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The Road to Selland; Breaking down boys playoff basketball

Clovis West and Clovis North receive top two seeds in the newly created Open Division while Clovis East, Buchanan and Clovis will participate in Division I. Read all about each team and how they match up against their first opponents.

Clovis North guard Malachi Henry is one of the team’s best shooters as the No. 2 Broncos take on No. 3 San Joaquin Memorial in the Open Division on Saturday, Feb. 22 at home (PHOTO BY AN EYE FOR IT ALL PHOTOGRAPHY)

Phase 3 of the basketball season has arrived and for the first time in Central Section history there will be an Open Division, reserved for the top 4 teams regardless of school size. The TRAC is represented with the top 2 seeds in Clovis West and Clovis North, teams with excellent players and superb coaches. In Division I Clovis East is seeded No. 3, Buchanan No. 4 and Clovis No. 10. 

The finals are set for Selland Arena with D-I on Friday, Feb. 28 and the Open Division on Saturday, Feb. 29. Both Clovis West and Clovis North are guaranteed spots in the CIF state tournament despite the outcomes. In fact, there will be a third place game on Thursday, Feb. 27. Fancy that. 

Below is a cornucopia of information; a breakdown of each Clovis Unified team in the playoffs, key players, how they match up with their first opponents, and predictions mixed in for debate.

Open Division No. 1 Clovis West (25-4) vs No. 4 Arroyo Grande (23-5)

Saturday, Feb. 22 at 4:30

The Golden Eagle Lowdown: The defending D-I champs are once again having a stellar season, clocking in at No. 25 in the state behind legendary coach Vance Walberg. In fact, since Walberg returned to Clovis West they are an astounding 106-17. And this year, remarkably, their four losses are by a total of ten points, including one point losses to Clovis North and Modesto Christian. They play a fun style of ball; pressure man-to-man defense and Walberg’s innovative dribble-drive offense which relies on 3-pointers, points in the paint and getting to the free-throw line. The mid-range jump shot is highly discouraged. And anytime you have a superstar like Cole Anderson, one of the top shooters on the West Coast, you have a clear advantage in every game. In addition, every player is bought in, a squad who understands their role. In short, these dudes know how to win. 

The marquee player in the Open Division is Clovis West junior Cole Anderson, Anderson averages 27 points per game as the No. 1 Golden Eagles host No. 4 Arroyo Grande Saturday, Feb. 22 at home at 4:30.

The Players: It’s no secret – the Golden Eagles rely heavily on Anderson, already the Central Section record holder in 3-pointers, averaging 27 points, 4.3 three-pointers per game. He’s also eight points away from 2,000 in his career. Flanking the 6-foot-4 guard is 6-foot-5 senior Max Phillips (12 ppgs) and 5-foot-4 senior dynamo point guard Jarren Carr (10 ppg). That’s 49 points of the 68 they average. Picking up the slack are junior guards Ryas Vang and Preston Kilbert, both capable of hitting threes and driving to the rim. Freshman Isaac Martinez can hit from deep and junior Marcel Sanders provides muscle underneath. 

They’ll Win Open If: Anderson continues his scoring barrage and Phillips and Carr combine for 25 per game. They’ll need to keep teams off the glass, one of their weaknesses. 

Matchup vs Arroyo Grande: The Eagles (23-5, 9-1) from the Central Coast present a challenge to the Golden Eagles for a myriad of reasons. First, they are a disciplined, old-school team who use a lot of off-the-ball screens in their offense. Like Clovis West, they shoot a lot of 3s (made 21 in win over Paso Robles last game) and have bought into coach Ryan Glanville’s no-nonsense style. They don’t have a lot of size but, like CW, give major effort on defensive. Robert Hutchens and Gage Gomez are the Eagles’ best two players. While Clovis West doesn’t have a true defensive stopper, they’ll use team pressure defense to try and close the lanes and push Arroyo Grande off the 3-point line. For Clovis West expect Anderson to put up a huge scoring night while Phillips will have plenty of opportunities for put-backs. Jarren Carr is an excellent ball handler, a major plus in a high-pressure game. Of note: Clovis West beat the Eagles 75-67 at home on Dec. 20.  

Prediction: Look for a semi-low scoring game, quite possibly in the 60s, with home court a huge advantage for Clovis West in the intimate gym: Clovis West 67-61. 

