Now that we’re deep in the high school playoffs, it’s a little easier to figure out who might be playing in the GEICO High School Basketball Nationals at the end of this month.
The tournament is in its 10th year but with a new title sponsor. It begins March 29 with the boys quarterfinal games (ESPNU), continues March 30 with the boys (ESPN2) and girls (ESPNU) semifinals, and concludes March 31 with the boys (ESPN) and girls (ESPN2) championships from Christ the King High School in New York City.
As in previous years, the boys tournament will have eight elite teams, while the girls field will include four elite teams. USA TODAY’s Super 25 rankings are used in selecting the teams, but other factors are at work, including which state associations allow teams to play, marketability of teams and how many highly ranked players teams might have.
They’re in, no question: No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), led by Duke signee R.J. Barrett, is unbeaten and doesn’t have any games left. Count the Eagles in.
No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). The Warriors have 40 wins, which is more than 26 NBA teams at this point. Oak Hill, which has two McDonald’s All-Americans in David McCormack and Keldon Johnson, has but a handful of games left, none of which it is likely to lose, and even a loss at this point wouldn’t keep the Warriors out.
No. 4 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.). The Pilots are 31-4 and just wrapped up their season. Like Montverde, they will be looking to win a record fourth title in the season-ending tournament. It would be interesting to see two of the best NBA prospects, Findlay’s Bol Bol and Montverde’s R.J. Barrett, go up against each other.
No. 10 Shadow Mountain (Phoenix). The Matadors’ (25-1) only loss was to Findlay Prep and Shadow Mountain just wrapped up its third consecutive 4A state title.
Likely in: No. 3 University (Fort Lauderdale). The Sharks have the resume at 28-1, two of the best underclassmen in the country in junior power forward Vernon Carey Jr. and sophomore small forward Scottie Barnes and need only two victories for a state title to punch their ticket to the GEICO Nationals.
No. 14 Garfield (Seattle). The Bulldogs are 26-1 and need only two wins to wrap up the 3A state title. Provided they do that, they are a likely invitee to the GEICO Nationals.
On the bubble: This is where it gets tricky. Teams from the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference have never been allowed to go, but if No. 13 DeMatha, the WCAC champion, got permission, the Stags would be invited.
No. 8 Memphis East (Memphis). The Mustangs need two things to happen. They still need to repeat as AAA champion and then get permission from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, neither of which is guaranteed.
No. 9 La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.). The Lakers are the defending GEICO champion and are 23-3. However, they lost a close one to Oak Hill and badly to Montverde, so that may put a damper on the organizers’ enthusiasm to see La Lumiere face those teams again.
No. 22 Upson-Lee (Thomaston, Ga.). The Knights are the lowest-ranked team in contention for GEICO, plus they play in AAAA, which is only the fourth-largest classification in the state. However, Upson-Lee may be the best Georgia representative considering it has won 59 games in a row.
The Georgia AAAAAAA state champion. Norcross muddied the waters a bit when it knocked off previously unbeaten No. 5 McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.) on Tuesday. However, if Norcross goes on to win the state title, it might be a more attractive invitee to GEICO than Upson-Lee. Ditto for whoever wins the state’s largest classification, though Norcross is the sole remaining AAAAAA team that has a Super 25 victory.
Gonzaga Prep (Spokane, Wash.). The No. 25 Bullpups are 24-0, but need four wins to take the 4A title and a stumble by Garfield in the 3A playoffs, to have a chance for an invite.
The Girls Field
They’re in, no question: No. 9 Hamilton Heights Christian (Chattanooga, Tenn.). The Hawks were upset in last year’s nationals, but a No. 9 record and 25-2 record and their National Association of Christian Athletes title give them a strong enough resume for an invite.
Likely in: No. 11 Holy Innocents Episcopal (Atlanta) is 28-1 and needs only two wins to wrap up a Class A state title and a GEICO Invite.
No. 12 Central Valley (Spokane, Wash.) needs a win Thursday night and two other wins to end its season unbeaten with a 4A title and that would be good enough for an invite. Ditto for No. 18 Winter Haven, Fla., which is 30-1, with its only loss on the road in overtime at Montverde Academy. The Blue Devils need only two wins to get a 8A title and a GEICO invite.
On the bubble: St. John’s (Washington, D.C.) is 30-2 and No. 5, but like DeMatha boys team, would have to get permission from the WCAC to play. That would be a game-changer as the WCAC is considered the top basketball league in the country.
No. 10 Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.). The Crusaders are 23-5 and a past nationals champion. They also won the National Independent School Title, so a stumble by Holy Innocents or Winter Haven could mean a GEICO invite.
Montverde Academy. The No. 16 Eagles are 19-3 and if Winter Haven stumbles, an invite could be on the way.
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter: @jimhalley