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Region tournaments expected to yield high competition level

With high school basketball's regular season having come to an end on Friday, the "second season" now begins for teams in Gwinnett and throughout Georgia with the region tournaments, which get under way Monday.

And for the county's two regions in the state's highest classification, the tournaments may be among the most competitive in years.

"Last week, people were asking me, 'Who do you want to play (in the tournament)?' And I said, 'Nobody,'" joked Brookwood boys coach Daniel Bowles. "From (seeds) one through nine, I think our region (8-AAAAAA) is probably the most competitive in the state. It should be fun."

Bowles will get no argument from Shiloh coach Kim Rivers, whose Generals (19-6, 13-3) wrapped up the region's regular-season championship with a resounding 69-44 win over second-place Archer behind 20 points from Nate Mason and a near triple-double by Trayvon Reed on Friday night.

Despite coming in as the No. 1 seed and needing just one win to secure a berth in the Class AAAAAA state tournament, Rivers is taking nothing for granted.

That cautious approach comes from seeing a fiercely-competitive region schedule play out this season, including such results as his Generals pushed to the limit twice by eighth-seeded Grayson and last-place Parkview upsetting then co-leader Archer.

"We have to get past the first round," said Rivers, whose team awaits the winner of Monday's play-in game between Grayson and Parkview for a first-round game Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. at South Gwinnett. "We can't even look forward to anybody else because all of this will be for nothing if we don't handle that first ... game."

While Parkview (25-0, 16-0) ran away with the girls side of the region race, the tournament figures to be nearly as competitive as the boys tournament.

Archer (18-7 overall) earned the No. 2 seed at 11-5, but four teams tied for third place at 9-7, with Berkmar (13-11) eventually winning the No. 3 seed over South Gwinnett (13-11), Brookwood (13-11) and Central Gwinnett (15-9) by virtue of a complicated tie-breaker system.

Region 7-AAAAAA's girls tournament also figures to be fairly wide open, with six of the region's nine teams entering with winning records in the regular season.

But the clear teams to beat at the top of the standings are Norcross (21-4) and North Gwinnett (23-1), both of which have seen time in national rankings this season.

After each team claimed a convincing win on its home court in the season series, a coin flip was needed to determine the top seed, with the Blue Devils coming out on the winning end.

But as coach Angie Hembree points out, seeds won't matter much in terms of the region tournament, though the seeds earned by the four teams that survive this week's action will have much more significance heading into the state tournament.

"You've still got to win, and everybody in the region is pretty good," Hembree said. "Yes (getting the top seed is an advantage) in the sense that you get to play an eight or a nine seed instead of a seven, but that's really the only advantage. You've still got to win.

"Now, I think this year, the seed coming out of the region is huge. With (second round and quarterfinals being played) on home courts, getting one of those first two seeds is important to put you in (the best) position to go as far as you can."

Like its counterpart in Region 8, Region 7's boys tournament also features a tournament that could be primed for upsets.

Upstarts like fifth-seeded Mill Creek (16-9), sixth-seeded Meadowcreek (8-17) and Duluth (13-12) having pushed, and in some cases beaten, frontrunners like top-seeded Norcross (19-6), No. 3 North (19-5), No. 2 Peachtree Ridge (17-8) and fourth-seeded Collins Hill (16-9) throughout the season.