Basketball rankings are difficult for several reasons, but mainly because the season starts while football playoffs are still raging, and by the time I can turn my full attention to the hardcourt, half the season is over and there are dozens of results for every team to consider, many that contradict one another.
So, with that said, I'm ready to take a crack at it. Boys today, with girls to follow Friday or Saturday.
Below each team, I've listed some significant results for each team that give you a clue as to their ranking. Remember, just because Team A beat Team B doesn't necessarily mean A will be ranked ahead of B; in basketball, there are too many other results to rely solely on head-to-head. Also notice I've listed each team's playoff division; some of these teams won't have to worry about one another come the postseason because they're in different divisions.
(Also note: None of these records/rankings reflect Thursday night's results.)
Fresh off a run to the Southern California regional final last March, the Knights have picked up right where they left off, dominating Central in two meetings and making a lot of noise outside of the section, too. Cal Hi Sports has Bullard ranked No. 9 in the state.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. Antelope, vs. Dublin, vs. Richmond-Salesian, vs. No. 3 Fresno-Central (x2), vs. Simi Valley-Royal, at No. 14 Clovis
NOTABLE LOSS: vs. Corona-Centennial
2. Clovis West (9-3, Division I, last year: Division I runners-up) — As usual, the Golden Eagles spent November and December gallivanting around the state — they won't play their first section opponent until tomorrow night, when they visit Hoover. But Central has had two shots at Bullard and lost both handily, so give CW a shot in the No. 2 spot, at least until it plays Central on Jan. 18.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. Encino-Crespi, vs. Oakland Tech, vs. Laguna Beach, vs. Stockton-St. Mary's
NOTABLE LOSSES: at San Francisco-St. Ignatius, at San Mateo-Aragon, vs. San Juan Capistrano-JSerra Catholic
3. Fresno-Central (11-3, Division I, last year: lost in D-I semifinals) — The Grizzlies, meanwhile, have spent the non-conference season mostly flexing their muscles to the rest of the Central Valley — with the notable exception of Bullard, which has laid 16- and 24-point beatdowns on the Grizz. That doesn't mean Central isn't formidable, as a recent win against Edison will tell you. The TRAC champion likely gets the No. 2 seed and a comfy spot opposite Bullard in the D-I bracket.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. No. 8 Liberty, vs. No. 11 Tulare Union, vs. No. 6 Tulare-Mission Oak, vs. No. 9 Clovis North, vs. San Francisco-University, vs. Sacramento-Burbank, at No. 5 Fresno-Edison
NOTABLE LOSSES: vs. No. 1 Fresno-Bullard (x2), vs. Stockton-Weston Ranch
4. Independence (15-1, Division III, last year: lost in D-III semifinals) — This team won't beat you coming off the bus — they don't look particularly imposing physically — but the Falcons can scrap with anybody, and they've proved it with convincing wins over Liberty and Bakersfield. The only loss came early to BHS in a game Independence led by 13 in the fourth quarter before losing its wits late; the Falcons avenged it with a 9-point victory last week in the Garces tournament. Indy gets the nod for No. 4 because it won the East tournament, where Edison finished third.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. No. 19 East, vs. No. 25 Frontier, vs. No. 18 Visalia-Redwood, vs. No. 8 Liberty, vs. No. 23 Fresno-Washington Union, vs. No. 10 Bakersfield, at No. 13 Garces
NOTABLE LOSS: vs. No. 10 Bakersfield
5. Fresno-Edison (15-3, Division I, last year: lost in D-I quarterfinals) — Point guard T.J. Viney leads this fast, hectic team that can run a team off the floor on a good night (just ask Bakersfield, which lost 80-36 (!!!) to Edison at the East tourney) but seem stagnant and helpless on a bad night (ask Liberty, which beat the Tigers 59-44 just 24 hours later). Still, I get the feeling this team will be there in the end of the D-I discussion — Bullard, Clovis West, Central and Edison seem like a pretty safe bet to make the final four, unless another Clovis school or an SWYL team makes big strides.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. No. 17 Hanford West, vs. No. 11 Tulare Union, vs. No. 14 Clovis, vs. No. 10 Bakersfield, vs. No. 15 Fresno-Sunnyside (x2), vs. No. 6 Tulare-Mission Oak, vs. No. 23 Fresno-Washington Union (x2), vs. No. 7 Stockdale, vs. Oakland-McClymonds,
NOTABLE LOSSES: vs. No. 8 Liberty, vs. No. 9 Clovis North, vs. No. 3 Fresno-Central
6. Tulare-Mission Oak (12-3, Division III, last year: lost in D-III quarterfinals) — Both Independence and Mission Oak fell victim to Ridgeview's red-hot run to the D-III championship last season, but both are back and better this year. They didn't meet in the final of the Garces tournament, mostly because Rashad Jackson and Sheldon Croney put forth super-human efforts in an overtime victory over the Hawks in the semifinals, but Mission Oak got a nice win over Bakersfield in the third-place game and still is on pace for a top-two seed in Division III, which is stronger at the top than D-II. This is a well-coached team that can really shoot, led by guards Bobby Alvarado and Blake Shannon.
