By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
The New Mexico Activities Association is moving pretty fast these days. So fast, in fact, that local basketball coaches were still fuzzy on the details even after the prep athletic governing body decided to seed the eight teams in the state tournaments for Class 3A through 5A.
Slowly but surely, however, the picture of the seeding process is becoming clearer and clearer.
The day after the district basketball tournaments wrap up district chairs will meet with NMAA associate director Sally Marquez to determine the seeds.
In years past, district champions would face runner-up teams from other districts in the first round of the state tournament. But the decision to seed the teams, according to Marquez, stems in part from the NMAA’s intent to expand the state tournaments next year to 16 schools for each class.
“It is an intermediary step. And some of the criteria we’re using are what we’re thinking about using for the 16 team tournament,” Marquez said. “This is kind of preparing everybody and seeing how this works.”
When the five-member committees meet March 6, the criteria to determine who will be seeded where will include the overall record, the regular-season district standings, performance against district champions in the same class, head-to-head competition and the Albuquerque Journal Coaches’ Poll.
One beneficiary might be fans looking for the marquee matchup in the championship game.
In girls Class 5A, for instance, Clovis and Mayfield — if seeded one and two — would be on the opposite sides of the tournament bracket and could only meet in the state championship game — instead of possibly squaring off in a semifinal. Both teams are undefeated and met last year for the 5A title.
“I think they probably should have had it set before the season started,” Clovis coach Miles Watters said. “I’ve got mixed feelings on it right now. I’ve seen some things, but I don’t know how they’re going to weight each of the criteria — so I’m a little skeptical.”
One concern Watters and other 5A girls coaches had was whether an inferior district champion might make it in as one of the top four seeds when it arguably should be lower.
La Cueva, for instance, leads the early part of the District 2-5A race, but Clovis beat the Bears by 38 points.
But Marquez said that district champions can be seeded lower than fourth and that the two district representatives can, in fact, play each other in the first round of the state tournament — if seeded that way.
“If I had my druthers, I’d have them just go with the pairings they’ve done before,” Clovis boys coach J.D. Isler said. “My major concern is that we’ve got strong representation for our district at those meetings.”
If there’s concerns in Clovis, there’s even more in Portales — especially in so far as how much weight the coaches poll will carry in the seeding process.
In the most recent Class 3A boys poll, six teams received one first-place vote and none got more than that.
Even Bernalillo, who has twice lost to Portales — by 18 points each time, got a first-place vote.
“I’m from northern New Mexico, I’m from Santa Rosa. When it comes to basketball, the north — I don’t know why — they just pull a little more weight than we do,” Portales boys coach Mark Gallegos said. “It makes some of us down here a little bit nervous.”
Portales girls coach Brenda Gomez, who has led her team to two straight state titles in Class 3A, brings up another point.
In the past, district regular season champs — already assured of a state berth — could afford to look ahead to the district they would match up in the quarterfinals. But with the seeding committee meetings taking place after the last district tournament games, those days of scouting your first-round opponent are effectively over.
“It takes a little bit of the coaching out of it. You don’t get to prepare near as well. You find out Sunday night and then you play them on Wednesday in our case,” said Gomez, who is also concerned about “politics” entering the seeding process. “I don’t think there’s any good in any of it, honestly.”