St. Ignatius head coach Rob Marcaletti hopes to be yelling commands from the sideline throughout a long state tournament run. (Courtesy Paul Ghiglieri/SI Athletics)

New high-school state basketball tournament format is filled with surprises

The brackets for the 2018 CIF Basketball Tournament were released on Sunday. It offered a first look on how seedings were decided in the new competitive equity format.

For the first time, teams were placed in divisions based on perceived strength and resume rather than simply splitting them up based on school enrollment. Considering that some sections had been moving teams up and down through divisions based on success, rather than enrollment, the change made sense.

In last year’s Division III Championship, Mission, a school with fewer than 1,100 students, squared off with Villa Park, which has an enrollment of nearly 2,500.

Of course, there was opposition, largely expressed in the form of questions regarding how teams would be seeded. St. Ignatius swept the regular-season series with Serra, yet the Wildcats have the 11th spot in the Division I field and the Padres are seeded 10th. Serra’s win over top seed Heritage gave the Padres the edge. That seeding means SI will face Berkeley rather than seventh-seeded Dublin, but the Yellowjackets are still a solid team by all means, with an incredible group of guards led by Ben Baker.

None of that bothered St. Ignatius head coach Rob Marcaletti, who said, “Seed doesn’t matter; you’ve got to win one at a time and advance.”

Last year, the Wildcats were the top seed in Division III, but were eliminated by Mission in a memorable NorCal semifinal, one that was considered to be San Francisco’s biggest high school game in 20 years. After winning a fourth consecutive AAA title, the Bears received the sixth seed in Division III this year, which is right around where they would have been seeded under the old format.

Should they beat Foothill of Palo Cedro (Shasta County), they’ll have a chance for another all-San Francisco game against University, which would be played in the second round if the Red Devils can take care of 14th-seeded Patterson.

There was concern that University, traditionally a Division V team, would be seeded as high as Division I with their 29-3 record, but Division III seems to be a much fairer placement.

“We feel very fortunate,” said head coach Randy Bessolo.

University is one of four BCL West teams in the field. Lick-Wilmerding is the sixth seed in Division IV and hosts Sonora, while Stuart Hall received an at-large bid and was seeded ninth. The Knights will travel to take on Foothill of Sacramento. Urban is seeded fourth in Division V, and the Blues could be a sleeper team to reach the state title game with the trio of Leo Krinsky, Finn Conway and Ari Gamshad. They open the tournament with Mt. Shasta.

On the girls’ side, Sacred Heart Cathedral was seeded 10th in Division I, two spots ahead of rival St. Ignatius. The two were only separated by league opponent St. Francis, placed in the 11th spot. SHC will face Heritage, while the Wildcats will travel up I-80 to face Antelope.

Coming off their first section title in school history, the South San Francisco girls are seeded seventh in Division II and hope to have a spirited home crowd for Wednesday’s meeting with Del Oro. The Urban girls, coming off an NCS Division V title, are 14th in the Division III field and will travel to Sacramento to face Christian Brothers.

Having won a third straight AAA title, Lincoln is seeded 13th in Division IV and will have a lengthy trip to Fresno to face San Joaquin Memorial in the opening round, while city runner-up Lowell plays at home as the fourth seed in Division V. The Cardinals will host KIPP King of San Lorenzo. The University girls are the top seed in Division V and will host Western Sierra Collegiate.

If there’s one major drawback for coaches in the new format, it’s the inability to scout teams in advance. In prior years, teams had a grasp of likely early-round opponents and were able to study section tournaments for the same enrollment division, but that goes out the window with the new seeding process. Instead, teams will have to rely on what little film they could accumulate since Sunday and piece things together with a mix of newspaper articles and gut instinct.

First-round games are set for Wednesday, with the second round slated for Saturday and NorCal semifinals on the 14th.

Prep Focus writer Ethan Kassel covers high school sports throughout the Bay Area. If you have a story tip, game to watch or player to track, email him at

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