The Arizona Interscholastic Association recently got together with select high school basketball coaches to do some brainstorming and share visions for the new Open Division playoff bracket.
What they came up with for the start of the Open next season for both boys and girls might be the best thing the AIA could have ever created.
A 32-team boy’s bracket, and a 32-team girl’s bracket.
Here’s how they would play out:
• Through the AIA/MaxPreps power-points ratings, take the top eight teams in 6A, top eight in 5A, and top eight in 4A, then take eight more at-large teams, based purely off of power points.
• Format it 1 through 32 and play the first two rounds with No. 32 facing No. 1 and No. 31 vs. No. 2, etc., to open.
• After those rounds are down and the teams are reduced to eight, take those eight for the remainder of the Open Division state tournament. The teams that lost in the first two rounds drop back into their conferences for those tournaments that would then begin after the first two rounds of the Open are played.
Those teams eliminated from the Open then have a chance to win their respective conference championships. The conference tournament would be seeded after the first two rounds of the Open are played.
“Now it takes away the argument that the best team didn’t get in because of power points,” said Millennium Athletic Director Remigio Gordillo, who serves on the AIA basketball advisory board. “Some people would rather stay in the conference tournament. Now, when you go in, they’ve got an opportunity to show, ‘I can compete with these teams, and, if not, I can go back to my conference and no harm, no foul.’ “
Gordillo said that the Arizona Basketball Coaches Association put a lot of work in the proposal, which still would have to go before the AIA Executive Board for a vote to make it a reality.
Glendale Ironwood coach Jordan Augustine said lots of credit goes to St. Mary’s coach Damin Lopez and Brophy Prep coach Matt Hooten for their input.
The AIA board doesn’t gather again until August.
“Initially, when I first heard it, before it was broken down, I was like, ‘I don’t know about that.’ But when they did the presentation, I was like, ‘This is a no-brainer.’ “
An expanded Open field might work better for basketball than it does for football.
Since the AIA started the Open in 2019 for football, it has always been eight teams encompassing the three biggest conferences, 6A, 5A and 4A.
Some have suggested that maybe the Open needs to go away now for football because Scottsdale Saguaro and Peoria Centennial are now both in 6A, so all of the top teams are playing in the highest conference now.
Saguaro football coach Jason Mohns is an advocate to keep the Open going in football, suggesting taking the top eight teams in 6A for the Open, then the next 16 teams for the 6A Conference playoffs.
Because there are 4A teams that have beaten 5A and 6A in basketball, there seems to be more parity among the bigger conference to have such a 32-team Open field for that sport.
“I’m grateful that the AIA is taking a progressive approach to create an experience for our student-athletes that is unmatched and factors in the amount of parity that exists in Arizona high school basketball,” Augustine said. “The event, mixed with the (June) Section 7 demonstrates the AIA’s commitment to creating a high school experience for individuals in scholastic entities that is truly second to none.”
Peoria Liberty coach Mark Wood said this Open format allows teams to truly play their way into the tournament and it allows teams to still compete if they are knocked out early.
“There’s a lot of parity in basketball and also uncertainties with the overlap from football,” Wood said. “Teams may not be at full strength for a couple of months. The 32 teams makes the most sense so nobody is left out who truly has a shot at the Open title.
“If you look at what the Open matchup would have been last year, it would have been a very, very tough tourney.”
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