Open Division No. 2 Clovis North (21-7) vs No. 3 San Joaquin Memorial (22-6)

Saturday, Feb. 22 at 7:30

The Bronco Lowdown: The Broncos have excellent inside-outside balance, as good as anyone in the Central Section as their bigs and their shooters know what to do with the ball. They are aggressive and don’t hesitate. Their two league losses were to Clovis West (one in OT) but they beat the Golden Eagles on Dec. 14 on a Terri Miller put-back at the buzzer. The Broncos are anchored by 6-foot-6, 240 pound Miller and 6-foot-5 junior AK Okereke, who has a electrified the crowd with impressive dunks this year. The Tony Amundsen-coached team averages 70 ppg and allows 59 and, like Clovis West, ramps up the scoring in the second half. Their only Central Section title was in D-II in 2011 and their last appearance in a Central Section title game was in 2016, a 77-64 loss to Central. 

The Players: A very capable passer, especially if double-teamed, the Broncos like to get the ball to Miller either at the post or near the free throw line and let him work. He also averages over eight rebounds per game. The high-flying 6-foot-5 AK Okereke can put it on the floor, finish (and dunk!) and has a respectable outside shot. They combine to average 30 points and the formula certainly works. Teams have to account for seniors Sammy Al-Saber and Malachi Henry, both threats from the outside. Henry, in particular, is a volume shooter who can hit three or four in a row. Sophomore point guard Niko Jones has a superb 2:1 assist to turnover ratio and is a great on-the-ball defender. 

They’ll Win Open If: As good a bet as anyone to win it all, the Broncos must execute down the stretch of games and make plays in crunch time. 

Matchup vs San Joaquin Memorial: The much-anticipated matchup between these two teams will certainly not be lacking in intensity or high drama. After winning back-to-back D-II Central Section titles San Joaquin Memorial has been placed in the Open Division and very well might have the best starting five in the section, even without superstar and future NBA players Jalen Green who transferred to Prolific Prep for his senior year. While Clovis North tries to speed up their opponents SJM has the horses to race down the court and finish with sophomore Jo Jo Hunter, talented sophomore Devin Newsome and junior Jalen Douglas. Hunter is a legitimate Division I college player. 6-foot-7 junior Jaden Geron is an excellent shooter and the Panthers as a whole will present problems on both the offensive and defensive ends. The Panthers also have a presence down low with 6-foot-5 freshman Mike David Jr. To counter, the Broncos should have their way down low with Miller, Okereke and 6-foot-4 senior David Opoku-Ababio. Henry and Al-Saber aren’t afraid of taking big-time shots and the Broncos will certainly need their scoring, at least 25 points combined.

Prediction: It’s a toss-up game but the home team prevails in a nail-biter: 74-72 Clovis North. 

Division I No. 3 Clovis East (18-10) vs No. 6 Edison (15-10)

Thursday, Feb. 20 at 7:00

The Timberwolve Lowdown: Yes, Clovis East went 5-5 in league, losing twice to Clovis North (once in OT on the road) but they split with Open Division No. 1 Clovis West, losing in OT again. But they had a couple of stinkers as well, losing to Buchanan in a game they scored 43 points and a 61-58 loss at Central. Meaning? They can run with anyone in the Central Section, and being placed in D-I is certainly one they can win. Battle tested, the Timberwolves strength of schedule (SOS) is significantly better than the two seeds ahead of them – No. 1 Bakersfield and No. 2 St. Joseph. Lacking size but with a roster full of shooters and slashers, they play with toughness with a trio of seniors in Jermal Pittman, Will Wiggins and Tyler Pacheco. Coach Adrian Wiggins has coached this team tough – and his players play with an edge. 

The Players: The left-handed Pittman, the team’s leading scorer at 22 a game, can get to the rim and finish with the best of them, jump-stop for a 10-footer or hit from beyond the arc. Wiggins, the coach’s son, is savvy, plays excellent defense and is an underrated rebounder. He’s the team leader. Pacheco is a 3-point specialist and sophomore Cam Thompson can hit from anywhere. Off the bench, Sean Kelly (the QB on the football team), Isaiah Cordova and Tommy Newton provide hustle and a bit of scoring.

