A primer on state tournaments as they enter ‘Act II’
The 160 have been cut in half. And that means twice the fun. The curtain has fallen on Act I of the high school state basketball tournament. The more formidable and meaningful second act lays ahead, starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, as the 80 remaining boys and girls teams chase three more victories. One out of eight will succeed. A primer for Week 2: First and foremost, we are back, for the first time since 2019, with a full and familiar schedule and format. A format we’ve all come to love. The quarterfinals in the 10 brackets will be played in the metro area on Tuesday and Wednesday; last year, the quarters were played at home sites before shifting to the metro area for the semifinals and championship games.
In 2021, it was the shortened pandemic season with limited crowds, a season that ended in May. With athletes in masks. In 2020, the final three days of the state tournament were played without fans as the pandemic descended quickly and left the Pit empty for all the championship games.
At the Pit this year, we have a familiar slate, with 38 games over five days. (The Rio Rancho Events Center is hosting 24 games Tuesday thru Thursday; Bernalillo High has eight games on Wednesday only.)
On the court, the most prominent story line — one that has been percolating for months — revolves around the Brown brothers, Greg and Danny, who coach the top two seeds in the Class 5A boys bracket, Volcano Vista and Sandia. If there are no upsets between now and Saturday, the brothers will meet in the state final at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Their father, Mike, was a legend at Albuquerque Academy, where he coached both his sons and won a boatload of blue trophies with the Chargers. He died in 2021.
Greg already has multiple rings, with Manzano and Volcano Vista, including a state title with the Hawks last season.
Danny Brown reached the state final once while he coached Highland, losing to La Cueva in 2009. Is this his week? His time to complete the family trifecta?
Sandia and Volcano Vista have been 5A’s two best teams, of this there cannot be dissent, nor should there be. But there remain land mines for
both to navigate first.
A West Mesa state championship would be every bit as emotional as a Brown v. Brown scenario.
Mustangs coach Shonn Schroer lost his dad, Phil, last August, and a West Mesa triumph on Saturday night would truly be a heart-tugging experience. We shall see. (Phil Schroer was a tremendous guy, and boy, would he have loved watching his son’s fun team this season.) West Mesa is a potent, dangerous group, seeded No. 4.
Atrisco Heritage is the most complex story left on the 5A board.
One of their players, Marquise Renfro, was stabbed in a fight at Main Event last Sunday. (The video, which I’ve seen, is disturbing, to say the least.) He was hospitalized for several days. Antoine Morris, the father of another Jaguar player, Latavious Morris, was arrested on Thursday by the Albuquerque Police Department in connection with that incident and booked into the Metro Detention Center on a felony charge of aggravated battery.
Latavious, who usually wears No. 24, was wearing Renfro’s No. 12 jersey as a tribute on Saturday night when the Jaguars beat Rio Rancho in the first round of the playoffs. And he told me that he would continue wearing it at the Pit. “For the rest of the year,” he said. That begins Wednesday night in the quarterfinals against Volcano Vista.
Atrisco, Volcano and Cleveland hail from District 1, which has produced six of the last seven state champions, a remarkable stretch of dominance from a single league. The Storm, seeded No. 7, could be an interesting team to follow this week. It meets Sandia on Wednesday, only this time with outstanding junior guard Daniel Steverson in the lineup. Steverson missed Cleveland’s meeting against the Matadors in the semifinals of January’s metro tournament, a 20-point Sandia victory. And remember, Cleveland has won a bunch of games at the Pit over the last 6-8 years.
The 4A tournament is filled with elite Albuquerque contenders. Highland, the 2 seed, is the defending state champion and last March won state for the first time in 50 years. Academy, the 1 seed, hasn’t won it all in 29 years but this roster is loaded. Is there a team out there capable of preventing these two from colliding on Saturday? St. Pius, perhaps?
Magdalena, the two-time defending 1A state boys champ, is 29-0, the only undefeated team remaining in New Mexico. They outscore opponents by an average of 36 points a game, a ridiculously one-sided margin. Are they vulnerable? Well, the Steers won 28 of their games by double figures. The exception was a 43-39 victory over Fort Sumner/House, and that co-op is the No. 2 seed. Only two teams solved FS/H — one was Magdalena. The other was Los Lunas, 5A’s No. 3 seed, and that was only by eight points.
In 2A, Menaul chases another state title, but the Panthers are likely going to have to go through No. 1 Pecos in the semifinals to get there. Doable, but difficult.
Could Volcano Vista’s girls and Hobbs meet for a fourth straight season in the state final? They certainly could, since the Eagles are seeded 1 and the Hawks 3.
Volcano Vista coach Lisa Villareal has done a tremendous job this season after several crucial pieces, including two Division I signees, graduated 10 months ago. Hobbs is a young but potent team that could stand in the way of a potential threepeat.
In general, sportswriters root for good stories. In New Mexico, during the state basketball tournament, we root for huge crowds, and under the most intense spotlight. A Kirtland Central-Gallup girls final in 4A on Friday night would bring the Pit to a fever pitch, and those are the top two seeds. Kirtland has won 20 state championships, and no school has more in girls basketball. Brio Rode, once a Rio Rancho High superstar, returns to the Pit as the St. Pius coach, where her thirdseeded Sartans hope to elbow their way into that Friday night final.
Navajo Prep from Farmington is one of those under-the-radar stories, since both the boys and girls have 2 seeds this week. Could they produce a sweep?
I haven’t forgotten about the long shots. Week 2 will have plenty of them, if you’re inclined to root for the underdog. There are nine double-digit seeds still alive (six boys, three girls), with No. 13 Clovis Christian in the Class 1A boys bracket the longest shot remaining. A state tournament experience is always enhanced when a doubledigit seed (or two) can fashion an unexpectedly deep run. From the metro area, there are three left — La Cueva’s boys, an 11 in 5A, Valley’s boys, a 12 in 4A, and the Valencia girls, seeded 10th in 4A.
The higher seeds were 36-4 in the girls’ first round, 32-8 in the boys’ first round.
Will we have any first-time state champions this year? Those also help make a state tournament extra special.
However it plays out, we’re in store for an exciting and sleepdeprived week. Strap in.