Before the season started, Richmond Senior boys basketball coach David Laton talked about how the Southeastern Conference was going to be wide open.
Laton looked at the landscape and noted every team lost its best player from a year ago. In addition, there were new coaches at Pinecrest and Scotland. So it was no surprise five teams still had playoff aspirations heading into the final two weeks of the season.
Some would look at that and believe the SEC was strong from top to bottom with any of the teams capable of beating anyone else. Others would see this as an example of how mediocre the conference was this season.
And after the performance of Hoke, Lumberton and Richmond in the opening round of the playoffs, it was more of latter.
One of the hottest teams in the area, Hoke reeled off 10 straight victories and earned the eighth seed in the East after winning the SEC championship. Its first round opponent was Southeast Raleigh, a team that finished fourth in the Greater Neuse River Conference and had lost two of its final three games.
The Bucks couldn’t make it 11 straight wins as the Bulldogs pulled off the upset, 52-46.
Richmond, which finished tied for second with Lumberton, snagged the 15th seed in the West and was paired with Olympic Monday night. Right from the opening tip, the Trojans manhandled the Raiders and breezed to an easy 84-63 win.
As bad as it was to have the top two teams from the SEC lose at home in the first round of the playoffs, it was about to get much worse when the Lumberton scored trickled in — Garner 103, Lumberton 62.
If there is any good news in a 41-point loss, it was the fact that it wasn’t the largest defeat on the 4A level Monday. That would have been Holly Springs’ 93-41 loss to Northern Durham.
Things were just a little better on the girls side. But not by much.
Scotland, the SEC champion, grabbed the ninth seed in the East. Its opponent in the opening round was Jack Britt, the No. 24 seed. The Buccaneers, which tied for third in the Mid-South, sent the Scots to the sideline with a 56-52 victory.
The Richmond girls, just like the boys, was the 15th seed in the East after finishing second in the conference and squared off with a team from Mecklenburg County — Rocky River.
When the final horn sounded, the Ravens had rolled to a 76-52 victory.
Just as in the boys bracket, the SEC’s top two teams were eliminated and if it wanted to avoid going 0-6, it needed a Lumberton victory. All Lumberton needed to do was defeat a South View team that had won the earlier two meetings by a combined 47 points.
But the Pirates did it and pulled off a 47-41 upset of the Tigers to keep the SEC alive in the postseason for at least another round.
It was expected to be a down year for the SEC in basketball, but no one could have thought the conference would have five teams eliminated in the first round.
The silver lining in all of this is there is always next year.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.