Ugh, the parity again: A FTH Division 2 Playoff Preview
I hate this division.
Historically, CIF Division 2 is the most exciting bracket - and most maddening to predict - because of its parody.
Two years ago, I would've bet the house on Bonita Vista and San Diego squaring off in an epic clash of talent and guard play. But 16th seeded Point Loma had other plans. Last season, the top seed Orange Glen almost fell in the first round to 16th seed University City. And in 2018, the 8 seed Francis Parker demolished the field en route to a title.
Looking at this year, there's a lot of minefields for the top seeds to navigate, And I'm predicting this field without a ton of confidence.
The Top Seed
The Aztecs are young and not very big or deep, but they have stellar guard play and a unique post presence that creates mismatch problems galore for teams. Senior guard Tedrous Teshome, a microwave-type scoring threat, is flanked by four talented freshmen, including three who were named to the All Mesa League team: 6-1 guard Xair Mendez, 6-1 guard Alek Sanchez and 6-4 post JJ Sanchez. It is the bigger of the Sanchez twins, JJ, whose inside out abilities and uncanny court vision have shredded teams this year. Add in underrated freshman Devin Hamilton and his big-bodied brother, 6-5 Anthony (not of the Verzuz variety), and 5-8 junior Nico Reyes, and this team has earned the top seed in a stacked field.
Who are the contenders?
The Mustangs engineered one of the most dramatic turnarounds in CIF this season, winning 15 games after winning just one a season ago. The energy that new head coach David Kulowitch brought to the team, combined with significant improvement from the team's holdovers (Nico Cervantes really ratcheted up his game a notch) and the addition of dynamic junior Elijah Newsome, have made this a different team, and one capable of winning the field, but they'd have to get over the hump against Montgomery to do it (two of the team's 11 losses are to the Aztecs).
The Bobcats were initially my pick in this division way back at the beginning of the year, but they got off to an uneven start due to injuries, COVID-19 pauses and one important sit-out period transfer. But they found their stride late in the season behind the three-headed monster of 6-5 Vishal Jayanthi, 6-1 senior Dylan "Sparky" Walls and 6-1 senior "basketball player" JJ Martin, who is one of the most unique players in SD. But the team suffered a setback in the last week of the season - in a wino over Sage Creek that gave them a chance at the league title - when Martin suffered an ankle injury that could keep him out of the playoffs. Without Martin, the Bobcats will rely heavily on 6-5 freshman forward Elijah Stephens, who has quietly become a top prospect in the class.
The Sundevils completed an undefeated run through the Valley League and weren't challenged (the closest game was 8 points), but outside of league, the results were a mixed bag. At their height, the Jaden Matusalem-led group is good enough to knock off Cathedral Catholic and head on the road and defeat Otay Ranch. But then there are double-digit road losses to Sage Creek and San Dieguito Academy and a head-scratching home loss to a Rancho Bernardo team they manhandled on the road a week earlier. If they can get consistent scoring - and defense - from the complementary players, Mt. Carmel could make a run.
The Division 2 playoffs have often been about who's star shines the brightest. The Patriots have one of the best "alphas" in the field in senior guard Cam Marshall, who has played his best basketball of his career in his final stanza. The supporting cast is also solid: Seniors Deion Hines and Michael Rayner have returned to the program after missing seasons with injury and other reasons. Junior Kai Nakamura is underrated and head coach Kenny Caesar knows how to win tough playoff games.
Who are the Dark Horses?
Rancho Buena Vista
The Longhorns have had a tough year with injuries and COVID-19 absences, but finished the season putting together a strong performance to knock off Sage Creek. Seniors Takoma Rosario and Jesse Snider are a formidable tandem, and fresman Ayden Horn has become a valuable piece. Playing a Hoover team that is sliding into the playoffs on a four-game losing streak, the Longhorns are in a good position to pull off the upset.
The Marauders got whole and looked formidable down the stretch. When their shooters are hitting shots, they are one of the toughest outs in the section, and their five-out open style of play creates lots of mismatches. One of the biggest boosts was the return of the football players, Tajon Evans and Denon Fagan, to the lineup. Evans shows flashes of why he was such a highly touted basketball prospect at a young age before going all in with football, and Fagan's length and lateral quickness help shore up the back line of the defense. Much of Mira Mesa's fortunes will hinge on the health of Jack Hudson, who suffered an injury late in the league-championship-clinching win over Hoover on Friday.
