After 12 weeks of nonleague and league games that alternated between exhilarating to eye-opening, the 2016-17 Los Angeles City Section basketball regular season has ended. And Birmingham Community Charter High and Arleta High are perched on top of their respective mountains — for at least a week.
The Patriots boys’ basketball team (24-3), which went undefeated in the West Valley League and has several impressive regular season victories, are the No. 1 seed in the City’s Open Division playoffs that begin on Friday, Feb. 17.
The Mustangs girls’ basketball program (23-6), which won its first ever East Valley League title with a stirring, come-from-behind victory against host North Hollywood on Feb. 10, is the No. 1 seed in the City Division II playoffs. Those games get underway tonight, Feb. 16.
Now comes the hard part — being the last team standing at the end.
Neither team has won a City basketball championship (although to be fair, Arleta has only been playing girls’ varsity basketball since 2007-08). But both enjoyed remarkable regular seasons. And each team is going into the playoffs with a high degree of confidence.
“They had this goal to put themselves in this position to give themselves the best position to win a championship,” said Coach Nicholas Halic of Birmingham, as his team prepared for its first round game against visiting Dorsey High of Los Angeles.
“Everybody will be locked in. We are healthy and we have that first game at home. But I know Dorsey will come in ready to play.”
Arleta Coach Erika Guijarro, whose team is at home for their game against No. 16 Huntington Park, had pushed to schedule as many Division II teams that competed in last year’s playoffs to try and get an idea for the kind of opponents the Mustangs could face in this postseason. It was the kind of schedule she also hoped would strengthen her players’ skills and resolve.
“I was hoping for at least a top three seed, so it is kinda cool,” Guijarro said.
“Winning league was one of our goals. But the main goal is to get to the championship game, since last year we went to semis. Having [that playoff] experience and the game pressure we had on Friday will help us. We’ve had a hard time in the past finishing close games.The fact we did it [against defending league and Division II champ North Hollywood] will help us. I feel like my girls are focused.”
When it is all said and done, Valley teams could find themselves in a position to reap a bounty of City boys’ and girls’ basketball titles.
Birmingham and Arleta are not the only top seeds in their divisions. The Van Nuys and Chavez boys were given the No. 1 seeds in Divisions III and IV.
There are plenty of high seedings elsewhere.
Taft (fifth) and El Camino Real (seventh) have boys’ Open Division seeds while El Camino (third) and Granada Hills (fourth) are in the girls’ Open Division bracket.
Sylmar is the third seed in boys’ Division I. Grant has the second seed and Kennedy the fourth seed in the boys’ Division II. Kennedy is seeded fourth. And Panorama is seeded fourth in boys’ Division IV.
The Birmingham girls are seeded third and Sylmar seeded fifth in Division I. San Fernando is the second seed and Cleveland the third seed in girls’ Division II. Panorama is seeded second in girls’ Division III, and Vaughn is a third seed in Division IV. (Complete listings for all the boys’ and girls’ playoff schedules can be found on the City Section Website, www.cif-la.org.)
“With the return of Derrick Taylor at Taft, and the emergence of Birmingham and Van Nuys and some other schools, there’s something to say about the fundamental coaching going on in the Valley right now to that of other City teams that may have more athletic talent but less coaching,” Van Nuys Coach Evan Porter said.
“This is a recent trend. The City is kinda been watered down when comes to coaching, but we do have a few good ones. And if you get one, your team improves.”
The boys’ playoffs, except for the Open Division, began on Wednesday, Feb. 15. Their Open Division starts on Friday. The girls’ playoffs, except for the Open Division, begin tonight. Their Open Division starts on Saturday, Feb. 18.
The first two rounds for all teams will be played at the higher seeded team’s home or designated home court. In the boys’ and girls’ Division II and III semifinal games, the game sites have yet to be announced. Same thing with the boys’ and girls’ championship games in Divisions III, IV and V.
The top seeds in each division are figuratively given the easiest path to the championship game. That’s not necessarily the case in both Open divisions where the teams are, theoretically, fairly equal in talent. In addition, the Open Division teams play a double elimination format — a championship round and consolation round follow the opening games. The eight seeded teams are guaranteed slots in the CIF state playoffs no matter how they do (although not necessarily in the state Open Division brackets).
The championship games for boys’ and girls’ Division V will be played Feb. 28. The championship games for boys’ and girls’ Division IV will be played on March 1.
The Division III championship games for boys and girls will be played on March 2.
The boys’ and girls’ Division II finals will be played on March 3 at Roybal Learning Center in downtown Los Angeles.
The Division II, I and Open Division title games will be played on March 4 at Cal State Dominguez Hills.