The holiday tournament portion of the high school basketball preseason has come to an end, and teams in the Central Section started league play as students returned to school from Christmas break. The first week of holiday tournaments produced some great games and elite individual performances. The second week looked to keep the trend rolling until the coronavirus ripped through programs, keeping some top players sidelined and entire programs having to drop out of tournaments across the Western Region. The Central Section would see this trend continue as some key non-league match-ups were postponed (specifically, St. Joseph’s game against Sierra Canyon and San Joaquin Memorial versus Clovis North), and numerous games were postponed the first week of South, Southeast, and Southwest Yosemite League play due to Covid Protocols. Despite some of these postponements, the preseason was minimally impacted by Covid and we were able to produce our first High School Boys Basketball Power Rankings for the South Valley (Bakersfield and surrounding cities). Below is a list of the Top 10 teams, with an analysis of why each team has been listed in the spot they are in. These rankings will be updated at the halfway point of the season, assuming we can get through with some normalcy.
These 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 impact of Covid on rosters and games that have been postponed. I have personally seen each of these teams play at least two times this season live and I would split this list into 2 groups, based on the schedule of games played leading up to the start of league play. Bakersfield Christian, Independence, Centennial and Liberty have each played in at least one tournament or showcase event that featured quality teams from various parts of California, as well as out-of-state teams. The second group of teams from the #5-#10 spots on this list have played less rigorous schedules or have suffered some tough losses against opponents they were expected to defeat. There should be enough games left and league titles to be won that will shake this list up, but we wanted to produce a list as league games get underway. The list starts with the team I have had at the top all preseason.
1. Bakersfield Christian Eagles (8-5):
The team that holds the top spot in this first round of Power Rankings is the Bakersfield Christian Eagles. The Eagles are coming off back-to-back Division 3 Section Titles, returned their top 2 scorers from last season, and have put together one of the more rigorous schedules in the Central Section. The Eagles have played in 2 quality tournaments, the Clovis West Nike Invitational and Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Classic, which featured CalHi Sports State Top 25 teams in #9 Clovis West, #10 Modesto Christian, and #25 Clovis North. The Eagles have secured wins over the Central Grizzlies of Fresno, Weston Ranch Cougars of Stockton, the Hoover Patriots of Fresno, and most recently, a win over SYL rival the Independence Falcons of Bakersfield to start off league play, which is the best compilation of wins thus far of any team in the South Valley and why we have them at the top. However, a lack of depth and size has led to some double-digit losses that may have bigger implications for overall Section Playoff Division placement and seeding. However, those losses were against quality opponents like Clovis West, San Joaquin Memorial, Clovis East, Durango of Las Vegas, and Hoover (in a rematch game), which are good losses compared to others in the South Valley. The Eagles will get some much-needed size with the return of junior forward Charlie Stump and standout sophomore point guard Bentley Waller to take some pressure off of seniors Jackson Tucker and Erick Chaney, scoring and handling the ball in the backcourt. The top spot appears to be the Eagles to hold on to if they were to run the tables and go undefeated in league play. A lot of basketball is left, hopefully, and the Falcons, Bulldogs of Golden Valley, and the rest of the SYL feel this Bakersfield Christian team has vulnerabilities not present in the last 3 plus seasons.
Key Wins: Central Grizzlies, Weston Ranch Cougars, Buchanan Bears, Hoover Patriots, and Independence Falcons.
