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BASKETBALL SEASON IS HERE
 
Today, Kyle Sandy breaks down the preseason rankings for boys and girls basketball. The GHSA houses five boys teams ranked in the MaxPreps Top 25 in No. 2 Wheeler, No. 4 Greenforest, No.8 Westlake, No. 13 Pebblebrook & No. 19 Norcross.
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Thursday, November 17, 2016

PRESEASON BOYS BASKETBALL RANKINGS
 

Class AAAAAAA

1. Wheeler
2. Pebblebrook
3. Westlake
4 .Norcross
5. Newton
6. McEachern
7. Shiloh
8. Berkmar
9. Collins Hill
10. Tift County

Class AAAAAA

1. Jonesboro
2. Gainesville
3. Langston Hughes
4. South Paulding
5. Allatoona
6. Heritage-Conyers
7. Dacula
8. Alexander
9. Alpharetta
10. Brunswick

Class AAAAA

1. Columbia
2. Miller Grove
3. Cedar Shoals
4. Buford
5. Eagle's Landing
6. Warner Robins
7. New Hampstead
8. Southwest DeKalb
9. Fayette County
10. Riverwood

Class AAAA

1. Henry County
2. Sandy Creek
3. Upson-Lee
4. St. Pius X
5. Thomson
6. North Clayton
7. LaGrange
8. Westover
9. Perry
10. Cartersville

Class AAA

1. Pace Academy
2. Westside-Macon
3. Liberty County
4. Jenkins
5. Morgan County
6. Cedar Grove
7. Greater Atlanta Christian
8. Lovett
9. Islands
10. Crisp County

Class AA

1. Thomasville
2. South Atlanta
3. Dublin
4. Monticello
5. Vidalia
6. Callaway
7. Butler
8. Banks County
9. Swainsboro
10. Chattooga

Class A-Private

1. Greenforest
2. North Cobb Christian
3. Southwest Atlanta Christian
4. Holy Innocents'
5. St. Francis
6. Lakeview Academy
7. Tattnall Square Academy
8. Aquinas
9. King's Ridge Christian
10. Whitefield Academy

Class A-Public

1. Wilkinson County
2. Crawford County
3. Turner County
4. Calhoun County
5. Taylor County
6. Hancock Central
7. Manchester
8. Quitman County
9. Lincoln County
10. Hawkinsville
 