NOTABLE WINS: at No. 18 Visalia-Redwood (x2), at No. 9 Clovis North, vs. No. 11 Tulare Union, vs. No. 25 Frontier, vs. No. 10 Bakersfield
NOTABLE WINS: vs. No. 3 Fresno-Central, vs. No. 5 Fresno-Edison, at No. 13 Garces
7. Stockdale (11-1, Division I, last year: no playoffs) — Mustangs coach Oliver Brown has been talking this team up since last year ended, and with good reason: Four returning starters have Stockdale off to a hot start, with the only loss a competitive game against Edison. Things are about to get tough, though: In the next five days, Stockdale has games against Clovis North, Valencia and Independence in its SWYL opener. All are important for various reasons, and we'll know by this time next week whether the Mustangs are a D-I contender.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. Santa Barbara-San Marcos, at No. 14 Clovis
NOTABLE LOSSES: vs. No. 5 Fresno-Edison
8. Liberty (9-5, Division I, last year: lost in D-I quarterfinals) — The Patriots lost Sam Marcus and Britton Williams over the past three years and still seem to churn out solid teams — a credit to coach A.J. Shearon and Andy Hicks before him. This year, Jake Martin is scoring and Bray Barnes and Brian Nunn are hopping around in the paint, giving the Patriots a really solid starting five. They'll be a tough out come playoff time, but it's tough to imagine Liberty being deep enough to make a four-game run.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. No. 25 Frontier, vs. No. 13 Garces, vs. No. 5 Fresno-Edison
NOTABLE LOSSES: vs. Danville-Monte Vista, vs. Larkspur-Redwood, vs. No. 3 Fresno-Central, vs. No. 10 Bakersfield, vs. No. 4 Independence
9. Clovis North (8-6, Division I, last year: lost in D-II quarterfinals) — After the school's football team pulled off the improbable and won the Division I section title in their first year in D-I, the basketball team isn't too far behind. This isn't a section title favorite, by any means, but a victory over Edison shows the Broncos can dance with the best when things are going well. Whether Clovis North can keep up with Clovis West, Central and Buchanan over a long league season remains to be seen. Big non-league games against Stockdale and Liberty also remain.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. No. 5 Fresno-Edison, vs. San Pedro, vs. No. 21 Fresno-Memorial, vs. No. 15 Fresno-Sunnyside
NOTABLE LOSSES: vs. Thousand Oaks, at Arroyo Grande, vs. No. 6 Tulare-Mission Oak, vs. No. 3 Fresno-Central, vs. Oakland-McClymonds
10. Bakersfield (12-6, Division I, last year: lost in D-I quarterfinals) — After Bakersfield squeaked by Independence and took out Liberty to win the Lloyd Williams shootout a month ago, Drillers coach Greg Burt mentioned something about wishing it were playoff time. That's because he knew his team, mroe tight-knit but much less talented than last year's version, still had a lot of work to do. Sure enough, BHS has faltered a few times since then, most notably in an 8-point loss to Buchanan on Tuesday. That will make every game in the SWYL crucial for the Drillers if they want to avoid an 8/9 game in the playoffs and a quarterfinal date with Bullard.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. No. 4 Independence, vs. No. 8 Liberty, vs. No. 13 Garces, vs. No. 18 Visalia-Redwood, vs. Minden (Nev.)-Douglas, vs. No. 19 East
NOTABLE LOSSES: vs. No. 5 Fresno-Edison, vs. San Marcos-Mission Hills, vs. Lakewood-Mayfair, vs. No. 4 Independence, vs. No. 6 Tulare-Mission Oak, at No. 12 Clovis-Buchanan
11. Tulare Union (12-3, Division III, last year: lost in D-II championship) — The Redskins are in Division I after reaching the Division II final two years in a row, which is a tough break, especially considering Tulare Union probably would be the favorite in Division II this year. As it is, early losses to Edison and Central and not many other opportunities against D-I teams is going to make for a low seed and a challenging run with the big boys.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. No. 17 Hanford West, vs. No. 16 Exeter
NOTABLE LOSSES: vs. No. 5 Fresno-Edison, vs. No. 3 Fresno-Central, vs. No. 6 Tulare-Mission Oak
12. Clovis-Buchanan (7-5, Division I, last year: lost in D-I semifinals) — This isn't as good as last year's Bears team, mostly because do-everything guard Alex Fertig has graduated, but Buchanan notched a really good win against Bakersfield on Tuesday to stake its claim to some premium Division I seeding real estate. Of course, there are a lot of good teams to wrestle with in TRAC play first, but it appears the coaching transition from Eric Swain to Steven Dittmann is going smoothly.