2. Independence Falcons of Bakersfield (7-9):
In the 2nd spot for these Power Rankings, we have the Falcons of Independence, who had a chance to overtake the Eagles before these rankings came out in their league opener last Tuesday, January 4th, but senior standout Cameron Brown went down early in the 2nd half with an ankle injury and never returned. Senior point guard Michael Pineda was also out due to Covid Protocols, which put a lot of pressure on the freshman guards to carry the team in the 2nd half, which proved to be too much as the Falcons fell to the Eagles, 51-39. Despite this loss, the Falcons have played arguably the toughest schedule of any team in the South Valley, as they participated in the Mission Prep Christmas Classic, the Damien Classic (in which they had to pull out after 2 games due to Covid Protocols), and were a last-minute addition to the Clovis West Nike Invitational when Lincoln of San Francisco had to bow out of that event. The addition of the Clovis West tournament, along with a tough non-league schedule of games, has given Independence the toughest strength of schedule of any team in the South Valley, slightly over Bakersfield Christian as it currently stands. The Falcons have gotten some impressive wins over out-of-town opponents like Hoover, Roosevelt of Fresno, Mission Prep, and Sanger, as well as a double-digit win over Frontier Titans of Bakersfield. Independence has lost to some tough opponents in Seattle Prep, Santa Clarita Christian, Pacifica Christian, and fellow Central Section power St. Joseph, and all were close games. Despite having a record below .500, the wins that the Falcons have racked up, along with some close losses to quality teams, are the reason why we have them at the number two spot for these rankings. Cameron Brown is set to return next week and the pressure is on for the Falcons to try and win out in league to tie for the League Title.
Key Wins: Hoover Patriots, Roosevelt Rough Riders, Mission Prep Royals (San Luis Obispo), Frontier Titans, and Sanger Apaches
3. Centennial Golden Hawks of Bakersfield (10-7):
The Golden Hawks come in at the third spot in the Power Rankings, and have had some dominant wins in the latter part of the preseason. The Golden Hawks had a really tough schedule the first 2-3 weeks of the season, as they faced off against San Joaquin Memorial and Clovis West in non-league Sectional games, as well as Taft of Woodland Hills, Oak Park, and Palisades in the 19th Annual Rose City Roundball Classic. Despite playing this rugged early-season schedule, the Golden Hawks fell short to each of these teams, which prevented them from getting a statement win that would have potentially placed them above Bakersfield Christian and Independence at the top spot. Centennial got hot the second part of the preseason, as they went on an 8 game winning streak, won the Morro Bay Holiday Invitational, and came in runner-up at the Clovis Elks Tournament, losing on a buzzer-beater to Rocklin’s Dean Perry. Although the winning streak was impressive and resulted in a tournament win, the level of competition over that stretch was against inferior talent compared to the teams the Falcons and Eagles were playing at the same time. Having said that, the Golden Hawks did handle business against the teams they faced and if they would have come away with the Clovis Elks Championship, we would likely have bumped them up to #2. Another hit to the Golden Hawks moving up to the two spot was the postponement of their first two league games due to Covid Protocols, specifically the game against the Liberty Patriots of Bakersfield. That was one of 6 key match-ups in the Central Section postponed due to Covid. The Golden Hawks have depth, size, shooting, a good blend of youth and senior veterans, and I would have them as the favorites to win the Southwest Yosemite League
Key Wins: Golden Valley Bulldogs, Muir Mustangs (Pasadena), Ridgeview Wolfpack
4. Liberty Patriots of Bakersfield (11-4):
The Patriots round out the top four teams of our Power Rankings, and as said in the introduction, is part of the group that has played a tougher schedule with some key wins that place them over the remaining teams in this list. The Patriots opened up the season with a loss to the Buchanan Bears of Clovis, which at the time looked like a good loss to an underrated team. Since then, the Bears have seen key players leave the team and this will hurt their overall section ranking as the season moves on, which also makes the loss look worse than it really was. I was in attendance for that game, and the Bears shot the lights out and were at full strength. The Patriots played a relatively soft schedule the next 10 games, but did win the Mission Oak Tournament before heading to San Diego, where they participated in the illustrious Torrey Pines Holiday Classic. This tournament, which is held the 2nd week of the Christmas break annually, featured some elite teams from all over the Western Region and beyond. Covid did force teams to withdraw from this event, but the Patriots were able to make it through and went 3-1, defeating Christian HS, Temecula Valley, and Coronado of San Diego. The Patriots kept things rolling into league play, with a monster win over Garces Memorial. The much-anticipated match-up set for last Friday, January 7th, against Centennial was postponed due to Covid issues for the Golden Hawks. The Patriots have a lot of size compared to other teams in the South Valley, and despite not having a lot of depth when it comes to scorers, they produce a lot of second-chance points on offense and limit those same opportunities on the defensive end. Despite having the size to control the glass, there needs to be someone else that steps up as a consistent 2nd scoring threat alongside standout sophomore Dashawn Usochu for the Patriots to win their league and make some noise in the postseason.
