With the football regular season in its home stretch it's time to look ahead to the upcoming roundball season.
The new playoff format instituted last year played out with many a hurt feelings as a number of highly regarded teams failed to make it to the "Big House" while many of the host teams took full advantage of playing in familiar surroundings to make an appearance in the "Big House".
This season promises to be quite interesting also as 6A and 5A boast a bevy of teams which appear equipped to make it to the "Big House" but on four can make it. While in the lower classes the depth doesn't seem to be quite as deep with a couple of teams looking like overwhelming favorites.
With a few exceptions the teams which are positioned in our preseason rankings are many of the same teams which finished last season in our final rankings. 10 out of the 13 teams in our preseason Power 13 were ranked in last season's final postseason Power 13. That leads to the question, "Which teams can rise up to challenge the status quo?"
(Last season's final record in parentheses)
1. Meridian (26-7) - Head Coach Randy Bolton and his Wildcats are the overwhelming choice for the No. 1 slot. Last year's 6A runners-ups return all of their key players lead by last year's MagnoilaPreps.com player of the year, 6'8" forward Rodney Hood. The Wildcats also return six other seniors who were key players in their run to the 6A championship game: 6'6" Post Sidney Coleman, 6'2" Guard Devin Cherry, 6'4" Forward Sherrod Smith, 5'9" Guard Nick Waters, 6'0" Guard Marcus Hurn and 6'0" Guard Matthew Hurn, as well as 6'0" Jr. Guard Lakendrick Sims.
2. Jackson Callaway (23-11) - The defending 5A state champs seem to be the best equipped team to challenge Meridian for the top spot. Head coach Wayne Brent's Chargers bring back a lot of experience and are led by 5'11" Guard Deville Smith, quite possibly the most clutch player in the state. Other experienced returnees include: 6'3" Jr. Forward Davion Smith, 6'4" Soph. Guard Dontarious Simmons, 6'7" Jr. Forward Terron Gilmore, 6'2" Sr. Forward Chris Walker, and 6'2" Jr. Guard Rakeem Esco. 6'3" Freshman Rod Smith should provide interior depth once he comes off of the football field and the Chargers will only get bigger when 6'8" Soph. Forward TreShawn Bolden becomes eligible at the end of the first semester.
3. Piney Woods (20-9) - Many may be surprised to see Piney Woods ranked this high, but Coach Lemuel Jones and his Tornadoes are an overwhelming favorite to take home the 2A state title and have as much talent as anyone in the state. The Tornados return 4 starters led by the dynamic senior duo of 6'2" Guard Xavian Rimmer and 6'7" Forward Kentwan Smith. 6'2" Sr. Guard Jamal Walker and 6'9" Sr. Forward Yvan Ngirabakunzi are the other returning starters who will be pushed by a trio of junior newcomers: 6'2" Guard Durell McDonald, 6'7" Forward Phillip Jones and 6'4" Forward Kenneth Taylor. 6'0" Sr. Guard Alijah Franklin provides depth.
4. Starkville (31-2) - Many may think the defending 6A and Overall state champs lost to much to be ranked this high but the Yellowjackets return a bevy of talented players who saw time last year. These returnees are lead by two of the top juniors in the state, 6'8" Jr. Center Gavin Ware and 5'10" Jr. Guard Jacolby Mobley, who many forget was the starting point guard during Starkville undefeated start to the season before being ruled ineligible for the second half of the season. 6'1" Sr. Guard Jaquez Johnson will give the Yellowjackets a third returning starter when he returns from the football field, while a quintet of juniors; 6'5" Forward Tory Rice, 6'5" Forward Calvin Young, 6'0" Jr. Guard Steven Brand and 5'9" Jr. Guard Michael Brand should be ready for significant roles.
5. St. Stanislaus (28-8) - Last year's 4A runners-ups have reloaded and appear to be an overwhelming favorite to take home Coach Jay Ladner's first gold ball. Returning starters, 5'8" Soph. Guard Nick Vazquez and 6'8" Sr. Forward Johnny Zuppardo, will be complimented by 6'6" Sr. Forward Daniel Grieves who returns to St. Stanislaus where he played his freshman and sophomore seasons before leaving to play for his father at St. Patricks last year, 6'5" Sr. Forward Davon Hayes, 6'0" Sr. Guard Will Reed, and 6'2" Soph. Guard Jackson Grieves, Daniel's younger brother.
