Grady (18-8) at Northwest Whitfield (23-3), 7:30
Marist (21-4) at Dalton (18-7), 6
Hart County (9-13) at North Murray (21-7), 6
Gordon Central (17-9) at Franklin County (19-9), 6
Ringgold (13-14) at Morgan County (22-5), 6
Hapeville Charter (7-20) at Calhoun (18-5), 6
Dade County (18-8) at Wesleyan (12-15), 7
DALTON, Ga. — Basketball playoff time in northwest Georgia is usually the cruel season for area boys' teams. Not since the Casey Baxter-led Calhoun squads more than a decade ago has an area boys' team advanced to any class's final four.
If the top two teams from Region 7-AAAA are going to get their shot, they'll have to exploit any advantage they can find. Unfortunately for Northwest Whitfield and Dalton, a worst-case scenario is their matchup with Region 6, where four of the top six-ranked teams in the state reside.
So when fourth-ranked Marist hits Dalton and sixth-ranked Grady invades Northwest tonight for GHSA first-round games, coaches Mike Duffie and Ryan Richards are looking for any edge they can get. In each case that means exploiting a size disadvantage.
"Marist's top player is a 6-foot-8 shooting guard (Quinton Stephens) who is committed to Georgia Tech," Dalton's Duffie said. "We will have a tough time guarding him like everybody else has, but then again he has to guard a 5-8 kid on the other end, so we see it as a mismatch in our favor. I was kidding with the guys in practice and told them, 'They've never seen a team as small as we are.'"
Duffie's team hopes to take the War Eagles out of their usual half-court, set-it-up style by running when they can and making Marist scramble for shots. Of course, if they can't find a way to slow Stephens, whose point production and passing account for 65 percent of Marist's offense, it likely will be a long night.
"Marist is very well coached and disciplined, and they don't just come out and attack and overwhelm you," Duffie said. "They play at a bit of a slower pace than most very good teams in this state. We've got to limit [Stephens'] touches if we can, but that's going to be tough when we can't even get in his sight lines."
Marist also has 6-9 center David Onuorah and several good-shooting guards, while Dalton's tallest player is 6-4 Demond Rucker. The 19-7 Catamounts, though, have scorers such as Alex Bautista, Robert Enck and Rico Mears who can hit 20 in any given game. They'll need it tonight.
"We've got to shoot the ball well, period," Duffie said. "We know second shots are going to be tough to get, so we've got to be hot."
Northwest coach Ryan Richards has the same problem going against a Grady team that features 6-9 senior Brandon Watkins, 6-6 Cory Carswell and 6-5 Kivon Taylor. Senior O'Shea Hill is the tallest Bruin at 6-3.
"Our guards, Tevin McDaniel and Kaleb King, are short, so at least their guys will have to reach a long way to get the ball," joked Richards, whose 23-3 team is seeking the first state playoff win in program history. "It will be an interesting matchup. No one has really had success pressuring us all year, so if we can make them pay for their pressure, we have a shot."
Two other area teams host first-round games tonight, Calhoun against Hapeville Charter in Class AA and North Murray against Hart County in AAA, while Gordon Central and Ringgold travel in AAA and Dade County is on the road in AA.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...