The lineup: Brunswick, Camden County, Coffee, Colquitt County, Lowndes, Tift County, Valdosta
Teams to watch: Tift County, Valdosta, Brunswick, Coffee
Players to watch: Brannen Greene, 6-7 guard, Tift County; Tadric Jackson, 6-2 guard, Tift County; Marquice Jones, 5-10 guard, Brunswick; Rashad Lewis, 5-9 guard, Valdosta; Brandon Roe, 6-2 guard, Coffee; Rashad Thomas, 6-3 forward, Coffee
Strength of region: 2
Last season: Tift County (20-8) beat eventual Class AAAAA champion Milton in December and was ranked throughout the season but faded, losing to Valdosta (23-6) in the region final, then to Westlake in the first round of the playoffs. No schools in this region advanced past the second round.
The skinny: Tift County returns its five starters, including region player-of-the-year Jackson. But the big news was the off-season transfer of forward Greene from Mary Persons. Considered by many the top senior prospect in Georgia, Greene averaged 24.5 points and 14 rebounds as a junior. Tift also has Donnell Tuff, who got some all-state recognition last season. Brunswick (23-7) moves up from AAAA. Valdosta won 1-AAAAA last season and has averaged 22 wins the past five seasons. Lowndes has three starters back from a team that lost to M.L. King in three overtimes in the first round.
Teams that could win state: Tift County
The lineup: Alcovy, Druid Hills, Lovejoy, Luella, Morrow, Newton, Rockdale County
Teams to watch: Alcovy, Lovejoy, Luella, Newton, Rockdale County
Players to watch: TeMarcus Blanton, 6-4 guard, Luella; Dante Ottley, 6-9 forward, Morrow; Justin Wallace, 6-5 forward, Alcovy; Clarence Williams, 6-8 forward, Druid Hills; Carren ‘’C.J.’’ Wilson, 5-10 guard, Rockdale County
Strength of region: 3
Last season: Alcovy (27-4) and Lovejoy (24-6) made the quarterfinals in AAAA, and Rockdale County (20-9) made the second round. Newton (19-7) and Luella (17-9) were upset in the region playoffs. Druid Hills (17-8) and Morrow (12-14) were competitive in tough regions.
The skinny: Underrated is the best word. No dominant team here, but five of the seven made the state playoffs last year. Using the past six years of scores, the Maxwell Ratings rank this as the best region in the state. That’s because every program has enjoyed some recent success, and there is no soft underbelly that weighs down most regions. Luella has perhaps the best player in Blanton, who has 10 college offers as a junior. The region has four seniors that are rated among the top 50 senior prospects in Georgia, according to Georgiahoops.com. They are big men Williams and Otley, a wing in Wallace and an all-state guard in Wilson. The only other region with as many as four is 7, also with four.
Teams that could win state: None
The lineup: Douglas County, East Coweta, Hughes, Newnan, Tri-Cities, Westlake
Teams to watch: Westlake, Newnan, Douglas County, Hughes
Players to watch: Tony Bagtas, 5-11 guard, Westlake; Immanuel Griggs, 6-7 forward, Newnan; Kejuan Johnson, 6-6 forward, Westlake; Emmanuel Rainey, 5-10 guard, Tri-Cities; Tyrell Sellman, 6-3 forward, Langston Hughes
Strength of region: 3
Last season: Westlake lost in the second round to eventual AAAAA runner-up Savannah in overtime. Douglas County (26-4) started 18-0 but lost in the AAAA second round to Chattahoochee. Newnan (14-15) lost in the first round.
The skinny: Westlake point guard Anthony Bagtas, who is committed to Penn, is the only returning first-team all-state player from AAAAA. Westlake is 72-17 in his three seasons as a starter. He’s joined by Johnson, the sophomore transfer from Wheeler who has an offer from Georgia Tech. At 6-6, Johnson is a scorer who creates matchup nightmares because of his perimeter shooting and size. Newnan has all-state junior post Griggs and three other starters from a state playoff team. Douglas County moves up to the higher classification, but without Vantrail Commings, the Region 5-AAAA player of the year. A sleeper might be Tri-Cities, which was 10-17 in rugged 4-AAAA but returns four starters. Emmanuel Rainey was all-Region-4-AAAA as a sophomore, and the team had tight losses to top-10 teams such as Westlake, North Clayton and Jonesboro. Hughes hired Lovejoy assistant Rory Welsh to take over for Darius Hodge, who left for Hiram.
