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Monday, February 13, 2012
Five first-round playoff games to watch

By Tim Haddock

The CIF boys basketball playoffs begin Wednesday. The teams from the L.A. North region in the Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs will have a tough time getting past the quarterfinals.

However, in Division 3A and 3AA, the L.A. North teams should dominate.

In the City Section, Woodland Hills Taft is the overwhelming favorite. But the three other teams from the San Fernando Valley might not make it out of the first round in the City Section Division I playoffs.

Here is a look at the best first-round games in the Southern Section and City Section playoffs: No. 9 University (18-13) vs. No. 8 Birmingham (12-13): Birmingham finished in third place in the West Valley League standings, but was tested almost on a weekly basis. Taft and El Camino Real prepared Birmingham for the level of play the Patriots will face in the City Section Division I playoffs. Birmingham coach Nick Hauselman said his team is small and won’t intimidate a lot of opponents, but some of his players are dangerous shooters, including Andrew Estes, who is 48-for-146 from 3-point territory, a 33 percent clip. “We don’t pass the eyeball test when we walk in the gym,” Hauselman said. “We have one of the best shooters in the City. We are able to feature what he does well and feature that well. We do a nice job of finding him organically.” University has won three of its past four games, including 45-41 over Hamilton in the Western League finale.

No. 5 Oxnard (25-2) vs. Quartz Hill (18-9): Oxnard has a tough draw in the Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs. Loyola, the fourth-seeded team, awaits Oxnard in the quarterfinals. That’s if Oxnard can get past Quartz Hill and the winner of the Upland-Fountain Valley game. Upland is seeded No. 12 in the Division 1AA playoffs. Oxnard is in the upper half of the playoff bracket with top-seeded Mater Dei, No. 8 Downey and No. 9 Foothill. Quartz Hill is not an easy first-round opponent either. The Rebels finished in third place in the Golden League, but handed Palmdale, the league champion, its only loss in league play.

No. 13 Ventura (20-6) vs. Gahr (17-10): Ventura won the Southern Section Division 2AA championship last season and advanced to the second round of the CIF State Division II boys basketball playoffs. The Cougars moved up to Division 1AA and have a much more challenging path to another CIF championship. If Ventura gets past Gahr in the first round, it will most likely set up a match-up against third-seeded Etiwanda in the second round. Second-seeded Long Beach Poly, sixth-seeded Santa Monica and seventh-seeded Eisenhower are also in Ventura’s half of the playoff bracket.

No. 1 Alemany (23-4) vs. Artesia (8-17): Alemany won the Mission League championship and earned the top seed in the Division 3A playoffs, but the Warriors aren’t exactly riding into the playoffs on a high note. Alemany lost to Harvard-Westlake 81-62 in the Mission League finale, leaving doubts as to whether the Warriors are ready for playoffs. Alemany should have little trouble against Artesia in the first round. The fourth-place team from the Suburban League have lost six of its past eight games. Some tough teams are in Alemany’s half of the bracket. Santa Margarita is seeded No. 4 and Corona del Mar is the No. 5 seed. Alemany could meet either of those teams in the semifinals.

No. 5 Flintridge Prep (17-7) vs. Santa Clara (7-19): Flintridge Prep won the Division 5AA championship last year, but the Rebels will have a much tougher path to another CIF championship. Unlike last year, when Flintridge Prep was the top-seeded team in the Division 5AA playoffs, the Rebels are seeded fifth. Bloomington Christian, the Victory League champion and the 12th-seeded team in the playoffs, will most likely be Flintridge Prep’s second-round opponent. Santa Clara won three of its last four games, including an impressive 62-55 win over St. Bonaventure.