The high school basketball tournament starts Tuesday and kicks into high gear on Friday when the tournaments shift to neutral site venues. Here are five things to know before settling into your seat, or beginning to scroll your social media sites.

South Portland’s Alex Bambile, right, and Geremi Baez celebrate after the Red Riots beat Thornton Academy 60-50 on Jan. 28. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

1. Can South Portland run the table?

Coach Kevin Millington’s squad is 18-0, and has been the top team in Class AA all season. Four more wins and the Red Riots will claim their first state title since 1992.

The Riots start five seniors. Cade Carr, Ryan Boles, Pamba Pamba and Geremi Baez are all 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, with long wingspans and the ability to defend in space and get to the rim, aided by distributing point guard Gerik Bialorucki.

The bench is capable of high production and improved as the season has progressed. Senior Hunter Owen is a strong, physical 6-5 post player who helps Baez (team-high 12.8 ppg) match up against bigger teams on the boards. Sophomore Owen Maloney has become an offensive spark and freshman Jaelen Jackson is a pure point guard with the best handle on the team.

Millington correctly notes his team has been frequently challenged, even by quarterfinal opponent Massabesic (3-15). And, if the Red Riots win the South, recent history would be against them in the state final. The North has won all four AA championship games.

“One thing this year has taught us is there are a lot of really good teams and we were fortunate to win some really close games,” Millington said. “There have been some 18-0 teams that have won three-quarters of their games by 30 or 40 points. That’s not us. We have to grind a little more.”

But this South Portland team, which doesn’t rely on one or two star players, is adaptable. It’s proven it can beat teams in different ways. Look for the Gold Ball to return to South Portland.

Brady Cummins and the York Wildcats enter the Class A South playoffs at 18-0. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

2. Mark this date on your calendar

The Class A South semifinals at the Expo on Feb. 19 will be the best night of action in the Portland venues, assuming the higher seeds prevail.

If that happens, it will be No. 2 Kennebunk (15-3) vs. No. 3 Falmouth (14-4) at 6 p.m., followed by top-seed York (18-0) against three-time defending champion No. 4 Greely (14-4).

“All the teams in Class A South are pretty good but the top four, those are good teams with good storylines behind them,” said Falmouth Coach David Halligan. “Greely’s the three-time champs. York’s undefeated. Kennebunk’s having its best season in a long time. … If you’re a basketball fan, you’re going to watch some good players and good teams. It will be exciting.”

Each club features at least one all-state caliber player in Kennebunk’s Max Murray, Falmouth’s Michael Simonds, York’s tandem of Will MacDonald and junior Brady Cummins and Greely’s Logan Bagshaw. If Leavitt upsets Greely in the quarterfinal (and based on the Hornets’ recent three-overtime win at Falmouth that is not a stretch), then add junior 1,000-point scorer Wyatt Hathaway to the list.

In past seasons, these games would have been played at the roughly 6,200-seat Cross Insurance Arena. In a cost-saving move, the MPA moved the A semifinals to the Expo, which seats about 2,500 (Maine Red Claws’ games are sellouts at 2,417).

“There’s much more of an energy, electricity in the crowd when the Expo is full as opposed to the same size crowd at the cavernous (CIA),” said York Coach Paul Marquis.

Joe Albert (55) and Maranacook enter the Class B South tournament as the top seed. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

3. Is Class B South still ruled by the WMC?

Since Maine went to its five-class system, the Class B South final has been an all-Western Maine Conference affair.

But this year, the highest-ranked WMC team is No. 5 Lake Region, which is 8-10. No. 6 Wells (8-10) and No. 7 Cape Elizabeth (7-11) also have losing records. No. 8 Freeport is 10-8.

“We all beat up on each other this year, that’s for sure,” said Wells Coach Troy Brown. “Maybe it will make us tougher come tournament time and maybe we aren’t as good as in the past.”

Top seed Maranacook of Readfield and the KVAC is 16-2. The Black Bears split a season series with Class A North contender Cony. But in the second game of the season they lost at Lake Region.

Mountain Valley Conference teams Spruce Mountain (14-4), Lisbon (10-8) and Mountain Valley (9-9) will also be wearing the home whites Friday at the Portland Expo’s opening session.

Last season No. 8 Wells knocked off No. 1 Mountain Valley in the quarterfinal. The prevailing wisdom has been WMC teams’ regular-season losses to top Class A squads like Falmouth, Greely and York make them better prepared come tournament time. Conversely, the MVC is a Class C dominant league.

But it’s also true that in past seasons, the best WMC teams have come in with solid win-loss records and were the top seeds in 2016-2018. So look for a mixed result this season. Marancook should win the regional crown but the WMC will save some face with a couple of quarterfinal wins.

Coach Rich Henry, center, and Waynflete enter the Class C South playoffs as the No. 2 seed. Andy Molloy/Morning Sentinel

4. Tough schedule should pay dividends for Flyers

Waynflete will be the team that benefits from the tougher WMC schedule. The Class C Flyers enter as the No. 2 team with a 17-1 record, the same as top seed and defending state champion Winthrop.

Waynflete is 6-1 against Class B teams and has also beaten Class A Fryeburg and Class D A.R. Gould. It is 9-0 vs. Class C teams, winning those games by an average of 27.8 points.

Flyers Coach Rich Henry said he’d feel good about putting his veteran team on the court against any squad in the state, regardless of class. What he likes specifically about this year’s team is that they have the experience of playing at the Augusta Civic Center, the site of the Class C tournament.

“Teams from the Mountain Valley Conference get a chance to play on that court and sort of demystify it,” Henry said, noting that the open shooting background more than the court size affects teams unfamiliar with the venue. “Thankfully, with people like Solomon (Levy) and Diraige (Dahia), they’ve been on this court quite a bit now.”

Waynflete also has an improved version of 6-8 junior Dominick Campbell, a skillful forward who has shed 40 pounds since his sophomore season and leads the team in scoring. Levy and Jared Johnson add two athletic, 6-5 frames to the starting lineup.

The Flyers won the 2016 C South title but haven’t made it past the semifinal round in the past three seasons.

“The last two, three years there’s always been a moment or two where we lost our composure, got rattled. I think this group has bought into the way we’re playing,” Henry said.

5. Game officials, hopefully, will not be the story

Two years ago, tournament referees were the hot topic because they repeatedly called technical fouls on basic, routine dunks. Most believed it was at the behest of former basketball commissioner Peter Webb, who wanted the arcane “grasping the rim” rule enforced. National outlets like USA Today and Vice picked up the story and ridiculed Maine’s “peach-basket” era mentality. So did almost everybody associated with Maine basketball.

Why bring that up now? Because in Deering’s final regular-season game, 6-6 senior center Jesse Kamalandua was given a technical foul on a dunk with three seconds left in a 55-39 win against Portland. In this case, Kamalandua clearly hung on the rim, did a bit of a chin-up and probably crossed the sportsmanship line.

“By rule, that was probably an easier call. I really can’t dispute it,” said Deering Coach Todd Wing.

The trouble was that Kamalandua had been called for a technical earlier in the game for, reportedly, slamming the ball down onto the court and then back to himself in frustration. The second technical meant he was ejected. Thus, he must sit out Wednesday’s home AA North quarterfinal against Cheverus.

Wing said he feels the officiating this season has improved overall. He and Millington both noted that officials have de-emphasized “grasping the rim.” And, as Falmouth’s Halligan put it, whether a coach or player agrees with the way the game is being called is beside the point.

“You have to adjust to the officiating and that’s part of the tourney process,” Halligan said.

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