For 21 boys and girls basketball teams representing 14 different Gwinnett County high schools in three different classifications of the upcoming state tournament, the goal is now quite simple.
Survive and advance.
That motto becomes especially relevant to certain members of the local contingent as play opens up in the 32-team girls tournaments Friday night, and the 32-team boys tournaments Saturday.
"It's hard for anybody this time of year because everybody (qualified for the state tournament) is good," Norcross boys coach Jesse McMillan said.
Some are better than others, however, and matchups become particularly important in the state tournament - something McMillan and his Blue Devils (25-2) know all too well.
An ill-timed loss to Collins Hill in last Saturday's Region 7-AAAAA championship game has sent Norcross into a "Bracket of Doom" that always seems to develop each year in the Class AAAAA boys tournament.
The No. 3 state-ranked Blue Devils have a tough ninth-ranked Meadowcreek (24-3) team as their first-round opponent Saturday. They must also survive a bracket quadrant that includes top-ranked McEachern and No. 2 Wheeler, plus a tough Walton team, surprising Brookwood and Region 7 rival Peachtree Ridge, if they want a chance to play for their fourth straight state title.
However, history has shown Norcross quite capable of completing such a treacherous journey. Just two years ago, upsets in region tournaments forced the Blue Devils to have to go through highly-ranked opponents Wheeler, Meadowcreek and Marietta just to reach the final four en route to the championship.
"All three of those teams were in the top 5 (in the GSWA state rankings) at the time," recalled McMillan, then an assistant to former Norcross coach, and current GAC coach, Eddie Martin. "The one thing we're going to do (this time) is to make sure not to look ahead. In a bracket this tough, if you wind up looking two rounds down the road, you won't make it past the one (immediately) in front of you. And keeping things in perspective, everyone else in the bracket is saying the exact same thing (about how tough it is)."
As big an issue as matchups are in the state tournament, other factors often playing a big role in which teams survive from round to round, not the least of which is injuries.
"The biggest thing I'm pleased with is that after three games in four nights (in the region tournament), we want to get some people healthy," said Brookwood boys coach Craig Witmer after his team finished second in Region 8-AAAAA last Saturday, giving the Broncos (19-9) a first-round matchup with Peachtree Ridge this Saturday at 6 p.m.
For some teams, like Region 8-AAAAA girls champion Parkview and runner-up Berkmar, getting people healthy is especially important.
The No. 2 Panthers (27-1) got some good news Monday when X-rays to Katie Carroll's injured left foot came up negative, and coach Mike McCoy is hopeful the sharpshooting sophomore will be available when his team plays host to Chattahoochee at 6 p.m. Friday.
"At the end of the season, everybody's a little banged up and sore," McCoy said. "In basketball, (injuries are) a little more crucial because depth is a factor. But we play eight kids consistently, and we played about 12 or 13 minutes (in Saturday's title game) without (Carroll). So, we looked at that as a positive in that other kids had to go in and do things we needed to win, and they did."
Meanwhile, the status of Berkmar senior post Brittany McDonald for Friday's first-round game against Duluth was still unknown as of Monday.
The Tulane-signee injured her right knee in the fourth quarter of the fifth-ranked Patriots' (24-4) loss to Parkview in last Saturday's Region 8-AAAAA title game.
SideBar: State hoops
State Basketball Tournament Schedules
Shiloh at Mill Creek, 7 p.m.
Central Gwinnett at Norcross, 7 p.m.
Duluth at Berkmar, 6:30 p.m.
Chattahoochee at Parkview, 7:30 p.m.
Callaway at Buford, 6 p.m.
Macon Co. at GAC, TBA
Athens Christian at Wesleyan, 6 p.m.
Providence at Social Circle, 6 p.m.
Mill Creek at South Gwinnett, TBA
Central Gwinnett at Collins Hill, 7 p.m.
Meadowcreek at Norcross, 7 p.m.
Peachtree Ridge at Brookwood, 6 p.m.
Crawford Co. at GAC, TBA
Wesleyan at Athens Academy, 5 p.m.