Central California – There have been plenty of quality match-ups and statement wins throughout the Central Section through the first half of league play, which has led to some significant movement of teams on this updated round of rankings. A majority of the games played since the last updated rankings two weeks ago have been between league opponents, therefore, head to head wins and wins over a common opponent are the basis for this round of rankings and team placement. This past week in particular featured three games between top 10 opponents in the Section and the outcomes of those games are the cause of a lot of movement within the first half of this list. The headlines for the past two weeks are as follows: St. Joseph lost to another state power by one point but continues to dominate league play and stays at the top; the Golden Eagles avenge a loss to the Broncos in impressive fashion; the Panthers have been steamrolling through league play behind the play of its seniors; the Golden Hawks defeat the Mustangs on a buzzer beater but fall short to the Eagles of Bakersfield Christian; Lemoore stays undefeated in league play and earned a win over Bakersfield Christian in the process; and Edison has hit a rough patch in league and non-league play that have dropped them out of the top 10. Before going into the team rankings themselves, let’s take a closer look at the big games from this past week. 

The first big game of the week was between, at the time, #3 Centennial and #5 Stockdale, which would be a rematch from their battle to start off league play. Centennial edged out the overtime win over the Mustangs in their first meeting and that was the deciding factor over first place in league heading into this past Thursdays match-up. The Golden Hawks entered the game on a 14-game winning streak and were in the comfort of their own gym. Nevertheless, the Mustangs got out to a hot start behind the play of seniors Joaquin Rios and Jhace Boston, along with a pair of three from senior Karsten Adeleye to give Stockdale a 30-25 lead going into the break. Centennial put the clamps on in the 3rd quarter and held the Mustangs to seven points, while junior Rippen Gill was carrying the scoring load with 16 of his game-high 18 points coming in the first 3 quarters of the game. The Golden Hawks got its first lead with 1:10 left on the clock in the 3rd quarter and, from that point, it was back and forth the rest of the way. Jhace Boston connected on two clutch free throws to give Stockdale a one point lead with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation, 51-50. Gill had the ball for the Golden Hawks as time was ticking off the clock and found senior JayJay Jones on the block, where he caught it and spun baseline for the game winning layup for Centennial, 52-51. 

The following night in Fresno, the #1 and #2 teams in the Section, Clovis West and Clovis North, squared-off in this highly anticipated rematch that saw the Broncos win by two on their home court the first week of league play, 68-66. Despite the win, MaxPreps still had the Golden Eagles as the top seed in the Section, so this game would have layers of implications; top seed in the Section, 1st place in league, and rivalry bragging rights. The first half of the game was close and competitive, as both teams attacked the basket relentlessly, crashed the boards, rolled through countless substitutions in the first four minutes of the game, and its was starting to look like it would be another classic between the Broncos and the Golden Eagles, as Clovis West led by a score of 31-29 at intermission. The second half would be a different story, as senior Issac Martinez got going for the Golden Eagles who stretched its lead to nine going into the fourth quarter, 51-42. Martinez continued to attack the basket and hit tough shots, as he would finish with a game-high 18 points, all coming after the break. Clovis West would get a statement win, 64-51, and it will likely be the top seed for the Division 1 playoffs based on the current MaxPreps computer rankings.  

The three game stretch of top 10 match-ups would be capped off by a match-up between Centennial and Bakersfield Christian; two of the top programs in the South Valley over the past three years. Centennial entered the game at the #3 spot and Bakersfield was #7 in the Central Section, as the game would be held at the Eagles house. Centennial, known for its physical style of play and dominance on the boards, had the lead early and held it throughout the first half. The Golden Hawks got first half contributions from junior Rippen Gill and a huge nine points making 3 threes from senior Elijah West, as it led at half by a score of 40-34. Sophomore Gabe Gutierrez and junior Bentley Waller had it going for the Eagles, with 14 points and 12 points respectively in the first half, but the rest of the team only accounted for 8 points. The third quarter looked to be much of the same, as senior JayJay Jones for Centennial started rolling and scored 10 of his team-high 17 points after halftime, and the Golden Hawks led 58-51 at the end of the third frame. But the story of the game would be the sensational shot making and playmaking by Gutierrez for Bakersfield Christian, along with the dominance of senior Charlie Stump on the glass in the 2nd half. Centennial, after a technical foul called on Jones and Gill fouling out, would only score five points in the final quarter. The Eagles had their own issues as Waller, who had missed the previous week and a half of play, would go down in the fourth quarter with an injury after scoring 19 points. There are moments in games that provide players the opportunity to showcase their skill and determination to win and this was the moment for Gutierrez. With Waller out of the game, Gutierrez put his foot on the gas and the team on his back and had 7 of his game-high 29 points in the final frame to give the Eagles the huge win, 69-63. 

