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Prep Basketball Notebook: A look at which Tulare County teams have the best shot of playing at Selland Arena

12:00 AM, Jan. 29, 2013 EST

Mission Oak's Blake Shannon goes up for a shot during Friday's game at Tulare Union. Mission Oak is making a strong bid for the No. 1 seed in the Central Section Division III playoff bracket. / Rhea Quitasol

There will be ramifications from the Mission Oak Hawks' 81-54 drubbing of the Tulare Union Redskins on Friday, and not all of them involve the Hawks taking over as the kings of East Yosemite League boys basketball.

Mission Oak's victory that snapped Tulare Union's 53-game EYL winning streak could be the type of "signature win" that places the Hawks over Independence (22-1) in the pursuit of the No. 1 seed for the Central Section Division III playoff bracket.

Independence was the clear frontrunner for the top seed 10 days ago, but things started to swing in the Hawks' favor at last week's MLK showcase at COS. Independence needed double overtime to defeat Tulare Union, 77-75. And the Falcons were rather fortunate that the Redskins let a five-point lead slip away in the last 35 seconds of the first overtime period.

Mission Oak never allowed the Redskins a chance to get back in the game after its first-quarter shooting barrage resulted in a 24-13 lead at the end of the period. Friday's defeat is believed to be the Redskins' most lopsided loss at home for a Tulare Union team with a winning record since Mark Hatton became head coach at the start of the 2001-02 season.

"You can't help but think about it," Mission Oak coach Myron Epps said of the possibilities of being the No. 1 seed in Division III. "However, we have a lot of room for improvement. We're playing pretty good basketball. The key for us is if we will reach our full potential when it counts the most."

The Hawks will have another opportunity to prove that their win over Tulare Union was no fluke when the county's top two teams meet again Feb. 13 at Mission Oak.

Mission Oak will likely need another convincing victory over Tulare Union to win its battle with Independence for the top seed, though, because Independence has one major advantage -- the Falcons are the No. 1 team in Bakersfield hands down.

Aside from Tulare Union, Mission Oak and Independence have had four other common opponents (Redwood, Frontier, Bakersfield and Garces).

Where the Falcons have an edge over Mission Oak on paper is with their title run at the Garces Holiday Hoops Challenge. Independence won the tournament title with a 70-50 win over Garces. Garces defeated Mission Oak 90-88 in that tournament's semifinals.

Independence is 2-1 vs. Bakersfield this season, having won both matchups since Bakersfield won 61-54 on Dec. 7. Mission Oak defeated Bakersfield 57-54 on Jan. 5.

What I see as the biggest obstacle for Mission Oak is the fact that Independence could go through the Southwest Yosemite League, the top circuit in the Bakersfield area, with a 10-0 league record. I don't see the commissioners awarding an EYL team with two more losses the No. 1 if that was the scenario.

How important is it to be awarded the No. 1 seed in the Division III bracket?

It all depends on how the Central Section commissioners view the Division III bracket, because after Mission Oak and Independence, there really isn't another team that jumps out as the No. 3 seed.

The two top candidates for the No. 3 spot appear to be Mt. Whitney (12-9) and South (11-7). If it's Mt. Whitney, it might be the Hawks' advantage to be the No. 2 seed, as they would possibly be playing a team in the semifinals that they're very familiar with (Mission Oak defeated Mt. Whitney 76-73 on Dec. 10).

Another Tulare County team vying for a No. 1 seed is Lindsay in the Division IV girls bracket.

The Cardinals' 14-6 record might not seem spectacular enough for a No. 1 seed, but two of their losses were close contests against Redwood. The one blemish that stands out the most was a 48-47 loss to Chowchilla, Lindsay's top competition for the No. 1 seed, on Dec. 14 in Chowchilla.

