As region tournaments end, the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) state tournaments begin. Simply type in the hashtag #MarchToMacon and you’ll get updates on Georgia high school basketball teams fighting to stay alive eyeing the chance to play in the Macon Centreplex. Three teams from Covington, the Eagles, Lady Rams and Rams, will represent the city and their respective regions in the state tournament. Here’s a breakdown of the teams and their chances at making it to Macon.
Eastside (20-9, 10-5 region 4-AAAA)
The Eagles enter the state tournament as a fourth seed after losing to Walnut Grove and Eagle’s Landing in the region tournament. Despite their seeding, the Eagles will be a tough out in the playoffs.
This year’s 4-AAAA region is stacked with talent and each team should win at least their first playoff game, including Eastside. Jonesboro, the defending state champions, will likely repeat after winning the region championship. Walnut Grove and Eagle’s Landing are both talented and well-coached; they should cause other teams problems.
These are the teams that beat out Eastside for higher seeds, but not with ease. The Eagles held a 39-30 lead over Walnut Grove heading into the fourth quarter and should have won that game, but lost by four. Eastside hasn’t been able to put it together for a full 32 minutes against the tougher teams in the region, as they’ve had leads against Eagle’s Landing and Walnut Grove, but just couldn’t finish.
Part of the reason for that is Eastside’s lack of depth behind its talented starting five. Outside of Josh Wilson and TeAndre Bailey, not a lot of Eagle players get valuable minutes off the pine and that sometimes leads to star guard Isaiah Miller, averaging over 20 points per game, not coming out much and looking fatigued.
Brent Wren is in his first year as head coach of the Eagles, and this has been a learning experience for him and his team as they adjust to a new system. If Wren can find a way to get Miller some more rest at the end of the first and third quarters, it might help Eastside hold leads and make a deep playoff run.
Keondre Perry and Joshua Cammon can light it up, but they can also go cold shooting the ball and need to learn when to attack the basket and find other teammates instead of forcing a bad shot or continuing to miss good looks on a bad shooting night.
Eastside plays well on both ends and they’ll likely win their first playoff game, but after that the field gets tougher and the Eagles will need to make the necessary adjustments to make the #MarchToMacon.
Lady Rams (20-5, 7-3 Region 2-AAAAAA)
Newton finished the season as the No. 2 seed last year, but was ousted in the playoffs in the first round. That shouldn’t and likely won’t happen this year.
Some of Newton’s top players from last year are back this year, but the difference is Alexcia Chatman, Erianna Card and Jurnee Smith aren’t freshmen anymore. Imani Broadnax, Kayla Smith, Janelle Cook and Kayana Henderson are the upperclassmen leaders of the group and can make big contributions on the court.
Chatman and Broadnax are like the splash sisters of high school with the way they can knock it down from deep, but they’re more like Russell Westrbook (Chatman) and Kevin Durant (Broadnax) in their respective styles of play. Two guards, who can light it up and affect the game in other ways will take Newton a long way.
The Lady Rams’ kryptonite, however, is size. They don’t have much, if any size at the forward positions. Cook is listed as the tallest player at 5-foot-10, and she’s more of a guard than a center or forward. Newton will have to beat teams with their speed on defense and ability to knock down jumpers on offense, staying away from the paint when it gets clogged. That’s something the Lady Rams can do, but for how long?
Newton has struggled, like the Eagles, to put together a full game where they look in complete control. Against Lovejoy on Friday, the Lady Rams held a 15-point lead in the third only to let the Lady Wildcats back in the game before sneaking out a three-point victory. Newton showed promise against Tucker at times, though the Lady Tigers just look like the better team and a definite state championship contender.
When the shots aren’t falling for Newton, the Lady Rams combust and things spiral downward for periods of time, which can, and has, inevitably cost them games. With this team’s talent an elite eight trip is definitely on the table and possibly more, if they can put it together.
Rams (22-4, 8-2 Region 2-AAAAAA)
Newton shocked the world last year and advanced to the elite eight before losing to eventual state champions, Wheeler. This year’s team isn’t that same team. The Rams have some new additions getting valuable minutes such as freshman phenom Ashton Hagans, freshman Colby Rogers, sophomore DeAndrae Butler, leading scorer JD Notae who came off the bench mostly last year, plus juniors Chaz Tanner and Dante Johnson.
This year’s team is a lot more prolific on offense. Notae can turn it on at any point and go off on a scoring binge. Senior Jaquan Simms is similar to Notae, but might be a bit better at the deep ball though not as good attacking the basket. Hagans is a terrific passer and sometimes so good it results in turnovers because his teammates weren’t expecting a pass, but the kid has great court vision.
Newton also plays good team defense, and if you let them get out in the open court, they’ll beat you like it’s a bad habit.
Right now Butler and Rogers are out with injuries, with Butler likely being out for the season and Rogers potentially returning in the state tournament. Without Butler the Rams lack a strong presence and have a height disadvantage inside. Josh Tukes at 6-foot-6 is an excellent rim protector and he can finish underneath the basket, but he’s not as good consistently on offense as Butler and Butler was able to take Tukes minutes at center when Tukes sat, now it’s Tanner, Johnson or defensive ace Marvin Boireau.
The injuries are an issue, as is Newton’s lack of experience. Hagans is the floor general, but he’s just a freshman. Tanner and Johnson are just getting their first taste of varsity experience. Darvin Jones just got back a few weeks ago from a leg injury, but he hasn’t gotten a lot of minutes just yet and maybe Coach Rick Rasmussen is saving him for the playoffs, but it’s wait and see for now.
Rasmussen said he felt his team had gotten the “big head” recently and they talked about that and the team is looking strong. If they can continue to peak here in February, the Rams will be back in the elite eight this year.