The Road to Selland Arena has been filled with Tulare County teams in recent seasons, and the general consensus before this season started is that the outlook wasn't as bright this time around.
That may not be the case. Tulare County did fairly well in Saturday's seeding meeting. The section commissioners named Lindsay the No. 1 seed for the Division IV girls bracket, and four other local teams received either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in their respective brackets.
If you're looking for a number right now on how many Tulare County teams will take part in the CIF Central Section Championships at Selland Arena (March 1-2), it's three.
The girls playoffs begin today. The boys playoffs begin Wednesday.
Here's a look at the Central Section playoff brackets involving Tulare County teams:
Top seed: Bullard (24-2). The Knights are ranked No. 8 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 16 by Maxpreps.com. They are averaging nearly 73 points per game, and their two losses were to teams ranked No. 5 and No. 7 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. They are considered heavy favorites to win, but an upset is possible.
Tulare County influence: No. 10 Tulare Union (21-6). The Redskins' seed is based on a couple of things -- two lopsided losses to Mission Oak during East Yosemite League play by a combined 61 points and the injury status of senior star Keonta Vernon, who suffered an ankle injury against Mission Oak last week. Tulare Union coach Mark Hatton said Vernon is very doubtful for the start of the playoffs. If Vernon can't play, the Redskins will need a minor miracle to get by No. 7 Bakersfield on Wednesday.
Dark horse: No. 4 Edison (27-5). Tabbing the No. 4 seed as the dark horse may be stretching it a bit, but Bullard is that much of a favorite to at least reach the semifinals. The one team that has the most experience against the Knights is Edison. One of the Tigers' two league losses to Bullard was a 66-61 decision on Jan. 30 at Bullard.
Player to watch: L.J. Moore, Central. If Edison can't derail Bullard, then Central is likely the only other team that has a realistic chance of knocking off Bullard. And Moore is the engine behind a Central team that is averaging 67.5 points per game. Moore, a 6-1, 175-pound senior, signed a letter of intent this month to attend Oklahoma on a football scholarship.
Key players: Vernon, Tulare Union; Corey Silverston, Bullard; Chris Russell, Bullard; Austin Armstead, Bullard; Phillip Randles, Edison; Trayveon Greenberry, Edison; Murshid Randle, Central; Marcus Junior, Clovis West; Colin Slater, Clovis North.
Summary: Unless its team is hit hard by injury or illness, Bullard will likely complete the Central Section season with its third straight Division I championship. We should see a Harbaugh Bowl-like matchup in the finals between No. 1 Bullard, coached by Tony Amundsen, and No. 2 Central, coached by Tim Amundsen.
Top seed: Sunnyside (21-6). The Wildcats won the North Yosemite League title with a 10-0 march through the circuit. The Wildcats haven't played a Division II-caliber team outside of No. 6 Hoover since the end of December. They did beat No. 3 Lemoore 54-46 on Dec. 20.
Tulare County influence: No. 7 Redwood (13-13) and No. 9 Monache (11-12). The Rangers received a first-round bye and will face No. 2 Garces on Friday in Bakersfield. Garces defeated Redwood 72-68 on Nov. 27 in Visalia. If Redwood is going to remain alive in this bracket after Friday, it needs much-improved production from its frontcourt players. The Rangers have too much size up front to struggle with their post scoring as they have been through most of West Yosemite League play. Monache visits No. 8 Hanford on Wednesday.
Dark horse: No. 7 Redwood. If the Rangers can solve their frontcourt woes, they have enough depth to make a serious run for a spot in the title game.
Player to watch: Josue Salaam, Hanford West. If the No. 5 Huskies' senior guard develops a hot hand like he had at the start of the WYL campaign, he could carry Hanford West a long way. Hanford West is one of the more dynamic teams in the area when Salaam is on target with his perimeter shooting. The Huskies visit No. 4 East Bakersfield on Friday.
Key players: Jalonni McCorvey, Sunnyside; Christian Solis, Sunnyside; Rashad Jackson, Garces; Fatain Eke, East Bakersfield; Elijah Brown, Lemoore; Ricky Ramirez, Redwood.
Summary: In terms of on-court prowess, this 9-team bracket is a step or two below Division III. No argument about Sunnyside being the No. 1 seed, but each of the top eight seeds has a realistic chance of playing in Selland Arena. Most logical projection is Sunnyside taking on Garces.
Top seed: Independence (28-1). The Falcons are the best team out of Bakersfield this season. They won the Garces Holiday Hoops Challenge, a field that featured Mission Oak, and stormed through the Southwest Yosemite League title with a 10-0 record. They did need double overtime to beat Tulare Union 77-75 on Jan. 21. Opposing teams are averaging just 44.9 points per game against the Falcons. A deep, talented team that doesn't rely on one or two primary scorers.
