Panthers, Tornado faced with unusual matchups tonight

When the Oregon School Activities Association developed a power ranking system for its state playoffs, the reason given was to help assure that the supposed top teams in the state were afforded the clearest path possible to advance.

In past playoffs, top-tier teams occasionally met in the first or second round, while unranked programs sometimes squared off in the same round.

To the OSAA and its championship committee, it just didn't seem like there was good faith and equity in such a system that was often predetermined by league matchups and not a competitive balance.

While there is no perfect system, it's becoming more and more apparent that tweaks still need to be made to the OSAA's power ranking system.

At first issue is the fact that rankings need to be frozen prior to any play-in contests to eliminate the chance of potentially tainting the integrity of the RPI scores.

South Medford's boys basketball team is knee deep in another issue that stands to fall in the OSAA's lap sometime soon, while North Medford will be dealing with its own odd circumstance tonight when the Class 6A state playoffs begin statewide.

The Panthers hovered around the No. 1 and 2 spots in the 6A power rankings all season, ultimately finishing second to Metro League champion Jesuit (21-2) and one spot ahead of the Black Tornado (17-5).

For their exploits, South Medford stood to face the team with the second-lowest RPI ranking at home tonight to open the state playoffs. As it turns out, the Panthers (20-4) will be facing the team with the lowest RPI ranking but is far from a pushover for those in the know.

South Medford opens tonight with a home game against Aloha, while North Medford is host to Hillsboro. Both games are at 7.

Aloha's power ranking is 38th and lowest among the state qualifiers. The Warriors would've been in line to play at Jesuit, but the OSAA bracketing system assures that two teams from the same conference won't meet in the first round if at all possible.

While Aloha's record stands at 5-19 entering the playoffs, it's misleading because of forfeits. On the court, the No. 3 team from the Metro League is 17-7 with wins at Jesuit and against Westview (which was missing University of Oregon signee Austin Kuemper).

The Warriors forfeited 12 wins through Jan. 21 for using a player the school determined to be ineligible. Aloha self-reported the issue to the OSAA and then went about overcoming the punishment for allowing senior Aime "Junior" Kamana to participate in what essentially was his fifth year of high school.

Kamana had transferred to Aloha from Edmonton, Canada, before the 2009-10 school year and was on the varsity team last year. A review of his transcript showed that Kamana had competed for his high school team while he was an eighth-grader, something apparently not uncommon in Canada.

Kamana averaged around five points in a supporting role for the Warriors, but his participation alone was enough to get the team in hot water. It's an unfortunate incident for all involved, but since the forfeits had to be administered, South Medford winds up playing a team that should essentially be considered one of the top 12 or so in the state in its opener.

"That's unreal how that kinda worked out," said North Medford coach Scott Plankenhorn.

For his part, South Medford coach Dennis Murphy isn't exactly thrilled to be facing such a standout team right off the bat. "We fell upon a little bad luck, I guess, but it's what it is and you've just got to step up," said Murphy. "You try to prep kids the same way if you're playing the best team or the worst team, so it really comes down to how you play."

"What I would hope would be the seeding committee would look at this and figure out that you have to find a better way to handle forfeits because the current way just isn't working," added Murphy. "I think they were ranked 12th in the power rankings before the forfeits, and I don't think this is how the seeding is supposed to work."

They're probably thinking the same thing at Aloha.

Doug Thomas, a 6-foot-4 wing, leads the senior-laden Warriors, who have won four of their last five games. Thomas scored 44 points earlier this season against Reynolds.

The Warriors have a balanced attack that includes double-digit scoring from 6-2 guard Jesse Bresser, 5-11 guard Mitchell Balfe and 6-2 guard Ryan Dethlefs. In the middle stands 6-7, 275-pound James Euscher, who is Oregon-bound as an offensive lineman.

"They've got great size and shoot the ball pretty well," said Murphy. "I think they're going to defend us pretty hard and we've got to do a better job with shot selection and truly make an effort to rebound the ball."

"One of the pluses is that we are playing at home," added the coach, "but we're going to have to play awfully well to beat them."

North Medford doesn't have quite the same drama for its game tonight, but the Hillsboro team facing the Black Tornado isn't nearly the same one that started the season. The Spartans received a tremendous in-season acquisition when senior Colt Lyerla decided to turn out for basketball.

Lyerla, who is 6-5 and 225, was one of the prized recruits for the Duck football team one month ago and one of the top athletes the state has to offer.

"Anytime anybody can add a 6-5 kid that can move around like he can in the middle, that will help anybody," said Plankenhorn.

Hillsboro (9-16) is only 5-4 with Lyerla in the lineup, but he and the team seem to be rounding into form these days and the Spartans have won four of their last six games.

Also making Hillsboro dangerous is a host of 3-point threats and capable scorers surrounding Lyerla for open kickouts. Tyson Fernstrom, a 6-1 senior wing, leads the team in scoring, with 6-foot point guard Joseph Jackson complemented by Scott Drake and Jordan Grissom in the balanced attack.

Besides home-court advantage, the Black Tornado has the luxury of entering the game playing its best basketball of the season.

"It was a slow process through the year and you always want to make sure you're peaking at the end of the year and I think we are," said Plankenhorn.

North, which went 6-1 down the stretch, expects to return senior Michael Osmanski to the lineup after he missed action with strep throat and tonsillitis.

The Spartans finished fifth in the Pacific Conference and own the No. 36 power ranking.

In comparison, Jesuit opens its state run against Centennial (8-17), which placed fifth in the Mt. Hood Conference.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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