The easy, popular, and most plausible case to be made for the Division I boys basketball champion is, again, Corona del Sol. Everyone will be chasing the Aztecs in this final week of the state tournaments, everyone still playing knows and acknowledges as such, and Corona has proven any number of cases to be made why they can win a third consecutive state title.

It’s still not a given, not with how Perry had Corona down for the count during the Super Sectional title game before the Aztecs staged a huge second-half rally; not with three games in the three days — Feb. 27-28-March 1 — late next week (quarterfinals, semifinals, championship); not with Corona having to play the latest semifinal game of the day (approx. 7:45 p.m.) followed by a 3 p.m. championship game.

But if you understandably remain in the vast majority essentially awaiting another Corona crowning, it’d still do yourself some good to watch what unfolds on the bottom half of the bracket.

The four schools which earned first-round byes and were able to wait until Saturday night to begin their quest — No. 2 Dobson, No. 3 Pinnacle, No. 6 Gilbert and No. 7 Hamilton — are as closely aligned as it gets. Most have played one another at least once this season and the results reflect as much.

In fact, after Corona del Sol the popular perception is any of 10 schools could make it to the finals.

Dobson is well-coached, won 14 consecutive games before a random loss to Westwood late in the regular season, then beat Mountain View and Pinnacle to win the Super Sectional. The Mustangs have arguably the best backcourt in this tournament in Kodi Justice and Ryan Richardson and a solid, unheralded group of complimentary players.

Pinnacle is used to postseason play and the big arenas, has a go-to guy in Dorian Pickens and an excellent “No. 2” in Trey Ingram.

Gilbert is perpetually stout defensively, is sharing the ball, has a great floor leader in point guard Anthony Bryant and a lot of size in the frontcourt. Hamilton is as sticky defensively as Gilbert, only replace the abundant size with fundamentals, sharing the ball and a refusal to turn the ball over. Kevin Hartwig almost always get the most out of his roster.

For many reasons, Corona and Perry are shows unto themselves for basketball entertainment value, but don’t forget the bracket’s bottom half, because those games will be nail-biters whose teams will have earned every bit of their advancement.

Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at mheller@evtrib.com or (480) 898-6576.

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