How wide open is the historic 32-team Open Division boys basketball tournament?
It's been a season of firsts for the Arizona Interscholastic Association. We've had the first shot clock in high schools. Now the biggest basketball state tournament this state has ever seen is set. It's the 32-team Open Division. And the brackets are out.
The teams that lose in the first two rounds will find life in their respective conference tournaments that get going the following week after all the big-school (6A, 5A and 4A) conferences are reseeded.
Here is a breakdown of the boys Open:
Millennium sends message
Nobody's really been talking about 5A Goodyear Millennium during the season as being an Open championship contender. But coach Ty Amundsen has his team peaking and, although still young, this athletic, resilient, seasoned bunch is quite capable of making a run.
The Tigers (23-3) showed that Friday night by holding off Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep 71-66 without their best player, 6-foot-6 Cam Holmes, having to carry them. Holmes spent most of the game in foul trouble. Enter freshman Brayden Barrett, who had 18 points and seven rebounds. That complemented sophomore Quincy Everson's 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Junior Sam Franklin came off the bench to contribute 12 points and six assists. And sophomore J.T. Amundsen was solid on defefense, while adding seven points, seven rebounds and four assists.
This is a team built to go the distance, whether it's in the Open or in the 5A tournament. The only Arizona team they've lost to was 6A Brophy Prep in overtime early in the season. Millennium is the No. 9 seed and will take on No. 24 Phoenix Sandra Day O'Connor in the first round on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
"We are playing our best basketball going into the playoffs," Ty Amundsen said. "We're excited to be in the Open bracket and know we will be a tough out."
Perry and everybody else
Perry, led by the 6-8 freakish athletes Cody Williams and Koa Peat, who could make an argument for a rare co-Players of the Year in Arizona, could beat the local prep academies in the Valley. They're a top-30 team in the nation, and found that extra gear late in the season with Williams and Peat dominating in every facet of the game.
Good luck to everybody chasing the Pumas for the first Open gold ball. But when you put together a 32-team bracket, that No. 32 seed will come in with absolutely nothing to lose. Mainly, because if it does lose, it's still alive to play in a conference tournament.
Perry, the No. 1 seed, opens at home Wednesday night at home against No. 32 Vail Cienega, a 20-6 5A team that lost by only two points early in the season to No. 2 Open seed and 4A American Leadership Gilbert North.
Best chance for first-round upset?
No. 2 American Leaderships Gilbert North (25-1), led by guards Dylan Novak and McGuire Andrus, is a fun story. And if the Eagles get into the Open eight, they'll be the biggest story of the season.
They rode early success, got past the one bump in the road in a loss to Tucson Sahuaro, then won out. So how ready is this upstart 4A team to take on 6A Gilbert, the No. 31 seed, in the first round? If you're looking for a first-round upset, this might be it. Gilbert coach Jay Caserio may have had to rebuild after last year's run to the 5A final, but he knows how to win playoff games, and he's got the most successful high school coach in Arizona history, Gary Ernst, to lean on.
Gilbert (16-10) has played a much more demanding schedule that included Perry, Pinnacle, Highland twice, Brophy Prep and Campo Verde.
On the other side, there is No. 32 Vail Cienega having to take on Perry. To show how strange these seedings are, Cienega lost to No. 2 ALA GN by two points early in the season. Is there that big of a gap between Nos. 1 and 2?
Can St. Mary's ride Styles Phipps to final eight?
Yes, it can, especially if junior guard Styles Phipps gets help. Sophomore Caspian Jones is expected to play, so that would give St. Mary's its healthiest team this season. Losing the 6-7 Jones for most of the season hurt the Knights,. His ability to score inside takes more pressure off of Phipps, a scoring machine, who likes to mix it up around the glass and can score from anywhere on the court.
The way this bracket is set up, the Knights can win two games to get to the Open eight. But the No. 18 seed will first have to beat No. 15 Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain on the road, then beat the winner of the ALA GN-Gilbert game.
Then, to get to the semifinals, they'd have to get through a bracket that includes Sunnyslope, Prescott, Campo Verde and Central. That is doable.
Under the radar
Five teams that could surprise: No. 22 Centennial, No. 27 Mesquite, No. 28 Cactus, No. 19 North Canyon, No. 16 Pinnacle.
Pinnacle is the only team to beat Perry. And every time you're ready to count out the Pioneers, they bounce back with another look-at-us win, fueled by maybe the second-best dynamic duo outside of Williams and Peat in Bryce Ford and Ashton Reese.
Everybody kept waiting for North Canyon (19-3) to come down to earth. Not happening with Michael O'Guinn emerging as a strong Coach of the Year candidate and 6-4 King Turner leading this tough, resourceful group.
Centennial won the 5A title last year, and, after Randy Lavender left to lead Waddell Canyon View, the Coyotes brought in former Division I college assistant David Grace to lead them. He's got a state championship on his resume while at Phoenix South Mountain. And he'll take advantage of the underdog role at No. 11 Chandler Basha to open.
Mesquite shocked the state, especially St. Mary's, last year, when coach Shawn Lynch guided it to its first 4A title. They split with St. Mary's this year, and, with guard CohenJ Gonzales, scoring in bunches, this is a dangerous team.
Cactus could be a match-up problem for Ironwood with 7-foot Bradey Henige having such a dominant season. The Cobras will need him to take up the paint, because they open at No. 5 Glendale Ironwood, a well-coached team that might not be big, but it is deep, tough-minded, and athletic, led by 6-5 power forward Julius Williams.
Best first-round game
It might be No. 17 Mesa Mountain View at No. 16 Pinnacle. Mountain View is capable of winning, behind guard Brigg Wolfe and wing Nate Bogle. The Toros pulled out an emotional 53-52 win at Mesa. They'll need to shoot well and defend, because when Reese and Ford ard going strong together, Pinnacle can beat anybody.
Wednesday's first round
No. 31 Cienega at No. 1 Perry, No. 17 Mountain View at No. 16 Pinnacle, No. 24 Sandra Day O'Connor at No. 9 Millennium, No. 25 Tucson at No. 8 Liberty, No. 28 Cactus at No. 5 Ironwood, No. 21 Canyon View at No. 12 Boulder Creek, No. 20 Mesa at No. 13 Desert Mountain, No. 29 Tucson Sahuaro at No. 4 Highland, No. 30 Catalina Foothills at No. 3 Peoria, No. 19 North Canyon at No. 14 Notre Dame Prep, No. 22 Centennial at No. 11 Basha, No. 27 Mesquite at No. 6 Brophy Prep, No. 26 Central at No. 7 Campo Verde, No. 23 Prescott at No. 10 Sunnyslope, No. 18 St. Mary's at No. 15 Bradshaw Mountain, No. 31 Gilbert at No. 2 American Leadership Gilbert North.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: How wide open is the 32-team Open Division boys basketball tourney?