NOTABLE WINS: at No. 17 Hanford West, vs. No. 10 Bakersfield
NOTABLE LOSSES: vs. San Diego-Cathedral Catholic, vs. Palmdale, vs. San Luis Obispo, vs. Stockton-McNair, at Stockton-Lincoln
13. Garces (9-4, Division II, last year: lost in D-II semifinals) — Guards Sheldon Croney and Rashad Jackson can compete with anyone in the section, but the Rams have precious little depth after that and basically no big men, so they'll struggle with bigger teams. Lucky for them, there isn't another real power in Division II, with Memorial and Tulare Union bumped up to Division I and teams like Hanford, Hanford West and Redwood down a bit.
NOTABLE WINS: at No. 18 Visalia-Redwood, vs. No. 19 East (x2), vs. No. 25 Frontier (x2), vs. No. 6 Tulare-Mission Oak
NOTABLE LOSSES: vs. No. 25 Frontier, vs. No. 8 Liberty, vs. No. 10 Bakersfield, vs. No. 4 Independence
14. Clovis (8-6, Division I, last year: lost in Division I first round) — How much of a gap is there between this level of a D-I team and the top of this list? Clovis lost 88-45 to Bullard on Tuesday, though it should be noted Bullard was also 24 points better than No. 3 Central last week. Still, it's clear the Cougars are a solid team that might not be up to snuff against the big boys in the section. And TRAC play won't make things easier: Four consecutive games against top-12 teams start next Thursday.
NOTABLE WINS: at No. 17 Hanford West, vs. No. 24 Selma
NOTABLE LOSSES: at Lemoore, vs. No. 5 Fresno-Edison, vs. San Pedro, vs. Oakland-McClymonds, vs. No. 7 Stockdale, vs. No. 1 Fresno-Bullard
15. Fresno-Sunnyside (10-5, Division II, last year: no playoffs) — A three-game losing streak right around the new year put a damper on Sunnyside's hot start, but this is a school that's enjoying a good athletic crop right now — the football team had it going, too — and will be a factor deep into the Division II playoffs. And they could be a matchup problem for Garces, if it comes to that: Four players are 6-foot-3 or taller, which will give the shorter Rams trouble inside.
NOTABLE WINS: vs. No. 23 Fresno-Washington Union (x2), vs. No. 24 Selma, vs. No. 19 East, vs. No. 21 Fresno-Memorial
NOTABLE LOSSES: vs. No. 5 Fresno-Edison (x2), vs. Fresno-Roosevelt, vs. No. 9 Clovis North, at No. 21 Fresno-Memorial
16. Exeter (11-2, Division IV, last year: no playoffs)
17. Hanford West (12-6, Division II, last year: no playoffs)
18. Visalia-Redwood (9-6, Division II, last year: no playoffs)
19. East (10-7, Division II, last year: lost in D-II semifinals)
20. Centennial (9-3, Division I, last year: no playoffs)
21. Fresno-Memorial (9-5, Division I, last year: won D-II championship)
22. Dinuba (12-2, Division III, last year: lost in D-III quarterfinals)
23. Fresno-Washington Union (11-7, Division IV, last year: lost in D-IV quarterfinals)
24. Selma (10-4, Division III, last year: no playoffs)
25. Frontier (8-7, Division III, last year: lost in D-III semifinals)