Central Section – Another entertaining high school basketball season in California has come to an end with Harvard-Westlake of Studio City taking home the Open Division State Championship with a win over Central Section power St. Joseph on March 11th. This article provides the final Top 15 Team Rankings for the Central Section for the 2022-2023 season. This season was filled with first-time accomplishments, intriguing match-ups, and spectacular individual performances. St. Joseph won the Central Section Division 1 Title and the NorCal Open Division Regional State Championship, San Joaquin Memorial won its first state title in school history winning Division 2, Arroyo Grande won its first Section Title in school history, Kingsburg did a full 180 and ended up winning the Division 3 Section Title, and Sierra won the NorCal Division 5 State Championship. Super sophomore Tounde Yessoufou continues to rise the national player rankings, Caedin Hamilton transformed his body and was the dominant force the Knights needed for its run to the Open Division State Championship, Gabe Gutierrez showed he is not only one of the top point guards but also players in the Section, JJ Howard put up sensational scoring numbers all season, and the freshman class of 2026 is loaded with talent that are already impact players. The games between Stockdale and Centennial, Centennial and Bakersfield Christian, Clovis West and Clovis North, and St. Joseph and San Joaquin Memorial were all-time greats that will be remembered for years to come. These are just the highlights from the season.
In this article, I will provide a breakdown of each team’s ranking and how they ended up in that spot, as well as some minimal predictions for next season. For these rankings, I have taken into consideration performance in the postseason, strength of schedule, wins and losses against common opponents, and head-to-head match-ups. In particular, postseason play and how teams finished out the season were given significant weight for this final round of team rankings. I have spoken with coaches, media outlets, and others in the basketball community in the Central Section in putting these rankings together. The number in parentheses before the teams’ names is the previous ranking from my last updated ranking. We begin with the team that has been at the top of the Section all season long, the St. Joseph Knights.
1. (1) St. Joseph Knights/Santa Maria CA (28-7)
The Knights are the first team since I started doing team rankings 3 years ago to hold down the top spot from the start of the season to the end, as it would win the Central Section Division 1 Title, then the Northern California Regional State Open Division Title before losing to Harvard-Westlake of Studio City in the State Open Division Championship Game. Most media personnel in the Central Section had St. Joseph at the top of their rankings all season long, but MaxPreps never had the Knights ranked higher than #3. The Knights ran through the Central Coast Mountain League play, going undefeated and winning every game by nearly twenty points or more. The Knights also battled some of the state’s top teams, with a two-point loss to Bishop Montgomery, a six-point loss to Sierra Canyon, a one-point loss to Modesto Christian, and a three-point loss to Inderkum. The combination of a perceived week league and lack of a signature win led to the Knights earning the #3 seed in the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs (the Open Division was done away with after the 2021-2022 season).
The Knights escaped a close one in their opening game against San Joaquin Memorial with a pair of free throws with less than two seconds on the clock and then defeated Bakersfield Christian to earn a spot in the Section Championship against the top-seeded Clovis West. The Golden Eagles roared back to defeat St. Joseph in the Open Division Section Championship the previous year after the Knights gave up a twenty-point lead in the 3rd quarter and lost in overtime. In this year’s game, the Golden Eagles kept it close early but the Knights enforced their size and physicality behind the dominant play of Tounde Yessoufou, Luis Marin, Caedin Hamilton, Julius Price, and Darion Mensah to avenge the previous season’s loss and win the Division 1 Section Title.
The Knights were awarded the #3 seed in the NorCal Open Regional State Playoffs, and would earn double-digit wins over Dougherty Valley and Modesto Christain to win the Nothern California Open Division Regional State Championship. Despite a valiant effort, the Knights would fall short in the State Championship Game to SoCal Regional Champs, Harvard-Westlake.
The Knights showed throughout the season that it was one of the best teams in the state and, despite losing Hamilton and Marin to graduation, will be the team to beat next year in the Central Section, as Yessoufou and Price will be one of the top backcourts on the West Coast.
