Now that the Christmas break (and all the tournaments that go with it) are over, it’s time to start settling region battles and County Tournament seeding in January. We have one new team in the final BOYS POWER FIVE of the decade and a new #1, so let’s get to it.


1 – ANNISTON BULLDOGS


This is an exciting team to watch play. They get up and down the floor, penetrate to the basket and if you’re not careful they can play above the rim on you. Even though the Dawgs dropped a pair at the 37th Annual Huntsville City Classic (59-38 to #1 Mae Jemison and 67-60 to Decatur Heritage), they also have two big wins over 5A Sylacauga and run Sacred Heart out of the Dawg Pound 70-43. The first week of 2020 is big for Anniston as they host Lincoln this Friday then Talladega on Tuesday. A Talladega win likely gives the Tigers the region regular-season title and the right to host the Region Tournament in early February, so it’s a BIG game for Anniston.


2 – OXFORD YELLOW JACKETS


The Jackets are 10-5 on the season following their 3rd place finish in the Huntsville City Classic. Oxford played #1 Mae Jemison tough, losing 52-47 but certainly giving the team confidence going forward that they can compete with the top teams in 6A once again this season. This may be the best team in Calhoun County and we certainly see them as one of the top two picks when the County Tournament is seeded. It’s hard not to see Oxford and Anniston in the Finals, but there are a handful of teams that could mess that up including Piedmont, Jacksonville, White Plains, and even JCA. Oxford’s schedule over the next two weeks should be manageable for multiple wins. Their toughest test before the County Tournament begins will likely be their trip to Talladega on the 17th, which you’ll see live as one of FNN’s BIG GAME Basketball events.


3 – TALLADEGA TIGERS


Talladega slips from #1 down to #3 this week on the heels of going 3-3 since the 19th. They posted losses to Albertville and Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in the Choo Choo Classic and dropped the title game to unbeaten 15-0 Fyffe 92-75 at the 1st Annual State Farm/Don Webb Classic in Scottsboro. However, with early-season wins over Lincoln and Anniston, the defending 4A state champs are in the region driver’s seat. Their game at Anniston on Tuesday will likely determine the region's front-runner. If Talladega can post a win on the road against the Bulldogs, they’ll be hard to handle at home at Chuck Miller Arena in the region tournament.


4 – VINCENT YELLOW JACKETS


Coach John Hadder’s Jackets haven’t lost since a one-point buzzer-beater against Ragland at Thanksgiving. They just brought the Anniston Star Classic trophy home after knocking off a solid Cherokee County team 56-42 in the title game. Vincent takes a 13-1 record into January, but they’ll be tested on Friday when they travel to #7 5A Briarwood Christian. We’ll be keeping an eye on this group as January unfolds.


5 – PIEDMONT BULLDOGS


The Bulldogs had a rough outing at the Glencoe Holiday Shootout dropping two close ones to Lincoln (65-64) and Jacksonville (70-67). They’re still 9-2 going into a four-game home stretch starting with Hokes Bluff on Friday then White Plains on Monday in our first FNN BIG GAME of the 2020 season. They follow that up with region games with Wellborn the following night then Pleasant Valley on Thursday. We see little standing in Piedmont’s way in regard to winning the regular-season region title and hosting the region tournament. As good as they might be, we all know the road to the 3A state title runs through Plainview.


FIRST TWO TEAMS OUT


SPRING GARDEN PANTHERS


The Panthers are 11-1 entering January. They just knocked off Temple by ten to win the Hilburn-Patterson Invitational over in Georgia on Monday. The only loss Spring Garden has suffered is a two-point defeat at the hands of their rivals from Cedar Bluff. Coach Ricky Austin has a quality team once again this season, ranked #6 in 1A by the ASWA. The Panthers will get a crack at #1 in 3A when they visit Plainview next Saturday. They’ll follow that one up with a trip to JCA the following Tuesday.


RAGLAND PURPLE DEVILS


We’re trying to figure out what the ASWA is thinking not ranking a 10-1 Purple Devil team that beat Vincent 71-70 back at Thanksgiving and only lost to 4A Jacksonville by 7 the following night. The Purple Devils have wins over Pleasant Valley, Winterboro, JCA, Ohatchee, Victory Christian and Ashville. Coach Andrew Eden’s club appears on their way to a region regular-season title and could make some noise in 1A before the post-season is over. The remainder of their schedule features teams they’ve already beaten this season, so their W-L record should be pretty nice at the end of the regular season. They may be a contender to win the St Clair County Tournament in late January.