5A BOYS SWEET 16 PREVIEW

These rounds in the Class 5A boys basketball bracket carry significant weight. A loss means more than giving up the court at lunch time and hoping for another turn.

No, these are the rounds of the Sweet 16. A loss means the next game will be next season. And a victory clinches a spot in the quarterfinals, a step closer to competing during the final week.

Play will resume on Wednesday with winners advancing to Saturday. Below are matchups with seeds in parenthesis:

(16) Eaglecrest at (1) Rock Canyon

The defending state champion Raptors (14-10) have been up and down all season, yet here they are. They haven’t won more than four games in a row and barely finished above .500 (8-6) in the Centennial League, but these guys will only go out swinging. New head coach Jarris Krapcha and seniors Branden Bunn (13.1 points) and Morgan Brown (10.2) head Eaglecrest. The Jaguars were the final in-state team to lose this season, winning 18 in a row, then dropping two-of-five games to end the regular season and finish third in the Continental. Keep this in mind about Rock Canyon — it had the crazy, winning finish a year ago against Grandview, lost by a point to eventual champion Eaglecrest in the semifinals and some team still has to stop super guard Sam Masten (22.3 points).

(9) Regis Jesuit at (8) Overland

It’s an all-Aurora matchup, another for the east side of the metropolitan area that remains in command of the big-school title. The Raiders (19-5), since losing consecutive games to ThunderRidge and Rock Canyon, have won nine-of-10 games, the lone setback being a wild 92-91 double-overtime loss. Jamil Safieddine (13.8 points), Sam Bannec (12.9) and Elijah Martinez (12.2) head Regis Jesuit scoring. Overland (15-9), as you may know, began the season 1-7 before a double-figure victory over Eaglecrest to open the Centennial sent them on a tear that also produced the league title. The Trailblazers are playing tremendous defense, probably the best in 5A. Daijon Smith (13.9 points) and Tucson Redding (13.4) head balanced scoring.

(13) Smoky Hill at (9) Denver East

Suburbs vs. city, respectively, always draws interest and there should be lots of it here. Arguably the most-interesting matchup of the bracket to date, the Buffaloes (17-7) have been enticing for a few seasons and here’s their chance to break through into the classification’s elite. Smoky Hill’s talent includes junior Kenny Foster (17.4 points), senior John Harge (13.0 points, 7.6 rebounds), sophomore Quinten Rock (12.4 points) and senior Will Becker (9.8 points, 10.2 rebounds). And if it seems the Angels (21-3) are always here, well, they are, regularly representing the city and seriously contending for the championship. Coach Rudy Carey’s latest group is topped by senior and University of Colorado signee Daylen Kountz (23.1 points) and junior Kwane Marble (16.4). And the East defense remains a factor.

(12) Liberty at (5) George Washington

The Lancers (18-6) have had an unusual season. Of their losses, three were to Rampart — still alive on the other side of the bracket — two were to Colorado Springs Metro champion Doherty (see below) and one to Rock Canyon (see above). Coach Ivan Chambers, who also headed strong girls teams at Air Academy, is riding the likes of senior Moz Doria (17.8 points, 7.1 rebounds). As for the Patriots (19-5), they have won the past four Denver Prep crowns, taken 32 city games in a row and were state runners-up a year ago. They have firepower, speed and quickness, and offer contrast — GW lost to Rock Canyon, Smoky Hill and ThunderRidge, but beat Overland, Chaparral, Regis Jesuit and Denver East. Xavier Cooper (12.7 points), Jon’ll Fugett (12.2) and Mohammed Diallo (10.2) lead the Pats’ scoring.

(18) Fruita Monument at (2) ThunderRidge

Fresh from an overtime victory on the road in Broomfield, the 5A/4A Southwestern champion Wildcats (18-7) haven’t played the greatest schedule (it was laced with non-5A foes) and their seed is the second-lowest still playing, but, hey, they’ll be ready in Highlands Ranch on Thursday. On a nine-game winning streak, a victory in the Sweet 16 would be about as memorable as it gets and a major boost for the Western Slope. Senior Daren Davison (13.7) leads Fruita Monument scoring. For the Grizzlies, they own the best record in 5A (23-1) as well as its top current winning streak (17 games). The Continental champions also are one of the favorites to take it all. Their one loss was to Chaparral, on Dec. 9. Senior Kaison Hammonds (16.1 points) leads the ThunderRidge scoring parade.

(23) Cherry Creek at (7) Doherty

Here’s where the Bruins’ schedule has come in handy — they have the lowest seed and given the Centennial a tie with the Continental for the most teams (five) still bidding for a title. Cherry Creek (15-10) may not have won more than three games in succession, but it knows how to scrap. Ten of its games have been decided by single digits. The quite quick and CU football signee Dimitri Stanley (12.1 points) tops Bruins scoring. The C.S. Metro champion Spartans (20-4) ran their local table (12-0) and three of their four losses were by three, two (in OT) and four points. Overall, Doherty is seeking Colorado Springs’ first big-school title since Palmer’s Terrors won in 2000. Kyrele Benford (13.5 points, 8.0 rebounds) paces Doherty, which has three others in double-figure scoring.

(14) Mountain Vista at (3) Chaparral

Coach Bob Wood has the Golden Eagles (15-9) on the trail again. They have won at least 15 games per season for the eighth consecutive time. Regular winners in basketball-crazed Highlands Ranch, a lot of their Continental schedule was heavily back-loaded, so they dropped three of their final four regular-season games, including to Regis Jesuit and ThunderRidge. Connor Staib (19.3) does the majority of Mountain Vista scoring. And there’s a real buzz around Chaparral (20-4), which has won 10 of its past 11 games. The Wolverines have already won their most games since their state-title season (25 in 2011-12) and are riding the hot hand of senior Ronnie DeGray (20.0 points, 6.6 rebounds). The Wolverines also won the league meeting, 65-51 on Jan. 12.

(11) Rampart at (3) Grandview

Coach J’on St. Clair has coached multiple Colorado Springs-area teams and his current Rams (18-6) have been drawing attention. Rampart has won nine of its past 10 games and finished runner-up in the C.S. Metro to Doherty. The Rams also have beaten Liberty three times (one of many in-state scheduling oddities). Meanwhile, the Wolves (20-4), who also squared off with Mullen three times, took second place in the Centennial behind Overland and are on a seven-game roll. The Wolves, 41-9 over two seasons, have enjoyed productive balance in their rotation. Junior Dayne Prim (13.2 points, 7.4 rebounds) leads Grandview in both categories.

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