E.A. Sports Today

Alexandria, Jacksonville pull down top seeds

But process and pairings for County Basketball Tournament open for continued debate

“I’m going to have to tell my kids for the second year in a row that they’re 15th. We’re not a 15th seed … My beef is these kids deserve better than a draw out of the hat. … I don’t want to look in their faces again when I tell them their 15th when they’ve worked tails off.”

– Wellborn coach Beau Winn

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

As many expected, the Alexandria boys and Jacksonville girls pulled down the No. 1 seeds in their respective brackets for the upcoming Calhoun County Basketball Tournament. And just as expected was a teeth-gnashing and head-scratching over the pairings that followed.

The format used to seed and pair the field opened itself to lively debate and there was plenty of it after the pairings for the Jan. 17-24 tournament at Jacksonville State were formally announced Sunday following a coaches meeting at Sacred Heart School.

Suffice to say the Wellborn boys and Saks girls were not happy. Alexandria was appreciative of the No. 1 boys seed from a pool of six potential winners and White Plains was surprised it received the No. 2 boys nod. Meanwhile, more challenged teams like the Weaver girls and Jacksonville Christian boys pulled middle-of-the-pack seeds worthy of a stronger record.

As decided last year, the top six teams in each tournament were seeded – a welcomed increase from last year’s four — and a blind draw was used to designate “seeds” for the remaining teams to establish the matchups. The theory was to reduce potential first-round blowouts and maintain interest throughout the early week. As it is, if Weaver’s girls win its opener, it earns the right to face the team that beat it 99-22 earlier this season.

As it turned out, matchups that typically should fall late in the week are early on the docket and some teams that likely would have been seeded at the back of the field under more traditional means have a chance to advance. What makes that uncomfortable is in order the share in the tournament proceeds teams cannot play once they’re eliminated and the event is still ongoing.

The six boys seeds are Alexandria (14-2, 4-1 against county competition); White Plains (14-3, 8-1); Sacred Heart (11-8, 3-0); Anniston (7-5, 1-0); Saks (11-2, 5-1); and Oxford (5-12, 1-0).

The six girls seeds are Jacksonville (14-2, 5-0); Anniston (12-4, 1-0); Ohatchee (13-4, 7-1); Piedmont (12-5, 5-0); Oxford (6-7, 4-0); and Pleasant Valley (9-10, 5-4).

And then there was everyone else.

On the boys side, a 5-5 Wellborn team with a winning record against county competition pulled a No. 15 “seed” and will face No. 2 White Plains in its first-round game. A Faith Christian team with the second-most wins overall and within the county is seeded behind three teams with records of .500 or worse. Conversely, a 3-10 Jacksonville Christian team winless in three county games pulled a No. 9 and will face Jacksonville in the first boys’ game of the tournament.

“My issue is, this right here, our record doesn’t mean anything once you get out of the top six,” Wellborn coach Beau Winn said, shaking a folded bracket in his hand. “We just seeded all 15 so why not just go ahead and go by what the coaches who are out there every day and know (determine).

“I’m going to have to tell my kids for the second year in a row that they’re 15th. We’re not a 15th seed and my beef is these kids deserve better than a draw out of the hat. I have to tell them. I don’t want to look in their faces again … when I tell them their 15 when they’ve worked tails off.”

Winn was granted a review of the tally sheet – not individual ballots — and the numbers indicated his team would have been a No. 10 seed according to the balloting, similar to where he placed it on his ballot. The coaches in the boys meeting were requested to seed all 15 teams on their ballots to avoid any potential tiebreakers at the Nos. 5 and 6 level.

“I don’t like (the system) because of other teams,” Weaver girls coach Gary Atchley said. “There are two or three teams that are better than me (with lesser seeds).”

One of those teams is Saks, an unseeded team with a winning record many believed worthy of a seed that pulled a No. 15 and will open with second-seeded Anniston. Wildcats coach Michelle Lively took it for what it was, but was clearly not comfortable.

“I feel like I’m in the top six,” she said. “I’ve only played nine games. I think that hurt us, but it’s OK. My girls are excited. They wanted to play Anniston in the county tournament and they get their shot. You’ve got to beat them to be the best. If I can beat them, we’re gonna shock the world, well, the county.”

There were about as many solutions offered to fix the issue as there were coaches at the meeting. The easiest seemed simply to seed all 15 teams and let the chips fall. Another potential answer was to seed the top half of the field and let the remaining teams play to fill the second-round slots, similar to the FCS football system.

If the no-play rule was an issue, first-round losing teams could play at various venues early in the week with that revenue going into the distribution pool. The theory is those games would draw a specifically targeted audience and those fans would still return to the main venue.

“They don’t seed everybody; I don’t understand it,” White Plains coach Chris Randall said. “Don’t draw nine out of the hat, draw 15. I don’t understand it. I know the principals think it’s going to cut down on the blowouts, I just think we need to seed everybody. They don’t do that in the NCAA Tournament, in any other tournament that I know. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

“I thought Saks and White Plains should’ve been higher,” Jacksonville boys and girls coach Ryan Chambless said. “I don’t like seeding six. I think it needs to be a minimum of eight. You seed the best ones so two of the better ones aren’t gone out of the hat playing each other right out of the gate. … Saks is clearly one of the four or five best teams in it and now they’re playing Anniston in a 2-15 game.”

The only recourse for any concerns the coaches were told was to approach their principals about a change.

A recently concluded fan poll conducted by East Alabama Sports Today clearly favored Alexandria and Jacksonville as the top seeds in their tournaments. Sunday’s voting backed that judgment. On the boys side, at least, Alexandria was first or second on 12 of the 15 ballots.

“It’s a nice honor, but I think there were six teams that could easily have been No. 1,” Cubs coach Jason Johnson said. “It’s just a number. We’ve still got a lot of work to do to get better. We’ve got a big week this week with two area games and that’s what we’re gonna try to concentrate on right now. When the tournament comes we’ll approach it to play the best we can play.”

Randall felt similarly about his team’s lofty seed. The Wildcats have as many overall wins as Alexandria and more against county opponents than anyone, but Randall as he looked at the balance of power across the county he thought any of a half-dozen teams could be No. 1; he just wanted to be in the mix.

“I was hoping to get seeded, to be in the top six, but never in my wildest dream would I’d have thought we’d be seeded second,” he said. “I think Saks is as talented as anybody in the county … they get the 5. Oxford beat us and get the 6. Anniston is still Anniston and Sacred Heart has played everybody but the Celtics and they have three players as good as anybody in the county.”

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