2. (4) San Joaquin Memorial Panthers/Fresno CA (26-9)
The Panthers had a rollercoaster of a season, as it would drop as low as the #7 seed in my team rankings at the start of the new year with a record of 8-6. After suffering a loss to Clovis North before CMAC league play began in early January, the Panthers would turn it around and would finish the remainder of the season with an 18-2 record and winning the Division 2 State Championship. A majority of media personnel in the Central Section felt that on paper, the Panthers had the team that could be the biggest challenge to the Knights of St. Joseph if all the pieces came together. As league play progressed, the players started to understand and play their roles, which gave San Joaquin more depth and talent than it had the previous season. After a blowout win over Clovis East in the opening round of the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs, the Panthers would travel to Santa Maria to take on the mighty Knights of St. Joseph. San Joaquin kept the game close throughout and were tied with the Knights with less than 30 seconds in regulation. Freshman Julius Price was fouled attacking the basket and would knock down two clutch free throws with less than 2 seconds on the clock. This would prove to be the difference, as San Joaquin would lose a heartbreaker.
The Panthers were the only team in the Division 1 Section Playoffs to give the Knights a challenge, as Bakersfield Christian and Clovis West both lost by double-digits to St. Joseph. This is part of the reason I have the Panthers ranked ahead of Clovis West at the #2 spot. The other reason I have the Panthers finishing at the two spot in these final team rankings is based on it winning its first-ever state championship, as it defeated Pacifica Christian in the Division 2 State Title Game with a dominant 2nd half, led by the play of Mike Davis Jr, Armari Carraway, Dre Davis, Abram Potts, Julius Olanrewaju, and the stellar defense of Gerald Perry on Northwestern commit Parker Strauss. The Panthers also won another CMAC league championship and, despite the departure of Carraway and Davis Jr., San Joaquin will return a core from this season and have some impressive freshmen that will make them one of the teams to beat for the foreseeable future.
3. (2) Clovis West Golden Eagles/Fresno Ca (30-4)
The Golden Eagles had another impressive season, as it would compile 30 wins, won multiple tournament championships in the preseason, and would be co-champions of the TRAC league with Clovis North. The Golden Eagles were awarded the #1 seed in the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs and would run through the quarterfinals and semifinals with huge wins over Mission Prep and Stockdale of Bakersfield. This would earn Clovis West a trip to the Section Title game against St. Joseph, a rematch from the previous year’s Open Division Championship. The key difference this season would be that all the Section Championship Games would be back under one roof at Selland Arena. Due to Covid, Section Title Games had been held at the higher seeds’ home gym the previous two seasons. The Golden Eagles gym is notorious for being a place that is not kind to visiting opponents, as they pack the house and have a rocking student section.
The Golden Eagles went toe to toe with the Knights for the first eight minutes of the game, as it would be tied at 14 after the first quarter of play. However, the Golden Eagles struggled with the length, size, and athleticism of the Knights and would go down double-digits by intermission. Clovis West could not close the gap and had a difficult time keeping St. Joseph off the glass, as Hamilton would prove to be too much in the paint on both ends for the Golden Eagles. Clovis West would earn the #1 seed in the Northern California Regional State Playoffs, which pitted it against Granda. The match-up was not ideal for the Golden Eagles, as Granda had the recipe that proved to be successful against Clovis West this season: size and length. Clovis West would fall in the opening round of the state playoffs, and even though Granda would make a run to the State Championship Game before losing to Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks, the double-digit loss to St. Joseph and short-lived run in state compared to San Joaquin Memorial’s showing with respect to both of those factors, is the main reason I have the Panthers one spot ahead of the Golden Eagles for this final round of team rankings.
Clovis West is losing senior guard Issac Martinez, but will be one of the top teams in the Section again next year, as it brings back the core of the roster and has some young hoopers that will have a larger role next season.
4. (5) Bakersfield Christian Eagles/CA (22-10)
The Eagles, similar to the Panthers, are another team that had its struggles in the first half of the season and for the first time since I started doing these team rankings, the Eagles fell out of the top 10 with a record of 5-6. However, once the Eagles got its transfers cleared, in particular SYL-Valley co-MVP Gabriel Gutierrez, Bakersfield Christian would finish out the season with a record of 17-4 and earned a trip to the semifinals of the Central Section Division 1 playoff.
