Boys Basketball-Playoff Preview: (7) Athens vs (6) Circleville

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The Athens Bulldogs (12-9, 8-2) clinched a spot in the district semifinal by virtue of their thrilling 40-38 upset win over the second-seeded Logan Elm Braves in the sectional finals.  The Bulldogs will clash against the sixth-seeded Circleville Tigers (12-8, 5-8) on Wednesday at the Convocation Center in Athens at 8 p.m. for the right to play in the District 1 Championship.

Athens’ first-round win against the heavily-favored Logan Elm was surprising to some who had witnessed the Bulldogs’ inconsistent start to the season. However, this is a different team. With All-Hero candidates Joey Burrow and Josh Skinner stepping up, Athens is 7-2 since mid-January led by a balanced scoring attack. The Bulldogs’ last loss in a game with significant meaning (league or playoff game) was on January 6.

It is just the opposite situation for Circleville, who came into the playoffs as cold as a frigid night in the Yukon. They lost their last four contests of the regular season by an average of 14 points per game, with each of those losses against league opponents.  Furthermore, each of the Tigers’ eight regular-season losses came in league play, where Circleville amassed just a 5-8 record. But the beauty of playoff season is that anything can happen. With the season on the line, Circleville shook off their ice cold February by dismantling third-seeded Chillicothe Unioto 45-33.

The Circleville defense will be the X-Factor in this contest.  When the Tigers are winning, their defense is impenetrable, allowing just 38.6 points per game. However, the Tigers have allowed 52.3 points per game in losses.

Athens’ play on the defensive side of the ball has also been spectacular of late.  The Bulldogs held Logan Elm, a team that averaged 52.4 points per game in the regular season, to a meager 38 points. The well-known cliché in sports is that “defense wins championships”. Athens and Circleville are proving that sound play without the basketball and postseason success have a direct relationship. Whichever team is able to continue this trend of dominant defense, while sprinkling in some timely offense, will likely be the team cutting down their opponent’s net in the Convo on Wednesday night.