The North Coast Section boys’ basketball playoffs begin this Tuesday, February 20, with championship games scheduled for the first weekend of March. Of course, that is hardly the end of basketball season, as the top four teams finishers in each bracket automatically qualify for the CIF championships, plus any teams which will replace those selected for the CIF Open Division.
Right now, we take a look at each NCS playoff bracket.
DIVISION I (bracket)
TOP FOUR SEEDS: Clayton Valley, Dublin, Heritage, Berkeley
OVERVIEW: While most divisions were seeded in a pretty well-predicted order, such was not the case in Division I. Clayton Valley got the top seed after a strong two-loss regular season, with a 15-point win over Berkeley in non-league play. Dublin earned the second seed, despite losing in the EBAL title game, by virtue of its overtime win against Heritage in non-league play.
Meanwhile, Berkeley was left scratching its head a bit. Yes, the Yellowjackets lost to Clayton Valley, but also beat Dublin in non-league play, and the other losses included a pair in league play to Bishop O’Dowd and a competitive loss to Las Lomas, who also beat Clayton Valley.
The other teams scratching their heads were James Logan and Amador Valley. Logan knocked off Moreau Catholic to share the MVAL title, won the Vontoure Classic at De La Salle, and beat a Fairfield team which beat De La Salle, but the Colts were seeded at seven, two spots beneath the Spartans. Amador Valley, meanwhile, won the EBAL tournament with wins over De La Salle and Dublin, but got seeded 10th, meaning the Dons and Logan face off in the first round, at Amador Valley.
Monte Vista and Dougherty Valley meet for the third time this season in the eight versus nine game, after Monte Vista won the first two meetings. BVAL second-place finisher Pittsburg ended up at the 11 seed, and heads to College Park in the first round, with the winner advancing to face either Heritage or San Leandro.
If the seeds play out as scripted, a big ‘if’ in this bracket, then both semifinal games would be rematches from earlier this season. Of the top four seeds, ironically, only Heritage is a league champion, having gone unbeaten in the Bay Valley Athletic League. The Patriots have not lost since a late December game against Serra, but did have that loss to Dublin, a game in which the Gaels were still missing 6-foot-5 junior Grant Manning.
SLEEPER: They are hardly a true sleeper, but coming from the seven seed, James Logan would fit the bill. The Colts made it not only to last year’s section semifinals, falling to Dublin, but also captured the CIF Division I title in 2017, advancing to the state championship. The road starts with a red-hot Amador Valley team, and would have to go through Dublin in the quarterfinals, but no one will be taking coach Mel Easley’s team lightly.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: Dublin
DIVISION II (bracket)
TOP FOUR SEEDS: Bishop O’Dowd, Las Lomas, Moreau Catholic, Alameda
OVERVIEW: The seeding committee had a pretty easy job with this one, as WACC-Foothill and DAL-Foothill champions O’Dowd and Las Lomas had airtight cases for the top two seeds, while MVAL co-champ Moreau Catholic and WACC-Shoreline champion Alameda had locked up the next two spots.
Even five and six went in direct head-to-head order, since Acalanes beat TCAL-Stone champion De Anza in non-league play, while De Anza beat Tamalpais in non-league play, and Tamalpais beat NBL champion Windsor. Talk about a tough spot for a league champion – Windsor outlasted Montgomery to capture the regular season and tournament titles in the NBL, but not only opens against a Tam team which it lost to in the regular season, but if the Jaguars want to qualify for CIF, they would have to go through O’Dowd to get there.
One of the more intriguing first round games will involve Las Lomas and 15 seed Northgate. Yes, they met earlier this year, with the Knights winning handily. But this is the Battle of the Creek, and Northgate also went unbeaten to capture the DAL-Valley title. Hurting the Broncos for a higher seed was a head-to-head loss against 14 seed San Lorenzo.
Redwood and Montgomery is another rematch in the seven versus 10 game, with Redwood having won the earlier non-league game by a slim margin, 45-42.
SLEEPER: It’s hard to imagine any team getting in the way of the top three seeds here, though stranger things have happened before. Even so, the team which stands out here as having a chance to turn some heads is Redwood. The Giants played in the deep and rugged MCAL, and nearly got past MCAL tournament champion Branson, with a one-point loss to the Bulls in the semifinals. They also pushed Heritage to the brink in a tournament game at Marin Catholic earlier this season.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: Bishop O’Dowd
DIVISION III (bracket)
TOP FOUR SEEDS: Salesian, Campolindo, Drake, San Rafael
OVERVIEW: After playing in the rugged DAL-Foothill, with the likes of Clayton Valley, Las Lomas, and College Park, Campolindo has to be looking forward to the playoffs, even if it means a potential date with Salesian at the end of the tunnel.
Drake figured to be in the running for the two seed, until a MCAL semifinal loss to Tamalpais ended those thoughts. Still, the Pirates will be formidable for Campolindo in a potential semifinal, though their quarter of the bracket includes a battle-tested Albany team.
Piner enters the playoffs as the five seed, on a bit of a hot streak, after winning 21 games in the regular season and reaching the championship game of the SCL tournament. Four seed San Rafael held its own in the MCAL this year, and notched some big non-league wins over teams such as Albany and San Marin. If the Bulldogs can play according to seed, it could result in the program’s first-ever trip to the CIF tournament.
Alhambra and Pinole Valley meet in a rematch, in the eight versus nine game. Alhambra won the regular season meeting, 78-58, back in November.
