The five county teams with the best postseason chances

Published 4:45 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Spain Park's Austin Wiley has the Jaguars in prime position to potentially claim a 7A state title this season. (File)

Spain Park’s Austin Wiley has the Jaguars in prime position to potentially claim a 7A state title this season. (File)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor 

In December and January, there are about a billion basketball games happening every night across the state, give or take a few. That makes it pretty tough to get a good, accurate snapshot of where teams stand in relation to each other on any given day. But, with the area tournaments looming just a few weeks away, it’s important to have an idea of which teams to keep an eye on for a potential postseason run. This week, we’re taking a look at the top five boys teams primed for playoff success, and next week we’ll look at the five girls teams who could get the job done.

Note: This is not particularly a reflection of the five best teams in the county, rather a look at the five teams with the best chance to go the farthest in the playoffs. This is also reflective of a snapshot in time. It’s very possible a team outside of this group of five will get hot and make some noise as well.


1. Spain Park

Hot take alert. Spain Park is most assuredly the top boys team in the county, and probably across the whole state. If the Jaguars, currently ranked as the top 7A team in Alabama, don’t lose another game all season and win the 7A state title, no one would or should be all that surprised. Team is a freaking juggernaut. The Jaguars have three guys in Austin Wiley, Jamal Johnson and Justin Brown capable of taking over a game at any moment, and there are few prep players across the country who can body up the six-foot-10-inch, five-star Auburn commit Wiley. As long as this team stays healthy they will be the frontrunners to claim the 7A title.


2. Vincent

The Yellow Jackets are not the second-best team in the county straight up. They’re just not. Vincent was doubled up by Oak Mountain in the Shelby County Tournament in a game where the Yellow Jackets’ lack of depth showed itself to be the issue head coach John Hadder hopes it will not be down the stretch. However, Vincent is currently the No. 2 team in class 2A and sports a 16-4 record, with its only losses coming at the hands of schools twice to four times its size. Hadder always seems to have Vincent humming at the right time in mid-late February, and although this might be his thinnest team in years, as long as big man EJ Datcher is healthy, this squad has a great chance to make it back to Birmingham once again.


3. Montevallo

Montevallo is the fourth-smallest school currently in class 4A. The Bulldogs lost eight seniors off of last year’s team, a massive number for a school of their size, and five of those seniors contributed meaningful minutes. This current group is not particularly big and does not rebound the basketball at a very efficient clip, either. However, Montevallo also has more natural athleticism in the school right now than it has in a while. Tae’ Smith and Tavarus Hall are two of the purest scorers in the county and can create offense for themselves and teammates effortlessly. Combined with a strong supporting cast headlined by Undreaz Lilly, Ahmad Edwards, Jared Yancey and Jamal Figueroa, this team has all the pieces necessary to make a run. Currently 17-5 and ranked as the No. 4 team in 4A, head coach Gregory Dickinson has confidence this group is special. Time will tell if he’s right.


4. Pelham

Outside of maybe only Wiley from Spain Park, Pelham has the best individual player in the county in Alex Reese, which is enough to get them on this list. Pelham, like Vincent, is not a deep team, but having a guy capable of going off for almost 50 (he got 47 against John Carroll earlier this week) on any given night generally makes up for most depth issues. This Panther team does have other pieces, like Mitchell Rottier and Justin Allison, to help take the load off of Reese at times, however there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind this team is going as far as Reese will take it. Which could be pretty freaking far for the current No. 4 team in class 6A.


5. Oak Mountain

Yep. That’s right. The Eagles made the cut. Oak Mountain had won eight of its last 10 as of Jan. 13, and was on the wrong side of a last-second three against Hoover on Jan. 12 which would have kept this group perfect in area play. The Eagles have beaten area rival Thompson twice this season, and Chris Love has coached this squad to three regular season tournament championships as well. This Eagles group, headlined by Payton Youngblood, Gabe Haynes and Will Stephenson simply does not make many mistakes and has a knack for making big plays when needed. Also playing to the Eagles’ advantage is the fact that even if they finish as runners up in Area 5, they will be matched up with the winner of Area 8, which is made up of Bob Jones, Hazel Green, Sparkman and James Clemens, none of which are a juggernaut by any stretch.


The next tier below these five currently would be Helena, Thompson and Briarwood, all of whom could catch fire and make a run as well.