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Division 1 Playoff Primer

The remaining 16 Division 1 teams that did not make the Open Division playoffs compete for the next best thing, the CIF Division 1 crown - call it the CIF version of the NIT.

Last year, La Jolla Country Day upset top-seeded Mission Bay to win the crown. This season, the Buccaneers and another Coastal League power, Santa Fe Christian, lead the 16-team field. Who are the other contenders? Who are the dark horses? And who are the players to watch when action kicks off tonight?

FTH has got you covered.

Who are the favorites: Santa Fe Christian and Mission Bay

Both the Eagles and Buccaneers came into the season with Open Division expectations - Mission Bay was my preseason No. 4 team - but both find themselves in a position to come home with hardware. For the top seeded Eagles, they were in the Open until the final week of the season, when they dropped a game at the Battle at the Bay to La Costa Canyon. Much of their postseason hopes hinge on the health of senior standout Brycen Mackenzie, who missed the final week of the season with the flu. If he can recover in time enough to help the Eagles beyond the first round, they are going to be tough to beat, especially with the season breakout sophomore Dax Hall has put together alongside Mackenzie and senior stalwart Greyson Mundis in the back court.

But Mission Bay, on the opposite side of the bracket, has a ton of talent - some might argue too much, which was one of the reasons it took a while for the Bucs to find their groove this season. Now, however, the squad looks to have clicked at the right time behind sophomore transfer Caleb Newton. If they can leverage his unique playmaking and scoring ability with the team's massive front court size, they have a strong chance of making it back to the title game.

Who are the contenders: San Marcos, El Camino, Hoover

Another deep team with size, guard play and shooting galore, the Knights rebounded from last year's down season with a second-place finish in the Palomar League. Led by the youthful back court of 2026 Jalen Williams and 2027 Richie Ramirez, the Knights pose a serious threat to Mission Bay on the lower side of the bracket, provided they get through Madison in the first round and a tough second-round test between the winner of Mater Dei Catholic and Lincoln.

El Camino is also capable of making a run in the tournament due to its defense. Logan Ardent, Terrion Woodard and Devin McGee comprise one of the toughest defensive back courts in the section and Isaiah Pomare provides a rebounder and rim protector who plays with an edge. If Brandon Boone and Shawn Siddqui are hitting shots from deep, this team is equally dangerous on offense.

I also like teams with senior depth, which is why I think the Cardinals are a threat. They underperformed in the Eastern League, finishing fourth place, but no team in Division 1 starts five seniors like the Cardinals, who have proven they can play with anyone - just ask Mater Dei Catholic and Mission Bay, one of whom they beat handily while the other they gave all they could handle on the road.

Who are the dark horses: The Mater Dei Catholic/ Lincoln Winner, Otay Ranch, the Scripps/Parker winner

I'm really excited about the 6-11 matchup between the Hornets and Crusaders. The Hornets come into the game winning 3 of their last 4 games, the lone loss during that stretch being a 2-point loss against Eastern League champions University City on the road. Lincoln has played one of the toughest schedules in San Diego this season and took their lumps throughout, but any time you have a gamer in the form of senior guard Derrion Manson, who in my opinion is an all-Section level performer, you have a chance to spring the upset. The Crusaders come into the playoffs giving Montgomery its closest game in the Mesa League, a 55-47 Aztecs win, and earning the season split with Otay Ranch (more about them in a second). The Crusaders bring a lot of balance, with 4 players averaging double figures led by sophomore Lincoln Grogan's 14.3 ppg. The winner of this game has a chance of advancing beyond the second round.

Otay Ranch enters the game as one of the more Jekyll and Hyde teams in the division. At their best, however, they have one of the most improved players in the section in 6-4 senior wing Percy Whittaker, and his fellow senior swingman, 6-5 Adam De La Cruz, is no slouch either. But in order for them to break through, they have to do something they only managed to do once all season: win a true road game.

Scripps Ranch and Francis Parker's first round tangle is one to watch, because both teams would be capable of giving SFC all it could handle if Mackenzie is not in the lineup. The Lancers had the Eagles down 17 points on the eve of the playoffs before Santa Fe Christian stormed back to eke out a 1-point victory. The Falcons have one of the bracket's most dangerous players in senior guard Kai Brown.

Who is on upset alert? Del Norte

The 7-10 matchup between the Nighthawks and Cavers is a rematch of the second game of the season, when Del Norte beat San Diego 59-55 in the opening game of the Bucs Thanksgiving Classic. But both teams enter the game with vastly different rosters than in November. Del Norte is without seniors Dean Nudo and the 6-5 "twin towers" of Valen Reynolds and Ryder Reid, and the Cavers no longer have 6-5 junior Jayden Wade and 6-4 junior Zechariah Hollingsworth. I'd never count out a Cavers team that has road wins over Hoover and Bonita Vista and always seems to save its best for the playoffs. I think Del Norte wins here, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is a dogfight.

Who are the players to watch?

No. 1 Santa Fe Christian

Brycen Mackenzie, Sr. G - Presumptive All-CIF guard can take over a game at will.

