Some schools have sectionals. Some don’t.
Three conferences have 24-team tournaments with “play-in” games Saturday for seeds 9 through 24, then a 16-team state tournament field reseeded on Sunday, based on points tabulated in a joint effort by MaxPreps and the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
Two conferences (4A and 1A) just have 16-team state tournaments. The 3A Conference just goes straight to a 24-team tourney.
Every conference can format things the way it wants with athletic directors consulting their coaches and voting for what format they want.
Phoenix Shadow Mountain, the No. 1-ranked team in azcentral sports’ Super 10 (all conferences), resides in 4A.
Shadow Mountain (23-0) completed its regular season on Friday and won’t play again until Feb. 15, when it hosts the No. 16 seed.
Scottsdale Saguaro, which lost its last three games, is sitting at No. 13 in the 4A playoff power rankings with no chance to move up without a Skyline Section tournament.
“Most of us just found out a few weeks ago that we are only taking 16 teams in the state tournament,” Saguaro coach Bob LaRue said in an email. “I’m not sure how the decision came about but I’m not happy about the disparity. Since we aren’t doing sectionals or region tournaments, there is no reason for them not to take 24 teams.
“Additionally, some regions are playing games (this week), which we didn’t know we could have done. If we had known, we wouldn’t have had to have any weeks on the schedule playing three games. It also provides an unfair advantage to those regions playing (this week) while most of the teams are just practicing.”
Mesa coach Shane Burcar, who led the Jackrabbits to the 6A state championship last season, finished the regular season against Mesa Mountain View on Tuesday night before a packed house. That would have been a great region tourney game. But they were just playing out the regular season with no East Valley Region title on the line (Mesa Red Mountain clinched that).
Now Mesa and Mountain View wait to see if they’re part of the 9-through-24 Friday play-in games for 6A.
Some coaches are OK not having a sectional tournament, feeling the regular season is grueling enough with teams playing each other twice in the section.
“I like not having a region tournament, because it has allowed us to spread our games out more,” Gilbert Williams Field coach Erik Kamrath said in an email. “We only had to play one week this season of three games and it was a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. We didn’t play any back-to-back nights, which is tough to do in basketball.
“The AIA really condenses the winter sports between fall and spring, which in my opinion, limits the amount of games you can play and actually benefit your team.”
Others would rather play a sectional because of the excitement and hope it generates.
The 6A Metro doesn’t have a sectional. Phoenix Central coach Darren Bustos wishes it did.
“It is a little disappointing that the AIA shortened up our seasons and rushes though it,” Bustos said in an email. “Kids work hard in the offseason and preseasons and should have the same opportunities that other kids do in other states. There are 27 games in 10 weeks. Playing three games a week. That is not good for kids. … Extend season two weeks, and we’ll all be done before March 1 or early March.”
Burcar was one of two coaches in the 17-team Division I last year who voted for a regional tournament.
“Some of the best games we’ve played over the years were played in the region tournaments,” Burcar said. “We’re going to try to change it next year.
“On Dec. 20, power points first came out. There were about 10 teams that had no chance of playing in the state tournament without sectionals. It’s too bad, because what are you playing for? With regionals, there was something to play for. It motivates kids to play for something.”
Sahuarita Walden Grove moved up a conference to 4A this year, but once section play began, it’s been a struggle. It came into this week as the No. 16 seed. It finishes the regular season Tuesday at Tucson Salpointe on its senior night. Salpointe will be fueled by the loss last week to Tucson Sabino.
“Having (a regional tournament) could very likely help a team like ours who sits at the 16 seed and would like to move up a slot,” coach Jimmy Stohlmann said. “Or a team like Nogales, which is also in our region, which sits at the 18 seed and could make a push to sneak in.”
Sites are another issue, something the AIA starts trying to secure a year out. Sometimes schedules conflict, making it tough to get ideal sites for state games.
For a change, 6A, 5A and 4A won’t have neutral sites in the round of eight. Those four games will be played at the higher seeds rather than at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena. The semifinals for 6A and 5A will be played in a large arena (6A on Feb. 23 at Gila River Arena in Glendale, and 5A at Grand Canyon University Arena on Feb. 22).
The 4A semifinals will be played Feb. 23 at Glendale Copper Canyon.
In the 24-team 3A (which has no ‘play-in’ games), the quarterfinals will be played at Prescott Valley Events Center, which is smart because the reservation schools provide the largest crowds at state. The 3A semifinals move to Gila River Arena on Feb. 24. The North Section is having a tournament this week, because of its incredible draw, packing out Chinle’s 7,000-seat Wildcat Den on the Navajo reservation for boys and girls games.
All of the 16-team 2A tournament will be played in the Prescott area, but the Prescott Valley Events Center isn’t guaranteed until the semifinal and championship rounds.
This could create a problem for fans from San Carlos, Whiteriver Alchesay, Red Rock and Pinon – all reservation schools – the deeper they go. High school gyms won’t be sufficient to hold all of their fans.
“There are a variety of opinions,” said Scottsdale Christian coach Bob Fredericks, whose teams finished playing the regular season last week and, without a sectional, won’t play again until Feb. 17, when the 16-team tourney begins. “I’m going to miss this week’s excitement of going to sectionals. You have to wonder how a team will play after having not played in two weeks. We shall see how that works out. Maybe this year it’s a good thing, because of all of the injuries we’ve had. It gives us a chance to heal up.”