02/03/04 — Who's in? Who's out?

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Who's in? Who's out?

By David Williams
Published in Sports on February 3, 2004 2:00 PM

With the beginning of February, the first symptoms of March Madness usually begin to be noticed. Chief among those ailments is the age-old question -- "will they or won't they?"

With two weeks left in the prep basketball season, let's try to answer that question -- wherever it applies.

* Will they make the playoffs?

A definite yes for the boys teams from Eastern Wayne and Spring Creek, and to the girls from Goldsboro, Charles B. Aycock, Rosewood and North Lenoir. More qualified responses to the other candidates follow.

Southern Wayne's boys -- The Saints are playing smart ball right now and could easily finish in third place in the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference and get a safe playoff spot. But they have to get through tough games with South Central and Washington to lock up the spot, as well as take care of business when Goldsboro comes to Dudley and the Saints go to Pikeville for a date with Aycock.

Charles B. Aycock's boys/Goldsboro's boys -- Both teams need to run the table to have a legitimate shot at the last playoff spot, but Goldsboro still has to host Kinston and Eastern Wayne and Aycock will need a big effort against the Warriors and the Saints to have any chance.

North Lenoir's boys/Greene Central's boys -- Four teams from the Eastern Plains 2-A Conference will go, but neither the Rams nor the the Hawks can afford to come out flat on any night. The margin for error is small in a six-team league. North Lenoir definitely has the talent to make the playoffs and get all the way to Greenville, but they will face more stiff tests in the EPC -- and Greene Central is looking like a playoff-caliber team right now. The matchup between the two teams in Snow Hill tonight is a huge one.

North Johnston's boys/Rosewood's boys/North Duplin's boys -- the Carolina 1-A Conference will send four teams to postseason. Three of those teams should be Ayden-Grifton, Spring Creek and Farmville Central -- that trio has a two-game lead right now at the top of the conference. So matchups involving the second three -- like Rosewood's date at North Duplin and North Johnston's visit to Rosewood -- will tell this tale.

Eastern Wayne's girls -- the Lady Warriors have played themselves back into position for a playoff spot, but cannot afford a slip down the stretch against teams below them in the standings. An upset of Kinston or Aycock wouldn't hurt, either.

Southern Wayne's girls -- the Lady Saints need to run the table for a serious hope at fifth place -- and still have to face Goldsboro and Aycock.

Greene Central's girls -- if they stay ahead of South Lenoir, they're in -- simple as that.

Spring Creek's girls/North Johnston's girls/North Duplin's girls -- This is three teams battling for third and fourth place, but the Lady Rebels are going to need to beat the Lady Gators and the Lady Panthers to be in contention. Both teams already have wins over North Duplin, and tie-breakers will not help the Lady Rebels right now, if it comes down to that.

Next question?

Will they make the regionals?

Eastern Wayne's boys -- an intriguing question. The Warriors can play with anyone -- a quick, talented team that believes in itself. The big obstacle in the road is the bracket -- the conference's No. 1 and 2 seeds would play each other for the right to make the regionals. So the bottom line is that Eastern Wayne, somewhere down the line, will have to beat Kinston. Their next meeting is Feb. 12 in Kinston -- where the Vikings have never lost under coach Wells Gulledge.

Spring Creek's boys -- Coach Sonny Kilpatrick has done a great job with the Gators in his first season. The playoff path is not bad as the Carolina Conference's 1 or 2 seed, but the big thing for Spring Creek is to win a playoff game -- and two good Gator teams in the past have failed to do it.

Goldsboro's girls -- no one in the 3-A ranks has been even close to the Lady Cougars. I said in December that Goldsboro's girls are the best team in the area, and I stand by that now. The biggest problem that hinders a back-to-back trip to Greenville is having faced a lack of quality competition -- and that's not a major hurdle.

Charles B. Aycock's girls -- The Falcons are a nicely-blended squad that should give a lot of teams trouble. But the Lady Falcons face the same problem the Eastern Wayne boys face -- the conference's top two seeds would meet in the sectional finals. So Aycock would have to beat Goldsboro for the regional spot -- and that's a monumental task.

Rosewood's girls -- The Lady Eagles are proving themselves the surprise team of the season, a gritty defensive club that uses their height and quickness to every advantage. As a one or two seed, it's certainly possible to get there, but Rosewood may run into experienced playoff teams that can handle the pressure. Beating Farmville and taking the conference title would go a long way to proving themselves worthy of a regional spot.

North Lenoir's girls -- the Lady Hawks live and die on pressure defense, and when they face a team with guards that do not fold under the heat, they become an easier team to compete with. If North Lenoir can come up with a second answer for teams capable of breaking the press, they may get to Greenville.

Finally, the big question --

Will Goldsboro's girls get to the state championship?

The team was two steps away last year when a good Rockingham County team outlasted the Lady Cougars. Only one player is missing from that team, and they added depth in the guards and an additional post weapon in Jessica Faison. If there is a 3-A team in the east to compete with them, I don't know who they are. If they take care of their own challenges, they would be a favorite to get to the state title game.

Will Goldsboro's girls win the state title?

Let's not get ahead of ourselves -- not that far ahead, anyway.