Dax Hall, So. G - Fast-rising sophomore can score it from deep, in the paint

Greyson Mundis, Sr. G - Tough senior presence defends, rebounds and can score it

Drew Konsmo, Jr. W - Athletic and scrappy forward is a reliable defender, rebounder and can score it

No. 2 Mission Bay

Caleb Newton, So. G - LA-area transfer brings electric playmaking, athleticism and scoring

Charlie Hutchison, Sr. F - Versatile forward scores it and can create for teammates

Gavin Girouard, Sr. G - Microwave scoring and shooting

No. 3 San Marcos

Jalen Williams, So. G - Smooth scoring combo guard has become one of the top sophomores in the class.

Richie Ramirez, Fr. G - Impressive freshman floor general had a strong season shooting the ball from deep

Mazen El Bissat, Sr. F - Athletic HS five man does all the dirty work for his team

No. 4 El Camino

Logan Ardent, Jr. G - Two-way guard defends at a high level, scoring is on the come

Isaiah Pomare, Sr. F - Physical, brash forward exploits mismatches with his agility and slashing.

Justin Johnson, Fr. W - Wiry lefty wing is a streaky shooter and explosive athlete

Terrion Woodard, Sr. G - "3-and-D" wing usually guards the opponent's best player.

No. 5 Hoover

Amanuel Tesfahunegn, Sr. G - Four-year varsity starter found the offensive touch this year, physical defender

Hassan Anglo, Sr. W, - Pound-for-pound best rebounder in the section, Anglo has vastly improved this season

Exavier Williams, Sr. G, - Southern Utah-bound football prospect shoots it and scores in flurries

No. 6 Mater Dei Catholic

Lincoln Grogan, So. G - one of the most underrated shooters in SoCal, Grogan can hit from deep and midrange

Maseyo Elliott, Jr. G - Athletic and mercurial playmaker is an agitator on defense and improved scoring threat

Sebastian Wiles, Sr. G - Smooth scoring guard has come into his own his final season.

Josiah Jefferson, Sr. W - Athletic football prospect has battled inconsistency in his final year, but capable of exploding on offense.

No. 7 Del Norte

Josh Thompson, Jr. G - Rancho Bernardo transfer gives the Nighthawks size and scoring prowess in the backcourt

Ah-Zion Applewhaite, Sr. W - When dialed in, swingman is an inside out mismatch

Luke Sandburg, Sr. G - Steady lefty playmaker is a noted defender

No. 8 Scripps Ranch

Kai Brown, Sr. G - Cat-quick scoring point guard fills it up from three levels

Rowen Wimmer, Sr. G - Jack-of-all-trades guard's best attributes are his intangibles and hustle.

DJ Stephens, Sr. F - Hard-nosed undersized five man defends and can score in the paint.

No. 9 Francis Parker

Tavid Lee Johnson, Fr. G - Crafty and long 6-2 guard scores it from every level in a breakout freshman campaign.

Amon Andrews, Jr. G - Cathedral Catholic transfer injected instant offense into the Lancers lineup

Kamran Dubois, Sr. F - Colorado College commit has shown flashes of two-way play throughout his career.

No. 10 San Diego

Isaiah Marte, Jr. G - Smooth scoring guard is one of the best shooters in California when dialed in

Treyshawn Degrate, Jr. G - The consummate point guard, Degrate creates for teammates and is a load on defense

Lamar Smith, Fr. F - One of the section's top freshman, Smith has excellent hands and scoring ability in the paint

No. 11 Lincoln

Derrion Manson, Sr. G - the unquestioned leader of the Hornets can take over a game on either end.

Deandre Walker, Sr. G - Capable three level scorer has found a home with the Hornets.

Jair Benjamin, Jr. W - Physical forward is a relentless rebounder and defender.

No. 12 Bonita Vista

Aaron Owens, Jr. W - Lefty bucket getter has an old-school approach on offense, rebounds it well.

Torrean Smalley, Sr. W - The senior has the prototypical college wing build, game is catching up

Justice Peterson, Sr. G - Defensive minded combo guard can knock down open threes

Treyvon Davis, Jr. G - Smooth junior combo guard is an underrated shot maker.

No. 13 Otay Ranch

Percy Whittaker, Sr. G - Explosive lefty wing fills it up from three levels and can guard his yard.

Adam De La Cruz, Sr. F - Skilled offensive wing has intriguing combination of size and perimeter skills.

Dion Harvey, Sr. F - Physical rebounder and defender plays key role for Mustangs.

No. 14 Madison

Eli Stevens, So. G - Emerged as a big-time scoring threat in his sophomore year

No. 15 Poway

Grant Rodriguez, So. G - High-motor guard can score it from three levels, streaky from deep

Daniel Mariduena, So. F - Emerging young big plays with great energy and can finish in the paint

Gabe Menck, Jr. W - Midrange scorer had an inconsistent junior campaign but capable of getting buckets.

No. 16 San Ysidro

Miles Anderson, Sr. G - Electric scorer and playmaker has been a lone wolf for the shorthanded Cougars


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