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Gwinnett's 7-AAAAA teams face stout 6-AAAAA in first round

It happens seemingly every year in the state high school basketball tournament, especially in Class AAAAA.

Inevitably, there winds up being first-round matchups worthy of occurring in the state quarterfinals or beyond.

STATE TOURNAMENT

<B>Friday

Class AAAAA boys</B>

7 p.m. - Centennial at Norcross

7 p.m. - Etowah at Meadowcreek

7 p.m. - Wheeler at Peachtree Ridge

7:30 p.m. - Collins Hill at Milton

7:30 p.m. - Harrison at Central Gwinnett

7:30 p.m. - North Gwinnett at Campbell

7:30 p.m. - Shiloh at Marietta

<B>Class AA boys</B>

7 p.m. - Temple at GAC

<B>Class A boys</B>

7 p.m. - Darlington at Providence

7 p.m. - Wesleyan at Gordon Lee

<B>Saturday

Class AAAAA girls</B>

5 p.m. - Etowah at Brookwood

6 p.m. - Marietta at Parkview

6 p.m. - North Gwinnett at Milton

6 p.m. - Roswell at Norcross

6:30 p.m. - Berkmar at McEachern

7 p.m. - Alpharetta at Mill Creek

7 p.m. - Grayson at North Cobb

<B>Class AAAAA boys</B>

8 p.m. - Berkmar at McEachern

<B>Class AA girls</B>

1 p.m. - Calhoun at GAC

3 p.m. - Model at Buford

<B>Class A girls</B>

4 p.m. - Darlington at Wesleyan

But in the case of this year's boys bracket in the state's highest classification, there is more than just one quadrant that has rigorous first-round games.

None of the four representatives from Region 7-AAAAA — not even top-ranked Norcross — will be spared a stern challenge when the tournament opens up tonight, thanks to being matched up with Region 6-AAAAA, which has been just as loaded this season.

It's just the luck of the draw as the brackets rotate with regions 1-4 and 5-8 alternating in different years.

"That's the way it is each year," said Peachtree Ridge coach Keith Arrington, whose Lions drew a first-round matchup with defending state champion Wheeler in the first round. "It's kind of tough, but there are five really good teams in that region. So, we knew all year long that if we were fortunate to get in (to the state tournament), we'd wind up playing a really good team. At least we get them at home."

Indeed, the top five teams in Region 6-AAAAA have appeared in the Class AAAAA state rankings at one time or another this season, with Walton being the odd team out.

All four of the teams that did make it from that region have won at least 20 games, including No. 2 Wheeler and the team it beat in last year's title game, No. 5 Milton (24-4), which plays host to Region 7's fourth seed, Collins Hill (21-7).

Even Region 7-AAAAA champion Norcross will have a difficult first-round matchup when it plays host to No. 6 Centennial.

The occurrence of such match-ups each year has led for some calls for the GHSA to consider seeding the tournament teams to keep some of the better matchups from occurring so early in the tournament.

But Blue Devils coach Jesse McMillan doesn't believe that is a feasible solution.

"It sounds good in theory," McMillan said. "But when you start talking about seeding, then you have to figure out who's responsible for that. As a high school coach, you can't ask us to do that because there will be biases. And there's really no way to seed a team that's not in your area that you don't see during the season.

"It's always this way. And if you look at (this year's) bracket, there are only a few games in which one team appears to have a clear advantage over they other. You know it's always going to be tough."

And as North Gwinnett coach Len Garner points out, even a team in his position is capable of pulling upsets.

He should know. His teams have done so before. The 2003 Bulldogs upset a Wheeler team in the midst of a run of three state titles in four years in the first round, while they upended a McEachern team that featured current Atlanta Hawks star Josh Smith in the first round the season before.

"On any given day (in the state tournament), you're going to play a good team," Garner said. "This is the time to come to play. I don't think anybody is going to come up with any new tricks. You just have to come to play."