When: First round Wednesday; Second round Feb. 15; Quarterfinals Feb. 18; Semifinals Feb. 21; Championship Feb. 23
Where: First and second round at higher seed; Quarterfinals and Semifinals at Wells Fargo Arena (Arizona State); Championship at Jobing.com Arena.
First round schedule: 7 p.m.: No. 17 North at No. 16 Desert Vista (winner plays at No. 1 St. Mary’s); No. 24 Chaparral at No. 9 Buena (winner plays at No. 8 Chandler); No. 21 Cibola at No. 12 Mountain View (Marana) (winner plays at No. 4 Hamilton); No. 20 Boulder Creek at No. 13 Xavier (winner plays at No. 4 Westview); No. 19 Mountain View (Mesa) at No. 14 Tucson (winner plays at No. 3 Pinnacle); No. 22 Valley Vista at No. 11 Millennium (winner plays at No. 6 Dobson); No. 23 Cienega at No. 10 Tolleson (winner plays at No. 7 Mountain Pointe); No. 18 Marcos de Niza at No. 15 Mesquite (winner plays at No. 2 Highland)
Favorite: St. Mary’s — What a shock that a team which hasn’t lost to an Arizona school since Jan. 2010 is back on top. The Knights might not quite be last year’s bunch in pure talent but in pursuit of a third consecutive state championship, Curtis Ekmark’s team is still loaded, and the havoc they cause with their up-tempo style, defense and pressure is no less effective. Hamilton (18-point loss) and Pinnacle (20-point loss) are the closest any Arizona teams have played the Knights this season.
Contender: Pinnacle — It starts with Sydney Wiese, arguably the best guard in the state (19.1 points per game, 5.3 assists per game) and continues with a solid supporting cast of seniors Britta Nordstrom, Kenna McDavis and Maddie Rinehart. Pinnacle’s only loss this season (power ranking or tournament) was to St. Mary’s in mid-January, which means the Pioneers swept through Xavier, Chaparral and Mountain Pointe in the sectional tournament.
Darkhorse: Mountain Pointe — Quietly, the Pride’s three losses this season were to Pinnacle (twice including the sectional championship game) and Hamilton, and though their strength of schedule is a bit lower than others which led to a No. 7 seed, it’s still solid. Mountain Pointe should beat the Cienega/Tolleson winner. A matchup with Highland in the quarterfinals will be tough, but Mountain Pointe beat Highland in a semifinal game of Highland’s Thanksgiving tournament. That was a long time ago, but it’s not insignificant as Trevor Neider continues to do an outstanding job rebuilding a once-downtrodden program.
Best draw: Hamilton — This is a difficult one to figure because outside of St. Mary’s (which would have been a cop out) the next 6-8 teams are good and fairly even, so nearly everyone will run into another buzzsaw team in the quarterfinals (if not before). The Huskies have to right the ship a bit after some late-season struggles, but Jeff Kain’s team has an athletic frontcourt and experience (they lost to St. Mary’s in last year’s title game). St. Mary’s looms in the semifinals, but the possibility of seeing Westview in the quarterfinals isn’t quite as painful as Highland, Pinnacle or even Dobson.
Toughest draw: Xavier — The Gators have to play an Anthem Boulder Creek team in the first round much better than a No. 22 seed (Xavier won 53-45 in overtime in late January). Even if the Gators can win again, a good No. 4 Westview team follows in the second round, likely followed by No. 5 Hamilton in the quarterfinals. Time to find out if the Gators’ massive strength of schedule (No. 2 behind Chandler in Div. I) can pay dividends.
Outlook: The reality is it’s St. Mary’s and then everyone else is a notch or two behind, but the good news is the rest of the bracket could be tremendous because so many other teams are so close together in talent and results. It’s hard to find too much egregious when it comes to seeding, and because of the depth of teams this year, every quarterfinals matchup could be scintillating, let alone the semifinals. We know St. Mary’s, Highland, Pinnacle and Dobson’s respective abilities and exploits can make for a memorable run, but don’t sleep on the Chandler schools. The Wolves lost close games to Pinnacle, Mesquite and Dobson at the beginning of the season, but played by far the most difficult schedule in Div. I and still have talent. Hamilton lost by two points to Chandler in early February, but was otherwise on a roll since a Jan. 7 loss to St. Mary’s. The Huskies were blown out by Highland in the section championship game (though not before Hamilton beat Dobson) but it’s hard to see another clunker happening.
When: First round Wednesday; Second round Feb. 15; Quarterfinals Feb. 19; Semifinals Feb. 21; Championship Feb. 23
Where: First and second round at higher seed; Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Championship at Jobing.com Arena.
