Photo courtesy of Clutch Clips Hoops

The regular season of high school basketball has come to an end and the Central Section Playoff seedings and divisions are set to begin this Tuesday, February 15th across the state of California. Despite the rapid spread of Covid through the first two weeks of league play and the postponement of numerous games in the South Valley, thanks to the creativity of the leagues and the Kern High School District nearly all league games were played. North Bakersfield High School hosted make-up games on Saturday, January 29th, and Saturday, February 5th. Teams from the Bakersfield and surrounding areas were able to make up as many as two games per day, which allowed all of the teams to get back on track to complete their 10 game seasons. Given that most teams have already been hit with Covid Protocols, there should be minimal impact on rosters for the postseason, which has some great match-ups set to occur over the next 2 weeks. 

This article provides an analysis of the Top 10 Power Rankings for high school basketball in the South Valley area of the Central Section, which is updated from the early regular season rankings from a month ago on January 12th. These end of the regular season rankings were discussed, debated, and produced by myself, Clutch Clips Hoops, and former Foothill Trojan Head Coach and State Champion Wesley Davis, along with feedback from other media personnel and people in the basketball community. We took into consideration wins, losses, the strength of schedule, head-to-head match-ups, and the outcomes of league play. I have personally seen each of these teams play multiple times throughout the preseason and regular season. We begin the Power Rankings with Bakersfield Christian remaining as the overall #1 team in the South Valley. 

1. Bakersfield Christian Eagles (18-9):

The Eagles have been considered the top team in the South Valley throughout the season, and have capped the regular season off with their 3rd straight South Yosemite League title in four years, as Bakersfield Christian was not able to compete in the SYL during the shorted Covid season of 2021. The Eagles faced adversity throughout the season, as they suffered losses to Central Section Powers in San Joaquin Memorial and Clovis West, as well as Mt. Whitey (#1 seed for Division 2 playoffs) and league rival the Independence Falcons. After a tough few weeks, the Eagles got back to their style of play and defeated then MaxPreps #13 St. Francis of La Canada behind senior guard Erick Chaney’s 36 points, connecting on 9 threes. The Eagles ended league play with a record of 8-1, and due to the Falcons loss to Golden Valley, this cleared the way for Bakersfield Christian to capture the league title with 2 dominant performances to close out SYL play over Ridgeview and Golden Valley (both by 20+ points). The Eagles appealed to the CIF to move up two divisions for the playoffs to be in Division 1, from their base of Division 3, and were successfully awarded the move. The Eagles earned the top overall seed in the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs and the road to the Section Championship will go through their home court as long as they keep winning. The Eagles will be reliant on seniors Jackson Tucker and Erick Chaney to keep up their high level of play to create opportunities for others when the defense collapses. Given their strength of schedule, quality wins over other California schools and winning the toughest league in the South Valley, I have the Eagles as the top team in the South Valley to end the regular season. 

2. Centennial Golden Hawks/Bakersfield (20-7): 

Coming in at the #2 spot for these rankings, and very close on the heels of Bakersfield Christian, are the red hot Golden Hawks of Centennial. The Golden Hawks finished league play with a 10-0 record and won the Southwest Yosemite League. The Golden Hawks had a strong schedule to start the preseason, but did not solidify a marquee win over a quality opponent in California. The Golden Hawks had a strong run throughout the holiday season tournaments, where they won the Morro Bay HIT tournament and came in 2nd place at the Clovis Elks Tournament, losing on a buzzer-beater to Rocklin. Despite an impressive record throughout the month of December, the level of competition the Golden Hawks faced was not near the caliber of teams that Bakersfield Christian and Independence had played. However, once league play started and they had their roster at full strength, they made a huge statement going undefeated in league play, and playing the best basketball of the season going into playoffs. The Golden Hawks earned the #2 seed in the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs, and will face Bullard in the opening round on Tuesday, February 15th. The Golden Hawks have all the requisite pieces to win the Division 1 Section Championship, with quality point guard play from junior Elijah West, the team’s leading scorer in senior shooting guard Blake Dibble, along with standout sophomore Rippon Gill and a roster that goes 9-10 deep with talent, size, defense, and a blend of youth with senior leadership. I have seen the Golden Hawks multiple times the last few weeks and they have the pedigree to make a run at the Division 1 Championship, but will face some challenges along the way. The potential semifinal match-up between Central of Fresno and Centennial should be one of the best postseason games regardless of playoff division. The South Valley is really hoping for an all Bakersfield Championship Game between Centennial and Bakersfield Christian, where the Golden Hawks will have a chance to end the season as the top team in Bakersfield. 