Tulare County influence: No. 2 Mission Oak (24-3), No. 3 Mt. Whitney (16-9), No. 6 Dinuba (21-6) and No. 16 CVC (13-13). The Hawks claimed all rights to Tulare County supremacy with remarkable regular season, which included a 10-0 East Yosemite League-title run and a Polly Wilhelmsen Invitational crown. There are four players on the Mission Oak roster that is capable of scoring at least 20 points against any possible playoff foe. The Pioneers captured a share of their third straight WYL title. Dinuba won at least 20 games for the second straight season, and CVC, was one of the surprise teams in the Central Sequoia League with a 7-3 record. CVC was promoted to Division III after winning the Division IV title last year and a Division IV runner-up finish in 2011. But that's when the Cavaliers had Grant Verhoeven, the three-time Times-Delta/Advance-Register player of the year who is now playing at Stanford.
Dark horse: No. 3 Mt. Whitney. Normally a No. 3 seed shouldn't be labeled a possible dark horse, but there is a distinct gap between the top two seeds and the rest of the bracket. Mt. Whitney did give Mission Oak all it could handle in a Dec. 10 meeting (76-73 Mission Oak win), but the Hawks are playing at another level right now compared to the Pioneers. Mt. Whitney needs perhaps its best shooting night to upset Mission Oak. The Pioneers do have some size up front that could give Mission Oak some fits, especially if the Hawks encounter foul trouble.
Player to watch: Blake Shannon, Mission Oak. The Hawks' junior point guard went down with a knee injury to Tulare Western on Feb. 7. He sat out last week, and his playing status was listed as day-to-day by coach Myron Epps last week. If he's able to return to the court this week, and be at or near 100 percent by the time the semifinals roll around, the Hawks should be making their first-ever travel plans to Selland Arena. Shannon is averaging nearly 20 points and eight assists per game.
Key players: Isaac Clark, Independence; Derek Check, Independence; Kollan Mundley, Mission Oak; Dannon Frigulti, Mt. Whitney; Ethan Moore, Mt. Whitney; Kane Cooper, Selma; Ernesto Ruiz, Dinuba.
Summary: We're practically guaranteed a Tulare County team in the championship game, just as long as Mission Oak doesn't get upended in the first two rounds. One projected semifinal is Mission Oak taking on the winner of Mt. Whitney/Dinuba. It would be a major shocker if Independence isn't at least in Selland Arena. Tulare County's best bet is Mission Oak. The Hawks' hopes against Independence hinge on healthy Shannon and Mundley staying out of foul trouble.
Top seed: Washington Union (21-10). The Panthers may not be the powerhouse team that they were in the 1980s, 1990s and earlier this century, but they enter the postseason as obviously the best team in Division IV. They are averaging 60.5 points per game.
Tulare County influence: No. 2 Exeter (19-6), No. 4 Granite Hills (18-4), No. 6 Lindsay (17-9), No. 12 Farmersville (17-8), No. 13 Orosi (15-10). On paper, Exeter should be Washington Union's top challenger. But the Monarchs need to prove they are capable of winning a big game. Exeter did go 6-1 at home this season, and the Monarchs won't have to leave Exeter before playing at Selland Arena. Granite Hills won the East Sequoia League title, and Farmersville captured the East Sierra League crown. The Aztecs have won nine out of their last 10 games. Orosi features one of the Central Section's top scorers in Ronchel Ortal (23.2 points per game).
Dark horse: No. 6 Lindsay. The Cardinals couldn't have welcomed the return of junior Chris Misaalefua at a better time. Misaalefua missed a good chunk of the season with a leg injury, and he had 19 points in Lindsay's regular-season finale win over Strathmore. The Cardinals become one of the more potent teams in the bracket with Misaalefua on the floor.
Player to watch: Shakor Major, Washington Union. Major, a 6-4, 225-pound junior, is averaging 17.9 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.
Key players: Isaac Sears, Washington Union; Eli Garver, Exeter; Jordan Bayne, Exeter; Casey Blunt, Sierra; Josh Lewis, Granite Hills; Misaalefua, Lindsay.
Summary: Washington Union has won 10 out of its last 11 games. The loss during that span was a 75-63 defeat to Sierra, the No. 3 seed in this bracket, in Tollhouse. Sierra lost to CVC in last year's Division IV final. Exeter defeated Sierra 63-47 on Dec. 19. Title-game projection is Washington Union versus Exeter.
Top seed: Stockdale (22-4). There's been a bit of an uproar since the section commissioners selected the Mustangs as the top seed instead of No. 3 Hanford (22-4), the two-time defending Division I champion. Hanford should have been the No. 1 seed. The Bullpups are ranked No. 9 amongst Division I teams in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, and No. 36 overall in the state by Maxpreps.com. There is some sound logic, though, behind awarding Stockdale the No. 1 seed. It comes down to Hanford's 73-47 loss to Ridgeview on Nov. 30. Stockdale defeated Ridgeview 56-47 on Dec. 29.
