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Gwinnett runs gamut with playoff teams

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Photo by Brandon Brigman

It’s not hard to find the outlier when skimming host teams for the state basketball playoffs’ first round.

The usual suspects are there, Norcross’ boys and girls, Wesleyan’s and Greater Atlanta Christian’s boys and girls, Buford’s girls, Brookwood’s and Parkview’s girls.

It’s a list of state champions and top-ranked teams.

STATE BASKETBALL

First-round matchups in the state basketball tournaments:

Today’s games

Class AAAAA

6 p.m. — Duluth girls at Etowah

6:30 p.m. — Northview girls at Brookwood

7 p.m. — Berkmar girls at Roswell

7 p.m. — Mill Creek girls at Marietta

7 p.m. — South girls at Alpharetta

7:30 p.m. — Milton girls at Parkview

7:30 p.m. — Woodstock girls at North

Class AA

7 p.m. — East Hall girls at Buford

7 p.m. — Union County girls at GAC

Class A

6 p.m. — Warren Co. girls at Wesleyan

7 p.m. — Hebron girls at Wilkinson Co.

Saturday’s games

Class AAAAA

4 p.m. — Marietta boys at Peachtree Ridge

5:30 p.m. — Lassiter boys at Norcross

6 p.m. — North boys at Wheeler

7 p.m. — Central boys at Milton

7 p.m. — Mill Creek boys at Walton

7 p.m. — Roswell boys at Berkmar

7 p.m. — West Forsyth boys at Archer

7:30 p.m. — Brookwood boys at Centennial

Class AAAAA

4 p.m. — Walton girls at Norcross

Class AA

4:30 p.m. — Buford boys at Rabun Co.

5 p.m. — Elbert County boys at GAC

Class A

7 p.m. — Wesleyan boys at Whitefield Academy

7 p.m. — Providence boys at Wilkinson Co.

Then there is Archer, a second-year school with a sub-.500 record which put together its longest winning streak of four games to reach the Region 8-AAAAA final game, losing to Berkmar by three.

“We’re still really young,” Archer head coach Tim Watkins said. “Our seniors have been providing great leadership and we have been so close all year.”

It’s team that lost its 16 games by an average of less than 10 points and its last three losses were by a total of three points. The Tigers learned how to play close and then, just in time, learned how to win.

“They’ve grown up as the year’s gone on,” Watkins said. “They’ve definitely matured during the season.”

Just like the Norcross boys. Different pedigree, same learning experience.

The Blue Devils, still riding the final gasp of the three straight state championships, looked like they had turned the corner to smaller successes. They began the year 7-9, including a region loss to rival North Gwinnett.

Then, things changed. The Blue Devils enter the state tournament on a 12-game winning streak and back atop 7-AAAAA after winning the region tournament.

“We just continued to build on some of the things we’re trying to explain in practice,” said Blue Devils head coach Jesse McMillan. “We’ve improved on a lot of things, particularly defense and team basketball.”

But the underdogs from Archer and the return-to-the-top story from the Norcross boys play in juxtaposition to the bulk of the county’s playoff contingent.

GAC’s boys, Wesleyan’s boys and girls and Buford’s and Norcross’ girls all look to defend their state crowns. Add in the resurgent South Gwinnett girls and Berkmar boys and it’s a field rich with tradition beyond the newbie in Archer.

“Every year is different, every team is different,” said Buford girls coach Gene Durden. “We are definitely excited about being able to get back to the tournament.”

For Durden’s Wolves it was an uphill climb to the top, aided by the Wesleyan girls’ move to Class A. But seeing the strength of his neighbors only made the challenge more appetizing to Durden.

“Gwinnett County has some great programs,” Durden said. “Year in and year out they are very good and are good gauges to judge your program by. Whenever you play in a county with that level of competition it only makes you strive to improve your program.”