The outcome of these three games would inevitably lead to some shake-up in the top 15 Central Section Rankings, as will be evident below. This article provides a look at the updated 2022-2023 Top 15 Team Rankings for the Central Section. The focus of these updated rankings is on the first half of league play and how teams have performed since the last round of rankings. Unlike previous rounds of these team rankings, I will not provide an overview of accomplishments throughout the season but will keep the focus on the outcomes of games since the start of league play. I use the last round of updated rankings as the starting point and teams are placed in this updated list according to the results of games throughout league play and one-day showcases since January 15th. In addition, I include the current rank of the team, in parentheses is where the team was ranked in the previous list, the team’s record to date, and location of the school. 

These rankings are based on my own personal evaluations, feedback from coaches, input from media outlets, strength of schedule, results against common opponents, and head-to-head results. I have personally seen every team on this list in person and most of these teams I have seen multiple times over the past few months. I have made an attempt to watch as many teams as possible since the start of the season and I truly feel at this point in the year, Division 1 looks more open than it looked at the start of the year but St. Joseph is still the team to beat. There are two weeks left of the regular season and still some big games that could lead to more movement when I update these rankings again at the end of the season. I also included five Honorable Mentions, which are teams that are on the bubble and could break into the top 15 by the next round of team rankings. Below is a link to the last round of updates for anyone that wants to access:

1. (1) St. Joseph Knights/Santa Maria CA (18-5) 

The Knights have rolled through Central Coast Mountain League play with its closest game coming against Mission Prep, where St. Joseph won by a score of 77-58. Since the last round of these rankings the Knights did suffer a tough one-point loss to CalHi #9 Modesto Christian in the De La Salle MLK Classic. That was St. Joseph’s 5th loss of the season and all to top 10 teams in their respective states. The Knights have lost these five games by a total of 12 points and, in an awkward twist of words, each of these losses is better than any win by any other Central Section team and the reason I have continued to keep them at the top of my team rankings. Also, having seen the top 10 teams multiple times throughout the season, if the Knights are on their A game I do not see a team with the size, physicality, depth, and multiple guys that can take over a game that St. Joseph has and will be really tough to beat. I think it is important to note that the Knights are better than last year’s team and that team had a 20-point lead in the 3rd quarter of the Open Division Championship game before Clovis West took over. The Knights are ranked #12 by CalHi Sports in their most recent team rankings. 

Upcoming games of importance: Mission Prep this Friday and Inderkum of Sacramento the following day on Saturday. 

2. (T-3) Clovis West Golden Eagles/Fresno CA (23-2)

The Golden Eagles get back to the #2 spot in these updated rankings after their statement win over league rival Clovis North this past Friday, along with a six-game winning streak and being tied at the top of the TRAC League. Clovis West was able to avenge one of its two losses on the season by taking down the Broncos and doing it in convincing fashion. The Golden Eagles only have league opponents left on their schedule and should win out. If Clovis West wins out, based on MaxPreps rankings, it will likely be the top overall seed in the Division 1 Section playoffs. The Golden Eagles are ranked #21 in the most recent CalHi rankings but that is likely to change with the win over Clovis North. 