First round schedule: 7 p.m.: No. 17 Maricopa at No. 16 Notre Dame (winner plays at No. 1 Bradshaw Mountain); No. 24 Washington at No. 9 Cactus (winner plays at No. 8 Saguaro); No. 21 Youngker at No. 12 Prescott (winner plays at No. 5 Liberty); No. 20 Betty Fairfax at No. 13 Canyon del Oro (winner plays at No. 4 Thunderbird); No. 19 Pusch Ridge at No. 14 South Mountain (winner plays at No. 3 Flagstaff); No. 22 Sabino at No. 11 Arcadia (winner plays at No. 6 Flowing Wells); No. 23 Greenway at No. 10 Campo Verde (winner plays at No. 7 Sahuaro); No. 18 Queen Creek at No. 15 Williams Field (winner plays at No. 2 Seton Catholic)
Favorite: Seton Catholic — This spot is a bit more tenuous than a couple weeks ago for the defending champions. Point guard Anne Marie Holter was lost for the season in late January which is a big deal. The Sentinels have been human a few times late in the season, but until someone beats a Karen Self-coached team in the state tournament ... It’s worth noting Seton lost to Phoenix South Mountain in last year’s sectional tournament.
Contender: Liberty — Similar to the Div. I tournament, there are a whole lot of possibilities lying just below the surface. The No. 5 overall seed will likely have another showdown with No. 4 Phoenix Thunderbird in the quarterfinals (1-2 vs. T-Bird with all being tight games), and then either No. 1 Bradshaw Mountain or No. 8 Saguaro in the semifinals. The question for Liberty is whether they can find enough offense in the grind-it-out, defensive-heavy state tournament. Five other schools could be reasonably placed in this space.
Darkhorse: Saguaro — Chris Young’s team might not be anonymous after the beating it handed Seton in the sectional championship game last weekend. Saguaro has an excellent trio in Casey Rarrick, Naomi Reyes and Jelani Huma: talented and young but with state tournament experience from last year. Saguaro lost twice to Seton in the regular season (one a close game) and Arcadia. Two of its five losses were by one point, and another was to Div. I-schools Pinnacle, Mesquite and Surprise Valley Vista in early-season tournaments.
Best draw: Arcadia — Outside of Seton, the bottom half of this bracket has more questions among its higher seeds than the top, so the Titans being on the bottom part helps. They wouldn’t see regular foes such as Seton until the semifinals and wouldn’t see Saguaro until the championship game. Playing at Tucson Flowing Wells in the second round will be tough, same with No. 3 Flagstaff in a possible quarterfinals matchup, but those are very winnable.
Toughest draw: Notre Dame — The Saints start with a home game against Maricopa, but at No. 1 Bradshaw Mountain would follow. Notre Dame has played Seton, Arcadia and Saguaro, and played them close, so there’s shouldn’t be an intimidation factor, but getting past Bradshaw Mountain and then possibly Saguaro in the quarterfinals is asking a lot.
Outlook — Picking Seton as a favorite isn’t hard to do, coach Karen Self is as good as there is in the state, but thanks to some late-season scuffles and injury, this tournament is wide open even with the Sentinels. Similar to Div. I, the top eight seeds aren’t discernible from one another. Thunderbird, Bradshaw Mountain, Liberty and Flowing Wells are all good, and the jury is still out on No. 3 Flagstaff because of its schedule. Arcadia, Campo Verde and Cactus could all be in the quarterfinals as well. The final three rounds are at Jobing.com Arena which is cold air and a completely different backdrop than any regular basketball gym/arena.
When: First round Wednesday; Second round Feb. 16; Quarterfinals Feb. 18; Semifinals Feb. 22; Championship Feb. 23
Where: First round at higher seed; Second round at NAU; Quarterfinals at Tim’s Toyota Center (Prescott Valley); Championship at Jobing.com Arena.
First round schedule: 7 p.m.: No. 17 Round Valley at No. 16 Monument Valley (winner plays vs. No. 1 Winslow); No. 24 San Carlos at No. 9 Many Farms (winner plays vs. No. 8 Safford); No. 21 Estrella Foothills at No. 12 Holbrook (winner plays vs. No. 5 Alchesay); No. 20 Payson at No. 13 Chinle (winner plays vs. No. 4 Tuba City); No. 19 Ganado at No. 14 Camp Verde (winner plays vs. No. 3 Window Rock); No. 22 Blue Ridge at No. 11 Fountain Hills (winner plays vs. No. 6 Page); No. 23 Gilbert Christian at No. 10 Thatcher (winner plays vs. No. 7 Valley Christian); No. 18 Benson at No. 15 Buckeye (winner plays vs. No. 2 Valley (Sanders)
Favorite: Winslow — Winslow is hot after beating Tuba City to claim the Section 1 championship. They have an excellent strength of schedule (as do most teams in Section 1) having played and beaten up on other worthy championship contenders most of the season. Guard play is everything and Winslow has it with Mattea Begaii and Marcella Joe.
