For those who like playoff competition to be so unpredictable that the No. 1 could lose to the No. 8, get ready for the City Section Open Division Basketball Playoffs next month. To say the tournament is wide open is the best way to describe the state of City Section basketball.
Some of the section’s longtime powers should be vying to display another banner, but anyone who says they know for sure which team will win is just jumping. Taft (13-3) may have started the season as a favorite, but the list of potential champions keeps growing.
Perhaps the experience of starting, stopping and restarting COVID-19 in the Los Angeles Unified School District is having an effect, but the lack of consistency among top teams is very visible, as well as a lack of notable experience among players. For the first time, there are no City Section teams in the top 25 of the Times rankings, indicating a decline in talent. Additionally, the Open Division champion could end up being placed in Division II for the state playoffs.
This means the potential is there for a number of teams to get hot late and sweep to the Championship.
Here are the teams that appear to have a shot at the title.
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- Taft. Coach Derrick Taylor may have the most talented roster best suited to win an eight-team tournament at the end of the regular season, but the Toreadors have troubling losses, giving opponents hope in the playoffs. Juniors AJ Johnson and Keyon Kensie Jr. and senior Isaiah Lewis will need to gain consistency come playoff time.
- Birmingham. Reigning champions City waited until December 26 for all of their players to be eligible, which led to a slow start. There are signs the Patriots are making progress, but a loss to El Camino Real last week halted the momentum. The transfer from El Camino Real Brooklyn Caldwell was a great edition and Larry Olayinka is capable of being a force inside and on the boards.
- Venice. The Gondoliers own a win over Birmingham which should come in handy when it comes to rankings. They defeated Westchester for the first time in over 30 years. They are 6-0 in the WHL with two games looming against Fairfax to decide the league title. Sophomore Tyler Hunt has become one of the best players in the City section.
- King/Drew. The Golden Eagles are always underrated during the regular season and then seen as a surprise when they make it to the semi-finals. This season, guard Kalib LaCount has an MVP season, so beware. He had 46 points last week against Lawndale.
- Fairfax. Of all the teams in contention, the Lions could improve the most over the next month due to their youth and the fact that they have only played nine games until January. The only question is how the young players will react to the pressure of the playoffs. Sophomores David Mack and Jaden Hubbard, rookie Hudson Mays and senior Tyler Bey certainly have the talent to take the Lions far.
- Narbonne. The COVID-19 break hasn’t done the Gauchos any favors. They came back to lose to Gardena in a Marine League game. They own an early season win over Fairfax. The Gill brothers, Andrew and Christian, boosted the Gauchos.
- Westchester. 15-time champions City lack manager Ed Azzam (he retired) and have lost to Fairfax and Venice, but there is still talent, led by Jonathan Choyce and Angel Corona.
- The Camino Real. When the Royals are full, they are very dangerous. Karson Pheffer, a 6ft 6in transfer from Crespi, became eligible late last month and needs to be dealt with.