3. Independence Falcons/ Bakersfield (15-10):

The Falcons season has been successful with some lulls at times, especially after losing senior wing/forward Kyriaun Davis that was averaging close to a double-double. The high point of the season for the Falcons was their rematch game win over league rival and eventual South Yosemite League champs, Bakersfield Christian, in the 2nd half of league play. This put the Falcons in a temporary tie for tops in the SYL. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they would fall to SYL opponent the Golden Valley Bulldogs on the 2nd Saturday make-up day at North High School despite a huge game from senior Cameron Brown with a 27 point and 10 rebound performance. The Falcon’s have played a quality schedule and faced some tough opponents throughout the season and finished 2nd in the SYL with a record of 8-2. Independence has been placed in the Central Section Division 1 Playoff bracket as the #5 seed, as they will hit the road to play #4 Clovis East who is without senior guard Camden Thompson for the remainder of the season. Independence will have a tough road to win a 2nd Section Championship in three years but if they get into the semifinals against Bakersfield Christian, they will have a real shot at making it to the championship game. 

4. South Bakersfield Spartans (18-8):

The Spartans had an impressive regular season that resulted in some solid upset wins and a huge win over league rival North Bakersfield on the last days of the season to capture the Southeast Yosemite League championship, going 9-1 in league play. The Spartans were led by junior guard Prince Ellis, and earned wins over Golden Valley, West High, Sunnyside of Fresno, Ridgeview, and North Bakersfield. The Spartans have an athletic and physical roster of players that properly compliment the savvy play of point guard Prince Ellis. The Spartans like to push the tempo in the open court, fly around on defense creating turnovers, and shoot the 3-ball well. The Spartans received the #6 seed for the Central Section Division 3 Playoffs and will open up at home this Tuesday, February 15th, against Pioneer Valley of Santa Maria. If the Spartans play their style of basketball, and can get by #3 seed Kingsburg, they are very capable of defeating #2 McLane in the semifinals and have already shown they can defeat the #1 seed Golden Valley. 

5. Liberty Patriots/Bakersfield (17-7):

The Patriots had a strong start to the season, as they won the Inaugural Holiday Tournament at Mission Oak High School and went 3-1 in the Governor’s Division at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic in San Diego to close out the 2021 calendar year. The Patriots had a strong start to league play, as they went 4-0 before losing back-to-back games to the Centennial Golden Hawks. The Patriots looked to be cruising to finish league with its only losses coming to the Golden Hawks, but lost a shocker to the Bakersfield Drillers in the season finale. The Patriots finished 2nd in the Southwest Yosemite League, with a record of 7-3. I dropped the Patriots one spots from the previous Power Rankings due to the loss to the Drillers, but still have them in the Top 5 as they accumulated wins over Frontier, Stockdale, Sunnyside of Fresno, Christian of San Diego, Coronado of San Diego, and finishing 2nd place in the 2nd toughest league in the South Valley. The Patriots have been led this season by standout sophomore guard Deshawn Usochu, but have struggled this season to get consistent scoring from other players. The Patriots earned the #4 seed for the Central Section Division 2 Playoffs, and have a favorable path to the semifinals, where they would be set to play the #1 seed in Mt. Whitney. The Patriots have a lot of size and dominate the glass, which could be huge if they were to get that semifinal match-up, but will have a tough 2nd round game against Stockdale of Bakersfield, as it would be the 4th time these teams have squared off with the Patriots winning the all 3 games this season. The success of the Patriots will come down to getting more players involved in scoring the ball and letting Usochu play to his strengths as a playmaker.  

