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Boys Basketball: Merced boys debut at No. 2

Sac-Joaquin Section basketball teams found out Tuesday where they stand in the playoff race.

The section office released the first set of power ratings.

Teams like Merced -- which was ranked No. 2 in Division I -- want to stay up or near the top of the standings and earn a first-round home game.

A team like Golden Valley -- which is ranked No. 21 in Division I -- knows it must work to climb into the top 16 and qualify for the playoffs.

GV (2-3 Central California Cofnerence, 7-9 overall) can take a big step in the right direction if it can upset Merced (5-0, 13-7) tonight at Merced College.

Opening tip is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

"A lot of years, I look at the power ratings and figure out what we need to do," Golden Valley coach Keith Hunter said.

"Not this year. We're on the bottom tier right now. We need to win some games. We can't even think about the playoffs right now."

It's been a frustrating year for Hunter, with various players in and out of the lineup.

Every day, Hunter seems to have a kid missing a game or a practice with an illness.

Center John Sykes sat out GV's loss to Los Banos and guard Alex Fletcher missed most of the pre-conference schedule with mononucleosis.

"I've been coaching 14 years at Golden Valley and four or five years at other places," Hunter said. "I played the game, and in my whole life, I've missed one practice.

"It's hard to adjust when you expect everyone to be in there. It's hard to practice with eight or nine guys."

Merced also has dealt with the absence of a key player, Kenny Cooper.

The junior center has missed the last two games for what Merced coach Marcus Knott described as disciplinary reasons.

Earlier this week, Knott said Cooper's chance of playing tonight appeared "favorable."

"He's doing what he needs to do," Knott said.

Golden Valley will try to slow down Merced's Allen Huddleston -- who averaged 34 points in two wins last week.

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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