The Peninsula Athletic League is the only league left in the Central Coast Section that still conducts a league basketball tournament. The Blossom Valley Athletic League and West Catholic Athletic league have both dropped theirs.
But the PAL Tournament occupies a special niche. The winner is crowned San Mateo County public schools champion.
M-A's Greer Hoyem
But there are other issues at stake, as well, particularly on the boys side.
PAL South regular-season champion and defending PAL Tournament champion Menlo-Atherton is viewed pretty much as a lock to be included in the CCS Open Division field, regardless of whether or not it wins the PAL tourney.
Sequoia and PAL North champion Half Moon Bay are both hopeful of being included in the Open, but will need to earn their way with their performance in the PAL playoffs.
"If we can win the tournament we're in the Open for sure,'' Half Moon Bay coach Rich Forslund said. "I think if we just get in the finals we'll be in the Open.''
Teams that are included in the CCS Open Division are, by definition, considered the top eight teams in the CCS. Are all guaranteed spots in the state playoffs.
On the boys side, Serra's late-season push, including a last-second win over St. Ignatius Wednesday in the Jungle Game, means that most likely five teams from the WCAL will be included, leaving three spots for non-WCAL schools.
For much of the season Palo Alto was considered the top public school in the CCS. But late-season losses to M-A and Los Gatos have altered that perception.
"Palo Alto is no longer a cinch to be in the Open,'' Forslund said. "If Sequoia is in the PAL final there will be a lot of discussion on whether Sequoia or Palo Alto goes in.''
The three PAL schools, Palo Alto and Palma are considered the primary candidates for the three non-WCAL slots.
The PAL Tournament is an eight-team affair that includes the top four finishers from the South and North divisions. It gets underway Thursday at the higher seed's home gym. Friday's semifinals and Saturday's finals are at Hillsdale.
The boys opening-round schedule: North No. 4 El Camino at South No. 1 Menlo-Atherton, 7:30 p.m.; North No. 3 Westmoor at South No. 2 Sequoia, 7 p.m.; South No. 3 Woodside at North No. 2 Jefferson, 7 p.m.; South No. 4 Aragon at North No. 1 Half Moon Bay, 7 p.m.
On the girls side, two-time defending champion Menlo-Atherton is a heavy favorite to three-peat. And like the boys team from the school, the Bears are likely to be included in the CCS Open regardless of how they fare.
The Bears are on a 23-game winning streak. In PAL South play they won all 12 games by 20 points or more and have an average margin of victory of 31.3 points per game. It's a team seemingly immune to letdowns.
"Like I tell the girls, it's a privilege to play high school basketball,'' M-A coach Markisha Coleman said. "You only get four years of high school basketball. Success is not defined by wins and losses but by how you play as a group.''
The girls opening-round schedule: North No. 4 Jefferson at South No. 1 Menlo-Atherton, 6 p.m.; North No. 3 Half Moon Bay at South No. 2 Mills, 7 p.m.; South No. 3 Carlmont at North No. 2 Oceana, 7 p.m.; South No. 4 Hillsdale at North No. 1 South San Francisco, 7 p.m.