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BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS PREVIEW | BOYS' BASKETBALL

Monarchs Stand Well Above the Rest

February 13, 2001|BEN BOLCH

Only one of the 14 Orange County teams in the Southern Section Division I-A boys' basketball playoffs will likely be left standing when the champion is crowned March 3 at the Pond.

And no, it probably won't be Anaheim (11-15), though Colonist Coach Bob Hawking has done a nice job in his first year.

More likely, it will be Mater Dei. The top-seeded Monarchs (24-2) are so good that they could probably reach the semifinals with their second team. Mater Dei is a heavy favorite to win its third consecutive section title and ninth in 10 years.

Elsewhere, things are more even. Here's a breakdown of the brackets:

Division I-AAA--Capistrano Valley is the only county team capable of doing much damage in a bracket that includes Upland, Rialto Eisenhower and Long Beach Poly. But the Cougars (23-3) aren't at full strength because of two injuries that occurred last week. Starting guard Matt Sweany suffered a broken wrist and key reserve Patrick Lefler suffered a severely sprained ankle. Both are out for the duration of the playoffs. "The kids are going to have to step up," Capistrano Valley Coach Brian Mulligan said. "I'm certainly happy with this year, but I'd prefer to go into the playoffs with all of our guns blazing." . . . No one was surprised that Los Alamitos did not receive a seeding despite finishing 10-0 in the Sunset League. The Griffins went 8-6 in nonleague play, and the Sunset League was the weakest it has been in years. Los Alamitos Coach Russ May notes that his team did play a tough nonleague schedule that included El Toro and hopes the experience will help prepare the Griffins for a playoff run. If Los Alamitos (18-6) wins its first-round game against Lawndale Leuzinger (13-13), a team known for scoring lots of points, it would likely meet Capistrano Valley in the second round.

Division I-AA--El Toro Coach Todd Dixon calls this bracket the weakest in Division I. But he acknowledged his top-seeded Chargers (23-3) must receive balanced scoring from their interior and perimeter players to make it to the finals at the Pond. In the few games in which El Toro has struggled, the Chargers have lofted way too many three-pointers. When things are going well, big man Matt Green wreaks havoc in the paint and wing players Ashkan Nazeri and Chris Parish choose their outside shots wisely. El Toro probably won't face a challenge until the quarterfinals, where it could meet University (15-10). . . . Marina's regular-season finale against Esperanza, in which the Vikings pulled out a one-point victory after trailing by five down the stretch, could help prepare it for another frantic finish in the playoffs. Problem is, Marina (11-16) drew third-seeded Crescenta Valley (19-6) in the first round and will do well just to keep the game within striking distance in the fourth quarter. . . . University could break the section record for three-pointers in a season, but the Trojans likely would need to advance to the second round. With 276 three-pointers, University is quickly approaching the record of 294 set by Chadwick during the 1993-94 season. Jason Garey has made 128 three-pointers, three fewer than the county record of 131 set by former Mater Dei player Clay McKnight in 1995. . . . Aliso Niguel is an excellent candidate to pull off an upset special against second-seeded Glendora (22-4) in the second round if the Wolverines (15-12) can get past host Montebello (14-12) in Round 1. Remember, Aliso Niguel defeated Ocean View and Newport Harbor earlier in the season.

Division I-A--There are a couple of teams in this bracket capable of tripping Mater Dei in the final two rounds. Third-seeded Villa Park (21-4), which lost to Mater Dei by 18 points in January, might be able to give the Monarchs a run in a rematch. But Spartan Coach Kevin Reynolds, whose team hosts Palm Springs (13-12) in the first round, isn't willing to look that far ahead. "The first opponent is the toughest because they have the most time to prepare for you," Reynolds said. "You can't worry about any other stumbling blocks until you get past the first round." . . . Fourth-seeded Woodbridge (21-4) is in the playoffs as a seeded team for the first time since 1997, when the Warriors won the Division II-AA title behind the play of Chris Burgess. While Woodbridge lacks a player of Burgess' caliber, it does feature quality depth and a starting five that can match up with just about anyone.

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