The Eagles won their opening-round game against Sanger in a close one before it would travel to Clovis North for a spot in the semifinals. The Broncos were the favorites to win but the stellar second-half play of Gutierrez, who scored 21 of his game-high 25 points after halftime, would prove too much for Clovis North. The Eagles would head to Santa Maria for the semifinals against St. Joseph and were hanging close for three-quarters of the game, down only 6 points at the half. A technical foul called on a player from Bakersfield Christian would force the head coach to be seated for the remainder of the game, which if you know Coach Brown’s style he is not one to sit at any point in a game. Although this did impact the Eagles approach to the game in the second half, Yessoufou asserting himself in the fourth quarter was the main reason the Eagles would fall to the Knights by double-digits.
The Eagles were given a low seed in the Division 2 State Playoffs and would get knocked out in the opening round. Despite this loss, the impressive second half of play in the regular season combined with the run to the final four in the Sectional Division 1 Playoffs, earning a big win over Clovis North, is why I have Bakersfield Christian ahead of the Broncos at the #4 spot in these final team rankings. The Eagles won the SYL-Valley League and will return the core of this year’s roster minus Charlie Stump and Mike Shafic. I am hearing the freshman class coming in next year will have some studs as well, which will keep the Eagles in the mix as one of the top teams in the Section next season.
5. (4) Clovis North Broncos/Fresno CA (23-8)
Rounding out the top five for the final team rankings for the 2022-2023 season is the Broncos of Clovis North. The Broncos put together an impressive season with some big wins over quality teams in California, earned wins over Central Section powers in San Joaquin Memorial and Clovis West, were co-TRAC League champs with Clovis West, and earned the #2 seed in the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs. The most impressive thing about these accomplishments is that it was all done without the team’s best player Connor Amundsen, who was ruled out for the entirety of the season after surgery in late October. Most teams would have taken steps back or even pulled out of some of the tough events it had scheduled before Amundsen’s season came to an end. This was not the case for the Broncos, as Coach Amundsen and staff did an excellent job of moving past the setback and showed that the team was much more than just Connor.
Having said that, down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs, not having Amundsen at the helm as the lead guard and playmaker proved to be too much, as his presence was missed in the rematch against Clovis West and especially in quarterfinal loss to Bakersfield Christian. The Broncos did not have the player needed to match the level of play that Gutierrez had for Bakersfield Christian. Despite having home-court advantage, Clovis North fell to the Eagles and then again in the first round of the Division 1 State Playoffs. These three losses, and in particular the loss to the Eagles, are the reason I moved Clovis North to the #5 spot in these final rankings, but it should not be a knock on how much this squad accomplished this season. The upside for the Broncos is that it will be getting back Amundsen for his senior season, as well as returning a majority of its roster from this season. The departure of Jaylen Bryant and Malik Muslah will hurt the Broncos in the post but its guard play will be one of the tops in the Section.
6. (6) Centennial Golden Hawks/Bakersfield CA (23-6)
There was no movement in the next three spots in these final team rankings from the last round of team rankings done heading into the final week of regular season play. Finishing out at the #6 spot is the Golden Hawks of Centennial. Centennial had a great season and won its third straight league title, as it would go undefeated in SYL-River play and earn the #4 seed for the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs.
Some of the key moments of the season for the Golden Hawks included winning the Clovis Elks Tournament, edging out multiple close wins over Stockdale, Liberty of Bakersfield, Edison of Fresno, and suffered a heartbreaking loss in one of the best games of the year in the Section to Bakersfield Christian.
The Golden Hawks earned a bye and would face league opponent Stockdale in the quarterfinals of the Division 1 Playoffs, which was highly anticipated given how close the 2 league games were that went in favor of Centennial. Unfortunately, Centennial was rocked by an injury to its best player in Rippen Gill two days before the quarterfinal match-up, and although the Golden Hawks made a push late, it was not enough to defeat the Mustangs for a 3rd time this season. Despite the loss, I kept Centennial above Stockdale in these final team rankings because it defeated the Mustangs two out of three times this season and did not have its best player in the playoff loss, which I am taking into consideration as Gill was one of the best players in the Section and proved to be a huge loss a few days before a big game. Centennial will bring back a majority of its roster and will be one of the teams to beat in the South Valley and Section overall.
