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Liberty head coach Brandon White speaks to his players during a timeout against Plaquemine, Tuesday, February 9, 2021, at Liberty High School in Baton Rouge, La.

And so it begins again. The LHSAA released its boys basketball playoff pairings Monday.

Yes, this is Louisiana where football is certainly king. But never underestimate the power of high school boys basketball in Baton Rouge. It has its own rich tradition.

Think back to the Baton Rouge High teams, including the ones led by Bob Pettit, and those great Redemptorist teams of the 1970s and 1980s.

There are so many questions about high school sports in 2021, thanks to COVID-19. My hope is that for the next couple of weeks the focus will only be on which teams win titles.

The conversation about top local teams to watch starts with Division I Scotlandville (25-3) and Class 3A Madison Prep (19-4). Yes, they are No. 1 seeds again.

Scotlandville has played in an LHSAA title game in either 5A or Division I each year since 2010. MPA has excelled in several classes since winning a Class B title in 2013.

But the conversation does not end with the Hornets and the Chargers. Any guesses as to who might be next on the list in terms of LHSAA tourney productivity?

If your answer is Division II top seed University High (25-4), you are correct.

The Cubs advanced to the 2A semifinals in 2013 and then won LHSAA three straight titles in 3A. Since then, they have three runner-up finishes in Division II and one semifinal berth.

Sitting on the opposite end of the bracket is the team they lost two in the title game last year, No. 2 St. Thomas More (27-4). Of course, top-seeded Jehovah-Jireh (17-14) has a string of Division V titles and could meet district rival Family Christian (25-13), the No. 2 seed. FCA beat the Warriors last month.

And speaking of No. 2s, defending champions Port Allen (13-7) of 2A and The Dunham School (15-11) Division III, are second seeds facing familiar and lofty challenges. Newman is the top seed in Division III, while Rayville grabbed the No. 1 seed in 2A.

In Class 1A, never underestimate White Castle (19-7), a No. 3 seed. Southern Lab (18-9) is seeded fourth in Division IV.

But there is always more to the story than just the basketball brand names you always think of.

What about Zachary (21-6)? The Broncos grabbed the No. 3 seed in Class 5A the year after breaking through to advance to the quarterfinals.

In Division II, third-seeded Liberty (18-9) had some wins over notable opponents, including one over Scotlandville. No. 5 St. Michael (14-5) is another Division II team to watch.

Several of the top teams have had COVID-19 quarantines. The fact Catholic High (15-9) and McKinley (14-5) both sat out later in the season might have them flying just a bit under the radar in Division I.

News that Peabody, the Alexandria power and defending Class 4A champion, is missing the playoffs for the first time since 1987 because of forfeits involving ineligible players sent shockwaves across the state.

I agree that Class 4A is now the toughest to predict because two top teams, Peabody and Opelousas, are sidelined by LHSAA sanctions. But there are plenty of other scenarios.

About six weeks ago, a local coach sent me a text that pondered some of the possibilities. He speculated that maybe eight or nine local teams could make the LHSAA tourney. There could even be a Cinderella story … think Brusly last year in 3A.

I responded, saying I would not be surprised. I never am. Baton Rouge is many things, including the best basketball city some people overlook.


Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com