Central Section, CA – The New Year is upon us and the holiday hoops tournament portion of the season has wrapped up. This is a perfect time of the basketball season to update my team rankings. Over the past few weeks teams like St. Joseph, Clovis West, and Clovis North have played against some of the nations top teams; Sanger, North Bakersfield, and Arroyo Grande have all won tournaments; and Bullard and Edison have their full rosters ready for league play.
In this article, I provide a breakdown of my updated Top 15 Team Rankings. I discuss where and why I have each team in the spot they are in. I have taken into consideration head to head match-ups, games against common opponents, and strength of schedule to compile this updated list from my second 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 first round of rankings of this season, as well as the current record in parentheses. We have a new team at the top, but one that has been familiar to this spot over the past free season. The Knights of St. Joseph take over the top spot in this updated list and have been led by the stellar play of national prospect and 4 star, Toude Yessoufou.
1. (2) St. Joseph Knights (Santa Maria CA) (12-1)
The Knights take over the top spot in this round of updated team rankings for the first time this season, as it is coming off a highly productive two weeks of holiday tournaments going 6-1 with its only loss coming at the hands of FAB 50 #8 Gonzaga Prep of Washington D.C. at the King Classic Holiday Classic in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The Knights won the Capital City Classic in Oregon the week before Christmas and earned a quality win over FAB 50 #22 Lincoln Park of Pennsylvania. At the King Cotton Holiday Classic this last week, after losing to Gonzaga Prep, the Knights got a big win over Duncanville of Texas, which, despite not being the national power it has been in previous years, is still a great win to add to this season’s resume. The Knights have been led by standout junior Tounde Yessoufou, who continues to put up gaudy numbers at 34.5 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks per game. Yessoufou dropped 46 points in the big win against Duncanville and is set to go head to head with fellow standout junior Bradyen Burries of Eastvale Roosevelt on January 6th at Redondo Union. Sophomore sensation Julius Price has averaged 22 points and 6 assists per game to make up one of the best duos in the West, if not nationally. I have kept St. Joseph at #2 for the first two rounds of team rankings because I felt the lack of depth on the Knights roster would prove problematic against top teams. However, that has not been the case to this point and the sheer dominance of Yessoufou, along with Price playing exceptionally well to complement the nations #21 ranked junior, has been enough to convince me that it has earned the top spot in this round of team rankings.
2. (1) Clovis West Golden Eagles (Fresno CA) (15-3)
The Golden Eagles move down one position to the #2 spot and are coming off a great week of play in the Visit Mesa Basketball Challenge going 4-0 and earning quality wins over Arizona’s Brophy Prep (#4 ranked team in AZ), Pinnacle, and Valley Christian. Despite the success of the trip to Arizona, I moved the Golden Eagles down a spot based on their outcome from the Tarkanian Classic the week before Christmas at Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, Nevada. Although Clovis West did play in the top division at the Tark Classic (Platinum Division), the Golden Eagles went 1-3 and missed some opportunities to take down a few nationally ranked teams. Clovis West lost to FAB 50 #44 Alta of Utah, #19 Bishop O’Connell of Virginia, and Sagemont Prep of Florida. The losses to the nationally ranked teams are quality losses, which I do consider those in my rankings, but the loss to Sagemont was one the Golden Eagles needed to win to have a chance to stay atop this updated list. Nevertheless, the Golden Eagles are still one of the top two teams and I would predict to see it and St. Joseph face off in the Section Championship game in late February. Juniors Chris Baudreau and DJ Stickman have continued their high level of play, along with the seniors that add toughness, experience, and knowledge of the system.
3. (5) Clovis North Broncos (Fresno CA) (10-5)
After sliding down a few spots in the last round of team rankings, the Broncos have had a successful last two weeks, going 6-2 and winning the Mission Prep Christmas Classic over Woodinville of Washington, as well as a quality win over Capital Christian of Sacramento. The Broncos were in the top division (Platinum Division) at the prestigious Classic at Damien and, despite going 2-2, earned some solid wins over Heritage Christian of Northridge and Campbell Hall of North Hollywood. Clovis North hung tough for 3 quarters against state power St. John Bosco and Connor Amundsen scored a career high 42 points in a close loss to a quality Windward team. The Broncos have played arguably the toughest overall schedule of any team in the Central Section and even though it took some big losses to Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth and Salesian of Richmond, Clovis North seems to have turned the corner in the right direction just as TRAC league play is about to get underway. The Broncos may not have the size and height of the Knights and the Golden Eagles, but it has faced plenty of competition that compares to those two teams and have done well in recent weeks.
