Breaking down the WPIAL boys basketball playoffs
Here's a breakdown of the WPIAL boys basketball playoffs.
Favorite: Pine-Richland won the WPIAL Class AAAA title last season before the PIAA expanded basketball to six classifications. Now, the Rams could become the first Class 6A champion in WPIAL history. Pine-Richland lost just once all season behind 6-foot-4 senior Andrew Petcash (20.7 ppg) and 6-5 junior Phil Jurkovec (16.8). The Rams had the third-best scoring output in Class 6A at 72.9 ppg. Only Latrobe (76.2) and North Hills (73.0) scored more.
Contenders: Fox Chapel, Latrobe and Penn Hills shared the Section 3 title, and all three have reasons for optimism. Latrobe has Holy Cross recruit Austin Butler, a 6-5 guard and 30-point scorer who leads the WPIAL. The Wildcats also own a nine-game winning streak. Penn Hills, led by guard Sherron Schifino (19.5), faced a tough nonsection schedule and defeated Allderdice, McKeesport, New Castle and Lincoln Park. Fox Chapel point guard Carson Cohen (15.8) and 6-5 forward Jake Livingston (15.5) lead a bal anced attack. Mt. Lebanon won Section 2, but also lost to Pine-Richland by 29 points.
Don't overlook: North Hills lost four times in Section 1 but played Pine-Richland close twice. Senior guard Nick Smith (26.2) could lead them on another playoff run. His Indians lost to P-R in last year's WPIAL finals.
Prediction: Pine-Richland over Latrobe
Favorite: Mars is the team to beat when junior guard Robby Carmody is healthy. The talented Fightin' Planets were state Class AAA runners-up last season, but they struggled mightily when the major-college recruit and 24-point scorer injured an ankle in mid-January. Mars lost six of seven games in one stretch. But with Carmody back, Mars defeated Moon, Chartiers Valley and Hampton in its final three games.
Contenders: Moon became a serious WPIAL contender when 6-7 forward Jarrod Simmons transferred home for his senior year. The Penn recruit and 17-point scorer averages a double-double; however his Tigers lost twice to Mars (54-53 and 70-63). Moon teammate Nick Castelveter averages 15.2 points. Section 1 champion McKeesport seeks its first WPIAL basketball title since 1995. Chartiers Valley has reached the WPIAL finals in five of the past seven years. Colts guard Ross Wilkerson averages 15.6 points. Gateway's sub-.500 record isn't pretty, but 6-7 junior John Paul Kromka, who missed time early in the season with an injury, can be a problem for shorter teams.
Don't overlook: Hampton finished fourth in Section 2, but senior Antonio Ionadi (21.5) ranks among the best WPIAL shooters.
Prediction: Mars over Moon
Favorite: The two best teams here might share the same section. New Castle split its two-game series with section foe Quaker Valley but won the Section 2 title behind 16-point scorer Geno Stone, a 6-foot senior and Iowa football commit. The Red Hurricanes also feature junior Marcus Hooker (13.6), another D1 football recruit, and senior Gino DeMonaco (11.5). Hooker's brother Malik, who just finished an All-American football season at Ohio State, led New Castle to WPIAL and state titles in 2012.
Contenders: Quaker Valley would be section co-champion and maybe the top seed in Class 4A if not for a late-season loss to Beaver Falls. The Quakers lead Class 4A in scoring at 75.8 ppg behind 15-point scorer Ricky Guss, a 6-2 junior. Against New Castle, QV lost 54-53 on the road, but won the rematch 60-54. Section 3 champion Belle Vernon qualified for the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season. Indiana won Section 1 behind 17-point scorer Jake Benhart. Ben Beale is a 17-point scorer for Freeport. McGuffey allows the class' fewest points: 47.0.
Don't overlook: Beaver Falls was third in Section 2 with six losses, but the Tigers are the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion and have 6-7 senior Josh Creach (23.2).
Prediction: New Castle over Quaker Valley
Favorite: Lincoln Park appears positioned for its sixth WPIAL finals appearance since 2010. Bowling Green recruit Nelly Cummings, a senior guard with a 27.9-point average, already has made two championship trips. As a team, the Leopards lead Class 3A teams in scoring (75.1 ppg). The only WPIAL teams to defeat them this season were Class 6A contenders Pine-Richland and Penn Hills.
Challengers: It's possible that Lincoln Park's high-powered offense could face Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic's stingy defense. The Trojans allowed 43.1 points, best in Class 2A. A year ago, CWNC won the WPIAL Class A title. Section 4 champion Washington built a 15-game winning streak late in the season behind senior guard Matt Popeck, a 25-point scorer who was injured in Monday's regular-season finale against Trinity. Southmoreland finished behind Washington, but 6-11 junior Brandon Stone is a Division I recruit who averages 28 points. Shady Side Academy won Section 3 with senior Etai Groff (21.7 ppg).
Don't overlook: Last year's Class AA state champion, Aliquippa finished tied for second in Section 1, but came within six points of section-winner Lincoln Park on Jan. 31. The 66-60 finish was the closest section win for Lincoln Park all season.
Prediction: Lincoln Park over CWNC
Favorite: Could Greensburg Central Catholic remain perfect? The Centurions never have won a WPIAL title, but they are the only team to finish the regular season undefeated. The perfect record is a first for GCC, which is led by 6-foot-3 senior Neal McDermott, a 20-point scorer. The Centurions were WPIAL Class 2A runners-up in 2011 and ‘14.
Challengers: Bishop Canevin is well-tested; the Crusaders' section had five teams with at least 14 wins. Ultimately, senior guard Mitchell King (18.6 ppg) helped Canevin edge Sewickley Academy by one game for the Section 3 crown. Still, Sewickley's offense led Class 2A in scoring with a 76.4-point average; the Panthers had two double-digit scorers: 6-5 sophomore forward Nate Ridgeway (17.2) and senior guard Chris Groetsch (16.3). Section 2 champion Chartiers-Houston also had two high scorers in senior guard A.J. Myers (23.3) and junior guard Cam Hanley (20.6). California's defense allowed a WPIAL-best 41.3 points. Sewickley Academy was Class A runner-up last season. Greensburg Central Catholic and Bishop Canevin reached the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals.
Don't overlook: OLSH finished third in challenging Section 3 with 15-point scorer Ethan Harrell, a 6-5 senior forward, leading the way.
Prediction: GCC over Sewickley Academy
Favorite: Monessen scored more than any team in the WPIAL. The Greyhounds averaged 79.7 points this season and three times they scored more than 100. They're led by 20-point scorer Jaden Altomore, a 6-2 senior, and 18-point scorer Justice Rice, a 6-1 senior. Monessen and coach Joe Salvino won the WPIAL Class A title in 2015, but lost in the semifinals as the No. 1 seed last year.
Challengers: If Monessen and Vincentian Academy meet, it could be a high-scoring affair. In the WPIAL, Vincentian's offense under first-year coach Shelton Carney ranks second only to Monessen with a 78.1-point scoring average. The Royals seek their first finals trip since 2013, and are paced by junior forward Zach McDonough (23.1 ppg) and senior guard Thomas Quinlan (17.1). Imani Christian won Section 3 behind West Virginia football recruit Kenny Robinson, a 6-3 senior and 25-point scorer. Clairton leads Class A defenses by allowing only 47.3 ppg.
Don't overlook: Cornell finished third in Section 1, but coach Bill Sacco has two double-digit scorers in freshman guard Kaden Divito (17.4 ppg) and junior guard NaDhama Luster (15.8)
Prediction: Monessen over Vincentian