The third season has arrived.
A three-month regular season gave way to the new sectional tournaments, which, similar to the old region tournaments, was met with mixed reviews. Proponents, however, received some amped-up competition and can raise a banner.
In between lies controversy about the power points system and whether those extra games are had intended effects on power points and playoff seeding. Those issues are ongoing, but so, too, will the girls basketball state tournaments that begin Tuesday (Division IV boys/girls began Saturday, all other boys tournaments begin Wednesday).
Under the new format the top 24 teams in each division earn a state tournament spot (seeding is based on power points). The top four teams from each section were automatic qualifiers with 12 more at-large bids and the top 8 receive a first-round bye.
It's about games, kids, pressure and drama.
With plenty more to absorb in the next two weeks, here's a quick primer from Division I through IV on what you need to know, and a couple things you might like to know.
When: Feb. 15 (first round), Feb. 17 (second round), Feb. 20 (quarterfinals), Feb. 23 (semifinals) and Feb. 25 (championship)
Where: First two rounds at higher seed; quarterfinals at Arizona State; semifinals and championship at Jobing.com Arena
Favorite: St. Mary's
Contenders: Chandler, Highland, Mountain View
Sleepers: Dobson, Red Mountain, Tolleson
Outlook: Defending-champion St. Mary's (5A Division I) could be as much or more of a favorite this year than last season. The Knights are undefeated on the season and ranked in the top five nationally (even No. 1 by a couple websites). Curtis Ekmark's team is deep, talented, relentless in its pressure, takes care of the basketball and is plenty experienced.
Many consider Chandler (despite a loss to Red Mountain in the Section II semifinals) as the biggest threat to St. Mary's, as the Wolves have the athletes in backcourt and frontcourt to keep up (St. Mary's won, 66-62, in early January).
Any upset to St. Mary's would open the door for Chandler, Mountain View, Red Mountain, Highland and Dobson, all of whom have deep postseason experience, talent, defend well and have all played one another down to the wire in nearly every matchup this season.
It's the Knights, followed by Chandler, followed by the field.
When: Feb. 15 (first round), Feb. 17 (second round), Feb. 21 (quarterfinals), Feb. 23 (semifinals), Feb. 25 (championship)
Where: First two rounds at higher seed; quarterfinals and semifinals at Grand Canyon University; championship at Jobing.com Arena
Contenders: Saguaro, Seton Catholic, Peoria Liberty
Sleepers: Arcadia, Notre Dame, Glendale Cactus
Outlook: We'll put Peoria as a favorite given they've played competition against primarily West Valley and fellow-Peoria/Tolleson area schools, which are always solid in Div. II. But unlike Div. I, there's hardly an obvious favorite here. Seton Catholic is the two-time defending champions from 4A-II, but the Sentinels are quite young and not quite as athletic as Karen Self teams of the recent past.
Naturally there's no reason to ever discount a third consecutive title game appearance by Seton. Saguaro and Arcadia have slugged it out against each other (and Seton) this season, and though the Titans have lost three consecutive games to end the regular season/sectional tournament, they were to Saguaro and Notre Dame. It's easy to think the Final Four will consist of Peoria schools and the EV schools from Section 3.
When: Feb. 15 (first round), Feb. 18 (second round), Feb. 21 (quarterfinals), Feb. 24 (semifinals), Feb. 25 (championship)
Where: First round at higher seed; second round at NAU Skydome (Flagstaff); quarterfinals at Tim's Toyota Center (Prescott Valley); semifinals and championship at Jobing.com Arena
Favorite: Valley Christian
Contender: Page, Fountain Hills, Winslow
Sleepers: Gilbert Christian, Benson, Valley (Sanders)
Outlook: It's nothing new for Valley Christian to be placed here. The Trojans are two-time defending champions from 2A, and Scott Timmer's team is on pace to make another deep run. The Trojans (26-2) lost one power point game in late January, played a mix of Div. II, III and IV schools on its schedule, and played (overall) solid competition in its two tournaments (Pepsi Holiday Tournament in Flagstaff and hosted its own Christmas tournament).
Tana Kemmer and Logan Phillippe combine for 30 points per game. Sydney Tassielli (a three-sport starter at the school) and forward Katie File have been integral to the defensive-minded Trojans. It's worth noting that V.C. lost to Page in the Flagstaff tournament in mid-December, because while it's only one tournament game two months ago, the Trojans will likely have to get through a Page, Fountain Hills, Winslow, etc... to win a third championship. Expect the Trojans and schools from Section I (formerly 3A North) to be there in the end.
When: Feb. 11 (first round), Feb. 17/18 (second round), Feb. 23 (quarterfinals), Feb. 24 (semifinals), Feb. 25 (championship)
Where: First round at either Bradshaw Mtn. High School or Prescott H.S.; second round, quarterfinals, semifinals and championship all at Tim's Toyota Center (Prescott Valley)
Contenders: Tempe Prep, Green Fields Country Day, Joy Christian
Sleepers: Arizona Lutheran Academy, Salt River
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.