Central Section, CA – The regular season and league play are halfway over and the Saturday showcase events have wrapped up for the 2023-2024 season. There are two weeks left of league play and playoff positioning is starting to unfold. There have been some huge games over the past few weeks with some key games still left to decide the outcome of the regular season. Therefore, it is an ideal time of the basketball season to update my team rankings. Over the past few weeks St. Joseph has continued to roll, Clovis North earned a big win over Clovis West to grab hold of 1st place in the TRAC, Centennial of Bakersfield has solidified itself as the top team in the South Valley with a win over Bakersfield Christian, Logan Kilbert of Sierra has set the all-time career scoring record at over 3,000 points and counting, and North Bakersfield is the hottest team in the Section. Edison has dropped out of this list after a rough month but still has time to get back on track, and unfortunately, injuries have impacted certain teams. 

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 third 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. The Knights of St. Joseph retain the top spot and junior standout Tounde Yessoufou continues to put up ridiculous scoring and rebounding numbers. I will update this list at the end of the regular season in two weeks. 

1. (1) St. Joseph Knights (Santa Maria CA) (21-2)

The Knights remain at the top of my team rankings, as St. Joseph has rolled through league play and earned some significant non-league wins since the last round of team rankings in early January. The Knights have only lost one game since the start of the new year, which was a one-point loss to CalHi’s #5 ranked Roosevelt of Eastvale at the Take Flight Challenge at Redondo Union High School on January 6th. The Knights got a big comeback win over CalHi’s #12 ranked Branson of Ross, CA by a score of 69 to 66 after trailing by as many as 14 points at the De La Salle MLK Showcase on January 15th. Later that week, the Knights traveled to Alaska for the Alaska Airlines Classic, where it steam rolled its way to the championship trophy behind standout junior Tounde Yessoufou’s monster 42-point game to cap off the tournament. Although it seems pretty clear to most, if not all, people that have seen St. Joseph play in person that it should be the top seed in the Central Section, MaxPreps rankings has the Knights currently at the #2 seed behind Clovis North. Given the weakness of the Central Coast Mountain League compared to those of the TRAC and CMAC, the Knights strength of schedule measure will likely fall over the next few weeks, which would make it hard to retake the top seed unless Clovis North has a stumble outside its final regular season game against Clovis West. But this is the determining system and computers seem to be the way to go despite what any scout or basketball analyst has seen first hand. The Knights continue to be led by Yessoufou and sophomore sensation Julius Price, but others like sophomore Abdoul Bare, freshman Malcolm Price, and others have been key in the outstanding run St. Joseph has had to date and why I kept them at the top spot. The Knights are currently ranked #8 by CalHi Sports and the highest ranked team from the Central Section. 

2. (3) Clovis North Broncos (Fresno CA) (20-5)

Moving up one spot and coming in at #2 is the Broncos of Clovis North, who look to be one of the hottest teams in the Central Section at the time of this writing. The Broncos are riding an 11-game winning streak and have not lost since the Classic at Damien Tournament to CalHi’s #19 Windward of Los Angeles back in late December. Since the start of the New Year, Clovis West has remained undefeated in TRAC league play with a huge win over rival Clovis West last Tuesday, January 23rd, as well as wins over Vanden of Fairfield and Jesuit of Sacramento. The Broncos have been led by standout senior Connor Amundsen, who has been making statement after statement this season, as was evident in his 36-point performance in the win over Clovis West. MaxPreps currently has Clovis North as the #1 seed in the Central Section with its win over the Golden Eagles, and even if it were to lose to Clovis West to wrap up TRAC league play and win all its other remaining games, based on its strength of schedule, which is tops in the Section, it should hold on to this top seed. However, given what I have seen from both the Knights of St. Joseph and the Broncos this season, I cannot move Clovis North above the Knights. There is a lack of common opponents for these two teams, but Clovis North lost to St. John Bosco who lost to Roosevelt of Eastvale in the Classic at Damien Championship, and the Knights led Roosevelt for nearly the entire game before falling by 1-point. CalHi has the Broncos ranked #25 but will likely move up when those rankings are updated this week. 

