The grand experiment will begin this week for the Palo Alto boys' basketball team as it joins the Eastside Prep and Pinewood girls in the new Open Division of the Central Coast Section playoffs.
While all three have been guaranteed a free pass to the CIF NorCal playoffs for the first time in history, the question is at what cost?
While No. 5-seeded Palo Alto brings a gaudy 23-1 record and 21-game win streak into its playoff opener on Friday (8 p.m.) against No. 4 Riordan (17-9) at Piedmont Hills, the Vikings' path to a CCS title unquestionably would have been easier in Division I.
Anything less than a CCS title will return Palo Alto to Division I for the NorCal playoffs. The Vikings, however, likely had a good shot at winning a section crown in that division and earned a NorCal berth anyway.
A victory over Riordan will "earn" Paly a semifinal berth against No. 1 Mitty (22-5), a team that has eliminated the Vikings in the CCS Division II semifinals in two of the past three years.
Thus, it may be asked, is to be gained by knocking heads with the section's best?
That's a question the Eastside Prep and Pinewood girls face, as well.
Eastside Prep (20-6) is the No. 4 seed in the girls' Open Division and is coming off an impressive 54-30 win over Pinewood in the championship game of the West Bay Athletic League playoffs.
An argument can be made that Eastside Prep has the talent to battle in the Open Division but not the depth as coach Donovan Blythe has barely six players available on a given night.
Eastside Prep, the defending Division V champ, will open against No. 5 St. Francis (19-7) in a quarterfinal on Friday at Santa Teresa High at 8 p.m. A victory will earn the Panthers a likely semifinal against No. 1 Sacred Heart Cathedral (20-5), unless No. 8 Lynbrook (20-4) is able to pull off an upset.
Thus, Palo Alto and Eastside Prep could be playing for third place on their home courts instead of competing for section titles in their normal divisions.
The Pinewood girls are in the same situation. The No. 7 Panthers (20-6) will open against defending Division II state champ and No. 2 Mitty (21-6) on Friday at Ok Grove (8 p.m.) and would have to play No. 3 St. Ignatius (18-8) or No. 6 Wilcox (22-2) in the semifinals should they upset the Monarchs.
Thus, the chance of playing for another section title is all but removed -- barring a miraculous run through the playoffs.
If Pinewood and Eastside Prep were playing in Division V, both teams would be favored to reach the title game like last season. Paly, likewise, probably would have been the No. 1 seed in Division I.
The only local team to receive a No. 1 seed is defending champion Gunn in girls' Division I. The Titans (16-6), who finished third in the SCVAL De Anza Division, will begin its title defense on Saturday in the quarterfinals at Hartnell College in Salinas. The likely opponent is No. 8 Milpitas (10-13).
The other top Division I teams are No. 2 Santa Teresa (17-10), No. 3 North Salinas (19-5) and No. 4 Piedmont Hills. Menlo-Atherton (10-12) is seeded No. 9 and will host Independence (12-12) on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
The Menlo School girls (17-9) earned a No. 2 seed in Division IV and also a bye into the quarterfinals on Saturday at Notre Dame-Belmont. Also in the bracket is No. 5 Sacred Heart Prep (18-8). The No. 1 team is Soquel (24-2).
In boys' Division I, No. 9 Menlo-Atherton (11-14) will host Wilcox (13-11) in a first-round game Tuesday at 7 p.m.
In boys' Division IV, No. 5 Sacred Heart Prep (16-8) will open Thursday against the winner of King City and No. 12 Greenfield at 5 p.m. Menlo School (17-7) received the No. 3 seed and will host a quarterfinal game Saturday, likely against WBAL rival and No. 6 Harker (17-7).
In boys' Division V, Pinewood (11-11) is the No. 2 seed and will play either No. 10 Jewish Community (12-9) or No. 7 Crystal Springs (6-17) in Saturday's quarterfinals. Also playing Saturday will be No. 4 Eastside Prep (14-12), against either No. 12 Downtown College Prep or East Palo Alto Academy. Both games will be at Alma Heights in Pacifica.