By Michelle Gardner
San Bernardino Valley College mens basketball coach Gerry Wright has been stressing a sense of urgency for three weeks now because the Wolverines poor showing in nonconference play didnt leave room for error when it came to qualifying for the playoffs.
But that phrase has taken on new meaning in the last week. Saturday is the last day of the regular season and the defending champion Wolverines (13-14) are one of four teams tied for first atop the Foothill Conference, all at 9-4.
The others are College of the Desert (20-9), Antelope Valley (23-10) and Mt. San Jacinto (25-6).
SBVC will be at Desert for a 3 p.m. game Saturday while the other two teams face easier finales. Mt. San Jacinto is hosting Rio Hondo (9-20), also at 3 p.m., while Antelope Valley entertains last-place Barstow (3-25) at 7 p.m.
We have had our backs to the wall for awhile now, Wright said. We have had to play likes its a playoff game just to get in this position so this is nothing new for us.
The 20-team South playoff draw will be announced Monday. Let the jockeying for position begin.
The most likely scenario is that three teams will end up tied. If that happens, all would share conference title honors. Coaches are meeting Sunday to vote on all-conference and coach of the year honors but they also have to submit a ranking of teams in order for consideration by the the executive committee determining the draw.
SBVC is in the most precarious position because of its 4-10 mark in nonconference, with none of those wins coming over a quality foe.
Wright expects the only debate to be over the first seed since Antelope and Mt. San Jacinto split their games. Antelope won one meeting 78-72, Mt. San Jacinto the other 78-75. In the state power rankings Antelope is 12th and Mt. San Jacinto 14th.
The third spot will be decided by the SBVC-Desert head-to-head. The Wolverines won the first meeting 95-88 although Desert beat SBVC 94-89 in a tournament game in December.
It is that close.
A lot of people say the conference is down this year. I dont buy that, said Mt. San Jacinto coach Patrick Springer who is on the executive committee.Look at how close the competition is between these teams.
The conference has gotten as many as five teams into the playoffs before but managed just three last year. So the Wolverines need the win today more than Desert does.
Then theres Chaffey (17-12, 7-6) which will finish fifth no matter what the outcome of its 3 p.m. game at Victor Valley (11-20, 3-10).
The Panthers helped force the logjam by upsetting Mt. San Jacinto in overtime Wednesday. They have also beaten Antelope Valley and have quality nonconference wins over Imperial Valley and Los Angeles Southwest, both first place finishers in their conferences.
But the Panthers cant make the playoffs unless the other four go too. Coach Jeff Kleins team slipped up against Rio Hondo a week ago and lost both games to SBVC.
It would be a shame if we didnt go because I think were a top 20 team, Klein said. But if we dont get it is because there were a couple of games we let get away.
The other factor that turned the race upside was the reversal of Deserts forfeiture of 14 games (five in conference). The Roadrunners were dealt the significant penalty on Jan. 25 after an athlete who came out after football was not listed on an eligibililty form for basketball. The school won its appeal earlier this week.
Springer, who played college basketball with Wright at Iowa, said he will fight for all five teams but knows that is asking a lot.
SBVC and Chaffey are not quite what they have been in the past. But theyre still quality teams, he said. I dont know of anybody that wants to see either of them in the first round.