Key Wins: Sunnyside Wildcats, Ridgeview Wolfpack, Stockdale Mustangs, Christian Patriots (El Cajon)
5. Frontier Titans of Bakersfield (8-6):
The Titans have had some ups and downs throughout the preseason, with the high point coming with a tournament championship win at the Shafter Kiwanis Tournament, and a rough outing against Independence in their own gym on the downside of things. Frontier has looked good against most teams from the South Valley, with wins over Golden Valley and West High, who have both won tournaments this season. Frontier looked poised to make a run in the Dinuba Tournament, but fell to Hanford in the quarterfinals, and prevented a match-up against one of the top small schools in Dinuba High. Frontier’s best win of the season came in a buzzer-beater over Sanger Apaches on the road. Frontier was scheduled to open the season with an anticipated match-up against Stockdale, but was forced to postpone the game due to Covid Protocols. The Titans are yet to play a league game, but with face Liberty next week in their league opener, which could shake things up between the #4 and #5 teams on this list.
Key Wins: Sanger Apaches, Immanuel Eagles, Golden Valley Bulldogs, West High Vikings
6. West High Vikings of Bakersfield (11-3):
The Vikings played a preseason schedule that kept them in Kern County throughout, and has led to an accumulation of wins over average teams. The signature moment for the Vikings came in the Lloyd Williams Tournament held at North Bakersfield HS. West High defeated the Golden Valley Bulldogs in overtime behind a huge 38 point performance by senior guard Stephon Brooks in the semifinals, and followed that up by winning the championship over Paraclete. The Vikings were unable to carry that momentum into the Shafter Tournament, where they were knocked off by the eventual champs in the semifinals. The Vikings also fell to Santa Ynez in the Garces Memorial Elite 8 Showdown in the first round. The Vikings will have a chance to take down Independence and Bakersfield Christian as a way to move up the Power Rankings, but they have already had a setback to the start of their season with Covid Protocols shutting down their first 2 league games. The Vikings have a good test against the Ridgeview Wolfpack on Tuesday of next week, after final exams this week.
Key Wins: Paraclete Spirits (Lancaster), Golden Valley Bulldogs
7. Golden Valley Bulldogs of Bakersfield (11-4):
The Bulldogs started the season out strong on the court, and arguably even stronger off the court, as the basketball community of coaches, trainers, media, etc. were talking about Golden Valley as possibly the top team in town. The Bulldogs were returning 3 senior starters in 6’6” Markell Brooks, 6’5” Kemonte Jackson, and 6’2” Jermaine Dobbs, along with the addition of transfer senior sharpshooter Jlen Slaughter coming over from Mira Monte of Bakersfield. The Bulldogs have a lot of size, veteran senior players, length, can shoot the 3-ball at a high clip, and chemistry, with the core players all being part of the same club team. The Bulldogs came out the gates looking impressive, as they ran through each opponent in the 58 Freeway Shootout and defeated Paraclete of Lancaster in the championship game. However, after a hot start and a tournament win, the Bulldogs suffered a big loss to Centennial, which was followed up by a loss to the South Bakersfield Spartans. The Bulldogs fell to West High in the semifinals of the Lloyd Williams Tournament, and to Frontier in the early rounds of the Shafter Tournament. Golden Valley was looking to get back on track as league play got underway last week but were forced to postpone both games due to Covid Protocols. Given the Bulldogs’ talent and size, expectations remain high, but they are listed at #7 given the lack of strength of schedule and losses to teams they were expected to defeat. Having said that, the Bulldogs have the personnel to make a real run in the SYL, and take a shot at the league title. I do like the make-up of this team and they are back in action on the 20th of January against Tehachapi, which should be an easy win for the Bulldogs.