Tulare County influence: No. 8 Monache (20-8). The EYL champion Marauders would have been a much better fit in Division II. The Marauders lost quite a bit of their star power from last year's Division II champion team.
Dark horse: None. One of the top five seeds is going to win this thing. Clovis West is No. 2, Clovis is No. 4 and Edison is No. 5.
Player to watch: Bayli McClard, Hanford. The Gonzaga-bound senior is the Bullpups' leading scorer (18 points per game), and is one of the ringleaders to the Bullpups' defensive pressure that averages 20 steals per game.
Key players: Nakia Page, Stockdale; Leigha Moland, Stockdale; Emily Anderson, Clovis West; Brooke Johnson, Hanford; Samantha Earl, Clovis.
Summary: Best indication calls for a Stockdale-Hanford matchup in the final. Hanford is going to play with a chip on its shoulder, and that may fuel another title run. But Stockdale is not going to be a pushover for the Bullpups. Could be a very entertaining final.
Top seed: Ridgeview (23-3). The Wolf Pack are the prohibitive favorite to win the Division II crown. Cal-Hi Sports ranks Ridgeview as the state's No. 3 team in Division II.
Tulare County influence: No. 3 Redwood (21-5) and No. 7 Tulare Western (20-8). The Rangers are likely going to need another semifinal win on the road over No. 2 Garces to advance to their second-straight Division II final. Redwood is at its best when several players are knocking down 3-pointers. The Rangers are averaging 6.3 3-pointers per game. The Mustangs had an admirable second-place EYL finish after losing junior star point guard Dashayla Johnson for the rest of the season with a foot injury in the league opener.
Dark horse: None. Ridgeview is that much of a heavy favorite. No. 2 Garces lost 59-38 to Ridgeview on Dec. 28.
Player to watch: Erica McCall, Ridgeview. The Stanford-bound 6-3 senior center is capable of averaging 25 points, 15 rebounds and 10 blocked shots during the playoffs. McCall is a McDonald's All-American.
Key players: Rachol West, Garces; Celeste West, Garces; Corissa Turley, Redwood; Jasmine Black, Redwood; Candace Wilkerson, Ridgeview.
Summary: The only major question is who will be Ridgeview's opponent in the championship game? Can Redwood's depth pay dividends against a Garces team with only seven players? Garces defeated Redwood 62-48 on Nov. 27.
Top seed: Selma (28-1). The Bears won the Mid-Winter Showcase Invitational at Mission Oak with a title-game over Redwood and had a dominant 10-0 run through the Central Sequoia League.
Tulare County influence: No. 10 Tulare Union (14-13), No. 13 Dinuba (13-12). The Redskins are in the Central Section playoffs for the fifth straight time, the first time that has happened in school history. Even though she is less than two years removed from having her Hodgkin's lymphoma be considered in remission, Binny Bhakta is the Redskins' leading scorer (averaging 15.7 points per game).
Dark horse: No. 14 San Joaquin Memorial (11-16). The Panthers' record received some black eyes by playing in the County-Metro Athletic Conference. They're more than capable of advancing to Selland Arena. One of their top players is Visalia resident Madison Kast, a freshman averaging six points per game.
Player to watch: Erin Pallesi, Selma. The junior is the Bears' leading scorer (15.7) and is also averaging 7.5 rebounds per game.
Key players: Juliana Jarquin, Selma; Jayla English, Hanford West; Alyssa Garcia, Tehachapi; Sara Vasquez, San Joaquin Memorial.
Summary: All four of the top seeds should feel confident about their chances (Hanford West is No. 2, Tehachapi is No. 3 and Cesar Chavez is No. 4). Going to go with 1-2 showdown between Selma and Hanford West in the final with Selma as a slight favorite over the Huskies.
Top seed: Lindsay (20-6). The Cardinals are the lone Tulare County team to receive the No. 1 seed. Lindsay took second place to San Joaquin Memorial in last year's Division IV bracket. The Cardinals are allowing an average of only 37.3 points per game.
Other Tulare County influence: No. 4 Exeter (16-10), No.8 Orosi (17-9), No. 14 Strathmore (10-17). Exeter is 3-3 against fellow Division IV playoff teams. Two of those losses were to Lindsay and No. 3 Taft. Orosi took third place in the East Sierra League.
Dark horse: No. 5 Chowchilla (14-9). The Redskins defeated Lindsay 48-47 on Dec. 14.
Player to watch: Christina Castro, Lindsay. The junior point guard is amongst the Central Section's top scorers (18.9 scoring average) to go with five assists, 8.1 rebounds and 4.8 steals per game.
Key players: Megan Salinas, Lindsay; Edna Ayala, Mendota; Kennedy Kunce, Taft; Jacque Hutcheson, Exeter
Summary: Lindsay is the class of the bracket, but it is not a prohibitive favorite. No. 2 Mendota and No. 3 Taft are capable of stopping the Cardinals' possible title run in Selland Arena.