Talk about playoffs?

Boys basketball faces tough road to the postseason


Jackson Posey

Tevijon Williams skies in for a transition layup over South San’s Jonas Carlisle. Williams leads the Rangers with 2.1 steals per game.

Jackson Posey, Sports Director

One year ago today, boys basketball was in the midst of their first playoff run since 2014, and their first season with a winning record in district play in more than a decade. It was a big step towards making consecutive playoff appearances for the first time this century.

But now, halfway through this season, the team’s playoff path has crystalized into a dangerous corn maze, one where each kernel could explode at any time.

That is to say, the margin of error has slimmed considerably.

The Rangers currently sit at 2-3 in district play, after beating New Braunfels and South San at home and losing road contests to Wagner, Clemens and East Central. (Two more games have been postponed.) In a 14-game schedule, that wouldn’t be too bad, but the issue is the team’s remaining strength of schedule.

The Rangers are stuck with the second-toughest remaining schedule, behind only seventh-place Wagner. After adjusting for the current standings, it’s the second-toughest behind only Steele. 

Meanwhile, three of the four current playoff teams are cruising into second halves composed of teams with combined records below .500.

Making up ground, then, will be a tall order, especially considering the importance of tiebreakers. 

South San and Wagner, both with five losses already, are longshots to make the postseason. New Braunfels and Judson seem like locks, considering the former’s weak remaining schedule and their latter’s roster.

That leaves four teams to duke it out for two playoff spots: Steele (3-2), Clemens (4-3), East Central (3-3) and Smithson Valley (2-3). By any metric, the Rangers have the toughest path out of that group. They’re the furthest back right now and have most remaining games against playoff teams of anyone in the district.

But that’s not to say it’s impossible. A good rule of thumb is that a .500 record is generally sufficient for a playoff spot; considering half of the district makes it, that’s just common sense. So the Rangers will have to win at least five of their final nine games to have a shot.

The Rangers will likely enter their two games against Judson and a road showdown at New Braunfels as fairly hefty underdogs. That leaves six games where a win wouldn’t be a huge upset: the first, a home clash with Wagner, will tip off Friday at 7 p.m.

Wagner was slated to play Mansfield Timberview in the Class 5A state semifinals last season, before coronavirus cut the season short and graduation decimated the roster. They reloaded with three transfers: five-star center Jerrell Colbert, four-star point guard Austin Nunez and reigning District 29-6A MVP Kevin Garcia would’ve made the Thunderbirds the most formidable team in San Antonio, by far.

But Colbert moved to Tennessee, and Nunez and Garcia were ruled ineligible by the UIL. (They’ll spend their junior seasons on Wagner’s terrifyingly talented JV team, before moving up to varsity next year.)

The Thunderbirds bested the Rangers earlier this year at The Hangar – probably the best-named gym in the area – but with opportunities dwindling, they can’t afford to slip up again.

Next is a Saturday afternoon game against Steele. The Knights have easily the toughest remaining schedule of the current playoff teams, and hitting the road for the second leg of a back-to-back is never easy.

Steele hasn’t scored more than 56 points in a game since adults across the country replaced their calendars; the Rangers, meanwhile, have topped that score twice in four games. 

The teams clearly have different styles, and it remains to be seen who can adjust more effectively. But if the Rangers want a playoff berth, they’ll likely have to pull off at least one win over the Knights; this might be their best shot.

The two games which can best be described as “must-win” are a pair of home showdowns: Clemens and East Central. Both teams lit up the scoreboard against the Rangers earlier this season, and both sit just out of reach in the current standings.

The issue here is tiebreakers. If, say, East Central wins both games, they’ll have the playoff tiebreaker no matter what. If the teams split it, they can decide on breaking the tie with a coin flip or one final game. But a swept team doesn’t even get that luxury.

If it comes down to the wire, and the Rangers have to battle for a postseason berth in their final regular season game, they’ll do so at Cibolo Steele. It could mean everything, or it could mean nothing. Imagining the ramifications of this game is a moot exercise, because any game from here on out could change everything.

It won’t be easy. This team hasn’t made the playoffs in consecutive years since the 1990s, and they’ll need to win more than half of their games from here on out to make it back. But, like a 17x17x17 Rubik’s cube, it’s not impossible. Not even close.