Contender: Sanders (Valley) — Sanders fell to Winslow in the section tournament semifinals, but there are wins against Joseph City, Holbrook and Window Rock this season. About five teams could fill this spot as well as ...
Darkhorse: Tuba City — Despite the loss to Winslow in the section championship game, Tuba City has no reason to hang its head; not the way Section 1 (mostly Reservation schools) beat up on each other most of the season.
Best draw: Many Farms — The No. 9 seed has been more like a No. 5 seed this season. A road game at Safford in the second round is winnable and No. 1 Winslow in the quarterfinals in Prescott Valley could be a toss-up given the parity here. The schedule hasn’t been as daunting as others, but those numbers don’t often tell a complete story anyway.
Toughest draw: Valley Christian — Scott Timmer’s team has had another terrific season with three losses (two vs. Maricopa). The Kemmer sisters (Tana and Mara), Ashley Koch and Abby Labahn are an excellent core. A Gilbert Christian/Thatcher matchup in the second round should work out fine for VC, but against No. 2 Valley (Sanders) in the quarterfinals is a round too early and possibly No. 3 Window Rock or No. 6 Page in the semifinals is tough. Then again, if Tana keeps shooting the way she has (a whopping 106 3-pointers made this season) and the Trojans continue having 3-4 consistent scorers each night, watch out Division III.
Outlook — Valley Christian has an illustrious history of success but the reservation schools up north is where most of Division III’s elite will emerge from again this season. Any of 4-5 teams are capable of winning it all here.
When: First round Feb. 15; Second round Feb. 16; Quarterfinals Feb. 21; Semifinals Feb. 22; Championship Feb. 23Where: First round at neutral site; Second round at TBD; Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Championship at Tim’s Toyota Center (Prescott Valley).
First round schedule: 10:30 a.m.: No. 19 San Miguel vs. No. 14 Phoenix Christian (at Tim’s Toyota Center) (winner plays vs. No. 3 Duncan); 1:30 p.m.: No. 22 Green Fields vs. No. 11 Joy Christian (at Prescott H.S.) (winner plays vs. No. 6 Salome); 3 p.m.: No. 20 Immaculate Heart vs. No. 12 Pima (at Bradshaw Mtn. H.S.) (winner plays vs. No. 4 Joseph City); 4:30 p.m.: No. 17 Red Mesa vs. No. 16 Valley Union (at Tim’s Toyota Center) (winner plays vs. No. 1 Salt River); 6 p.m.: No. 21 Scottsdale Prep vs. No. 12 Phoenix Country Day (at Prescott H.S.) (winner plays vs. No. 5 Fort Thomas); No. 24 Mesa Prep vs. No. 9 Rock Point (at Bradshaw Mtn. H.S.) (winner plays vs. No. 8 St. Gregory); No. 23 Yuma Catholic vs. No. 10 Arizona Lutheran (at Prescott H.S.) (winner plays vs. No. 7 Desert Christian); No. 18 St. Michael vs. No. 15 St. David (at Tim’s Toyota Center) (winner plays vs. No. 2 Tempe Prep)
Favorite: Salt River — Worthy of its places as the No. 1 seed, Salt River went undefeated in power rankings games (granted with a wide variance of competition level) and its only loss overall was by three points to Div. I Xavier in an early-season tournament.
Contender: Tempe Prep — Led by Camille Zimmerman and Marissa Rich, the defending champions have all the ingredient to repeat, despite three losses to Salt River (two of which went down to the wire). One question will be whether someone other than these two can be a consistent alternative on offense.
Darkhorse: Joseph City — The schedule hasn’t been daunting, but two close losses to Valley (Sanders) in Div. III means Joseph City can play with Div. IV’s best, and an easy run to the section championship has them on a roll.
Best draw: Arizona Lutheran — A home game against Yuma Catholic is likely followed by winnable games against No. 7 Desert Christian. The run might end with Tempe Prep in the quarterfinals but it’d be a better matchup for them than Salt River on the other side.
Toughest draw: Scottsdale Prep — For some reason, both Scottsdale Prep and Phoenix Country Day have to play a first-round game in Prescott. Even a neutral site win there means a meeting with No. 5 Fort Thomas, who’s pretty good.
Outlook: Salt River and Tempe Prep are a notch above the field, but the gap isn’t real wide. Even though Salt River could face trouble in the semifinals, and they’d play for the fourth time this season, a Salt River-Tempe Prep final would be excellent given how close two of the matchups already were.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.