Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 16, 2014

Column: Basketball postseason has a new look in Virginia

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Believe it or not, it’s time for postseason basketball.

After a season filled with games being postponed for snow, cold and just about every other kind of weather, conference tournament play begins on Monday in Virginia.

Hopefully, the West Virginia schools can get some regular season games in this week. Sectional action for the girls begins on Feb. 24, followed by the boys from the Mountain State on March 3.

First up is Virginia, which has a completely new format that nearly all the  coaches are still trying to figure out. So is the media, and that starts with trying to find the pairings, which can be a puzzle in itself.

Among those coaches curious about the new format is Richlands boys coach Jody Fuller, whose Blue Tornado has apparently earned the second seed in Group 2A, Conference 39, with snow wiping out the final four days of the regular season this week.

His opinion on the new format is still being formulated.

“The way I feel about it is I would rather play everybody in the conference,” said Fuller, who was assuming as of Saturday night that the Blues and not Tazewell would be the second seed. “It is a little early to decide it I like it or not. I guess it depends on how we fare in it. I would like to see everybody in our conference in the regular season.”

What strikes Fuller as unusual is out of the six-team Conference 39, (also called the Southern Empire Conference) the Blue Tornado hasn’t played Grayson County or Marion. In fact, the six teams in this particular tournament comes from schools currently situated in four different districts.

Districts are still in existence for scheduling purposes only, but make no difference as far as the seedings for conference play. Fuller would liked his team to have seen all of the teams before the postseason began,  but every other team in the tourney has similar issues.

“It is odd,” Fuller said. “We are playing a conference tournament in which we are seeded second and there are two teams we haven’t played in the regular season. It is definitely different.”

Conference 39 boys action will begin on Tuesday with Marion (10-11) visiting Grundy (12-11) and Grayson County (9-13) traveling to Tazewell (8-11).

The scene will switch to Richlands on Friday, with top-seeded Graham (16-6) playing either Marion or Grundy, while Richlands (8-13) will play the Bulldogs or Blue Devils.

Richlands hasn’t played Grayson County, and has split two decisions with the Bulldogs.

“I think it is anybody’s game,” Fuller said. “I went and watched Grayson play Graham and they looked good. (Ty) Cannaday had 30 points that night, and (Max) Rodgers is good and they have a 6-6 kid inside, and Tazewell has shown the ability to beat us, and on any given night we can beat them.”

Only the teams that advance to the conference title game will continue into regional play the following week.

Richlands (15-5) is the top seed in the Conference 39 girls tournament, followed by Graham (14-7), both of whom get first round byes. The semifinals will be played on Thursday, with the finals on Saturday, also at Richlands.

Giles is the only other Group 2A West team in the region, with the Spartans facing a tall task in Conference 38. The Spartans will meet Floyd County in a Thursday boys semifinal on the Buffaloes’ home floor, while the girls will host a first round game with James River on Tuesday, with the winner drawing Floyd County in the semifinals.

Two teams from each of four conferences will advance to the regional round the following week. Conference 39 teams will play Conference 38 teams in the regional quarterfinals (a conference that includes John Battle, Gate City, Lebanon, Lee, Virginia High, Central-Wise and Union).

The other two Group 2A West conferences are 37 (Appomattox County, Chatham, Dan River, Gretna, Buckingham County and Randolph-Henry) and 38 (James River, Floyd County, Giles, Glenvar and Martinsville).

Only the two teams that advance to the finals that will be held — along with the semifinals — at Floyd County will move the following week to the state semifinals, which will be played at neutral sites against opponents from 2A East.

Only the championship games will be played this year in Richmond, which is different from the Final Four of the past.

If you want to see which schools are in the respective conferences, visit vhsl.org and look under Classification.

Just know that 2A West will meet 2A East in the state semifinals, and then the winners meet for the state title.

There are also eight conference that comprise Group 1A, including four in West and four in the East.

Bland County and Narrows will take part in 1A West Conference 45 beginning on Monday. The Green Wave will host Eastern Montgomery in boys and Craig County in girls, with the semifinals and finals to be played at Eastern Montgomery in Shawsville.

Bland County will travel to Covington for boys and girls games on Monday.

Other schools eligible in Conference 45 include Bath County, Auburn and Radford, which won the Division 1 state boys championship last season.

Conference 47 includes seven teams, five of which are from the Black Diamond District, which only Grundy moving to a different conference for postseason play. Council, Haysi, Honaker, Hurley and Twin Valley will be combined with Holston and Northwood.

Those pairings have yet to be received.

Richlands is one of the few schools in the area that has never won a regional basketball game. Getting to the regionals comes first, which won’t be easy, especially for a team that has played with five freshman on the floor at times this season.

Just like the format itself, Fuller isn’t sure what to expect from his club.

“I feel like they have matured through the year, but this is tournament time and this is the first time they will have seen tournament action,” Fuller said. “The intensity gets ramped up in the tournament so we will see if they are ready to meet it or not.”

Now, if the weather will finally cooperate, and let the teams play ball.

“It is exciting,” Fuller said.

*****

Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He can be contacted at bwoodson@bdtonline.com or on Twitter @bdtwoodson.