Willie Eashman/ESPNHSTaylor Johns slams one home for Sacred Heart CathedralAs is our custom prior to CIF state finals in football and basketball, we take a crack at choosing which teams we think will win.
Note: All of the following writeups and selections are done with the highest level of respect to both teams and all coaches. We never use point spreads and, sure, some of the scores might be a bit more lopsided than we might think. But you also never know what might happen. After all, these are teenagers.
We had one of our worst years ever in last year’s CIF finals (boys and girls combined) with just six correct and four wrong. We were 7-for-10 in 2010 and were 9-for-10 in 2009.
The following writeups were completed by Ronnie Flores, Harold Abend, Mark Tennis, Paul Muyskens.
Boys Division I
(Saturday, March 24, 8 p.m.)
Cal-Hi Sports’ predicted score:
Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 77, Sheldon (Sacramento) 66
The marquee game of the 2012 CIF boys state championships could live up to its billing as both teams look for historic victories.
Mater Dei, the top-ranked team in the state and the No. 8 team in the country in the POWERADE FAB 50, is gunning for its second consecutive CIF state title. Sheldon is looking to become the first Sacramento-area Division I state champion ever.
If favorite Mater Dei (33-2) wins, the Monarchs will be the first program in state history to win nine CIF state titles. Veteran coach Gary McKnight also would surpass the all-time coaching record of eight state titles he currently shares with retired Willie West of L.A. Crenshaw.
Whereas West won all eight times in the finals, McKnight's program has been prone to upsets (he's lost four times). One of those upsets came against a school from the same Delta River League that Sheldon (29-5) belongs to. In 2005, future NBA forward Ryan Anderson of Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) helped his team to a 60-44 victory over Mater Dei in Division II.
The Huskies are not as big underneath as Mater Dei, but something the expected, large pro-Sheldon crowd can hang its hat on is this Sheldon team probably has more weapons than that Oak Ridge team. On the flip side, this Mater Dei team is more talented and experienced than the 2005 team.
The Monarchs have star power with Colorado-bound forward Xavier Johnson (17.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and sophomore forward Stanley Johnson (13.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg), a potential two-time All-American. The key to Mater Dei's season has been the consistency of role players such as Eli Stalzer, Elijah Brown and Jordan Strawberry. It's a stronger unit than in past championship years.
Another big plus for the Monarchs has been the recent play of UNLV-bound Katin Reinhart, Mater Dei's leading scorer (18.3 ppg) who was feared lost for the regional playoffs with a hand injury. He netted 21 points in the regional semifinal vs. Loyola (Los Angeles) and 15 in the regional finals vs. Bullard (Fresno). If he hits double figures and get hot from the outside, the Monarchs become almost impossible to beat.
Six-foot-3 junior guard D'Erryl Williams leads a balanced Sheldon attack that includes fellow junior Dakarai Allen (6-6). Williams went for 23 points in the comeback win over Jesuit (Carmichael) in the regional final and Allen added 15, but they are going to need a role player to step up and have a big scoring game. Another main reason for that is Armani Hampton (6-3) is out with injury.
The Monarchs also have been dominating teams on the boards in recent weeks, including teams with more size than Sheldon. That means they can find a way to win even if they don't shoot the percentage from the field they'd like.
Boys Division II
(Friday, March 23, 8 p.m.)
Cal-Hi Sports’ Predicted Score:
Archbishop Mitty 60, La Costa Canyon 56
The two teams based on rankings and seedings that were supposed to play for a state championship will in fact meet in the Friday night marquee contest.
Mitty is in its fourth CIF state final in the last six years and is defending champion in this division after its triumph in last year’s championship over Summit (Fontana). La Costa Canyon has never gotten this far before, but has already made some history, becoming the first CIF San Diego Section team to win 34 games. The Mavericks have surpassed the previous record of 33 set in 1970 when legendary Bill Walton led Helix of La Mesa to a 33-0 record.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the key to Mitty winning lies on the shoulders of standout Aaron Gordon.
The 6-foot-8 junior point pivot has been carrying the team all season, including an almost month-long stretch when he had mononucleosis but refused to not play.
Since back-to-back losses to San Mateo Serra and De La Salle of Concord, an overtime game Gordon darn near pulled out single-handedly, coach Tim Kennedy’s boys have won 18 straight, including two wins over Newark Memorial, the No. 2 Division II team in the state.
The good news for Kennedy is other players besides Gordon stepped up down the stretch in the 63-58 comeback win over Newark Memorial in the NorCal title game victory. Both Thomas Peters and Neil Vranicar made key shots to help erase a 52-48 fourth-quarter deficit.
La Costa Canyon will certainly be no pushover. For those that questioned the team’s ability to win outside the CIF San Diego Section, the naysayers were dealt a blow when the Southern Regional title game turned into an all-San Diego Section affair, with the Mavericks once again getting past Lincoln (San Diego) by the same four-point margin as in the section title game. Both were somewhat low scoring affairs, 58-54 and 47-43, respectively.
Coach David Cassaw will need to get another big game from both 6-foot-7 senior wing and leading scorer Matt Shrigley and senior guard David Travers.
The difference in this game could very well be depth, and La Costa Canyon looks like the deeper team. Against Lincoln, Shrigley and Travers were a combined 4-of-24 from the field but Zach Beery made all his shots from the field and the foul line and finished with a team-high 15 points.
If the game is close, a strategy to foul Gordon might be wise if he starts out missing free throws like he did against Newark Memorial. If he knocks down a high percentage, it could be a long night for LCC.
Boys Division III
(Saturday, March 24, 2:45 p.m.)