7. (7) Stockdale Mustangs/Bakersfield CA (27-5)
The Mustangs remain at the #7 spot for these final team rankings and are coming off one of the best seasons in recent memory if not program history. The knock on Stockdale for most of the season was it had played a soft schedule compared to the other top teams in the Section and its record was inflated because of that. However, when SYL-River league play kicked off the Mustangs showed it was as good as its record advertised. Led by seniors, Jhace Boston, Joaquin Rios, and Karsten Adeleye, Stockdale took Centennial to overtime in their first meeting and lost on a buzzer-beating lay-up in the 2nd meeting, and handled the rest of the teams in league play to take 2nd place behind the Golden Hawks in the SYL-River.
The Mustangs were awarded the #5 seed in the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs and opened up with Edison of Fresno, a team it had defeated early in the season. The Tigers had an adventurous season to say the least but had made some major strides this season under new head coach Mike Fulford. Stockdale had a double-digit lead throughout the first three quarters but Edison would claw back to make it a game. The Mustangs would edge out the Tigers by three points and earn a much-anticipated game against Centennial of Bakersfield in the quarterfinals. As I stated above, Centennial’s best player was injured days before the quarterfinal game and many, including myself, felt that Stockdale would have too much firepower for the Golden Hawks to contend with. Despite a late push by the Golden Hawks, the Mustangs controlled the game from start to finish and would punch a ticket to the Division 1 Final 4. Unfortunately for Stockdale, that meant making a trip to play at Clovis West, which is already a tough task and was also by far the toughest opponent the Mustangs had faced all season. The Mustangs would fall to the Golden Eagles by a score of 92-66 before losing in the opening round of the Division 2 State Regionals.
Although Stockdale did advance past and defeat Centennial in the playoffs, I gave the edge to the Golden Hawks because it won the league both played in, defeated Stockdale twice in league play, played Clovis West much closer in its match-up earlier in the season, and the fact that Gill did not play in the playoff game. This should take nothing away from what Stockdale accomplished this season and being one of the top 8 teams speaks volumes to the talent, coaching, and consistency Stockdale showed all season long. Unlike the teams that finished ranked above the Mustangs in this last round of team rankings, Stockdale is graduating about 95% of its scoring from this season and next year could be a rough year given how senior-heavy this roster was. It will be interesting to see how it responds next year to the success of this season.
8. (8) Mission College Prep Royals/San Luis Obispo CA (23-10)
The Royals stay at the #8 seed for these final team rankings and its success this season was in large part due to the elite two-way play of senior Jamar Howard, who put up some impressive scoring numbers during the regular and postseason. The Royals finished 2nd in Mountain League play behind St. Joseph and were the only team to come withing 20 points of the Knights in league play. Mission Prep got a big win over Salesian Prep in its own Christmas Classic Tournament. Mission Prep was awarded the #8 seed in the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs and got an opening-round win over Bullard of Fresno behind a huge 30-point outburst from Howard. The Royals reward for the opening round win was a quarterfinal match-up and trip to Clovis West, who handled Mission Prep fairly easily.
Mission Prep earned a #11 seed in the State Division 3 Playoffs, where it made it to the Regional Semifinals before falling to Culver City by two points. Although the Royals will be graduating its leading scorer and rebounder in Howard, it will return a majority of its core roster that has size and can shoot the 3-ball well. However, it will be tough to say the least to fill the shoes of Howard and it is likely that Mission Prep will be a Division 2 team for the playoffs next season.
9. (HM) Arroyo Grande Eagles/CA (22-10)
The Eagles move into the top 15 of these team rankings for the first time this season at the #9 spot. The Eagles had a solid season and finished in 3rd place in the Mountain League, with its only losses coming at the hands of St. Joseph and Mission Prep. The Eagles would earn the #2 seed in the Central Section Division 2 Playoffs, and outside of a close one at home against Liberty of Bakersfield, Arroyo Grande dominated teams in its run to the Division 2 Section Championship. The Eagles won by margins of 19, 20, and 29 in the championship game to lock up its first Section Title in program history. The Eagles did earn a #2 seed in the State Division 4 Regionals but lost in the opening round to close out its season. The Eagles will graduate its top player in Adam Silmon and a few others but are bringing back some impressive shooters and look to be a key player in league next season, outside of St. Joseph.
