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CIF-Central Section boys basketball championship game previews — State powers St. Joseph, Clovis North collide in Division 1

Three other top seeds in five more divisions go at it Friday and Saturday at Selland Arena in Fresno.

The stage is set, scouting reports are being finalized and heroes will be immortalized this Friday and Saturday as the Central Section will crown 12 champions at famed Selland Arena in Fresno.

On the boys side, the top seed advanced to the final in four of the six divisions (D1 Clovis North, D2 Dinuba, D3 North-Bakersfield, D5 Corcoran). In addition, four No. 2 seeds reached the final (D2 Mission Prep, D3 Sierra, D5 Mendota and D6 Caruthers).

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention St. Joseph–the state’s No. 7 team and defending D1 and 2023 Open Division NorCal champs–who made their fourth straight title game … as the No 3 seed. They’ll face Clovis North in the granddaddy of them all on Saturday night at 8:00.

Below is a breakdown of each game with how they arrived at the championship game, key players and much more.

California high school basketball: Clovis North vs. Vanden boys basketball in Clovis in the Valley at Contra Costa College from January 20, 2024.

Connor Amundsen glides in for two points in a win over SJS D2 champion Vanden last month.

Division 1

No. 1 Clovis North (26-6) and No. 3 St. Joseph (30-2)

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Road to Selland: The top seeded Broncos breezed through the first three games of playoffs, winning by an average of 30 points. You can bet St. Joseph had a chip on their shoulder after the defending champs were awarded the No. 3 seed, taking it out on No. 2 Clovis West 88-73 to reach the Central Section final for the fourth year in a row.

Nuts and Bolts: The Broncos first trip to the Central Section D1 title game since 2016 when they fell to Central 77-64, this year’s squad feature a high octane offense in Dartmouth bound Connor Amundsen (20 ppg), sharpshooter Loukas Jones (14 ppg) and last year’s TRAC Player of the Year Jordan Espinosa. The defending Central Section and 2023 Open Division NorCal champs counter with 6-foot-6 junior Tounde Yessoufou’s 33.7 ppg and 10.5 rebounds and sophomore Julius Price’s 19.6 points and 7 assist per game. 6-foot-9 sophomore Abdoul Bare had a double-double against Clovis West with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Tounde Yessoufou in last year's CS championship win over Clovis West.

Tounde Yessoufou in last year's CS championship win over Clovis West.

Division 2

No. 1 Dinuba (28-3) and No. 2 Mission Prep (12-17)

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Road to Selland: Dinuba comes in scorching hot, winning their last 16 and dispatching Stockdale, Garces and Sunnyside to reach the D2 finals. Mission Prep, the No. 2 seed despite entering the playoffs with a 9-17 record, is seeking their first section title since 2004 and are fully healthy. They defeated Hanford, Independence and Hoover to reach Selland Arena.

Nuts and Bolts:: The last time Dinuba won a Central Section boys basketball title was when Babe Ruth was traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees. So yeah, it’s been a while. They’ve done it behind the stellar play of senior and double-double machine Javier Torres, guards Josiah Ochoa and Brice Watley and a stout defense. The Royals have size with a pair of talented big men with 6-foot-7 Marquette commit Luke Jacobsen and 6-foot-5 Roman Benedetti, who missed a good chunk of the season due to injury.

Division 3

No. 1 North-Bakersfield (25-6) and No. 2 Sierra (24-8)

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Road to Selland: The top seeded North-Bakersfield defeated three Central Coast schools all at home in Paso Robles, Templeton and Atascadero to reach their first Central Section title game in school history. Sierra has won 15 games in a row and took out Porterville, McLane and South-Bakersfield to reach the final.

Nuts and Bolts: North-Bakersfield is as hot as anyone in the section, winning 21 of their last 22 and relying on Nate Bacerra (16.7 ppg, 8.1 rebounds), Ethan Saenz (15.5) and Eli Griffin (9.6). The Stars will be tasked with slowing down the Central Section’s all-time leading scorer in senior Logan Kilbert, who comes in No. 5 all-time in state history with 3,303 points. Sierra lost in last year’s D3 final to Kingsburg 63-43 before making the CIF State D5 final.

Division 4

No. 5 Kerman (17-15) and No. 11 Corcoran (27-2)

When: 4 p.m. Friday

Road to Selland: Kerman, despite going 1-7 in league, reaches the D4 final for a second consecutive year by defeating Golden West, McFarland–on a buzzer beater–and Mission Oak. The biggest head-scratcher seed in the entire Central Section was highly-regarded Corcoran at No. 11, who beat Torres, Nipomo and Monache to reach the final.

Nuts and Bolts: Corcoran is led by 6-foot-7 junior Javon Bragg, who averages 20.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game and guard Joziah Alaniz and his 13.3 ppg. Kerman has a big three with leading scorer Daniel Bibioff, 6-foot-5 sophomore Leon Madec and senior Devin Cropper. The Lions last Central Section title was in 2018.

Division 5

No. 1 Coalinga (25-5) and No. 2 Mendota (23-8)

When: Noon Saturday

Road to Selland:: Coalinga has breezed to the title game by an average of 33 points, beating Tehachapi, Santa Maria and Rosamond. Mendota defeated Liberty, Chowchilla and Taft by a point to reach the finals.

Nuts and Bolts: After splitting their two league games, the league rivals face off for a third time this season. Two of Coalinga’s losses are to Sierra and Kerman, schools that reached the D3 and D4 finals. Mendota comes in hot having won nine in a row and shooting for their first section championship in school history.

Division 6

No. 4 Strathmore (19-11) No. 2 Caruthers (18-14)

When: Noon Friday

Road to Selland: No. 4 Strathmore upset No. 1 Firebaugh 64-55 to reach the final after beating Orosi and Summit Charter. Caruthers beat Avenal, Desert and California City.

Nuts and Bolts: Strathmore lost their first five games of the year but have regrouped to reach the finals. They rely on 6-foot-6 junior Canyon Johnson, sophomore guard Isaiah Colunga and senior Aeneas Ambriz. Caruthers, who won two Central Section titles in 1989 and 2015, features 6-foot-4 Timmy Hurt and brothers Mark (soph, 3-point specialist) and Ian (sr, defensive specialist) Wendstrad.