For the second consecutive season there aren't a slew of elite county teams throughout the brackets. This was, more or less, a very competitive, but not superb, season for boys' basketball locally.
Oh, sure, tradition will tell you that Mater Dei (26-3) in Division I-A and defending state Division II champion Santa Margarita (24-2) in Division II-A are legitimate candidates for post-season success. But Mater Dei will have to go through defending section champion Glendora, which defeated the Monarchs earlier in the season. And Santa Margarita, which returned no starters when the season began, has "dropped" into one of the most competitive divisions.
Beyond those there are no proven champions and not much recent historical trends to look at.
Sure, Laguna Beach is top-seeded in Division IV-AA. But the Artists advanced as tri-champions of the Pacific Coast League, the first time in at least 30 years that anyone can remember a Laguna Beach team finishing the regular season in first place.
Defending Division III-AA champion Ocean View has stepped "down" into the division with Santa Margarita, a move Coach Jim Harris said he wished he could have avoided. Pacifica, which won a section title in 1993, is also there, as is Laguna Hills, among others, which shared that league title with Laguna Beach and Unversity.
Division I-AA, which includes Capistrano Valley and Sunset League champion Los Alamitos, among other county entrants, is expected to be dominated by defending champion Lakewood Artesia.
The same is expected of Division II-AA, where defending Division I-A champion Compton Dominguez has the potential to win another state title.
You can't completely cut out Brea Olinda in this division, though. The Wildcats could be the county's only other strong championship hope.
Calvary Chapel doesn't figure to get to the finals again this season in Division IV-A.
Unseeded Heritage Christian in Division V-A has the potential to make some noise, but has no proven playoff experience.
Still, maybe the parity in the county this year will prove to be a good thing. In a couple of weeks we'll know.
Defending champion: Lakewood Artesia.
Top teams: Artesia (23-2), Long Beach Poly (20-6), Fontana (18-7), Long Beach Jordan (21-6).
Dark horse: Upland (22-3). Outside of a bad loss to Artesia, the Highlanders have been solid all year.
Top players: Romel Beck (Etiwanda), Joseph Dawson (Fontana), Trenell Eddings (Rialto Eisenhower), Chris Ferguson (Irvine), Apolinar Fernandez (Artesia), Jason Kapono (Artesia); Jack Martinez (Artesia), Jack May (Chino Hills Ayala), Willie Milner (Santa Maria), Desmond Peniger (Upland), Andrew Pleick (Los Alamitos), Dwight Sattiewhite (Oxnard Channel Islands), J.J. Sola (Capistrano Valley), Jonathan Steven (Esperanza), Mike Stowell (Capistrano Valley) Brian Wethers (Murrieta Valley), Jamaal Williams (Corona Centennial).
Notes: Artesia goes for a second straight championship with one of the Southland's best front lines in the 6-8 Kapono (24.3 points, 9.2 rebounds), 6-8 Martinez (15.9 points, 7.3 rebounds) and 6-9 Fernandez (16.2 points, 6.8 rebounds). Of the trio only Kapono is a senior; Martinez and Fernandez are sophomores. . . . Coach Wayne Merino, who also coached Ed and Charles O'Bannon at Artesia, said Kapono could be just as good. "All three had special qualities and all three were different," Merino said. "Jason's strength is his understanding of the game. He really is a coach on the floor." . . . Besides finding some game film on first-round opponent Yucaipa, Capistrano Valley Coach Brian Mulligan's biggest challenge will be rallying the Cougars from a pair of devastating late-season losses to Mater Dei and Artesia. . . . Seniors Sola (19 points, 10.6 rebounds) and Nathan Hair (16 points) have gotten most of the attention at Capistrano Valley. But senior Mike Stowell (15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds) could be the Cougars most consistent player. . . . Esperanza, one of four county teams in the bracket, has no qualms about facing second-seeded Long Beach Poly in the opening round. Not after having to beat Fountain Valley twice Thursday and Friday for third place in the Sunset League to make the playoffs. "We're glad to be playing anywhere," Coach John Cyrus said. . . . The Aztecs are a better team than their 15-12 record now that Steven (17 points, six rebounds), a 6-5 junior forward, is fully recovered from his broken hand.
Defending champion: Santa Margarita.
Top teams: Compton Dominguez (23-3); Redondo Beach Redondo Union (19-6); Brea Olinda (24-2); El Monte (13-13).
Dark horse: Moreno Valley Rancho Verde (23-4). Some unfortunate team--perhaps El Monte in the first round--will find out the Mustangs are not a typical third-place finisher.