6. Golden Valley Bulldogs/Bakersfield (17-8): 

The Bulldogs came into this season with very high expectations, as they featured a senior-heavy roster, and four of the five starters being 4 year varsity players. The Bulldogs got off to a hot start as they won the 58 Freeway Tournament by defeating the Paraclete Spirits of Lancaster. After a hot 4-0 start to the season, the Bulldogs finished the month of December with tough losses to South Bakersfield, Frontier, and West High, as well as a big loss to Centennial of Bakersfield. The Bulldogs entered league play with some of the preseason expectations minimized after the losses mentioned above in the preseason, but got their best win of the season against the Independence Falcons, who at the time were tied for 1st place in the SYL. The Bulldogs also had the eventual SYL champs, Bakersfield Christian, on the ropes in their 1st meeting of league play, but fell victim to the stellar play of Jackson Tucker and Erick Chaney in the 2nd half who combined for 47 of their total 49 points in that half. The Bulldogs earned the top seed in the Central Section Division 3 Playoffs, and are set to have the Section Championship go through their gym. The Bulldogs are led by seniors Markell Brooks, Jermaine Dabbs, Jlen Slaughter, and Kemonte Jackson, and if they play to their strengths and stay locked in they have the pieces to win a Section Title. Golden Valley hosts Washington Union on Tuesday, February 15th, to start the playoffs. 

7. West High Vikings/Bakersfield (15-9):

The Vikings had some big moments this season that were capped off by back-to-back wins over Golden Valley in the semifinals and against Paraclete of Lancaster in the championship game at the Lloyd Williams Tournament hosted by North High School. The remainder of the season the Vikings had ups and downs throughout league play, with wins over Golden Valley, Ridgeview, and Tehachapi, but suffered some tough non-league losses to Frontier, South Bakersfield, and Santa Ynez that led to them dropping a spot from the previous Power Rankings. The Vikings were led by senior guard Stephon Brooks, who like his team, had some amazing moments this season, going for 38 points against Golden Valley, and games where he was limited to less than double-digit scoring as he struggled with a lingering knee issue all season. The Vikings earned the #15 seed in the Central Section Division 2 Playoffs, and will travel to Dinuba for the 1st round of the playoffs this Tuesday. If they play to their strengths they could upset the #2 seed, but knowing how Dinuba is very structured and systematic, this is what has caused West High problems throughout the season. 

8. North Bakersfield Stars (15-10):

The Stars of North High had a rough start to the season, as their roster was hit with injuries and Covid Protocols, which led to losses to West High, Paraclete of Lancaster, and Ridgeview in the preseason. The Stars played a fairly tough schedule throughout the preseason, and welcomed league play as they were ready to take on the competition in the Southeast Yosemite League. The Stars split the season series with eventual SEYL champs South Bakersfield, but finished 2nd in league play as they lost to East Bakersfield, finishing with a league record of 8-2. The Stars have been led by senior wing/forward Noah Wright, who averaged an impressive double-double this season, at nearly 25 points per game and 12 rebounds per game. The Stars earned the #5 seed in the Central Section Division 4 Playoffs and will host #12 Mission Oak on Tuesday. The Stars have that guy that can put up big numbers and that will give them a chance to make a run in Division 4, but the guard play of Monache in a potential 2nd round match-up could cause some problems if the Stars are not careful with the ball. I have been very impressed by the player development of the Stars roster, which I saw play a few times in Summer League and their guards have improved leaps and bounds.  