Class AAAAAAA sees Region 2 open up No. 1-2-3 and for good reason. No. 1 Wheeler has undeniable talent. If Coach Doug Lipscomb is able to keep everyone focused, the Wildcats have more than enough firepower to capture their seventh state title...if not, it will be an unmitigated failure, even with how strong the rest of the state is. Super sophomore Terry Armstrong has already transferred back to Michigan. No. 2 Pebblebrook and defending state champion No. 3 Westlake won't go down without a fight and don't be surprised if either one of them is back in the state championship.
Void of a defending state champion, Class AAAAAA will hopefully sort itself through the year but right now spots 2-10 look close to interchangeable with each team having their own strengths and weaknesses. Jonesboro will sit atop the perch to begin the season large in part that every game they play in, they will have the best player on the floor in five-star senior wing MJ Walker. The defensive minded group headed by Coach Dan Maehlman will likely remain one of the toughest teams to score on in the entire state.  Hall County's Gainesville slots in at No. 2. The Red Elephants have length with three players standing 6-foot-6, a core of good shooters and an overall wide open offense with Coach Benjie Wood teaching and holding everyone accountable on the sidelines.
The balance of power in Class AAAAA runs through Region 5 with Columbia, Miller Grove and Southwest DeKalb battling each other. In a virtual coin flip, No. 1 Columbia gets the top spot over No. 2 Miller Grove. Miller Grove boasts a plethora of guards and strong depth while Columbia has more length and size 1 through 5. The return of five-time state championship coach Dr. Phil McCrary inches the Eagles over Miller Grove who sees seven-time champion Sharman White head to Georgia State while Rasul Chester steps in as head coach. Expect these two teams to trade blows throughout the season and jockey for the No. 1 ranking.
No defending state champions reside in  Class AAAA, truly making it a wide open, up for grabs type grouping. With that being said, Henry County opens up at No. 1. The Warhawks have two D-I guards in Javon Greene (George Mason) and Damion Rosser (New Orleans) and have versatile experienced athletes around them in Kovi Tate and Seth Brown.  No. 2 Sandy Creek is loaded with young talent. Elder statesman Evan Jester will need to be Coach Anthony McKissic's leader on and off the court. The Patriots might have the most long term talent in the state in Class AAAA.
As wide open Class AAAA is with no perennial powers in the field,  Class AAA is the exact opposite. Three reigning state champions will try to defend their titles against a deep pack of proud programs. No. 1 Pace Academy, the defending Class AA champs, open at No. 1 behind Wendell Carter Jr. and Isaiah Kelly. Those two alone make the Knights as scary as nearly anyone in the state. Championships however are usually won with guard play. Pace will need seniors Barrett Baker and Mark Sommerville to hold their own against some tough competition. No. 2 Westside-Macon gets the advantage over No. 3 Liberty County, the defending AAAA champs.
The stranglehold over Class AA by private schools is finally defunct thanks to the new shuffling around of the classifications. The spotlight turns to South Georgia as No. 1 Thomasville is now the heavy favorite to win it all after dominating last year before running into Pace Academy. 6-foot-8 Reggie Perry is only a junior but has committed to Arkansas.
The best team in the entire state last year was Class A-Private No. 1 Greenforest and they will be the heavy favorite to repeat as state champs. The addition of Mo Merritt to the North Cobb Christianfrontline gives them enough length to be a force as the No. 2 team in the state. Merritt brings a toughness to pair with high scoring wing Demiere Brown. Florida-commit DeAndre Ballard has plenty of firepower around him for No. 3 Southwest Atlanta Christian to make some waves across the state.
You can't pick against the most dominant Class A-Public program until they are knocked off their perch. That's why Wilkinson Countyopens at No. 1 as the Warriors begin their quest for state title No. 9 and fourth in a five year span. Clarence Jackson leads the charge while 6-foot-6 power forward Greg Couson continues to recover from a torn ACL. New to the Class A-Public scene is No. 2 Crawford County. The non-stop motor of 6-foot-6 senior Marcal Knolton will now terrorize a new field of teams. He averaged 20 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.6 blocks per game last season.


PRESEASON GIRLS BASKETBALL RANKINGS
 

Class AAAAAAA

1. Norcross
2. McEachern
3. Archer
4. Collins Hill
5. Westlake
6. Newton
7. Cherokee
8. Brookwood
9. Woodstock
10. Duluth

Class AAAAAA

1. Winder-Barrow
2. Douglas County
3. Mays
4. Grovetown
5. Jonesboro
6. Harrison
7. Gainesville
8. Sequoyah
9. Brunswick
10. Northview

Class AAAAA

1. Buford
2. Flowery Branch
3. Southwest DeKalb
4. Griffin
5. Bainbridge
6. Villa Rica
7. Warner Robins
8. Loganville
9. Carrollton
10. Harris County

Class AAAA

1. Columbus
2. Cross Creek
3. West Hall
4. North Oconee
5. Marist
6. Henry County
7. Carver-Columbus
8. Americus-Sumter
9. St. Pius X
10. Northwest Whitfield

Class AAA

1. Morgan County
2. Johnson-Savannah
3. Greater Atlanta Christian
4. Beach
5. Calhoun
6. Ringgold
7. Kendrick
8. Lovett
9. East Hall
10. Franklin County

Class AA

1. Model
2. Putnam County
3. Vidalia
4. Rabun County
5. Swainsboro
6. Laney
7. Dodge County
8. Heard County
9. Jeff Davis
10. Armuchee

