The learning process for Grand Strand basketball teams is just about over.
There’s really not much of a choice.
With region play just days away – and teams knowing that their playoff hopes rest on those eight or 10 games – area schools have just one or two more contests to be at their best. The brevity of the deciding region games means a loss in the second week of January could drastically alter a team’s late February playoff fate.
Some coaches have kicked around the idea of scattering region games throughout the season. However, the logistics would be next to impossible.
Every school in a region would have to be willing to open up scheduling. It might increase interest and attendance, but it would also heavily complicate non-region scheduling. Instead, the current system remains in place, and the clustered region games mean teams have to be at their best starting next week.
"There’s arguments to both sides of it," Carolina Forest coach Brian Brunson said. "You need to be in the top of your region. I think the rest of it is experience-building, community-building to play local teams. It’s just a matter of different perspectives.
"I think the more you play, the better you get. Playing region games scattered before Christmas, could cost people. You don’t get your football players back until late. And people are typically better in January than they are in December."
The debate, then, is whether teams would rather take an injury risk for a poor skid - caused by injury, illness or increased competition - in December rather than January.
Proponents of the current system argue that college ball is set up similarly, with conference games falling at the second half of the regular season. However, those same teams can boost NCAA Tournament seeding via the non-conference portion of the schedule.
In South Carolina, none of those matter in terms of playoff seeding.
What they do account for is money.
Carvers Bay coach Jeff Mezzatesta said that his team's non-region games are his school's best chances to defer costs for the season. The Bears played multiple games against area rivals in environments that pulled in nice gates.
"From the money aspect, being able to play rivalry games early, all those games matter," Mezzatesta said. "Every game that we’ve played up ‘til now has mattered. We’ve played Georgetown three times and Andrews three times. Those were nice gyms, even on a Tuesday night. It gives people opportunities to play those rivalry games."
Area schools, specifically those in Region VII-AAA, probably won't have to worry about that too much.
Instead, they know they'll be playing some of their most heavily attended games of the season in contests that will ultimately decide their chances for a trip to the playoffs.
For Carolina Forest and Conway, they'll have eight Region VI-AAAA games to do just that. The other 11 area teams will each have 10 region games.
All regions involving area teams begin Tuesday. Prior to that, Conway will play St. James Thursday and Myrtle Beach Saturday. The Seahawks will also play West Florence Thursday, while St. James finishes up its non-region schedule Friday against South Florence.
All other area teams wrap up non-region play Friday evening.