When the Northern California basketball playoffs were expanded this season, doubling entries from eight in each division to 16, the California Interscholastic Federation hoped to increase participation and cash flow.
More teams means more games and more revenue, but it also means more emphasis on earning a top-four seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Merely making a section semifinal is enough to send a team to the regional tournament, and the best way to do that is to land a couple of soft games.
Win twice and your season goes on, which is why there is such interest in the power ratings scheduled to be released today by the section office.
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The boys from Central Catholic, Davis and Merced, in particular, are anxious to find out what the ratings will reveal. The girls from Turlock, East Union and every Division IV team other than Modesto Christian also want to see what awaits them.
Central Catholic is an example of how playoff seedings make or break a team's Norcal hopes. Last week's ratings had Central at No. 4 and 10-time defending section champ Modesto Christian at No. 5 in Division IV.
MC, while lacking the college talent of previous teams, is still dangerous. It began the season 2-6 — point guard Isaiah Burse was busy leading the football team to a state title — but has won 11 straight games and is No. 7 in the CalHiSports.com state D-IV poll.
If the playoffs had opened last week, Central Catholic would be looking at a likely quarterfinal against Modesto Christian — the team no one wants.
"We've played other Division 4 teams, like Colfax during the summer league, and we think we are still the team to beat," Crusaders' assistant coach Bobby Cole said. "It's a different team ... but we're still MC."
Cole's promise got some teeth last week when MC upset state D-III power Sacramento on the Dragons' court. Many of the teams that just a week ago were looking forward to avenging previous lopsided losses now nervously await the new power ratings.
Face MC in the quarterfinals and it could mean the end of the season. Get them in the semifinals and you'll play again, regardless of the final score.
There is a similar situation in the Division I field, where Merced, Turlock and Modesto Metro Conference champion Davis expect to be seeded in the top six teams.
Merced will face the Central California Conference's bottom two this week, while Turlock visits last-place Buhach Colony Wednesday in its regular-season finale. Davis visits Johansen on Wednesday to end its regular season.
Finishing in the top six assures each a home opener. It also will help keep them from having to play Sheldon in the first two rounds. Sheldon has become the MC of Division I.
A preseason section favorite, injuries and egos had the Huskies spiraling downward midway through the season.
Sheldon wasn't in the top 16 two weeks ago, yet last week beat Jesuit, Sacramento's top-ranked team. Sheldon was No. 8 last week and has is 2-0 since those ratings came out.
Davis appears safe at No. 6, so long as it wins Wednesday. That could land it in front of a No. 7 Sheldon — a great spot, as those seeds could not meet before the section title game.
Seeing Sheldon at No. 7 would be just fine for Merced and Turlock, too. If they hold serve, and enter at Nos. 3 and 5, respectively, they too could avoid an early meeting with the team no one wants to see.