For the first time in over 20 years, Sac-Joaquin Section prep basketball playoff teams are not being decided by power ratings, and the Sonora Wildcats are feeling the pinch.
The Sonora boys are a Division 4 team playing in the Division 3 Valley Oak League and normally power ratings would level the playing field. Wildcat victories within their league were weighed more heavily than say teams from the Mother Lode League, like Summerville and Calaveras, and Sonora often would earn a higher playoff seed than other teams with a lesser record.
But not this season.
"They got rid of the power ratings because some inconsistencies starting showing up quite a bit over the last few years," Sac-Joaquin Section director of Communications Will DeBoard said in an email. "Really good teams in great leagues weren't getting in because they would go 3-7 and that wouldn't be enough to make it. Other teams were scheduling a cupcake schedule and would get in because they just had a bunch of wins. And in a couple of cases, the third and fourth-place teams in a league would get in while the runner-up wouldn't.
"So we went with the "Olympic-style" qualifying for playoffs in basketball. Every league would qualify three teams to the playoffs, and the nine leagues (boys and girls were split here) with the highest playoff winning percentage over the previous three years would receive a fourth qualifier."
The Sonora boys are 9-13 overall and 3-8 in the VOL and are clinched out of the playoff race, with only three from the eight-team league qualifying for postseason. The Wildcats are four games behind third place with three to play.
The MLL, on the other hand, will send four of its six teams to postseason.
If it were the 2014-15 season, the Wildcats would be all smiles with Sonora moving into the MLL for all athletics.
"The MLL has done well in the postseason while, overall, the VOL has not," DeBoard said. "That's why the MLL is getting four spots while the VOL is only receiving three. I believe, over the last three years, only Weston Ranch and Sierra have even won a playoff game on the boys side."
Meanwhile, the Summerville boys are the defending D4 champions and the Calaveras girls are two years from a section title and three years from being the section runner-up.
The Wildcats this year own a road victory over Calaveras, who appears headed to the MLL title, and have beaten Summerville twice, another team who has gotten hot and appears destined for postseason.
Of course, a couple more wins in narrow losses early in Sonora's league season sure would have helped.
A two-point loss to Manteca followed two days later by a one-point loss to Weston Ranch, both at home, put the Wildcats at 1-4, and behind the 8-ball early.
"Not having power ratings this year has really hurt our playoff chances," said Wildcat head coach Dan Dona. "But we haven't played as well as maybe we should either. But that's the way it worked out this year. It is what it is.
"We're getting ready to take on Kimball (Wednesday) for senior night. We've got three games left, and I'd like to win them all."
The Wildcats girls (13-7, 6-4) are clinging to third place in the VOL by one game over the East Union Lancers and are clearly a team that should be in the D4 bracket.
They've beaten Bret Harte, the MLL leader and a team that only has four defeats, by 11 points early in the year and also defeated Calaveras, another playoff-bound D4 team, for the first time in several years.
But Sonora has a tough road ahead in the last four games. The Wildcats play three this week, two on the road, including aSaturdaytilt at VOL leader Kimball.
Sonora's biggest game of the year might be the season finale onFeb. 18at home against East Union. The Lancers own a home 62-58 victory over Sonora on Jan. 28 and with another win would own the tiebreaker over the Cats if the teams finish tied.
"Before, the power ratings would give the basketball committee a start as far as seeding and the brackets go; now it's going to be a clean slate and they will seed from the start," DeBoard said. "Is this perfect? Probably not. But it's also probably way better than it used to be. It definitely hurts the VOL though. That league was probably a little overrated when it comes to league power rating; as a result its teams would receive pretty high seeds but they wouldn't necessarily play to that seed. Now, everybody starts with the same number."