Here's an update to my original top 25 done about two weeks ago. League play is well under way everywhere in the section, with teams starting to run into each other for the second (or third or fourth) time. That complicates rankings, though we also start to see the cream rise to the top.
Another factor to consider is league strength. Edison is 4-0 in the CMAC, and while I love the Tigers, they haven't played Bullard yet and still have a couple of lopsided non-league losses to consider. That's why I haven't elevated Edison into the top three, even though I think it might be the second-best team in Division I when it's all said and done.
Meanwhile, the two teams at the top are the two who continue to prove themselves against the section: Bullard, which hasn't played a close game against the Valley, and Independence, which sports a gaudy 22-1 record with a schedule that contains about half Division I teams. We'll start there and work our way down.
Updated girls hoops rankings, by the way, will be out Monday evening.
1. Fresno-Bullard (18-2, 4-0 CMAC, Division I, last time: 1) — The Fresno Bee put together a nice look at Bullard's absolute dominance of the Central Section in the past three seasons: 52-3 against Valley teams, with an average margin of victory of 25.0 points. That's ... insane. And I realize some of the Knights' league opponents aren't elite competition, but Bullard plays plenty of TRAC schools, Edison and Memorial, too. Best team in the section is in Bullard, and it ain't close.
2. Independence (22-1, 4-0 SWYL, Division III, last time: 4) — It's too bad the Falcons aren't in Division I, because this is a team that could clearly compete with the best of the best. In fact, wins this week over Tulare Union (albeit a tight one in double OT after the Falcons lost a big lead) and Liberty proved it again. Independence's defense is going to be a huge headache for any team it plays, and that includes Mission Oak in what's almost a lock to be the Division III championship game — and possible state-tournament opponents.
3. Clovis West (13-4, 3-1 TRAC, Division I, last time: 2) — A tight loss at Clovis North was the Golden Eagles' first in-section setback, but it raised some significant concerns about perimeter defense. Of course, Clovis West rebounded by beating Central, so maybe the Clovis North game was just an off night. If I had to pick, this is still my favorite to win the TRAC, and the No. 2 seed in Division I.
4. Fresno-Edison (23-3, 4-0 CMAC, Division I, last time: 5) — I've elevated the Tigers up here despite early losses to Clovis North, Central and Liberty, because Edison is playing as well as anyone right now, and all three of those losses are to top-10 teams. It is worth noting, though, that of all the top teams in the section, Edison might have the most variance; that is, the Tigers could lose an ugly game one night and beat just about anybody the next. They measure themselves for the first time against Bullard on Wednesday night.
5. Fresno-Central (14-7, 3-1 TRAC, Division I, last time: 2) — No shame in a three-game losing streak when all three opponents were ranked in the state's top 100 by MaxPreps. But when everyone else in the top 5 is winning big and often, it's enough to lose a few spots in the rankings. If Central can rebound in the second half of league play and avenge a loss to Clovis West, they're still in line for the No. 2 seed in Division I.
6. Tulare-Mission Oak (18-3, 4-0 EYL, Division III, last time: 6) — There's no question that besides the Division I games, the contest everyone will be looking forward to at Selland Arena for the section championships March 1-2 will be the boys Division III game at 4 p.m. Saturday. Independence and Mission Oak are elite teams, no matter the division, and watching Blake Shannon (30 points in a rout of Tulare Union on Friday) and Bobby Alvarado try to score big on Independence's suffocating D will be really, really fun.
7. Clovis North (12-8, 3-1 TRAC, Division I, last time: 9) — A big win over Stockdale followed by a double-digit loss to Liberty. A big win against Clovis West followed by another lopsided loss, this one to Central. The Broncos are very good, but they too have some consistency issues. I guess that's not a surprise when a freshman, the multi-talented Colin Slater, is your go-to guy.
8. Stockdale (15-3, 3-1 SWYL, Division I, last time: 7) — If you're looking for a Kern County team to make some noise in the Division I playoffs (and maybe, finally, have one reach Selland Arena), this could be your match. I'm intrigued by the Mustangs' athleticism and defensive intensity, which keyed a 41-38 slug-it-out victory at Liberty on Tuesday. But Stockdale's seed will be haunted all year long by a loss to Clovis North two weekends ago.