Teams that could win state: Westlake
The lineup: Campbell, Harrison, Hillgrove, Kennesaw Mountain, Marietta, McEachern, North Cobb, Pebblebrook, South Cobb
Teams to watch: North Cobb, Campbell, McEachern, Hillgrove, Marietta
Players to watch: Kyle Caslin, 6-2 forward, Hillgrove; Logan McIntosh, 6-1 guard, McEachern; Lee Moore, 6-2 guard, North Cobb; Jordan Neff, 6-6 forward, North Cobb; Brendt Pickens, 6-3 guard, Kennesaw Mountain; Dante Scott, 6-3 guard, Campbell; Saxon Steele, 6-1 guard, North Cobb;
Strength of region: 3
Last season: Harrison (23-8) made the AAAAA semifinals and lost to champion Milton. North Cobb (26-5) made the quarters. Marietta (22-7) won a round.
The skinny: North Cobb, which advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in history last season, started five juniors on its 2011-12 region championship team that finished on a 12-1 run. It’s not unthinkable that Moore, Neff and Steele aren’t three of the best four or five players in the region. Harrison lost all five starters from its final-four team and has a new coach in Jermaine Bigham from Rockmart. Campbell returns four starters and will be up after a down year. Hillgrove has a strong junior class. Marietta has only one player, senior Jonathan Fowler, back from its sweet-16 team. Anthony Jennings (12 ppg, 10 rpg) is graduating early to enroll at LSU, where he will sign as a quarterback. South Cobb star Devocio Butler transferred to a prep school in Charlotte.
Teams that could win state: North Cobb
The lineup: Cherokee, Etowah, Lassiter, Milton, Roswell, Walton, Wheeler, Woodstock
Teams to watch: Milton, Wheeler, Walton, Roswell
Players to watch: Sean Brennan, 6-1 guard, Roswell; Jaylen Brown, 6-5 guard, Wheeler; Daniel Giddens, 6-10 center, Wheeler; Chris Lewis, 6-7 forward, Milton; Mo Lewis, 6-6 forward, Milton; Shawn O’Connell, 6-8 forward, Milton; Rico Overall, 6-1 guard, Walton; Matt Scott, 6-8 center, Woodstock; Elijah Staley, 6-7 forward, Wheeler
Strength of region: 3
Last season: Milton (29-4) won Class AAAAA, its second title in three seasons. Wheeler (16-12) won Region 5 but lost in the second round to North Gwinnett. Walton (15-14) and Lassiter (13-15) lost in the first round.
The skinny: Milton is ineligible for region and state playoffs per GHSA sanctions for the undue influence-to-transfer controversy that led to the resignation of David Boyd. Van Keys, a former Milton head coach, has taken Boyd’s place, and he’s got enough holdovers to make trouble for anyone in the regular season. But Milton’s ineligibility should clear the way for Wheeler, which has blue-chip recruits in Giddens, Staley and Brown, all underclassmen, although Brown reportedly begins the year injured. After that, Walton has the best recent tradition but returns only four players with varsity experience. Watch for Roswell. The guard Brennan is a four-year starter who will sign with North Florida. Woodstock picked up a post player in Scott (transfer from Furtah Prep) who has an offer from Wichita State. No eligible team besides Wheeler won more than 15 games a year ago.
Teams that could win state: Wheeler
The lineup: Alpharetta, Centennial, Chattahoochee, Johns Creek, Lambert, North Forsyth, South Forsyth, West Forsyth
Teams to watch: Alpharetta, Chattahoochee, Centennial, Lambert
Players to watch: Carlos Burse, 6-4 guard Alpharetta; Will Perry, 6-5 guard, Centennial;
Ty Toney, 6-1 guard, Alpharetta; Markus Terry, 6-1 guard, Chattahoochee
Strength of region: 2
Last season: Alpharetta (19-13) was a surprise Class AAAAA semifinalist last season. Chattahoochee (25-6) made the AAAA quarterfinals.