4. (4) Centennial Golden Hawks (Bakersfield CA) (11-5)
Staying strong at the #4 spot and the top team in the South Valley is the Golden Hawks. Although it has not played the rigorous schedule of some of the other teams in the top 10 of this list, it has played some quality teams and has won the games it was supposed to win. The Golden Hawks won the 3rd Annual Dave Morehead Invitational hosted by Mission Oak of Tulare taking down league rival Liberty of Bakersfield in the championship game. The Golden Hawks did not play in any tournament during the week leading up to Christmas but got a quality win over Sanger the Friday before Christmas Day. Centennial played in the Gold Crown Tournament in San Diego this past week and went 3-2 with its only loss coming at the hands of Silverado of Las Vegas twice, which is a top 10 team in Las Vegas. The Golden Hawks earned wins over Faith Lutheran of Las Vegas and Bonita Vista of Chula Vista. Although the Eagles of Bakersfield Christian have played a tougher overall schedule compared to the Centennial, at the moment the Golden Hawks have shown more consistency since the start of the year. Fortunately, these two teams face off in late January so that game will take care of any dispute by the time I update these team rankings.
5. (3) San Joaquin Memorial Panthers (Fresno CA) (9-6)
The Panthers move back down to the #5 spot in these updated rankings, as it has had some solid wins after the Clovis West Nike Invitational but have struggled to find consistency and dealing with some injuries and other issues that could be troublesome heading into league. For now, the Panthers are still a top 5 team with wins over Buchanan of Clovis in the Clayton Valley Charter Riley Christiansen Invitational 3rd Place Game, as well as a win over St. Paul of Santa Fe Springs in the Classic at Damien. Despite some close ones at the Damien Classic, the Panthers took 3 losses to quality teams in Auburn of Washington, Rancho Verde of Moreno Valley, and Valencia. The Panthers have a big one against St. Bernard of Playa del Rey on Saturday before entering league play with games against Edison and Sanger to kick off CMAC play. If the injury issues persist, San Joaquin could find itself in a different spot when this list is updated. The young guns for the Panthers have been the bright spot in sophomores Parker Spees and Sajjin Sidhu, and they may have to carry more of the load moving forward, as well as junior Abram Potts.
6. (7) Bakersfield Christian Eagles (CA) (7-8)
The Eagles are coming off a solid few weeks of play and earned some key wins to stay in the top 10 and move up one spot. After a tough ending to the Clovis West Nike Invitational, the Eagles earned a needed win over St. Francis of La Canada before heading to Arizona for the Visit Mesa Basketball Challenge. The Eagles opened up the event with key wins over Pinnacle and Brophy Prep of Arizona (AZs #4 ranked team). The Eagles dropped a game to Notre Dame Prep, the #5 ranked Arizona team, as well as a loss to Gonzaga Prep of Washington. Despite the two losses to round out the year, the 3 wins were enough to move the Eagles up a spot as its losses were to quality teams. I considered moving the Eagles to #5 but it lost the match-up with San Joaquin Memorial less than a month ago. Senior Bentley Waller and junior Gabe Gutierrez have been a more balanced duo for the Eagles the past few weeks, as well as the rest of the roster finding their roles and working more as a team. Bakersfield Christian should run through league play and will have a chance to take over the top spot in the South Valley when it faces Centennial of Bakersfield on January 27th.
7. (6) Bullard Knights (Fresno CA) (11-6)
The Knights had a solid few weeks of play during the holiday tournaments and went 2-2 at the Mission Prep Christmas Classic with losses to Capital Christian of Sacramento and Oakland Tech. The Knights then traveled to Modesto to take part in Modesto Christian’s Holiday Hoop Classic, and it would now have its full roster with transfers Dalen Felder and Sean Smith being cleared from their 3–day sit out. Bullard would go 3-1 with its only loss being to Mountain House by one point and would take down fellow Central Section foe Clovis East in the 5th Place Game. Although I did move the Knights down a spot from the previous round of team rankings, with Bullard now having its complete roster with more fire power and the ups and downs of the Panthers, it is conceivable that the Knights may be ranked above the Panthers when I update these rankings, as these teams will match-up in CMAC play two times over the next month.
8. (11) Clovis East Timberwolves (CA) (11-5)
Moving back into the top 10 of this round of updated team rankings is the Timberwolves of Clovis East after an impressive run the past few weeks. The Timberwolves won the Consolation Game in the BallerTV Division at the illustrious Tarkanian Classic, with its only loss coming to eventual champs Vista Murrieta by 6 points in the opening round. Clovis East then went up to the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Classic and went 2-2 with a loss to Section rival Bullard of Fresno, which is why I have them one spot behind the Knights. The Timberwolves have earned wins over Edison of Stockton, Centennial of Idaho, and an early season win over Arroyo Grande. The Timberwolves will have some tough league games coming up in the TRAC but it has been through a solid schedule the last few weeks to get Clovis East ready to push Clovis West and Clovis North and a real shot at finishing at least 3rd in league play.