3. (2) Clovis West Golden Eagles (Fresno CA) (20-5)

The Golden Eagles move down one spot and come in at #3 in this updated round of team rankings. Clovis West closed out December strong at the Visit Mesa Basketball Challenge, and Similar to the Broncos, the Golden Eagles have had their way with its opponents in TRAC league play leading up to the first match-up against Clovis North. The winner would make it easy for me to slot them appropriately, and the Golden Eagles did fall in that game by a score of 79 to 67. The Golden Eagles also lost to Redwood of Larkspur in Sheldon of Sacramento’s showcase on January 13th, which is a team I have seen and felt Clovis West should have won. Clovis West will have a chance to avenge its loss to the Broncos and split the TRAC title for a second consecutive season, which will be played in the always tough Eagles Nest. CalHi had the Golden Eagles ranked #17 in its last round of team rankings but that will change with the loss to Clovis West, so I am curious to see if it stays in the top 25. 

4. (4) Centennial Golden Hawks (Bakersfield CA) (19-6)

The Golden Hawks have won 9 of its last 10 games with its only loss in that span coming last Saturday, January 20th, to Maranatha of Pasadena. Centennial remains undefeated in league play and earned a huge win over Bakersfield Christian on Saturday, January 27th, by a score of 73 to 62 in a battle for the top team in the Southern portion of the Central Section (South Valley). The Golden Hawks dominated the boards, as has been its recipe for success all season, 49 to 22 against the Eagles and pushed the lead to nearly 20 in the 3rd quarter. I have the Golden Hawks at the #4 spot because it has been one of the most consistent teams in the Section, its veteran roster of core players being seniors and juniors, a big and physical team that imposes its will on opponents, and one of the best players in the Section in standout senior Rippen Gill that has come up big time and again this season. Centennial has a big game this week against rival Liberty of Bakersfield, where the underachieving Patriots have the talent and need to get a quality win as bad as anyone in the Section. The one thing that has not been favorable for the Golden Hawks in the MaxPreps rankings is strength of schedule, but it should end up with a top 8 seed and at least one home game in the playoffs, where Centennial has come up short the past 3 years with favorable seeding. 

5. (7) Bullard Knights (Fresno Ca) (18-7)

The Knights of Bullard move up two spots to #5 in this updated list and have been hot, winning 8 of its last 9 games, with the only loss coming at the hands of Weston Ranch of Stockton at the Crush in the Valley Showcase on January 20th. The Knights took control of 1st place in the CMAC league with an impressive 1-point win over rival San Joaquin Memorial on January 23rd, as standout sophomore Dalen Felder hit the game winning shot to end the Panthers long standing home winning streak of 17 games. The Knights also put a beat down on Edison of Fresno the previous Friday, January 19th, and gutted out a comeback win at Sanger on Friday to remain undefeated in league. Despite being 1st place in the CMAC and some impressive wins, I kept Bullard behind Centennial due to the unfortunate turn of events in the win over Sanger, as the engine of the team, standout sophomore Ja’Vance Coleman Jr., suffered what looks to be a season ending injury. Coleman has been the focal point of Bullard’s success this season and, although still lots of talent on the roster, the absence of the sensational lead guard will make it tough to remain undefeated in league and the main reason I kept the Knights out of the top 4. However, Felder, Jaleel Jackson, Kyshawn Johnson, Sean Smith-Sharkey, and the rest of the squad have enough talent to keep winning and earn a top 8 seed for the playoffs. 