Clovis East leading scorer Jermal Pittman is a man on a mission this year as the No. 3 Timberwolves play No. 6 Edison in Division I. (PHOTO BY CHRIS LOUIS PHOTOGRAPHY)

Matchup vs Edison: The Tigers are a Jeykll and Hyde team – and the question is which one will show up against the Timberwolves. Will it be the team that beat No. 4 Bullard 87-80 or the one that lost at home to Madera 59-58, a team that finished 12-16. After three straight losses in league, the Timberwolves turned a corner in their home win over Clovis West and are playing great basketball at the right time. What we do know is that Clovis East must not let the Tigers get out on the break and use their athleticism – they are that loaded with weapons. In fact, the Tigers have more athletes than the Timberwolves but are not as disciplined. A concern would be senior Obadiah Curtis, who is averaging over 20 ppg in his last 12 games. That being said, this is a game where Pittman can thrive, Wiggins can use his savviness to score and Clovis East’s barrage of shooters can frustrate the Tigers to no end. The Timberwolves have played top teams in the Valley – and beyond – and they certainly won’t be intimidated. 

Prediction: Playing with a chip on their shoulder, this is a year the Timberwolves have been waiting for: Clovis East 74 Edison 61. 

They’ll Win Division I If: They are hitting from the outside, opening up lanes to drive and play to the best of their capability – just like in their win over Clovis West.  

Division I No. 5 Buchanan (15-14) vs No. 4 Bullard (16-13)

Thursday, Feb. 20, 7:00

The Bear Lowdown: There were a lot of question marks coming into the season for the Bears as they returned just a few players and hired a new out-of-section coach in Brooks Malm. Well, the results are an unexpected surprise with 15 wins overall and 5 in league, including a win over Clovis East and beating a talented No. 7 Central team twice by 12 and 13 points respectively. They’ve performed well with good old fashioned defense and detailed attention to rotations, taking charges and mental toughness in allowing a TRAC-low 51 ppg. They certainly don’t pass the eye test but they compete. The heart of the team is senior guard Charlie Barnes, not only their primary ball-handler but leading scorer. The Bears go when he goes. 

The Players: Barnes is a three-year starter and All-TRAC player that averages around 16 points per game. No other Buchanan player averages in double figures. Besides Barnes, there’s brother Coby, a 6-foot-1 junior and 5-foot-10 senior Kendall Oliver who are threats from the outside. 

Matchup vs Bullard: While a No. 4 vs a No. 5 is a great match up on paper, there are some major differing styles that will be on display. Since reaching the D-I title game the last two years and coming up short both times, Bullard (16-13, 6-4) is in a rebuilding year with only three seniors. In addition, 6-foot-7 Justin Parks abruptly left the team and transferred schools in the middle of the year. But the young Knights have stepped up. Top players are junior Omarion Thomas-Marshall and sophomore Tyric Herod, quick guards that the Bears defense will have to contain. It’s no secret Buchanan will try and slow down the pace and control the tempo which begs the question: can the young Knights play with precision and patience? Home court advantage is definitely in play here and Bullard coach Tim Amundsen has an abundance of big-game coaching experience. The two teams did play head-to-head at the Clovis West Nike Invitational, the Knights coming out with a 47-35 victory. 

Prediction: Buchanan’s hope relies on defense but there might not be enough firepower for a road playoff win: Bullard 56-43. 

They’ll Win D-I If: they frustrate their opponents to an unholy level, all the while getting hot from the outside and keeping the score in the low 50s. 

Division I No. 10 Clovis (10-18) vs No. 7 Central (14-12)

Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 7:00

The Cougar Lowdown: So, the Cougars expectedly struggled in league to the tune of 0-10 but it wasn’t without some positives. They went toe-to-toe with Central on Jan 28 when they lost 64-62 in OT and played No. 5 Buchanan tough in two losses. They did go 10-8 in non-league games with quality wins over Immanuel (No. 7 in D-II) and Hoover (No. 3 in D-III) and a 1-point loss to Roosevelt (No. 1 in D-II). Coach Jon Heinz, in his second year, relies on senior guard Cal Stilson and sophomore guard Diego Celaya. 

The Players: The aforementioned Stilson can get to the rack and hit from the outside while Ceyala is an outside threat.   

Matchup vs Central: The good news for the Cougars is that playing at Central won’t be a totally new experience for them. In fact, Stilson played his best games in league against Central, a team that beat Clovis East 61-58 at home, averaging 22 points per contest. Clovis will have to keep the Grizzlies’ 6-foot-5 junior Cedrick Coward in check as well as sophomores Jaylon Walton (13 ppg) and Marquise Green (10 ppg). If Stilson can score around 25 and Ceyela can pump in close to 20, the Cougars have a shot. 

Prediction: The Cougars will compete but the Grizzlies prevail: Central 72 Clovis 58.

They’ll Win D-I If: Well, let’s be honest, it’s tough to remember a 10-seed winning a Central Section title but beating Central at their place would certainly be a season highlight. Let’s root for that. 

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