Rod Walker: Breaking down the girls basketball playoff bracket _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER -- Easton's Kiana Anderson (4) attempts to block a shot by Karr's Destiny Collins (23) during the first half of the Karr vs. Warren Easton high school girls basketball game at Karr High School in New Orleans on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

The road to Hammond begins this week as girls basketball teams from all across the state begin their runs to state championships.

The LHSAA released the brackets on Monday.

Here’s a look at some of the top storylines heading into the tournament:

At the top

Mandeville has been one of the top teams all season, reeling off 24 straight victories to start the season before finally losing to Ponchatoula. Led by senior guard Elise Reilly, the Skippers will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in Class 5A.

But as Mandeville coach Melissa Weinmunson is quick to point out, there are no guarantees just because her team is the top seed.

“No. 1 doesn’t mean anything in the playoffs,” said Weinmunson, in her fourth season at Mandeville. “We took care of business in the first season, but now it’s win or go home. We’re not ranked anymore. We have to now play every game like it’s our last.”

Mandeville opens the playoffs Thursday against No. 32 seed East Ascension.

Best first-round matchup

No. 19 Slidell at No. 14 Ponchatoula: The District 6-5A opponents meet for a third time this season. Ponchatoula is the defending 5A state champion and showed how good it was when it gave Mandeville its only loss. It will be the third meeting of the season between Ponchatoula and Slidell. Each team won on its home court, and now Slidell has to find a way to win on the road to keep its season alive.

Runner-up goes Hannan at Riverside: Hannan is the No. 17 seed in Class 2A, while Riverside is the No. 16 seed.

Best second-round matchup

If No. 7 Warren Easton and No. 10 Cabrini both win their openers, the two New Orleans schools would meet in the second round of the 4A playoffs. The teams have been ranked all season in The New Orleans Advocate Super 10 and could clash in a pivotal game.

Cabrini was considered a favorite to get to Hammond but had a setback two weeks ago when Rakell Spencer, a Texas A&M signee, tore her ACL in a game against Ursuline Academy. With the girl nicknamed “Queen,” the Crescents looked like a serious contender. Without her, it will be a lot tougher, especially having to get past Easton.

Best chance for an upset

Landry-Walker: The Charging Buccaneers are about as dangerous of a No. 18 seed as you’ll find. They have just three in-state losses, including a pair to Easton. Landry-Walker treks to No. 15 Zachary in the first round.

Best player

Destrehan’s Cara Ursin was named Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year last season and the Wildcats are the No. 6 seed in 5A. She has done everything in her career except lead her team to a state title after coming close the past two seasons. Can she get Destrehan over the hump this year?

Best feel-good story

Salmen had adversity at the beginning of the season, leading to several players being removed from the team. But despite being short in numbers, the Spartans have scrapped their way to the No. 17 seed in Class 4A. Kalani Brown is now at Baylor, but that hasn’t stopped Salmen from having a solid season.

Hottest team

Mount Carmel has been on fire since January. The Cubs have won 14 of their last 15 games and are peaking at the right time under first-year coach Jamie Thomatis. Don’t be surprised if they are hoisting a state championship trophy the first weekend in March. Also watch out for Karr and Easton in Class 4A.

Mount Carmel is a No. 2 seed in 5A. Karr is a No. 4 seed in 4A.

But of course, seeds mean nothing this time of year.

It’s playoff time.