The one bracket where the No. 2 seed has as good of chance as winning a championship as the No. 8 seed is the Division II boys' field. The current projected No. 8 seed is a Redwood team that is still two wins away from meeting the school district's mandate of having a .500 overall record for postseason play (the Rangers are 11-10). If you were to draw up the bracket today, Sunnyside is the unquestioned No. 1 seed followed by Garces and Lemoore. El Diamante (9-9) would probably be the No. 6 seed. The Miners can't afford a sloppy finish or they'll be left out of the playoff party.

The Redwood girls are practically a lock for the No. 3 seed in Division II. Ridgeview will be the No. 1 seed followed by Garces (18-2). Garces defeated Redwood 62-48 on Nov. 27.

Tulare Union's best hope is to be the No. 7 seed in the Division I boys' field. But if Mission Oak does another number on the Redskins, Tulare Union could be forced to hit the road as the No. 9 or 10 seed.

Circle the Dates

There are several games with league-title implications that fans can attend over the next three weeks: El Diamante at Mt. Whitney, today (boys); Strathmore at Lindsay, Wednesday (girls); Granite Hills at Woodlake, Wednesday (boys); Lemoore at Redwood, Thursday (boys); Dinuba at CVC, Thursday (boys); Monache at Tulare Union, Friday (girls); Exeter at CVC, Feb. 5 (boys); Mt. Whitney at Lemoore, Feb. 6 (boys); Hanford West at Mt. Whitney, Feb. 8 (boys); Tulare Union at Mission Oak, Feb. 13 (boys).

All-Star Game

Epps will be hosting the second Central Valley All-Star Basketball Game on April 6 at Mission Oak High School. The events features the Central Section's top boys and girls basketball players in a North-versus-South format. Some of the proceeds will be donated to the Visalia Rescue Mission and the Boys and Girls Clubs. The girls game begins at 5:30 p.m. with the boys slated to start at 7:30 p.m.

Cream of the Crop

One view of the county's top five boys and girls basketball teams:

Boys

1. Mission Oak (18-3): The Hawks are ranked No. 38 in Maxpreps' Division III state rankings, and they rank second in the Central Section in scoring (averaging 74.5 points per game).

2. Tulare Union (16-5): The Redskins haven't lost more than one EYL game in a season since the 2007-08 campaign. The Redskins host Tulare Western on Wednesday at Sim Iness Gymnasium.

3. Mt. Whitney (12-8): The Pioneers have won five straight games, and host El Diamante tonight. Next week is critical for the Pioneers with a visit to Lemoore (Feb. 6) and a home game against Hanford West (Feb. 8).

4. El Diamante (9-9): The Miners will pull themselves within striking distance of their first WYL crown if they're able to get through this week without a loss.

5. Dinuba (17-4): In terms of good-looking records, the Emperors should be in the top-3. But their list of quality wins isn't nearly as good as Mt. Whitney's and El Diamante's. Things could change with a sound win tonight on the road against Exeter (15-4), another team that makes a good argument for a spot in the top 5.

Girls

1. Redwood (16-5): A 61-40 win over Monache on Saturday erased any doubt that the Rangers are Tulare County's best team this season.

2. Lindsay (14-6): A 52-46 loss to Hanford West on Saturday is nothing to get upset over. The Cardinals are in control of the East Sequoia League race and could be headed toward their second straight trip to Selland Arena.

3. Monache (14-8): The Marauders' playoff prowess over the last two seasons (back-to-back Central Section Division II champions) has unfairly placed them in a Division I bracket where they have no chance of contending.

4. Tulare Union (12-9): One of the more underrated stories developing in the Central Section is that the Redskins are looking at their fifth straight winning season. There's never been a stretch like this in school history.

5. Tulare Western (15-7): The Mustangs are obviously not the same potent team they were with junior star point guard Dashayla Johnson running the show. With Johnson out for the season with a foot injury, the Mustangs must do a better job avoiding costly mistakes against the better teams on their schedule. They'll go move up the ladder if they can beat Tulare Union at home on Wednesday.

 

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