6. (5) San Joaquin Memorial Panthers (Fresno CA) (15-9)

The Panthers move down one spot and come in at #6. San Joaquin has been hit with injuries throughout the season and, with a young roster, has led to a choppy season that has seen some highs and some lows. At the first annual Coastal Catholic Classic at Crypto Arena, the Panthers got a solid win over St. Bernard of Playa del Rey by a score of 79 to 73. Three days later, San Joaquin dropped the league opener to Edison of Fresno. After winning its next three league games, which included a 20-point win over Sanger, the Panthers would lose a tough fought game against CalHi’s #35 Modesto Christian at the Pagmeter Showcase at Fresno Christian High School. In a game that would give the Panthers a chance to pull into a two-way tie with the Knights, San Joaquin lost on a buzzer beater to Bullard. Then, on Friday, January 26th, the Panthers would avenge its loss to Edison with a buzzer beater of their own from freshman Ty Schalk to keep its chance of a league title still in grasp. The Panthers will get back standout sophomore Parker Spees to start the postseason, as he has been out with an ankle injury. Dre Davis was out a game or two due to family issues, and Julius Olanrewaju has battled some minor things but has been playing the best basketball of his high school career the past two weeks. Despite the youth and the ups and downs of the season, San Joaquin has the talent, size, and experienced coaching staff to make noise in the playoffs but need to end the season off on a hot streak. 

7. (12) Buchanan Bears (Clovis CA) (18-5)

The Bears make the biggest jump in this updated list and makes its first appearance in the top 10 at #7. The Bears have been accumulating wins all season, but the concern from people like myself has been its strength of schedule, with its biggest wins coming against Central of Fresno and Clovis High. However, this past Tuesday, January 23rd, Buchanan got a quality win over Clovis East by a score of 65 to 50. MaxPreps had Clovis East ranked as high as #4 going into that game and have been in my top 10 almost all season long. The Bears have good size, quality guard play, and a young but rapidly improving squad, as it has not started a senior all season long. The only losses the Bears have in TRAC league play to this point are at the hands of Clovis North and Clovis West, who have defeated everyone else in their league besides West losing to North. If Buchanan can stay at the 3rd place team in the TRAC by season end, it is in good position to get a top 8 seed depending on how some other teams finish out in their respective leagues. 

8. (8) Clovis East Timberwolves (CA) (15-9)

The Timberwolves hold serve at the #8 spot in this updated list, despite the loss to Buchanan last week. Clovis East bounced back from its loss to Buchanan to give Clovis North a tough game but fell short 71 to 58. The Timberwolves get another crack at Clovis West on Tuesday and need to run the tables, even if it loses to the Golden Eagles, in order to stay in the top 8 for a chance at a home game in the first round of the playoffs. The biggest thing in the favor of Clovis East is the MaxPreps rankings, which still had the Timberwolves at #4 after its loss to Buchanan. Its strength of schedule is very high but I do not see the quality wins to give it such a high seed. Clovis East does have wins over Sanger and Arroyo Grande and won one of the lower divisions at the Tarkanian Classic, but losses to Bullard, Buchanan make it a bit confusing. Nevertheless, the Timberwolves have depth, a nice blend of talented youth and battle tested veterans, and play great team ball. 

9. (6) Bakersfield Christian Eagles (CA) (14-10)

The Eagles slide down 3 spots and land at #9 in this round of team rankings. Similar to San Joaquin Memorial, the Eagles have had a season with some big highs, as well as some down moments or tough losses. Bakersfield Christian has played one of the toughest schedules in the Section, as has become the norm. The Eagles started the new year off with a loss to Folsom at the Capital Christian Showcase in Sacramento. Then, Bakersfield Christian rolled off seven wins in a row and are undefeated in league. Despite the wins, there were some close calls against teams like Garces Memorial of Bakersfield and South Bakersfield, which are solid teams but not on the same level as the Eagles the last half a decade. Saturday, January 27th, would pit the top two teams in the South Valley against each other, as Bakersfield Christian would take on Centennial of Bakersfield. This game was primed for the Eagles to remind opponents it ruled the Southern part of the Section. However, the Golden Hawks took the lead early and never surrendered it despite the explosive play of junior standout Gabe Gutierrez and senior standout Bentley Waller, who combined to score 51 of the teams 62 points. The Eagles are in the driver’s seat to go undefeated in league and will have a chance to be a top 8 seed for the playoffs and get at least one home game. Despite the loss to Centennial and times where there have been some struggles with multiple freshmen getting significant playing time, Bakersfield Christian is a team that none of the top teams will want to face, as was evident last season with the upset win over Clovis North in the quarterfinals at their gym. 