The 7-10 winner
Both Bishop's and Calexico have a dominant player capable of taking over the game, but they come in two very different packages. For the Bulldogs, it's 5-7 (generously listed) Aaron Tabarez, who is so fun to watch due to his quickness, passing ability and timely scoring. But the Bulldogs will need an answer for the Knights leader, 6-6 forward Nicky Clotfelter, a matchup problem because of his ability to strike from deep or beat you in the post. The winner of this game could give Otay Ranch trouble in the second round.
Who should be on upset alert?
Losing Martin at such a critical juncture is tough, but now they face a better-than-14-seed Centurions squad that spent the latter half of the season wreaking havoc on the Eastern League race. Senior guard Ayden Lockett is a game changer, and the Centurions have length, perimeter defense and rim protection. And they have good road wins to match.
Players to watch
Tedrous Teshome, 6-2 Sr. G, Montgomery
JJ Sanchez, 6-4 Fr. F, Montgomery
Xair Mendez, 6-1 Fr. G, Montgomery
Elijah Newsome, 6-0 Jr. G, Otay Ranch
Nico Cervantes, 6-0 Sr. G, Otay Ranch
Percy Whitaker, 6-3 So. W, Otay Ranch
Dylan Walls, 6-1 Sr. G, Sage Creek
Vishal Jayanthi, 6-5 Sr. W, Sage Creek
Jaden Matusalem, 6-0 Sr. G, Mt Carmel
Zach Rose, 6-4 Sr. F, Mt Carmel
Gianni Bernabe, 5-8 So. PG, Mt. Carmel
Cam Marshall, 6-2 Sr. G, Patrick Henry
Michael Rayner, 6-7 Sr. F, Patrick Henry
Deion Hines, 6-0 Sr. G, Patrick Henry
Jayden Barnett, 5-10 Sr. PG, Hoover
Ozzeno Diallo, 6-2 Jr. G, Hoover
Amanuel Tesfahuneg, 6-1 So. G, Hoover
Aaron Tabarez, 5-7 Sr. PG, Calexico
Andres Tabarez, 5-7 Jr. G, Calexico
Julian Beltran, 6-2 Sr. F, Calexico
Xavier Rubio, 6-1 Sr. G, Eastlake
Carl Luyun, 5-9 Sr. G, Eastlake
Josh Glanz, 6-6 So. F, Eastlake
Spencer Hall, 6-0 Sr. G, Mira Mesa
Denon Fagan, 6-2 Sr. G, Mira Mesa
Kumari West, 6-1 So. G, Mira Mesa
Nicky Clotfelter, 6-6 Sr. F, Bishop's
Luke Ball, 6-2 Jr. G, Bishop's
Tyler Hagan, 6-2 Jr. G, Bishop's
Jesse Snider, 6-4 Sr. G, RBV
Takoma Rosario, 6-0 Sr. G, RBV
Ayden Horn, 6-2 Fr. W, RBV
Xavier Ogle, 5-8 Jr. PG, Rancho Bernardo
Dalton Runyon, 6-2 Jr. G, Rancho Bernardo
Carter Lankford, 6-4 Sr. F, Rancho Bernardo
Josue Amaya, 6-2 Sr. G, Valhalla
Alden Eliasen, 6-1 Sr. SG, Valhalla
Calvert Esho, 6-5 Sr. F, Valhalla
Ayden Lockett, 6-1 Sr. G, University City
Jaedan Robley, 6-5 So. W, University City
Ben Gavani, 6-6 So. F, University City
Alexis Marmolejos, 6-2 Sr. G, Army Navy
Kyelin King, 6-2 So. G, Lincoln
Derrion Mason, 6-2 So. G, Lincoln
Manny Barnett, 5-8 Jr. G, Lincoln
Montgomery over Lincoln
Mira Mesa over Eastlake
Patrick Henry over Rancho Bernardo
Mt Carmel over Valhalla (OT)
University City over Sage Creek
Hoover over RBV
Bishop's over Calexico
Otay Ranch over Army Navy
Montgomery over Mira Mesa
Patrick Henry over Mt Carmel
Hoover over UC
Otay Ranch over Bishop's
Montgomery over Patrick Henry
Hoover over Otay Ranch
Montgomery over Hoover