In college basketball, the month of March is the big time of the year. Every spring, March Madness comes with Cinderella teams, perennial favorites and the field of 64 (now 65) with a ticket to the Big Dance.
In high school basketball, January is the month that sets up the madness to come in February postseason tournaments. There's no catchy, alliteration-filled title to go along with the hoopla (pardon the pun).
I'm actually surprised someone hasn't slapped a rhyming phrase onto it, gotten it sponsored and sold T-shirts.
I suppose we could call it January Jollification (really, that is a word). Let's just hope the T-shirt printers don't charge by the letter.
Whatever you call it, we've got 108 basketball games in a 29-day span. That's just way too much for even the most avid of Columbia County basketball fans to watch. So here is your January Jollification guide to the biggest Columbia County basketball games of the month:
1. Evans vs. Greenbrier, Jan. 24
The Knights have established themselves as the top team in the county. Greenbrier made a statement in its own gym after leading by as much as six points in the first half over Evans in early December.
The Knights came back to win by five points, which should make for an interesting rematch in late January. The victor will not only savor huge bragging rights, but also will get a valuable win in the Region 2-AAAA standings.
2. Greenbrier vs. Jones County, Jan. 27
Speaking of the region standings, this girl's basketball match-up between the Lady Wolfpack and Lady Greyhounds of Jones County has huge region implications. Greenbrier entered the month with a 14-1 record, while Jones County sports 13-1. The winner will likely take first place in the Region 2-AAAA standings.
More importantly, the host of this season's region tournament will be the No. 1 girl's team, meaning a Greenbrier win could put the boys' and girls' region tournament in Columbia County.
3. Augusta Christian vs. Cardinal Newman, Jan. 20
Both the Lions and Lady Lions will get their test when region foe Cardinal Newman comes to town. The Cardinals are ranked in the South Carolina Independent Schools Association top 10 in both boys and girls basketball, and a win for either Augusta Christian team would go a long way in the climb to the top of the region standings. It might also give the underrated Lady Lions some respect and recognition in the SCISA Top 10 poll.
4. Harlem vs. Thomson, Jan. 13
After facing (and sometimes beating) their bigger AAAA in-county rivals, the Harlem boys should be ready for their AAA region competition. The Bulldogs have improved dramatically since their last meeting with Thomson on Dec. 3 when Thomson netted a seven-point win.
The contest will cap a run of four straight region games in 10 days for Harlem. After that stretch, the Bulldogs' path toward the region and possibly state tournament should be much clearer.
5. Augusta Prep vs. John Milledge, Jan. 13
Cavalier boys coach Mike Guthrie is only in his second year at the helm but has put the Augusta Prep name back in the win column several times this season. This is a key Georgia Independent Schools Association Region 4-AAA match-up and would be a huge step toward Guthrie's goal of breaking last season's win mark. If he's healthy, senior point guard Michael Crosland is a one-man scoring machine worth the price of admission.
Other potentially big games this month:
Lakeside vs. Evans, Jan. 10; Harlem vs. Thomson, Jan. 13; Harlem vs. Lakeside, Jan. 14; Augusta Christian vs. Westminster, Jan. 17; Harlem vs. Richmond Academy, Jan. 27; and Columbia County Junior Varsity Basketball Tournament, Jan. 28.
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