10. (10) Arroyo Grande Eagles (CA) (20-6)

Rounding out the top 10 and holding its spot at #10 is Arroyo Grande. The Eagles have defeated everyone in league play besides St. Joseph, who beat Arroyo Grande by 40+ points in their first match-up. The Eagles have not played in any Saturday showcases during the month of January but have won 11 of its last 12 games. Arroyo Grande will likely finish out in 2nd place behind the Knights and the defending Division 2 Section champs will be in Division 1 for this years playoffs, with it looking like it will be on the road, with MaxPreps currently slotting the Eagles at #10. The Eagles have quality guard play, shoot the ball well, but lack the height and depth to be a serious threat to any of the top 4 teams but could upset the other 5 teams ahead of Arroyo Grande. 

11. (13) North Bakersfield Stars (CA) (19-5)

The Stars move up two spots to #11 and are riding a 15-game winning streak, as the hottest team in the Section. The Stars got a big SYL-Mountain league win over South Bakersfield last Tuesday, January 23rd, in overtime to put themselves in the driver’s seat to win its league. Although the Stars may not have the most rigorous schedule of the teams on this list, North just keeps on winning, which is why I have moved the Stars up ahead of some teams with a better strength of schedule. North has been led by senior forward Nate Becerra, junior Wyatt Haner, and currently the top freshman in the South Valley, point guard Ethan Saenz. The Stars will likely be in the Division 3 playoffs and currently would have one of the top seeds. 

12. (11) Sanger Apaches (CA) (14-9)

The Apaches move back one spot to #12 and seemed to have gotten back on track after a tough 3-game losing streak the first half of the month and have won 3-straight and nearly knocked off the top team in the CMAC in Bullard Friday night, January 26th. The Apaches have a tough week of games and look to get its 2nd win over Edison of Fresno and avenge a loss to San Joaquin Memorial. The Apaches have been led by juniors Caleb Ramirez and Micah Cole, and senior Nolan Willison, as well as a veteran roster around those three that have played a tough schedule and look to be trending up where it was when it won the Clovis Elks Tournament at the end of December. 

13. (HM) Dinuba Emperors (CA) (21-3)

The Emperors move back into the top 15 and land at #13 in this updated list. The Emperors are currently on a 9 game winning streak and have command of the West Yosemite League with a 6-0 record to date. Dinuba has been led by seniors Javier Torres and Brice Watley with a solid supporting cast. The Emperors have a big game this week against Lemoore and currently look to be the top seed in the Division 2 Section playoffs. 

14. (NR) Sierra Chieftains (Tollhouse CA) (16-8)

Sierra was in the top 15 of the preseason list of teams but I dropped it out by the next round. However, after seeing the Chieftains earn wins over Edison of Fresno at the Sanger Central Valley Showdown in early January and again in a win over Kingsburg at the Pagmeter Showcase at Fresno Christian, I have moved Sierra back into the top 15 at the # spot. Sierra has been led by senior standout and the Section’s all-time scoring leader Logan Kilbert. The Chieftains have a solid supporting cast with some size and shot making ability to give Sierra a more well rounded team than last year’s Division 3 runner ups. Sierra will have a shot to get back to that championship game, as the Chieftains are slotted in the D3 playoff picture. 

15. (NR) Redwood Rangers (Visalia CA) (17-8)

Rounding out the top 15 and making its debut on this list is Redwood at #15. The Rangers have a firm hold on the East Yosemite League currently undefeated at 6-0 and have won 12 of its last 13 games with the only loss over that span coming at the hands of North Bakersfield. The Rangers have been led by junior power forward Cole Gilcrest and freshman sensation Zander Jensen. Redwood has the size and shooting to compete in the Division 2 playoffs and, despite being a freshman, Jensen has the skill and shot making ability to lead this team in the postseason. 

Honorable Mention

Frontier Titans (Bakersfield CA) (18-6)

Garces Memorial Rams (Bakersfield CA) (13-11)

Hoover Patriots (Fresno CA) (14-9)

Lemoore Tigers (CA) (17-8)

Roosevelt Rough Riders (Fresno CA) (12-11)