When the Payson Longhorns and Safford Bulldogs boys basketball teams square off today, Tuesday, Feb. 14, in a Division III state first-round playoff game, the two won’t be exchanging valentines or celebrating Arizona’s 100th birthday.
Rather, they will be battling much like junk yard dogs for the right to remain alive in the state tournament and advance to a second-round game Feb. 17 on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
Today’s Dogs vs. Horns skirmish is one of eight D-III first-round playoff games occurring at the home site of the highest seeded team.
Highest seeds were determined by year-end power point rankings.
The Horns (16-12) enter the tournament as the No. 17 seed and must travel to Safford (13-12) because the Dogs are seeded one notch higher at No. 16
There are those around the state questioning how a team such as Safford, whose record is only one game over .500, could receive a higher seed than a Payson team that has a .750 winning percentage.
Good luck trying to answer that.
In compiling power point rankings, the Arizona Interscholastic Association uses only non-tournament, regular season games. But even then, Payson’s record of 11-8 is better than Safford’s 10-9 mark.
Also in calculating power points, the AIA uses a type of strength of schedule formula based on the number of wins by each team’s opponents during the season.
In those figures, Safford received slightly more points.
The final rankings reveal Safford has 78.8350 power points and Payson wrapped up the regular season with 78.1412.
Which means, Safford received the higher seed.
But wait, just last week Gilbert resident John Carrieres, a former engineer at Intel, claimed power points ranking were flawed in that the formula used gives an advantage to teams that play extra games.
The AIA has denied the formula does so.
Last week, the Arizona Republic newspaper asked Arizona State University math professor Scott Surgent to check out Carrieres’ claims.
The professor agreed with Carrieres and his wife, who is a high school math teacher, that the AIA formula was flawed.
But the AIA has not yet announced whether the formula would be changed and, if so, when.
So for now, the Dogs vs. Horns first-round game will go on as scheduled at Safford, which continues to cling to the highest seed, home court advantage.
The Bulldogs are members of D-III, Section II along with most all Southern Arizona schools of comparable size. The Bulldogs opened the sectional tournament with a puzzling 56-37 loss to Thatcher — a game in which Safford led 30-29 at halftime, but later totally collapsed, scoring just one two-point field goal in the second half.
The Horns, playing in the D-III, S-III postseason tournament, were also eliminated in the first round, 75-60, by a Valley Christian team that went on to win the sectional tournament championship.
Like some other teams entered into the division tournament, Valley Christian might also want to air of few gripes regarding seeding.
VC beat North Pointe, 50-46, on Feb. 11 for the sectional title, but North Pointe goes to state with a higher seed than VC.
North Pointe is seeded eighth and has a first-round bye while Valley Christian is a ninth seed and must play a first-round game today vs. Camp Verde.
In the previous conference-region format that was this year replaced by a division-section configuration, Valley Christian — as the postseason tournament winner — would take a first-round berth into the state tournament.
No odds-on favorite here
During the regular season, Payson and Safford met two common opponents — Snowflake and Blue Ridge.
Safford lost to the Lobos 66-53 and Payson fell twice by scores of 75-60 and 51-40.
Against the BR Yellow Jackets, the Bulldogs won a pair 57-43 and 57-45.
Payson also played the Jackets twice, winning 46-33, but dropping the second showdown, 62-41.
If comparable scores mean much in prep sports, which they usually don’t, it would be difficult to pick a favorite in tonight’s game based on scores vs. common opponents.
There is, however, one aspect of the Horns’ performance this year that PHS must clean up to have a chance of emerging victorious and moving into the second round.
Payson must cut down its turnover average of about 21 miscues per game. The Horns play a wide-open, fast game, but giving up the ball without getting a shot off is a cardinal sin in basketball that has led to the demise of many prep teams.
If the Horns improve their floor game by cutting down on miscues, the team could be gearing up later this week for a second-round state game against No. 1 seeded Holbrook.
The Roadrunners received a first-round tournament bye, as did all top-eight ranked teams.
Game time is 7 p.m. today in Safford. If the Horns advance to take on Holbrook, tip off is at 7:30 p.m.
Tonight’s game in Safford will be live streamed on the website: www.azsports network.com.