SLEEPER: We’re not going to get ridiculous and suggest that any sleeper team can stop Salesian’s march to the title. But one team to watch could be Albany, which sharpened its craft while playing against the likes of Salesian and St. Pat’s in the TCAL-Rock. The Cougars could provide a stiff test for Drake in the quarterfinals, with a NorCal berth on the line if both teams win their first-round games.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: Salesian
DIVISION IV (bracket)
TOP FOUR SEEDS: St. Joseph Notre Dame, St. Patrick-St. Vincent, Stuart Hall, Piedmont
OVERVIEW: It’s easy to make the argument that this division is significantly deeper than the Division III bracket, which means it has tons of potential pitfalls for the top seeds.
St. Joseph Notre Dame cemented the top seed with its overtime win against St. Patrick-St. Vincent, just over a week ago, while Stuart Hall wrapped up the three seed by reaching the BCL-West title game, before falling to University. The Knights could be another dangerous opponent for SPSV in the semifinals, after Lick-Wilmerding eliminated the Bruins last season.
Piedmont went 15-1 outside of league play this year, but playing in the WACC-Foothill was a steep task for the Highlanders. Still, that experience could pay dividends, especially with the possibility of a quarterfinal game against Lick-Wilmerding, who has played big in recent years.
The depth of this division is outstanding, with SCL champion Healdsburg lurking at the seven seed, after winning 22 games in the regular season, while NCL-I champion Kelseyville sits at the eight seed, another 22-win team.
There is one weird quirk in the way this bracket played out, and we are surprised the committee does not give more consideration to this. 15 seed Roseland Prep will host two-seed St. Pat’s, at Sheppard Middle School, by virtue of the fact that Roseland won the NCL-II, while St. Pat’s lost to Salesian for the TCAL-Rock title.
Obviously, comparing these leagues is like comparing, well, Manute Bol to Spud Webb. Yes, Roseland had a win over 16 seed Gateway, but switching these teams would have meant that neither of the top seeds would have had to travel. It seems to be one thing when the 10 seed, or even down to the 12 seed, gets to host after winning a league title, but a 15 seed feels like a bit of a stretch.
The Bruins are no strangers to this treatment, however. Two years ago, St. Pat’s was the two seed behind Salesian, and had to hit the road to face 15 seed Gateway. The Bruins won that game by 31 points, and eventually reached the championship game. And ironically, the same scenario presented itself the year before that, where once again a two-seed St. Pat’s traveled to face Gateway, meaning this year will mark the third time in four years that the Bruins have to travel in the first round despite being the second seed.
SLEEPER: Coach Rick Buckner is no stranger to preparing teams for top competition, having coached for years in the West Catholic Athletic League, and his Saint Mary’s team can benefit from that experience. The sixth-seeded Panthers may be just 14-13 overall, but those losses include five games against Salesian and St. Patrick-St. Vincent. They hung tough with De La Salle and James Logan in non-league play, and also beat Albany three times this year. Provided they get past Del Norte in the first round, a quarterfinal game against Stuart Hall could be a marquee game resulting in a CIF berth.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: St. Patrick-St. Vincent
DIVISION V (bracket)
TOP FOUR SEEDS: University, Branson, Urban, Redwood Christian
OVERVIEW: University will be considered a favorite by many, but a contrast in style could lie in wait if both the Red Devils and Branson reach the title game, as the second-seeded Bulls will no doubt look to slow down University’s pace and turn it into a knock-down, drag-out half-court fight.
Branson, the MCAL tournament champion, has its own impressive resume, with non-league wins over teams such as Stuart Hall, Acalanes, and Pacific Grove.
Redwood Christian and Berean Christian could potentially be headed for a rematch in the quarterfinals, after Redwood Christian beat Berean during non-league play early in the year. That game could also be for a CIF berth.
Of special note – 12 seed San Domenico opens against Berean Christian, after having reached the playoffs in it’s first-ever season of varsity basketball. The Panthers went 19-8 during the regular season, and by virtue of winning the BCL-Central, get to host in the first round despite being the lower seeded team.
SLEEPER: Having beaten teams such as Berean Christian, and faced St. Joseph Notre Dame three times this year, Redwood Christian is familiar with what it takes to succeed. The Eagles could give University a battle in the semifinals.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: University
DIVISION VI (bracket)
TOP FOUR SEEDS: Laytonville, Cornerstone Christian, Mendocino, Jewish Community
OVERVIEW: Top seed Laytonville has won 22 games, and went unbeaten in the NCL-III this season.
Two seed Cornerstone Christian, however, has won 24 games this year, and took on much larger schools during non-league play, programs such as Clayton Valley and Antioch. The Cougars also have a bona-fide rising star in freshman Jacob Ebert, and had scored more than 80 points in eight straight games prior to their SSBL title game win over Rio Lindo Adventist, which avenged Cornerstone’s only loss during the year to a non-Division I program.
Three seed Mendocino has the senior leadership to make a run at the title game as well, led by 20-point per game scorer Nakai Baker.
SLEEPER: We would not be surprised at all to see eight seed Ferndale make a run. Yes, the Wildcats have a bad loss to Archbishop Hanna last month, but Ferndale also lost to top seed Laytonville by just four points in non-league play, and that could be a big quarterfinal match-up. Not to mention Ferndale has played bigger schools all season long, experience which should sharpen them for the post-season.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: Cornerstone Christian