There is a new twist with this year’s version of the Central Section high school basketball playoffs.
Following the lead of many other sections across the state, the Central Section has added a four-team Open Division for both the boys and the girls. Coaches lobbied for this change, and the section is trying it out as part of a two-year pilot program.
The Open Division is reserved for the eight best teams in the section, regardless of division, and all eight teams that were placed in the Open Division automatically qualify for the state playoffs. In that sense, it protects the section’s best teams from possibly missing out on the state tournament, if they happen to get knocked out early in the valley playoffs.
And, of course, it also creates a scenario where a really talented lower-division school could get a chance to stake its argument as the section’s best team.
“I think, really, it might come down to one day where you see the top 16 teams, which means you could have a mixture of D-1 through D-5,” said San Joaquin Memorial boys basketball coach Brad Roznovsky, whose Panthers are the No. 3 seed in the boys bracket. “And that way D-4’s and D-5’s are competing, and there are some really good teams down there.”
Clovis West girls basketball coach Craig Campbell, whose Golden Eagles are the No. 1 seed in the girls bracket, said “it’s an honor” to be recognized as one of the valley’s top four teams. But he also pointed out one downside of the new format this year: all four teams chosen for the girls’ Open Division are from the same league, the TRAC.
“You like to play somebody different,” said Campbell. “Round three of league is what the Open Division’s gonna be for us.
“But all four teams are deserving. It would just be nice to have a little more broad representation of the valley.”
Saturday’s semifinal matchups will take place a short distance away from each other, and have their start times staggered, so if you are interested in seeing all four Open Division games, it is possible.
The action will start with a doubleheader at Clovis West, with the top-seeded Golden Eagle girls tipping off at 3 p.m. against No. 4 Buchanan. When that game is finished, the top-seeded Clovis West boys will get started against 4th-seeded Arroyo Grande at 4:30 p.m.
If you want, you can then make the short drive over to Clovis North for the other two Open Division semifinals. The 2nd-seeded Broncos will host No. 3 Clovis at 6 p.m., followed by the 2nd-seeded Clovis North boys welcoming No. 3 San Joaquin Memorial at 7:30 p.m.