10. (10) Lemoore Tigers/CA (21-7)
Rounding out the top ten and remaining at that spot for these final team rankings is the Tigers of Lemoore. After a rough 0-4 start, the Tigers would go on a 21-2 run the rest of the regular season, went undefeated in WYL play, and most thought it would be a Division 1 team for the Section playoffs. The Tigers seemed to get lucky with the #1 overall seed in the Central Section Division 2 Playoffs, but were upset by Sunnyside of Fresno as the #16 seed. Despite what was by all accounts a bad loss, that does not take away from the big wins over Bakersfield Christian, Liberty of Bakersfield, Dinuba, as well as one of the hottest winning streaks in the Section during the season. The Tigers are graduating a lot of players that contributed to the team’s success and given the number of players that are multiple sport athletes, it is hard to say where it will end up next season. One thing is always a given, the Tigers will compete.
11. (11) Bullard Knights/Fresno CA (18-12)
The Knights finish out the season where it was at the last time I updated this list at the #11 spot. Bullard finished second in CMAC play with its only losses coming to league champs San Joaquin Memorial. The Knights figured to be in rebuilding mode, as it graduated its two top scorers last season and were a team that relied on everyone contributing to have success. The Knights were ousted in the opening round of the Section Division 1 Playoff by Mission Prep but will return a majority of the team’s core from this season with freshman phenom Ja’Vance Coleman as the future of the program. I would expect to see the Knights back in the top 8 next season in the Section.
12. (NR) Porterville Panthers/CA (23-11)
The Panthers had another successful season winning the EYL and earning a trip to the Central Section Division 2 Championship Game. The Panthers kept it close in the first half but Arroyo Grande caught fire in the 2nd half and ran away with the title. Porterville had a senior-heavy roster this season so it will be interesting to see how it reloads for next season.
13. (12) Dinuba Emporers/CA (25-6)
The Emporers had a hot start out of the gate and looked to be this season’s Mt. Whitney from last season, as it defeated Liberty of Bakersfield to win the Mission Oak Tournament. Dinuba would suffer league losses to Lemoore and Hanford, of which it would avenge the loss to the Bullpups to end in a tie for second place in the WYL. Dinuba will return a majority of its roster from this season and that includes its best player Javier Torres.
14. (NR) Kingsburg Vikings/CA (18-13)
The Vikings had its share of tough times this season, as Kingsburg would have a record of 10-11 before hitting their stride and finishing the season off with an 8-2 record. Kingsburg was given the #11 seed in the Central Section Division 3 Playoffs and would have to win three games in Bakersfield if it wanted to get a chance at another Section title. That is exactly what the Vikings did, as it would defeat North, South, and Independence of Bakersfield to earn a spot in the Section Championship against Sierra of Tollhouse. The Vikings would get a big spark from freshman Jensen Hirschkorn, along with seniors Connor McFall and Noah Brown en route to a twenty-point win and another Section Title. With the youth and the 7’0 sophomore still waiting in the wings, the Vikings will look to make another push next season.
15. (NR) Sierra Chieftans/Tollhouse CA (31-6)
The Chieftans round out the final top 15 team rankings for the 2022-2023 basketball season. Sierra had a great season, went undefeated in Northwest Sequoia League, made a run to the Section Division 3 Championship, and finished out by winning the Northern California Division 5 State Regional Title before losing in the Division 5 State Championship Game to Lynwood. The Chieftans will return their star player in junior Logan Kilbert and will look to make a run in the Section next season.
Edison Tigers/Fresno CA (16-14)
Liberty Patriots/Bakersfield CA (15-14)
Ridgeview Wolfpack/Bakersfield CA (19-9)
Sanger Apaches/CA (18-11)
Tulare Western Mustangs/CA (18-15)-Central Section D4 Champions