lumpkin County (R7, S1), 7 p.m.
Sandy Creek girls (R5, S3) at East Jackson (R8, S2), 6 p.m.
White County girls (R7, S3) at Coahulla Creek (R6, S2), 6 p.m.
Banks County girls (R8, S3) at Heard County (R5, S2), 6 p.m.
Haralson County girls (R5, S3) at Rabun County (R8, S2), 6 p.m.
Temple boys (R5, S3) at Banks County (R8, S2), 6 p.m.
CLASS A PUBLIC
Taylor County girls (R5, S3) at Commerce (R8, S2), 5:30 p.m.
Towns County girls (R8, S3) at Central-Talbaton (R5, S2), 5 p.m.
CLASS A PRIVATE
Lakeview Academy boys (R6, S4) at Christian Heritage (R7, S1), 7:30 p.m.
Lakeview Academy girls (R6, S4) at Mt. Paran (R7, S1), 6 p.m.
STATE BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE FOR Wednesday, 1st round
Gainesville boys (Region 6, Seed 3) at Archer (Region 7, seed 2), 6 p.m. -- 94.5 FM The Lake
Buford boys (R8, S3) at Alexander (R5, S2), 6:30 p.m.
Cherokee Bluff boys (R7, S3) at Sonoraville (R6, S2), 6:30 p.m. -- WDUN AM 550/102.9 FM
Lakview-Fort Oglethorpe boys (R6, S3) at White County (R7, S2), 6 p.m.
North Hall boys (R7, S4) at LaFayette (R6, S1), 7 p.m.
Rabun County boys (R8, S3) at Heard County (R5, S2), 6 p.m.
Union County girls (R8, S4) at Callaway (R5, S1), 6 p.m.
Union County boys (R8, S4) at Callaway (R5, S1), 7:30 p.m.
CLASS A PUBLIC
Commerce boys (R8, S4) at Chattahoochee County (R5, S1), 6 p.m.
Manchester boys (R5, S4) at Towns County (R8, S1), 5 p.m.