The finish line to prep basketball’s regular season is within sight. It will reach a conclusion on Saturday evening.
Between now and then? There’s going to be a significant bit of jostling and elbowing, with teams angling for the best possible finish in the hopes of landing an invitation to next week’s slimmed down postseason party.
And the harsh truth is, when the music stops and teams go scrambling for a seat to this dance, there are simply not going to be enough chairs to go around.
This is where we should start today’s conversation.
Saturday night, when the New Mexico Activities Association announces the eight-team playoff fields in each of the 10 divisions (Classes 1A-5A for boys and girls), there is going to be considerable consternation from the outsiders.
Yes, next March, we expect to be back to 16-team fields, and a state tournament spread out over nine days, and a Pit pulsating with fan noise in that second week.
But COVID-19 forced the NMAA to cut basketball’s playoffs in half as it pertains to the number of state qualifiers. This guarantees that a large number of playoff-worthy boys and girls teams won’t be included.
Frankly, the odds of any one of these 10 classes having a bracket that features the actual top eight teams from the regular season are best described as slim. And even that might be optimistic.
The odds that all 10 brackets will have the top eight in the postseason are ZERO.
Having said that, this doesn’t mean we won’t have an abundance of outstanding and memorable state tournament basketball when the playoffs begin early next week. It’s just that a majority of it will occur away from the Pit, at home and neutral sites for the quarterfinals and semifinals. The NMAA is expected to make an announcement regarding the postseason format on Monday.
So how will the NMAA go about choosing the top eight? It’s relatively straightforward.
District champions earn an automatic bid, as always. In the event of a first-place tie, point differential will be applied. There are no district tournaments or first-place tiebreaking games this spring.
Starting with the Class 5A boys, all five districts could conceivably finish the week with a first-place tie, and what a wonderfully chaotic scenario that would present for the NMAA.
Let’s use District 1-5A as an example. Cleveland and Atrisco Heritage each have one loss, having split their two matchups after the Jaguars upset the top-ranked Storm on Friday night.
If both of them finish the regular season with a single loss, Cleveland gets the automatic bid to state because the Storm has a seven-point win over Atrisco Heritage and a two-point loss. And so on.
If all five of the boys 5A districts ended with a first-place tie, that would ensure that at least two of the 10 with a share of first wouldn’t advance to state.
There are a limited number of at-large slots available. In 5A, there are 28 schools. Subtract the five district champions, and eliminate the teams whose district placements/records aren’t going to be sufficient, and you’ll have maybe half a dozen teams fighting over three at-large bids.
Class 4A is tighter, with 29 teams and six districts, leaving only two at-large bids. And Class 1A takes it a step further, with 33 schools and seven districts, so just a single at-large bid.
Obviously, resumes will carry more weight than usual when the NMAA tries to sift through the team candidates. One thing seems relatively certain — teams on the bubble must frantically attempt to finish no lower than second place in their district. Hard to imagine third-place teams being chosen.
If there is an exception, it might be the District 2-5A girls, where four teams are ranked in MaxPreps.com’s top 10. We’ll see.
Whatever might happen come Saturday night, for now, on the bright side, all the dreamers in New Mexico still have one more week to lock up that chair.