9. Liberty (13-7, 2-2 SWYL, Division I, last time: 8) — Then again, Liberty is the team that has wins over Edison and Clovis North, so maybe this is your best local bet in Division I. Had I done a weekly update of the rankings after last Saturday's win against Clovis North, Liberty would have been in the top five. But ugly offensive performances in losses to Stockdale (41-38) and Independence (57-33) push the Pats back down a couple of pegs. The return game at Stockdale will be huge for seeding.
10. Tulare Union (16-5, 3-1 EYL, Division I, last time 11) — The Redskins haven't defeated anyone of note since last update, but a double-overtime loss to Independence, even when coupled with a blowout at the hands of Mission Oak, bumps Tulare into the top 10. Keonta Vernon is capable of going off on anyone in the section (as he did against Independence, scoring 35 points), which makes this team a dangerous postseason draw.
11. Clovis-Buchanan (9-7, 1-2 TRAC, Division I, last time: 12) — This ranking, and that of Clovis below, does not include the Friday night result between the Bears and Cougars, because I didn't see it reported anywhere. But I would have favored Buchanan in that game, so we'll put the Bears here for now. I also feel like after the top eight — Bullard, Clovis West, Edison, Central, Stockdale, Liberty and Tulare Union — there's a slight drop-off in Division I. Could make first-round upsets unlikely.
12. Bakersfield (13-9, 1-3 SWYL, Division I, last time: 10) — When it comes to grind-it-out defensive teams in the SWYL, the Drillers seem to have drawn the short end of the stick, at least lately. An ugly start to league play, with a tough game against Stockdale yet to come in the first half of the double round-robin schedule, makes it unlikely BHS will have a home playoff game. And yet, no one else in the section seems ready to make the jump this high. Drillers can still be dangerous on the right night.
13. Fresno-Sunnyside (15-6, 4-0 NYL, Division II, last time: 15) — Prolonged slumps from Redwood and Garces (the Rams is partly caused by an illness to Sheldon Croney) have given the Wildcats an opportunity to claim the top seed in a watered-down Division II, and right now they appear to have taken full advantage. It's unlikely anyone in the NYL can challenge Sunnyside, so this record might get rather inflated by the time the postseason rolls around.
14. Clovis (11-8, 1-2 TRAC, Division I, last time: 14) — Again, I don't know the Cougars' result against Buchanan on Friday night, but this ranking is more likely to go up with news of a win rather than down if they lost that game. The Cougars are a good example of a Division I team that likely will make a first-round exit but is better than most everyone else in lower divisions.
15. Lemoore (12-9, 5-2 WYL, Division II, last time: NR) — I hemmed and hawed over which team to put in this spot longer than for any other but settled on the Tigers because of their hot play in the West Yosemite League. They notched a road win at Mt. Whitney, which is on a tear of its own, and Lemoore's one bad loss — to Delano — came early enough in the season where it can start to be considered a little bit less.
16. Visalia-Mt. Whitney (12-8, 5-2 WYL, Division III, last time: NR)
17. East (14-10, 4-0 SEYL, Division II, last time: 19)
18. Garces (12-8, 2-2 SEYL, Division II, last time: 13)
19. Fresno-Washington Union (15-10, 3-1 NSL, Division IV, last time: 23)
20. Centennial (11-6, 1-3 SWYL, Division I, last time: 20)
21. Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial (11-9, 1-3 CMAC, Division I, last time: 21)
22. Selma (14-6, 3-1 CSL, Division III, last time: 24)
23. Exeter (15-4, 2-2 CSL, Division IV, last time: 16)
24. Dinuba (17-4, 3-1 CSL, Division III, last time: 22)
25. South (11-7, 3-0 SYL, Division III, last time: NR)
Dropped out: No. 17 Hanford West, No. 18 Visalia-Redwood, No. 25 Frontier