Upcoming games of importance: Clovis East this Friday

3. (2) Clovis North Broncos/Fresno CA (19-6)

The Broncos had their 10-game winning streak snapped this past Friday in a TRAC league loss to rival Clovis West and that is the main reason I moved them down a spot to the #3 seed for these updated rankings. Clovis North only has 3 games left this season and should they win out, based on MapPreps rankings, I would project them to be a top 4 seed in the Division 1 Sectional playoffs. The Broncos will also end up tied for first in TRAC play if they win the remainder of their games. Clovis North is currently ranked #20 by CalHi Sports but with the loss to Clovis West that is likely to change when updated. 

Upcoming games of importance: Clovis East this Tuesday 

4. (5) San Joaquin Memorial Panthers/Fresno CA (16-7) 

The Panthers have found their stride and have won its last eight games. San Joaquin has not lost since early January and the balance and talent of its roster, combined with its undefeated record in CMAC play are the main reasons I have moved the Panthers back into the top 4 of this updated list. The Panthers avenged its loss to Edison by sweeping the Tigers in league play. The Panthers have one last test as they travel to Livermore on Saturday to take on Monterey Trail of Elk Grove. 

Upcoming games of importance: Monterey Trail of Elk Grove this Saturday

5. (7) Bakersfield Christian Eagles/CA (17-7) 

The Eagles have turned the corner for the better this season, as was predicted once its transfer players were cleared and have won 12 of its last 13 games. Bakersfield Christian went into the New Year with a 5-6 record but the addition of its transfer players, specifically sophomore lead guard Gabriel Gutierrez, now boast a record of 17-7 and are fresh off a win over Centennial Saturday night. The head-to-head win over the Golden Hawks, and Centennial sweeping Stockdale in league play, is why I have moved the Eagles to the #5 spot and the top seed in the South Valley. Bakersfield Christian did suffer a loss to Lemoore last Saturday at the Pagmeter Showcase, but its roster was missing Bentley Waller, Mike Shafic, and Drew Minnear, who are all key players to the rotation. Waller and Shafic were back Saturday to play against the Golden Hawks.  

Upcoming games of significance: Ridgeview this Tuesday 

6. (T-3) Centennial Golden Hawks/Bakersfield CA (20-4) 

The Golden Hawks were the hottest team in the Central Section heading into Saturday’s game against the Eagles, as it had won 15 games in a row. Despite the impressive winning streak, the Golden Hawks had some close scares against league rivals Stockdale and Liberty. Going into the much anticipated non-league game against Bakersfield Christian it seemed to me that if it were to be a close game would Centennial have enough to escape another nail biter. The Golden Hawks have been dominant on the boards and been the more physical team during its 15-game winning streak and if the Eagles were to have a chance to beat Centennial, it would have to have success on the glass and match the toughness of the Golden Hawks. Centennial controlled the flow of the game for three quarters but in the fourth quarter the Eagles matched the play of the Golden Hawks, which led to an end to Centennial’s winning streak. Looking at wins over common opponents, both Bakersfield Christian and Centennial defeated Edison, Liberty, and Central, but Centennial did get the win over Lemoore. However, when there is a head-to-head match-up that outcome overshadows outcomes over common opponents. Therefore, I have moved Centennial behind the Eagles for these updated rankings. The Golden Hawks have a big rematch game against Liberty this week and if it can get by the Patriots it would appear Centennial is headed to another undefeated run through SYL-River play. 

Upcoming games of significance: Liberty this Thursday 

7. (6) Stockdale Mustangs/Bakersfield CA (21-3) 

The Mustangs have had a phenomenal season with one of the best duos in the Section in seniors Jhace Boston and Joaquin Rios. Stockdale got their chance to avenge the overtime loss on their home floor to Centennial during the first week of league play this past Thursday and it looked as though it might happen after Boston sank two free throws with less than 20 seconds left to play in regulation. The Golden Hawks were able to score at the buzzer and handed the Mustangs its 3rd loss of the season and second to Centennial. Given that Stockdale and Bakersfield Christian have not played this season, I would have to use the outcome against common opponents to determine where to place the Mustangs in this updated list. The loss to Centennial on Thursday and the Eagles win over the Golden Eagles two days later is the main reason I moved Stockdale down one spot from the previous list. Mustangs have a huge game against Liberty this week that could have league and Section implications if it were to win and Centennial were to lose to the Patriots on Thursday. 

