It doesn't seem possible, since it was only a few weeks ago that football ended with Modesto Christian winning a state title, but it's the thick of the season for the Stanislaus District's basketball teams.
Some leagues tipped off last week, and the rest of them will be starting within the week, so it seems an appropriate time for a midseason exam.
We're not issuing grades because these questions will be answered on the court before the last victory is celebrated.
1. Is this the season Modesto Christian's boys lose their first league game in 14 years?
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The Crusaders usually are chasing Sac-Joaquin Section, NorCal and state titles, which made them virtually untouchable to small schools in the Stanislaus District. MC got so good that it left the Southern League in 1999, playing as an independent for seven years.
MC is 40-0 since joining the Trans-Valley League in 2007, and is 64-0 in league games going back to 1996. But it's only 4-6 this season, with three more to play before opening the TVL vs. Escalon Jan. 19.
Lacking a Division I college prospect for the first time in years -- Reeves Nelson (UCLA), D.J. Seeley (Cal), Adrian Oliver (Washington, San Jose State) and Michael Porter (Kentucky) are just a few former greats -- MC is still far from being a typical small-school team.
It lost to Turlock by one and beat Manteca by 14, and those two are No. 2 and 3 in The Bee's large-school rankings.
2. Are Turlock's girls tough enough to overcome their recent failures in the playoffs?The Bulldogs have been the district's dominant D1 team, going 47-10 and winning Central California Conference titles the last two years. That's where the success stopped.
Turlock began the playoffs seeded No. 2 and No. 4 the last two seasons, respectively, but was upset in the first round by faster, more physical teams with .500 records.
The 'Dogs are 13-4 this year, but don't figure to much competition in the CCC this season except from rival Pitman. The upside is Turlock went to the West Coast Jamboree this season, going 2-1 vs. out-of-area foes rather than picking up easy wins in the valley.
The graduation of Rachel Finnegan not only forced Turlock to diversify its scoring, it has put Kayla Schumann in a leadership role. Both will benefit Turlock, because too many players were hesitant to take big shots last year.
3. Will it be size or speed that determines the Modesto Metro Conference boys' crown?Enochs has the size, Johansen has the speed and Davis ... well, the Spartans have both and recently beat their rivals at the Oakdale Tournament.
Enochs is 6-foot-8, 6-7, 6-6 on the front line, but lumbers up and down the court. Its athletic guards could be dynamic in an open-court system -- as could 6-7 Ty Galloway and 6-6 Scott Robertson -- but the Eagles appear determined to stick with a half-court game.
Johansen is the shortest of the three contenders, but also the fastest with eight or nine kids chasing loose balls and playing at a frenetic pace.
Davis is a tweener, with 6-1 Kory Johnson and 6-3 Lance Castaneda up front, and Donte Scott shooting threes from the perimeter. In the head-to-head meetings, Davis' physical play allowed it to match up with Enochs, and its athletic front line was able to handle a fast pace vs. Johansen.
4. Can Turlock Christian's girls make a playoff run if freshman sensation Halie Bergman is unable to return?
The forward was scoring 24 points a game before injuring her knee last week. The initial opinion was that she will need surgery, TC coach Edwin Santiago said, but she might try to rehab the knee and return later this season.
With Bergman in the lineup, the Eagles are a contenders for a spot in the Northern California D5 playoffs. Minus Bergman, it falls to Kaisa Spycher, Amy Wright and Marly Burton to pick up those missing points and rebounds. TC is still good enough to win the Southern League and get to the section quarterfinals before things get tight.
5. How many district teams, boys and girls, might be going to the NorCal playoffs?
Under the new format, semifinalists in all five divisions receive NorCal berths. Previously, only teams in the section title game advanced. Had that format been used, MC's girls might be the only team in the regional tournament.
With an expanded field, the girls from TC, Argonaut, Linden and Ripon Christian are strong candidates. Best bets on the boys' side are MC, Ripon Christian and Amador.The district typically has its best success in the smaller divisions, and that's likely to be the case this season, as well.
6. Who will be the boys and girls scoring champions?
Manteca's Kiwi Gardner is expected to return from a suspension on Friday, and look for him to pick up where just where he left off -- scoring 26.1 points a game. RC's 6-8 Tyler Goslinga is second at 23.2, and it's a two-man race.
Bergman was atop the list for the girls, but if she is unable to return ... Oakdale's Cassandra Clark (20.7 ppg), MC's Brandi Henton (19.6), Johansen's Veanna Navarro (18.4) are likely to battle it out.
Henton is on the best team and will see her minutes limited the next six weeks by lopsided wins, while Clark and Navarro need to pour in the points for their teams to win.
7. What are the "must-see" league races this season?
The CCC boys promises to provide thrills on a weekly basis, with Pitman, Merced and Turlock fighting for first. Pitman already has a win over Merced, and Merced has beaten Turlock. The CCC also features some of the best talent: Turlock's Travis Souza, Pitman's Dominic Romeo and Merced's Reggie Nelson.
The Valley Oak League will be entertaining with the boys and girls. There's not a dominant team on either side, and the 16-game league schedule will put a premium on depth.
Don't forget the MMC boys and girls. The talent isn't comparable to the CCC (boys) or VOL (girls), but loud crowds and long-standing rivalries should generate excitement.
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.