6. Jackson Provine (23-8) - While not really sure what Coach Luther Riley's line-up will look like this season it's a given that the Rams will be one of the state's best. The returning trio of 6'3" Sr. Guard Jarvis Summers, 6'2" Sr. Guard Jarren Mallory, and 6'4" Soph. Forward Roger Woods insure that the Rams will be able to put plenty of points on the board. 6'5" Jr. Forward Marcus Hogan should hold down one of the other starting slots while the fifth starter and depth should be provided by this group: 6'2" Sr. Guard Marlon Wright, 5'11" Soph. Guard Courtney Shannon, 6'4" Soph. Forward Dontaveon Robinson and 6'0" Soph. Guard Sabastian Sanders.
7. Vicksburg (26-4) - Top players: Michael Ammons 6'6" Sr. Forward; Dominque Brown 5'11" Sr. Guard; Josh Gaskins 6'5" Sr. Forward; Rashad Gaines 6'0" Sr. Guard
8. Jackson Wingfield (30-1) - Top Players: Darius Forest 6'6" Sr. Forward; Cory Louie 6'4" Sr. Forward; Shelton Willis 6'1" Sr. Guard; Daveon Slaughter 6'4" Sr. Forward; JaMichael Hawkins 6'3" Sr. Guard
9. Jackson Lanier (18-8) - Top Players: Quentin Watkins 6'1" Sr. Guard; Greg Lee 5'9" Sr. Guard; Javerick Burrell 5'10" Jr. Guard
10. Biloxi (27-4) - Top Players: Cory Jackson 6'3" Sr. Forward; Curtis Haynes 6'2" Sr. Guard; Victor Vertison 6'6" Sr. Forward
11. Wayne County (24-3) - Top Players: Danta Pittman 5'11" Sr. Guard; Raeford Worsham 6'4" Jr. Forward
12. Ridgeland (23-9) - Top Players: LeAntwan Luckett 6'4" Sr. Guard; Donovan Ross 6'5" Sr. Forward; Jamal Hester 6'8" Jr. Center
13. McComb (26-6) - Top Players: Ladarius White 6'4" Sr. Guard; Tradarrius Holloway 6'5" Sr. Forward
6A teams to watch: In South 6A Brandon and Pascagoula both have the size to make some noise and maybe reach the "Big House", while Jim Hill and Harrison Central, Gulfport and Petal all appear dangerous, in the North, Olive Branch and Horn Lake both should still be quite formidable and Tupelo has the personnel to make a move.
5A teams to watch: In South 5A, Forest Hill is always in the mix while Picayune looks to be poised to return to contender status, St. Martin and Gautier both have the pieces to make a move, In the North, New Hope will try to maintain its position as one of the top teams in North 5A while Clarksdale, Indianola Gentry, Yazoo City and Oxford are always dangerous.
4A teams to watch: Bay High and Pass Christian promise to give St. Stanislaus plenty of competition near home, while Mendenhall and Raymond both have the personnel to come out of the South and laurel promises to be a sleeper, In the North, New Albany seems to be the team to beat with Rosa Fort, Center Hill, Yazoo County and Amanda Elzy all appear to be contenders.
3A teams to watch: Defending state champion Forest appears the team to beat but they promise to get competition down South from Kemper County, while Collins, Wilkinson County and Hazlehurst appear to be sleepers, in the North, Cleveland Eastside, Holly Springs, Tchula Marshall, Corinth and Aberdeen should battle it out for a trip to the "Big House".
2A teams to watch: Newton looks to be Piney Woods strongest challenger down south with Richton and Scott Central looking like contenders and you never count out Hinds AHS, in the North, Baldwyn and Calhoun City appear to be the top contenders while West Bolivar could still be a sleeper.
1A teams to watch: Okolona looks to be the class of the 1A ranks with Wheeler, Coldwater, Shaw and Myrtle all looking like contenders up North, Down South the dynamic duo of McAdams and Durant again appear to be the teams to beat with in region foe South Leake having the look of a sleeper.
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