Key Wins: Paraclete Spirits (Lancaster). South Bakersfield Spartans
8. South Bakersfield Spartans (11-7):
The Spartans have been led by junior guard Prince Ellis, along with a squad of players that have great athleticism and toughness. This has propelled, what many basketball enthusiasts felt was a team that would have minimal success during the preseason, to one of the top 10 teams in the South Valley. The Spartans have not won any tournaments this season, but have had some big wins over opponents that were favored in those match-ups. The biggest win of the season for the Spartans has been over the Golden Valley Bulldogs, as well as impressive wins over West High and Sunnyside of Fresno. The Spartans started league play off with a dominant win over the East Bakersfield Blades, and I see South High as contending for the Southeast Yosemite League title with the North Bakersfield Stars.
Key Wins: Golden Valley Bulldogs, Ridgeview Wolfpack, West High Vikings, Sunnyside Wildcats
9. Ridgeview Wolfpack of Bakersfield (9-7):
The Wolfpack have had some tough seasons the past 3 to 4 years, and this season started off with a loss to the Bakersfield Drillers, who are not the powerhouse they have traditionally been. Senior guard Ruben Singh returned from injury, and has provided the spark and on-court leadership that was needed by the very young Wolfpack roster. Ridgeview has some solid sophomore talent led by guard Jovarie Hayden, and a few freshmen that will be impact guys by next season. The play of Singh was critical in the Wolfpack’s championship run in the Garces Memorial Elite 8 Showdown, where they defeated a tall and athletic Roosevelt of Fresno team in the championship game. Singh had games of 26 points, 18 points, and 30 points to round out the Garces tournament. Ridgeview’s success to close out the Christmas season tournaments is a key reason they made the top 10 cut, and starting league off with a win over Tehachapi is a good way to show they are ready to compete. The Wolfpack had their 2nd league game against Golden Valley postponed due to the Bulldogs being in Covid Protocol, and will resume league play with a good one against West High next Tuesday.
Key Wins: Roosevelt Rough Riders, Bakersfield Drillers, North Bakersfield Stars, Garces Memorial Rams
10. Stockdale Mustangs of Bakersfield (14-3):
The Mustangs round out the Power Rankings Top 10, and were higher on this list before falling to the Bakersfield Drillers last Friday night. Stockdale has been without their top player, junior guard Joaquin Rios has been out with a knee injury, but fellow junior guard Jhase Boston has stepped up huge and provided a great one-two punch with senior forward Adeola Adekoba. The Mustangs looked very impressive in their win over Kingsburg in their tournament, but then fell to Dinuba High. Stockdale made it to the championship game of the Mission Oak Tournament, but fell short to the Liberty Patriots, as Boston was out of the game for nearly 2 quarters. Stockdale played in the Santa Barbara Tournament to close out the Christmas break, and fell to Righetti in the semifinals. The Mustangs were set to start league play against Frontier before the Titans were sidelined with Covid Protocols and then fell to Bakersfield High on Friday night. However, with the return of Rios expected next week and a huge match-up against the Centennial Golden Hawks next Wednesday, if they take down the #3 seed in this list that will shoot them up the rankings.
Key Wins: Dos Pueblos Chargers (Goleta), Immanuel Eagles, South Bakersfield Spartans, Kingsburg Vikings
North Bakersfield Stars (7-7)
Bakersfield Drillers (4-6)
Garces Memorial Rams (7-10)