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Friday, February 18, 2011 - 11:02am

Power Programs on Collision Courses in Region Tournaments

The GHSA state basketball tournaments don’t start until next weekend, but thanks to this week’s region playoffs, many metro Atlanta teams will teams will be battle tested. The best basketball in the state is played close to the capitol, which means some talent-rich local teams will have to fight for a coveted invitation to the state’s big dance.
Of course, for fans of the prep game, this week may be bittersweet. Boosters know this may be the last chance to see their favorite players in nearby gyms. Next year, many of the stars will have moved on to college.

In the boys Region 7-5A, four teams (Peachtree Ridge, Collins Hill, Norcross and North Gwinnett) are currently ranked in the AJC’s top 10 weekly poll. On the girls side in Region 4-5A, three teams (North Cobb, McEachern and Campbell) are ranked. A fourth team, Hillgrove, was ranked No. 1 less than a month ago.
In all of Georgia, the best tournament figures to be the boys competition in Region 7-5A. Second-ranked Peachtree Ridge headlines this group. “The Ridge” defeated county rival Collins Hill 75-62 thanks 44 bench points bench on the road to claim the regular season region crown last weekend.
Meanwhile, star-studded Norcross is gaining momentum. At least four Blue Devils are expected to play at the college level next November. Forward E. Victor Nickerson has committed to Charlotte, forward Alonzo Nelson-Ododa is headed to Richmond, and guard Josiah Moore is Nebraska-bound.

Across town two East Cobb teams, Walton and Wheeler, flipped a coin for the top seed in Region 5-5A, but should scrap it out to earn the region’s top seed in the state bracket. The potential final between these fierce rivals will feature some serious backcourt skills. All four starting guards are preparing for college hoops. Wheeler’s K. K. Simmons is headed to UNC-Wilmington and Nigel Snipes is headed to Western Kentucky, while Walton’s Lanerryl Esters-Johnson is considering Colgate and Furman, while Karl Cochran (a Wheeler transfer) will become a Wofford Terrier.
The toughest gauntlet on the girls side in 5A is undoubtedly on the west side of Cobb. In Region 4, it has been a fight all winter. North Cobb earned the top seed this week thanks to seven straight wins and the leadership of guard Jarae Savage. After next weekend, it’s off to Tobacco Road for Savage. She has accepted a scholarship to UNC-Greensboro.

The most exciting matchups in 4A will have a distinct DeKalb County flavor. Miller Grove is No. 1 in Georgia and ranked No. 6 nationally by USA Today. Senior forwards Henry Brooks and Devon Provost compliment junior superstar Tony Parker, but have not made college commitments. (Parker, a power forward, is already busy sorting through offers from schools including Georgia, Ohio State and Duke). Still, winning the region tournament is no guarantee for Miller Grove. Their Region 6 neighbors (seventh-ranked Tucker and 10th-ranked Southwest DeKalb) won’t be intimidated this weekend.
The GAC and Buford girls teams are tops in Region 6-AA, while GAC and South Atlanta are favored in the boys bracket. Expect those teams to meet in the finals. Region 5 in Class A is the most balanced in the state with eight ranked teams, four boys and four girls. Wesleyan’s Grace Leah Baughn looks to make close out her career with four state titles.