9. (8) Edison Tigers (Fresno CA) (8-7)
The Tigers have their transfers cleared and have added depth at the guard position and needed scoring assistance to free up players like seniors Va’Ron Mitchell and Ray Brown. The Tigers only played one game between their 2nd place finish at the Lloyd Williams Shootout at North Bakersfield High School, losing to Paraclete of Lancaster, which was a win over Hanford. The Tigers picked play back up this past week at the Damian Lillard Classic at Oakland High School, where Edison lost a close one in the Consolation Game to Seattle Prep, 75 to 71 in overtime. The Tigers open up league play against San Joaquin Memorial on January 9th and play last year’s Division 5 NorCal State Champs Saturday, January 6th. The Tigers have the pieces to make a run at the CMAC title, especially given the ups and downs of the Panthers this season and a young Bullard squad that has yet to show the pieces will all fit.
10. (12) Arroyo Grande Eagles (CA) (14-5)
The Eagles round out the top 10 and make their top 10 debut after winning the Atascadero Christmas Classic over Montclair this past week after winning the Jim Bayshore Holiday Cage Classic in Carpinteria. The Eagles have won 3 tournaments this preseason but the reason I do not have Arroyo Grande ranked higher is the relatively soft schedule compared to the teams ahead of it. The Eagles do have wins over Liberty of Bakersfield, Frontier of Bakersfield, and Templeton. The remaining games for the Eagles will be Central Coast Mountain League play, which Arroyo Grande should have a chance to take 2nd place in league, as it looks like St. Joseph will run away with the league again this season.
11. (HM) Sanger Apaches (CA) (11-5)
The Apaches had suffered some tough losses when I last updated these team rankings and fell just outside the top 15. Since then, Sanger has won 5 of its last 6 games with its only loss coming to Centennial of Bakersfield by 7 points, which has earned the Apaches its first appearance in the top 15. Last week, Sanger earned wins over Buchanan, Roosevelt of Fresno, and Clovis to win the championship at the Clovis Elks Tournament. Sanger has a rematch against Clovis on Wednesday and plays another TRAC team in Clovis East Saturday before starting CMAC play with games against Bullard, San Joaquin Memorial, and Edison in its first three league games. The Apaches will have plenty of opportunities to move up this list over the next two weeks but it will not be an easy road.
12. (13) Buchanan Bears (Clovis CA) (14-3)
After starting the season out 11-0, the Bears have gone .500 with losses to San Joaquin Memorial on a buzzer beater and a semifinal loss to Sanger at the Clovis Elks Tournament. Buchanan did destroy Reno of Nevada in the 3rd Place Game of the Clovis Elks event, and a win over Pleasant Grove who won the Clovis Elks Consolation Game. The Bears will not play again until TRAC league play, where it opens up with Clovis, but will hit a rough 3-game streak against Clovis West, Clovis North, and Clovis East. In the next two weeks, we will see if the Bears have what it takes to challenge their league’s top teams and possibly crack the top 10 of this list when updated.
13. (15) North Stars (Bakersfield CA) (9-5)
The Stars are coming off a hot streak this past week, as it won the 72nd Polly Wilhelmsen Tournament hosted by Mt. Whitney of Visalia over Tulare Western. The Stars got things rolling with a win over Sanger at its own Lloyd Williams Shootout in early December. After losing to Fresno Christian, the Stars beat Kingsburg and Redwood of Visalia en route to the Polly Championship. I moved the Stars up two spots from the last team rankings, but despite the head to head win over Sanger, the Apaches have a few more quality wins and for now I will leave the Stars a few spots behind Sanger but a solid member of the top 15 heading into league play.
14. (HM) Clovis Cougars (CA) (10-8)
The Cougars are making their debut in the top 15 after making a run to the championship game of its own Clovis Elks Tournament before falling short to Sanger. I could have moved the Cougars up higher after wins over Fresno Christian and Dinuba (previously ranked #9 in the last round of these team rankings) in the past week and a half. However, Clovis has also had some losses that show the team’s inconsistency over the course of the preseason. The loss to Fowler stands out, along with an early loss to Immanuel of Reedley. No disrespect to those teams, but given some of the wins it has had, those are teams you would think the Cougars should win. Nevertheless, the Cougars have been playing more consistent hoops lately and will have a shot to redeem the loss to Sanger this Wednesday, before heading into a tough league schedule in the TRAC. Time will tell if the Cougars can stay in the top 15 but it will definitely have plenty of opportunities to stay in and move up if it earns wins in TRAC play.
15. (10) Frontier Titans (Bakersfield CA) (11-2)
The Titans round out the top 15 despite moving down five spots from the last round of team rankings. It has more to do with the wins the teams above it have earned and not that Frontier has slipped in its level of play. The Titans took 3rd Place in the Atascadero Christmas Classic this past week with a win over the host team after suffering only its 2nd loss of the season to tournament champs Arroyo Grande. The lack of a signature win over one of the teams ahead of the Titans in this updated list is the main reason I moved it back a few spots. However, with league play and some Saturday showcases on its schedule, the Titans will have plenty of chances to earn quality wins and the potential to move up this list once it is updated again.
Central Grizzlies (Fresno CA) (9-6)
Dinuba Emperors (CA) (14-3)
Fresno Christian Eagles (10-4)
Liberty Patriots (Bakersfield CA) (8-5)
Tulare Western Mustangs (CA) (10-7)