9. Stockdale Mustangs/Bakersfield (18-9):

The Mustangs have one of the best trios in the South Valley and have suffered numerous losses by single digits this season that could have gone their way by making a few more plays here and there. The Mustangs are led by junior guards Jhase Boston and Joaquin Rios, with senior Adeola Adekoba holding down the post. The Mustangs have earned wins over South Bakersfield, Kingsburg, Sunnyside of Fresno, and Frontier. The Mustangs played all of the preseason without junior guard Joaquin Rios, which allowed fellow junior Jhase Boston to showcase his scoring ability and skill set. However, it also left the Mustangs short-handed and led to losses against Dinuba and Righetti in non-league games, and a tough loss in the season opener against the Bakersfield Drillers. Despite the return of Rios to the line-up, the Mustangs still suffered 2 heartbreaking losses to league rival Liberty of Bakersfield, as well as 2 losses to eventual league champs Centennial of Bakersfield, and splitting the season series with Frontier. The Mustangs finished 4-6 in league play, but earned the #5 seed in the Central Section Division 2 Playoffs, where they could face Liberty for a 4th time in the 2nd round of playoffs if they get past their 1st round opponent the Hanford Bullpups, who are a tough squad that I have seen multiple times this season. The Mustangs postseason success will be heavily dependent on the trio to play big, as the depth of the roster has been the Achilles heel of Stockdale all season long. 

T-10. Bakersfield Drillers (8-12):

Despite a record below .500, I have the Driller in the Top 10 Power Rankings for how they ended play in the SWYL, which is due in large part to the coaching style and system of Coach Greg Burt and staff. The Drillers do not have the talent and depth that has been nearly constant for years, but the one thing that remained the same was the structure, attention to the fundamentals, and the system that has success even when the roster is not littered with talent. The Drillers had a rough start to the season to say the least, and there was talk of them being one of the teams at the bottom of the Southwest Yosemite League, a league in which they are a year removed from dominating, with back-to-back 10-0 seasons in 2019 and 2020. The Drillers entered league play with a win over the Mustangs, but in the blink of an eye they fell to 1-5. After a win against Garces Memorial, the Drillers proceeded to win their last 2 games in surprising fashion over Frontier and Liberty of Bakersfield, putting them in a 3-way tie with Stockdale and Frontier with a league record of 4-6. I spoke with senior guard Arnold Ochoa via Instagram after Friday’s season-ending win over Liberty, and he gave high praise to his coach as to how they were able to achieve the success no one predicted midway through the season. The Drillers will not be in the playoffs, but with the 2 big wins to end the season, I had to put them in the Top 10. 

T-10 Frontier Titans/Bakersfield (12-12):

The Titans of Frontier had a season that was similar to that of Golden Valley, in that the preseason expectations were high but the end of regular season results did not reflect what many were predicting for the Titans. The Titans were led by standout sophomore guard/wing Zykiar Henderson and senior point guard Tyler Silva. Throughout the preseason, the Titans showed signs of likely being a top team in the SWYL and the South Valley overall, with wins over Golden Valley, West High, Sanger, and Stockdale. In our previous Top 10 Power Rankings we had the Titans at #5, as they had a strong preseason record, but league play would provide struggles that were hard to figure out and some tough losses that dropped them to #10 in these updated rankings. The Titans suffered losses to Liberty of Bakersfield, Stockdale, and a bad loss to the Drillers in the 2nd to last game of league play. The Titan suffered a huge loss to Centennial of Bakersfield to end the regular season, 65-40, where they struggled to find anyone to score beside sophomore Henderson. The Titans earned the postseason as the #14 seed in the Central Section Division 2 Playoffs and will travel to Lemoore, who had a strong end to their season and handed Mt. Whitney its first loss of the season. If Frontier can find the recipe that gave them success early, they have a deadly 1-2 punch with Silva and Henderson, which would be tough to guard in pick and roll situations that would open up the floor for perimeter shooters. The roster is senior-heavy and it will be interesting to see where things go for the Titans next season, as they will feature one of the top players in the South Valley in Henderson.