The Southern Section released its basketball playoff pairings Sunday. Some coaches in Division 1AA will be suffering from shock-like symptoms this coming week while pondering the gantlet of challenges ahead.
"I told our guys it might be the best high school tournament in the country," Los Angeles Loyola Coach Jamal Adams said.
Said Pasadena Coach Tim Tucker: "I'm calling it March Madness in February."
The Southern Section has 12 playoff divisions, which brings up a question: What's the need for so many divisions if most of the top teams are put in 1AA? The answer: Everyone wants a chance to win a championship.
Teams are placed in a division based on a formula that includes school enrollment and past performance. The 1AA division received an influx of top teams this season that won section titles last season.
By the second round in the 32-team tournament, contests will resemble championship games. Here are some projected matchups: Santa Ana Mater Dei vs. Downey Warren; Rancho Verde vs. Chino Hills; Rancho Cucamonga vs. Inglewood; Orange Lutheran vs. Mission Viejo; Corona Centennial vs. Silverado; Foothill vs. Etiwanda; Loyola vs. Pasadena; Mayfair vs. Long Beach Poly. Twelve of those 16 teams have been ranked in The Times' top 25.
By putting lots of good teams in 1AA, the other divisions are watered down, creating mismatches in the early rounds and leaving some to wonder whether this is the best way to determine champions.
"The formula for me just doesn't work," Tucker said. "We jump around so much we can't gauge how we got there."
Pasadena (20-5) won 3AAA last season but now finds itself getting ready to take on the big four in 1AA: No. 1-seeded Santa Ana Mater Dei (26-1), No. 2 Long Beach Poly (24-2), No. 3 Corona Centennial (25-2) and No. 4 Mission Viejo (24-3).
Yes, guards Andre Spight and Perris Hicks have been outstanding in leading Pasadena to the Pacific League title, but the Bulldogs are facing a major jump in competition.
"I wouldn't want to play us," Tucker said. "There's a lot of dangerous teams."
First up is a Friday home game against Downey. Then a potential matchup against Mission League champion Loyola.
Perhaps the only coach who will be sleeping well is Mater Dei's Gary McKnight. The Monarchs open against Eastvale Roosevelt, then would face the winner of Trabuco Hills-Warren in the second round.
The division is so tough that defending Division III state champion Mission Hills Alemany failed to get an at-large berth after moving to 1AA. Alemany was the only school from the powerful seven-team Mission League not admitted into the playoffs.
Loyola is one of those dangerous teams Tucker was talking about. Point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright is back from an ankle injury and will have a week of practice to get his stamina back into midseason form.
So much is going to come down to luck and making plays and free throws in the final minute of these 1AA clashes, because there are going to be so many competitive matchups.
Division 4AA, where most of the top private schools are placed, is also going to be quite a battle. Torrance Bishop Montgomery (26-0) is seeded No. 1 and Los Angeles Price (21-3) is No. 2. But beware of San Juan Capistrano JSerra, Los Angeles Windward and Encino Crespi.
All should be grateful they're not in 1AA, this year's super division.