Cal-Hi Sports’ predicted score:
Alemany (Mission Hills) 61, Sacred Heart Cathedral (SF) 57
Both of these teams come from battle-tested competition as the Warriors bang around with the likes of Loyola (Los Angeles), Crespi (Encino) and Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) in the Mission League while the Irish do the same against foes like Archbishop Mitty (San Jose), Serra (San Mateo) and Bellarmine Prep (San Jose) in the West Catholic Athletic League.
Sacred Heart still has one starter in the lineup, senior Joshua Fox, who was on the team as a freshman when it won the CIF state title in this division three years ago. Fox also is a very good inside-outside player who leads the team with 15 points per game. Another dynamic talent for coach Darrell Barbour has been 6-foot-5 Taylor Johns. He scores at nearly the same clip as Fox, but does so more on put-backs, dunks and explosive moves. Johns also is an outstanding shot-blocker.
Alemany has featured one of the most cohesive starting lineups in Southern California all season. The Warriors are led by forward Marqueze Coleman, a 21.5-point per game scorer who is headed to the University of Nevada, and point guard Max Guercy, who has hit for 18 points per game and has given out five assists per game.
Guercy could be an especially tough matchup for the Irish. If he can take control against the SHC backcourt, it could be too much for the Irish to overcome.
The Warriors’ other three starters – forward K.J. Moffett, guard Jerico Richardson (going to UCLA on a football scholarship) and center Bear Henderson – all know their roles well and execute plays beautifully. Moffett had no trouble taking and making the game-winning shot with two seconds left in the SoCal title game win over St. John Bosco.
Alemany has never won a CIF state title on the boys side, but its girls made it this far before. In 1998, the team that was then coached by Melissa Hearlihy played in the D3 final and lost to… drum roll please….Sacred Heart Cathedral. This time, it looks like the Alemany boys might even the score.
Boys Division IV
(Friday, March 23, 1:30 pm)
Cal-Hi Sports’ predicted score:
Salesian (Richmond) 77, Price (Los Angeles) 73
This is the first game of the 2012 CIF state championships and could very well be the most compelling. This is not your typical lower-division game, as a plethora of D1 college-bound prospects will take the floor.
Salesian (32-2) will be looking to avenge last season's loss to Windward of Los Angeles in the Div. IV title game and win its second title in four years. Price will look to win its second Div. IV title in three years and its seventh state title since 2000. Should Price pull of what would be a minor upset of The Pride, coach Michael Lynch would join rare company as one of only three coaches in state history with seven CIF state championships on his mantle.
We say it would only be a minor upset because Price (26-8) is so battle-tested. The team rebounded from a 70-63 loss to Serra (Gardena) in the CIF Southern Section Div. 4-AA semifinals to defeat the Cavaliers in its regional final 73-66. Price's section and regional bracket was so tough the team also had to avenge a loss to defending Div. III state champ La Verne Lutheran in the regional semifinals and defeated defending Div. IV state champ Windward (Los Angeles) in its section quarterfinals.
In last year's final, nationally-ranked Salesian was shocked by Windward 69-61. Even though this year's team doesn't have guard Dominic Artis (now at Findlay Prep), the Pride are a most cohesive unit and have more experience against national-level competition. In fact, they have not lost to a California team all season long, dropping only two games against nationally-ranked foes.
Junior wing Jabari Bird, ranked No. 6 in the ESPNU 60, is capable of 25 points plus. The "Birdman" usually hovers around 16-20 ppg but that's because he doesn't get anything close to 32 minutes per game because Salesian is usually leading by a wide margin in the second half. Center Freddie Tagaloa, a potential NFL lineman, logged minutes for the state title-winning team in 2009 and juniors Mario Dunn (6-0) and Markel Leonard (6-0) are not as well-known, but are big threats to Price's upset bid.
One potential problem for Salesian could be its recent competition. The Pride breezed through the NCS playoffs and NorCal regional and have not played a close game since a 63-61 victory over Sheldon (Sacramento) on February 4. Since Sheldon is playing top-ranked Mater Dei in Div. I, for the second consecutive year the possibility exists Salesian could be in line for the state's No. 1 rating.
Price has the weapons to upend Salesian, as all-CIFSS choice Skylar Spencer (6-8) is one of the state's best shot-blockers, but he doesn't have the strength of "Big Freddy." On the flip side, Salesian might have a difficult time matching up with 6-foot-7 Khalil Johnson, a strong post player who went for 26 points and 10 rebounds in the regional final victory.
Boys Division V:
(Saturday, March 24, 11:15 a.m.)
Cal-Hi Sports’ predicted score:
St. Joseph Notre Dame 68, Village Christian (Sun Valley) 63
The Pilots had just one returning senior off of last year’s D5 state title team, but earned their chance to defend their crown with a 77-53 win over Pinewood of Los Altos Hills.
Senior guard Gemeny Givens runs the offense and in the NorCal finals he scored a game-high 17 points while senior Nick Lacy added 16 points. Sophomore Temidayo Yussef is 6-foot-6 and freshman Lamont Banks is 6-foot-3 for a squad that may lack some depth but doesn’t lack in size. St. Joe has won 23 out of its last 25 games with the two losses coming against D4 finalist Salesian of Richmond.
Avenging a 60-44 loss back in November, Village Christian earned its first-ever trip to the state finals with a 58-57 win over the Renaissance Academy (La Canada) in the SoCal regional final.
Leading the way on offense for the Crusaders all season long have been a pair of sophomore transfers from Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth – 6-foot-5 Bryan Alberts and 6-foot-7 Marsalis Johnson. They both averaged more than 15 points per game in the regular season. Senior Marquis Salmon has been another big gun for Village Christian. He scored 19 points in the regional final.
Village Christian may have the height advantage with four players 6-foot-5 or taller, but the Pilots are the defending champions and have the experience of playing for a state title on their side.
Comments or corrections? Email Mark.Tennis@espn.com.