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Open field chases Knights- A FTH Playoff preview

Foothills Christian started the season as the unquestioned No. 1 team in the region, and held its position wire to wire.

To that end, the other seven teams in the San Diego CIF Open Division field are all looking up at the Knights and senior F TJ Leaf, as the Knights are expected to roll through the Open Division field.

Can anyone stop them in San Diego? What about the Divisions 1 through 5? Who are the dark horses in the CIF fields? Who will hoist crowns at Jenny Craig Pavilion?

FTH has your answers- or, at least some educated guesses.

1. Can anyone in the Open Division Field beat Foothills Christian?

The short answer is no. Foothills Christian is 4-0 against teams in the Open Division field, and although three of those wins come against league opponent Army Navy (the Open Division 5 seed), their work against St. Augustine in the Under Armour Holiday Classic (a worse-than-the-score-indicates 85-63 rout) is a harbinger of what teams in the Open field can face. Leaf, the 6-foot-10 McDonald's All American, is the clear catalyst of the Knights machine, but he has gotten strong support all season from fellow seniors Omajae Smith, Nikko Paranada and Luis Salgado. In order for a team to top the Knights in the playoffs, they are going to have to be able to pound them in the interior and contain the Knights perimeter shooters- easier said than done.

2. Which team will face the Knights in the Open Division Finals?

If there is one team that is equipped to give Foothills at least a fight in the Open Division, it is No. 2 Cathedral Catholic. The Dons have the singular talent who will make TJ Leaf work on the defensive end in 7-0 C Brandon McCoy. McCoy, when engaged, is the second biggest mismatch in San Diego, as his size and improved post play opens up the game for the Dons supporting cast. The Dons also have a very formidable defensive team, with guards Cameron Moore and Je'Von Figaro both lockdown defenders, and Austin Beech might be the most versatile on-ball defender in the county. But the Dons have to get through rival St. Augustine for a third time this year, and as history has dictated with the two programs, that is not an easy task.

3. What is the deepest field?

The nod here goes to Division 2. From 1 to 16, each of the teams is very competitive, and no game will be a cake walk, even the No. 1 West Hills vs No. 16 Bishops match, which just lost to West Hills by 5 two weeks ago. If La Jolla Country Day can get Bruce Edwards to return to the player he was before his two injuries, they are the team to beat, but West Hills, La Jolla, Rancho Bernardo and Helix, the top seeds, are each capable of making runs - if they can get past their first round opponents. Buckle your seatbelts.

4. Which top seeded team (aside from Foothills Christian) has the path of least resistance to the finals?

It's close, but it is a toss up between El Camino in Division 1 and Ramona in Division 3. First, let's talk about El Camino, whose side of the bracket includes a first-round match against Mission Hills, a quarterfinals matchup against the winner of Francis Parker and Vista (whom the Wildcats swept this year) and a semifinal match against a group of teams that includes Morse and Mater Dei. The Wildcats, for what it's worth, are an Open Division caliber team in our book, but due to CIF's interpretation of certain out-of-area losses, they are not. A finals date with Kearny, the No. 2 seed is no gaurantee (more about that later), but whoever emerges from the other side will have its hands full. If you look at Ramona's Power ranking (44.21), it is more than a point higher than the No. 2 seed, Central of El Centro (42.96). That's the largest gap between any of the No. 1 and 2 seeds, even more than Foothills Christian and Cathedral Catholic. Ramona also has a unique home court advantage that has only failed them twice this season, once versus Vista and in their final league game against Orange Glen. Ramona is 14 miles away from the next closest high school, Poway, and that geographical location is part of the advantage they will potentially carry all the way until the neutral court finals.

5. Which double-digit seed(s) has the best chance of

advancing to the finals.

We will give you two, and they are both 10 seeds: Escondido in Division 1 and Point Loma in Division 3. Escondido went through one of the roughest stretches a team can face during the nonconference season, as injuries, the flu and disciplinary issues decimated the team, and the Cougars dropped games to La Costa Canyon and Westview as a result. When healthy, the Cougars are Open Division bubble team capable of beating anyone, just ask San Marcos, which it throttled in league play and the Knights needed a miracle shot to force overtime against them on the Knights home floor. This isn't good news for the 2 seed, Kearny, which would face Escondido if it can get past Lincoln in the first round. What would await the Cougars if they are able to navigate the first two games? A potential semi-final game against San Marcos, the fourth time the teams have met this season. Point Loma, on the other hand, has been one of the most underachieving teams in the section. They epitomize the "All Lay-up Line Team" mantra: a team that looks good in layup lines, but something is ultimately missing when they hit the floor. The Pointers have solid guard play in sophomores Nashom Carter and Brenton Bell, a sleeper 2017 wing in 6-4 Darnell Johnson, and size to spare with a front line that includes a 6-7, two 6-6 and a 6-5 player. They get a beatable opponent in the first round in Rancho Buena Vista, but then have to take a tough road trip out to El Centro to face Central, which on its face is a winnable game if not for the three-hour drive.

Playoff predictions.

Open Division final: Foothills Christian vs Cathedral

Winner: Foothills Christian

Division 1 final: El Camino vs. Escondido

Winner: Escondido

Division 2 final: La Jolla Country Day vs La Jolla

Winner: La Jolla Country Day

Division 3 final

Ramona vs Granite Hills

Winner: Ramona

Division 4 final

Brawley vs Sage Creek

Sage Creek

Division 5 final

O'Farrell vs Health Sciences


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