Class A-Private

1. St. Francis
2. Wesleyan
3. Holy Innocents'
4. Greenforest
5. Our Lady of Mercy
6. Southwest Atlanta Christian
7. Calvary Day
8. Tattnall Square Academy
9. Lakeview Academy
10. Darlington

Class A-Public

1. Pelham
2. Terrell County
3. Taylor County
4. Greenville
5. Wheeler County
6. Treutlen
7. Telfair County
8. Hancock Central
9. Wilcox County
10. Mitchell County
Norcross earns the No. 1 ranking to open up Class AAAAAAA girls play. The Blue Devils finished 25-5 a year ago with a heartbreaking 39-37 loss to Westlake ending their season in the second round. Leading scorer Vash Perry is now at Florida Atlantic, but a powerful senior class led by Miami-commit Taylor Mason paves the way. Mason averaged 10.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. 5-foot-10 senior Tylia Gillespie has big game experience and returns as the team's leading scorer at 11.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. South Florida-commit Vanessa Blagmon averaged 8.1 points as a junior.
In Class AAAAAA, No. 1 Winder-Barrow took a Cinderella trip to the state finals after not being ranked out of Region 8-AAAAA and earning the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. The Bulldoggs, who lose just one senior off last year's team that fell to Southwest DeKalb in the title game 49-48, is a logical pick to open up 2016-17 as the favorites. 6-foot-5 rising junior Olivia Nelson-Ododa exploded onto the scene (17 ppg, 10.6 rpg). She is now ranked the No. 1 post in the Class of 2018 and played with Team USA over the summer.
The No. 1 ranked Wolves now jump up to Class AAAAA and will lean on a now fully experienced roster that boasted four juniors and six sophomores a year ago. After tearing her ACL and missing her freshman season in 2014-15, 6-foot guard Tory Ozment flashed her big time potential as a sophomore, averaging 10.6 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists while being named Region 8-AAAA Player of the Year.
Everyone returns for Columbus, who stakes its claim to being No. 1 in Class AAAA. The Blue Devils went 23-6, losing to Southwest DeKalb in the Elite Eight, 65-50. Senior twin towers anchor the paint at 6-foot-3 in Tatyana Wyatt and Ariyah Copeland. The two bludgeoned teams in the post, Wyatt posting 21.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks and Copeland tossing in 15.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks on average.
As long as Toledo-commit Tatyana Davis is still in a Morgan County uniform, the Bulldogs will remain a favorite. MoCo opens at No. 1, trying to defend their state championship, a 68-61 win over Jackson-Atlanta. Coach Joshua Reeves' Dogs finished 28-2 and were powered by Davis. The 5-foot-9 senior dominated in the title game, going for 32 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 7 steals.
With the departure of Region 6-AA private school powers such as Holy Innocents', Wesleyan, Lovett and Greater Atlanta Christian, Class AA is now open for a public school to hoist the trophy for the first time since Kendrick did it in 2014. Behind the dominant play of rising junior post Victoria Saxton, Model opens at No. 1 in the state. Saxton at 6-foot-1 led the Blue Devils to a 28-1 record, their only loss a 51-42 defeat in the Elite Eight against Putnam County.
Class A-Private is absolutely loaded now that Wesleyan and defending Class AA state champion Holy Innocents' join the fold. Region 5 is a nightmare with No. 2 through No. 6 all housed in the same region, but still, the state title will run through No. 1 St. Francis who bids for a three-peat. The Knights cruised to a 63-35 state title over Greenforest and finished 31-2, their only losses coming in national showcase tournaments.
It would be poetic justice if No. 1 Pelham was able to finally capture their first state championship since 1997 upon dropping down to Class A-Public this year. Over the past four seasons, the Hornets have accumulated a 106-10 record, with nothing to show for it but losses to private school power Holy Innocents' the past two seasons, 78-70 and last year 71-60, ending their season in the Final Four and Elite Eight, respectively.















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