Postseason basketball tournaments aren’t like the playoffs in most professional sports.
There aren’t any best-of-seven series in which a team can afford a loss or two and still advance to the next round. It’s a one-and-done proposition in which a memorable season can come to an abrupt end with just one bad night or an out-of-body performance by an opposing shooter.
This year, there’s yet another random speed bump looming for North Carolina high school teams with state championship aspirations.
Because of the looming threat presented by COVID-19, any team — regardless of seeding — can be knocked out of the playoffs without even losing a game.
It’s a crapshoot that began on Tuesday with first-round games in four classifications for both boys’ and girls’ teams.
“If a team enters quarantine at any point from here on, their season is over,” said N.C. High School Athletic Association assistant commissioner James Alverson. “We’ve said that you have to play on the scheduled date. The only way there can be postponements is if there’s inclement weather that could push a round back a day or two.”
The NCHSAA has taken numerous precautions during its condensed 2021 season — which began the first week of January — to help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 among its participants.
Among them are the wearing of masks by all participants, even during play; the elimination of pregame and postgame handshakes; socially distanced benches; the sanitizing of game balls during every timeout and quarter break; and limiting the number of fans allowed to attend.
As effective as those safety measures have been statewide, they’re still not 100% foolproof.
Mecklenburg County, for instance, was forced to shut its athletic programs down for two weeks in mid-January because of COVID outbreaks at multiple schools. It’s the reason some teams have played up to 14 regular season games while others in the bracket have played as few as six — including Audrey Kell, the top-seeded boys’ team in the 4A West bracket.
The disparity has made for some interesting seedings in both the boys’ and girls’ play.
Here are the top seeds in each classification:
4A boys: 1 West, Audrey Kell (6-0); 1 East, Laney (9-1). 2 West, Independence (6-1); 2 East, Millbrook (14-0).
4A girls: 1 West, Vance (7-0); 1 East, Ashley (12-1). 2 West, South Caldwell (6-6); 2 East, Pine Forest (7-3).
3A boys: 1 West, West Rowan (12-1); 1 East, Terry Sanford (9-1). 2 West, Weddington (13-0); 2 East, Southern Lee (7-3).
3A girls: 1 West, Freedom (9-0); 1 East, Union Pines (11-1). 2 West, Enka (13-1); 2 East, D.H. Conley (11-0).
2A boys: 1 West, Hendersonville (12-0); 1 East, South Granville (11-3). 2 West, Rutherfordton-Spindale Central (11-1); 2 East, Trask (8-3).
2A girls: 1 West, West Stokes (11-0); 1 East, First Flight (10-2). 2 West, Mountain Heritage (8-2); 2 East, McMichael (4-8).
1A boys: 1 West, Mitchell (8-5); 1 East, Granville Central (12-2). 2 West, Hayesville (14-0); 2 East, West Columbus (6-6).
1A girls: 1 West, East Surry (12-0); 1 East, Granville Central (2-10); 2. West, Bessemer City (8-4); 2 East, Falls Lake Academy (7-0).
Games through the first four rounds will be played at the home gym of the higher seed.
Unlike previous years when state championship games have been played at large arenas such as Smith Center in Chapel Hill, Raleigh’s Reynolds Coliseum and Joel Coliseum near the campus of Wake Forest, this year’s finals will be held at Providence Grove and Wheatmore high schools in Randolph County.
The change was made because of the unavailability of college venues as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It will mark the first time since 1981 that the NCHSAA will hold its championship games at high school facilities.
State championship games in all classifications will be held on March 6 with specific game assignments and starting times determined after the regional finals.
Spectator attendance will be limited for the 2021 Basketball State Championships. The schedule, including which classifications will be assigned to a specific site, will be determined and announced later.
“We are grateful to the Randolph County School System and the administrations at Wheatmore and Providence Grove for their willingness to host our championships during these challenging times,” NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said in a statement earlier this month. “We are looking forward to working with the Randolph County School System to make this year’s state championships a truly memorable experience for everyone involved.”