Any time Modesto and Merced meet in a high school boys basketball game, it's a big deal. Two of the Stanislaus District's most storied programs will take it up a notch when they play Friday.
Survival will be at stake when Merced (19-8) plays host to the Panthers (15-10) in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs. Merced is the top seed, and Modesto was the last team to qualify for the 16-team field.
Merced boasts guards Allen Huddleston and Jarrett Sparks, who combine for 46 points per game, but Modesto's front line has 6-foot-9-inch Matt Vermeulen and 6-7 forwards Josh Jones and Julius Brazzel.
It will be one of nine games, including a special play-in girls game between Davis and Golden Valley, matching district teams. The district has 47 teams in the five boys and girls divisions, but Merced is the only top seed.
Girls games, all but Division I, are Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The Division I exception is Davis vs. Golden Valley, required because Davis won the Modesto Metro Conference but wasn't 16th or higher in the power ratings the section uses to determine playoff teams.
League champs, regardless of rating, are assured a berth.
Modesto Christian's boys (22-4) are No. 2 in Division IV, intriguing for two reasons: MC is opposite No. 1 Colfax (24-2), and it hosts crosstown rival Central Catholic (18-9) in the first round.
Boys games are Wednesday, except for Division I, which begins Friday. The Friday night schedule will include No. 4 seed Downey (21-6) hosting Los Banos (18-9) in an all-district opener.
Fans in the foothills get a good one Wednesday when No. 6 Mariposa (22-4) hosts No. 11 Summerville (18-8). The Bears are one of four Mother Lode League teams in the Division IV tournament.
The Central California Conference boys and the CCC, Mother Lode and Valley Oak girls were the other leagues with four each.