Upcoming games of significance: Liberty this Tuesday  

8. (9) Mission College Prep Royals/San Luis Obispo (16-7) 

The Royals have continued to have success in Central Coast Mountain League play outside of St. Joseph and with the recent losses Edison has had, I moved the Royals up one spot from the previous updated rankings. The Royals have a few more challenges left in league play with the biggest coming this Friday against the Knights. 

Upcoming games of significance: St. Joseph this Friday and Arroyo Grande to close out league play the following Friday  

9. (10) Clovis East Timberwolves/CA (15-9)

The Timberwolves move up one spot from the previous team rankings, as they have won four in a row and have a firm grasp on the 3rd spot in the TRAC behind Clovis West and Clovis North. Despite the youth of the roster, the Timberwolves have shown it is ready to compete and challenge the top teams now and is having success against the rest of the TRAC teams. Clovis East has a big week as it plays both teams ahead of it in league standings. 

Upcoming games of significance: Clovis North this Tuesday and Clovis West this Friday

10. (13) Lemoore Tigers/CA (17-6)

The Tigers are one of the hottest teams in the Section and are currently on a 9-game winning streak. Over that nine game span, Lemoore has non-league wins over Bakersfield Christian and Liberty, as well as a big league win over Dinuba. Although I have stated head-to-head match-ups are a key factor in these rankings, the one point win over a Bakersfield Christian team that was missing two starters and its sixth man led me to keep the Tigers behind the Eagles in this updated list. If Lemoore wins out, it is likely to be in the Division 1 playoff picture. 

Upcoming games of significance: Dinuba this Friday  

11. (12) Bullard Knights/Fresno CA (15-10) 

The Knights move up one spot as it has maintained a hold on 2nd place in CMAC play, with the only loss coming to San Joaquin. Bullard has a relatively easy schedule this week but will finish off league play with the Tigers and Panthers. 

Upcoming games of significance: Edison next Wednesday and San Joaquin Memorial next Friday

12. (11) Dinuba Emperors/CA (21-3) 

The Emperors are trending up in the right direction in league play, but I did move them down one spot since the last round of these rankings because of its loss to Lemoore and taking three overtimes to avenge a loss to Hanford. The Emperors are tied for 2nd place in WYL play. 

Upcoming games of significance: Lemoore this Friday  

13. (15) Ridgeview Wolfpack/Bakersfield CA (16-6)

The Wolfpack have won 8 of its last 9 games and have a chance to avenge a loss to Bakersfield Christian this Tuesday. Ridgeview currently sits alone in 2nd place in SYL-Valley play and if it were able to beat the Eagles this week would pull into a tie for first place. This will be tough given how well the Eagles have played the past month but both teams will be hampered by key injuries. 

Upcoming games of significance: Bakersfield Christian this Tuesday  

14. (NR) Hanford West Huskies/CA (15-9)

The Huskies have won 8 of its last 9 games and currently sit atop the Tri-County Kings Canyon League at 4-0. The Huskies have tough match-ups the rest of the way but have the potential to run the table and capture a league title. 

Upcoming games of significance: Sierra Pacific this Tuesday and Kingsburg on Thursday

15. (8) Edison Tigers/Fresno CA (14-10)

The Tigers round out this cycle of top 15 rankings and have struggled after its big win over San Joaquin Memorial in the championship at the Hoover HIT back in mid-December. Since the Clovis Elks Tournament, Edison has lost 7 of its last 10 games to some quality opponents, which is why I kept them in the top 15. The Tigers may not be peaking at the moment and if its season were to continue in this direction it does not take away from the huge strides the program has made this season. However, if the Tigers end up in the Division 2 Section  playoffs, then it would be one of the favorites to win the Section title. 

Upcoming games of significance: Sanger this Friday and Bullard next Wednesday  

Honorable Mention

Arroyo Grande Eagles/CA (15-7)

Liberty Patriots/Bakersfield CA (12-11)

Roosevelt Rough Riders/Fresno CA (14-8)

Sanger Apaches/CA (15-9)

West Bakersfield/CA (16-7)