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With the 2020 CIF Southern Section girls basketball playoffs finally upon us, the Open Division brings a rare format. There are two pools of four teams and the winners of each side of the pool play go up against each other in the championship.

In the girls Open Division, there's a nice mix of frontrunners and lower-seeded contenders, but every team has a legitimate shot to advance to the championship game.

The two brackets of pool play consist of:

Pool A: No. 1 Sierra Canyon, No. 4 Mater Dei, No. 5 Etiwanda, and No. 8 Lynwood

Pool B: No. 2 Windward, No. 3 Long Beach Poly, No. 6 Rosary Academy, and No. 7 Corona Centennial.

No. 1 Sierra Canyon (25-5) is the clear favorite to win it all, but there's no gap. Especially after last week when the Trailblazers dropped two games by double-digits in East Coast tournament action. So, while they have the best odds to win it all based on their regular season performance, nobody's odds are very high because the field is so deep.

In late January, Sierra Canyon came back from double-digits to beat Windward in overtime. They've also beaten Long Beach Poly and Rosary Academy narrowly, but lost by one point to Mater Dei.

No. 2 Windward (22-4), No. 3 Long Beach Poly (24-4), and No. 4 Mater Dei (26-2) are all just barely behind Sierra Canyon as far as their title chances go.

Windward had the loss to Sierra Canyon a couple weeks ago, a loss to Corona Centennial by 12 in November, and a three-point loss to Rosary Academy in December. Their only win over an Open Division team was a huge one by seven over Poly shortly after the heartbreaker against Sierra Canyon, but Windward has been pounding outstanding teams in and out of SoCal all year–their strength of schedule was never a concern.

Poly lost by single-digits to Windward not even two weeks ago and Sierra Canyon a couple weeks prior. However, they beat Mater Dei once and Etiwanda twice. They are the only team in the country to beat nationally top-ranked La Jolla Country Day.

Mater Dei's only losses were to Long Beach Poly in overtime and Rosary Academy by 10, which they avenged a couple weeks later. They also narrowly beat Etiwanda early on in addition to the victory over Sierra Canyon. The Monarchs were as close to earning the second seed as they were to landing in fourth.

No. 5 Etiwanda (24-4) is clearly next in line and is a very legitimate contender, although they are not quite a favorite.

They opened the season with a 16-point win over Centennial and beat Lynwood by five shortly thereafter before losing by three to Mater Dei. In December, they beat Rosary Academy by 20 before dropping their first of two single-digit losses to Poly on the season. They beat Rosary Academy again later in the season by one point.

The Eagles' four wins over Open Division teams are the most of anyone. They were just against the bottom three seeds, but that's still a big accomplishment to note going forward.

No. 6 Rosary Academy (19-9) and No. 7 Corona Centennial (24-4) fall into the category of underdog contenders.

Rosary lost to Etiwanda twice, but going from a 20-point margin to a one-point margin is encouraging. That was all very early in the season anyway. In mid-December was their huge win over Windward by three a couple days before pushing Sierra Canyon to overtime. They also beat Mater Dei by ten in Trinity League play before falling to them by just two the second time. Clearly the Royals are capable of winning it all should they win their pool and bring their best in the finals.

Cen10 opened the season with a double-digit loss to Etiwanda but beat Windward by double-digits before November was over. They beat Lynwood by double-digits and lost to Poly by double-digits. Like Etiwanda, they were a little unpredictable for a 24-4 team especially when you factor in games outside of this group of teams, but "for a 24-4 team" was the key qualifier there.

While No. 8 Lynwood (21-5) is the last seed and only team in this field without a win against another one, their performance against plenty of other elite teams indicates that they are capable of playing with anyone and everyone in this field. Again, they only lost to Etiwanda by five. It would be a stretch to call them a contender, but to say that they stand zero chance of pulling off a cinderella run would also be too far.

So in the first bracket, Sierra Canyon and Mater Dei are on essentially equal footing. In fact, since Mater Dei beat Sierra Canyon and Etiwanda (albeit by just one and three, respectively) and their only two losses came to teams in the other bracket, there's a case to make that they are the favorite to make it out of their pool.

This is the key question for not only Mater Dei but trying to predict this race as a whole: do those two wins by one possession (especially those early on in the season) really mean anything? Maybe. All these teams have grown since then, but that doesn't guarantee that there's no advantage or at least mental edge.

In fact, the top seed in the other bracket, Windward, beat the other high seed in the bracket, Poly, but lost to the two lower seeds in the bracket. Poly beat Cen10 but lost to Windward. The interconnected, indeterminable web goes on, whether we glean anything or not from narrow losses of which some were months ago.

Like we said at the top, the race has favorites, mid-level contenders, and a couple underdogs who could turn heads. But calling the winner or even the finals at this point is just a tossup.