The skinny: Alpharetta, the Cinderella of the state tournament a year ago, returns its best two players in Toney and Burse. Toney was a scoring machine in the playoffs, and Burse is perhaps the region’s best all-around athlete. Chattahoochee was a top-five team in AAAA last season and brings back Presbyterian-bound guard Terry, but graduated first-team all-state Jaron Blossomgame, who signed with Clemson. Lambert lost only three seniors from a team that upset Chattahoochee last season. Centennial’s Perry is a combo guard being recruited by the Naval Academy, and junior Xavier Jackson is another prospect that Centennial expects to have a good year.
Teams that could win state: Alpharetta
The lineup: Collins Hill, Duluth, Habersham Central, Meadowcreek, Mill Creek, Mountain View, Norcross, North Gwinnett, Peachtree Ridge
Teams to watch: Norcross, Mill Creek, Peachtree Ridge, North Gwinnett
Players to watch: Elijah Bryant, 6-2 guard, Mill Creek; Jordan Capps, 6-7 senior, Peachtree Ridge; Brandon Goodwin, 6-0 guard, Norcross; Devin Mitchell, 6-2 guard, Collins Hill; Terrance O’Donohue, 6-8 forward, Norcross; Trevon Shaw, 6-2 forward, Mill Creek
Strength of region: 4
Last season: North Gwinnett (21-10) reached the quarterfinals. Peachtree Ridge (20-10) made the second round. Norcross (16-13) and Mill Ccreek (21-7) lost in the first round.
The skinny: Norcorss, with four state titles since 2006, should re-emerge as a state contender after a disappointing year. Goodwin has committed to Southern Miss. The Blue Devils did lose blue-chip forward Harold Givens, who transferred to a prep school in North Carolina. But they picked up three pretty good transfers in O’Donohue from McCallie in Chattanooga (committed to Charleston), Lorenzo Carter from Whitefield Academy (6-6 junior with offers from Georgia Tech, North Carolina and others) and Andre Chatfield from Parkview (6-5 junior with an offers from Auburn and others). Peachtree Ridge has all-state forward Caps, a 6-8 junior in Amir Warnock and a crack freshman point guard in Aaron Augustin. North Gwinnett, the region’s best finisher last year, should regress a bit without all-state guard Chris Bolden, now at Georgia Tech.
Teams that could win state: Norcross
The lineup: Archer, Berkmar, Brookwood, Central Gwinnett, Dacula, Grayson, Parkview, Shiloh, South Gwinnett
Teams to watch: Shiloh, Berkmar, Archer
Players to watch: Logan Adams, 6-6 forward, South Gwinnett; Brian Egejuru, 5-11 guard, Central Gwinnett; C.J. Forster, 6-2 guard, Berkmar; Tayvon Reed, 6-11 center, Shiloh; Tim Rowe, 6-11 center, Berkmar; Randall Smith, 6-0 guard, Archer
Strength of region: 3
Last season: Berkmar (23-8) made the quarterfinals. Shiloh (25-5) lost to eventual champion Milton in the second round. Central Gwinnett (14-15) and Dacula (15-14) lost in the first round.
The skinny: Shiloh lost all-state forward Robert Carter to Georgia Tech but returns Reed, a junior post with offers Georgia, Georgia Tech and many others. Shiloh also picked up point guard Nate Mason from Columbia and guard Idris Taggee of Cushing Academy in Massachusetts as transfers, giving Shiloh three blue-chip juniors. Berkmar is looking for a third straight region title. South Gwinnett should bounce back from a 9-16 finish with Adams (committed to UNC-Wilmington) and Moye (Georgia Southern). Archer (18-8) returns Smith from a team that was upset in the region playoffs last year. There are new coaches at Parkview (Steve Richardson), South Gwinnett (Jamal Basit), Grayson (Geoffrey Pierce) and Dacula (Russ Triaga).
Teams that could win state: Shiloh