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Wheeler's Win Creates Tough Title Path

The Wildcats likely will need two wins over top-eight teams, including No. 1 Milton, just to reach the state basketball Final Four.

Hey, Wheeler Wildcats, you just won your second consecutive Region 5-AAAAA boys basketball title despite playing the final two games without two of your best players. What are you going to do now?

Try to survive the most loaded bracket in the Georgia High School Association’s AAAAA state tournament.

Four of the eight teams in Wheeler’s quarter of the draw are in the top eight of the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution rankings:

  • No. 1 Milton.
  • No. 5 Shiloh, which spent time as AAAAA’s No. 1 team this year.
  • No. 7 Wheeler, also a former No. 1 this year.
  • No. 8 North Gwinnett.

Just for added fun, Wheeler’s crosstown archrival, Walton, which played the Wildcats tough three times this year, also falls in the same quarter of the field.

How will the local teams do in the state playoffs? Make your predictions in the comments below.

That’s the competition Wheeler has to overcome just to make it to the state Final Four at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on March 8 and 9.

And that’s Wheeler’s reward for overcoming a halftime deficit and the absence of starters Elijah Staley and Kejuan Johnson, both suspended for participating in a fight against Cherokee, during Saturday night’s region championship against Lassiter.

Meanwhile, Lassiter, the second seed from Region 5-AAAAA, has only two AJC top-10 teams blocking its path to the Final Four: 10th-ranked Peachtree Ridge and fourth-ranked Berkmar.

Such is life when the GHSA fills the tournament field based on predetermined region pairings rather than try to seed all 32 teams based on their play during the season.

So Wheeler will open the tournament at home Saturday against Region 6-AAAAA’s fourth seed, Northview. And Walton, Region 5-AAAAA’s fourth seed, will play at 6-AAAAA’s top team, Milton.

If the Raiders upset Milton, ranked 15th in the nation by USA Today, they’ll travel to Shiloh or Mill Creek in the second round Feb. 29.

With a win over Northview, Wheeler will earn a second home game Feb. 29 against either North Gwinnett or South Gwinnett.

Another win would get the Wildcats to the quarterfinals, most likely against Milton, which beat them by five last month, or possibly Shiloh, which beat them by two in December, or maybe even Walton, which they beat twice by a point and then by six Friday night in the region tournament.

At least the Wildcats shouldn’t have to worry about nemesis Norcross, which eliminated them in the quarterfinals last year on the way to the state title. The Blue Devils are only the fourth seed from Region 7-AAAAA and would have to pull off four upsets in a row to get to the state finals and a possible game against Wheeler.

Meanwhile, the Wheeler girls have to be road warriors to advance in the state AAAAA tournament.

The Lady Wildcats, seeded third from Region 5-AAAAA, open play Friday at North Forsyth, Region 6-AAAAA’s second seed.

If they win, the Lady Wildcats will play either at Parkview or at home against Duluth in Round 2 Feb. 28.

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