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Tough choices in AAAA as WPIAL announces hoop playoff pairings

| Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, 7:42 p.m.

The WPIAL had little trouble with the first three seeds in the Class AAAA boys basketball bracket.

Just like last season, the spots were awarded to Section 3 rivals New Castle, Hampton and North Allegheny. But then the decision grew tougher, said Dan O'Neil, who chaired the steering committee tasked with creating the brackets.

At question was who's next best: Hempfield, Plum or Upper St. Clair? All three were section winners, each with a good argument.

“We probably spent more time on those three spots than any other particular spot in any bracket,” O'Neil said. “We spent a lot of time on those.”

The committee seeded Plum fourth, Upper St. Clair fifth and Hempfield sixth. That was among the most-debated decisions the committee made in the playoff brackets that were announced Tuesday night at the DoubleTree in Green Tree. Despite just two losses, Hempfield fell in line behind the other two.

“There was great discussion about ... which one belongs where?” O'Neil said. “There are some people who still question that league out in Westmoreland County. How strong is that?”

The WPIAL basketball playoffs start Friday with 156 teams divided into eight brackets. Along with New Castle, the other No. 1 boys seeds were Chartiers Valley in Class AAA, Seton-La Salle in Class AA and Lincoln Park in Class A. The top girls seeds were North Allegheny (AAAA), Blackhawk (AAA), Seton-La Salle (AA) and Vincentian Academy (A).

The championships are Feb. 28 and March 1 at Palumbo Center.

The brackets were constructed Monday but kept secret until Tuesday night. Assembling Class AAA boys also was a challenge, O'Neil said. It was complicated by a three-way tie between Indiana, Knoch and Mars for first place in Section 1. The committee seeded them Nos. 6, 7 and 8.

“We had to be fair to all three of those teams,” O'Neil said. “We couldn't separate them into (seeds Nos.) 6, 8 and 12. You just couldn't do that if they're all 11-1 (in the section), so we felt they had to go right next to each other.”

The Class AAAA girls bracket was difficult to seed after North Allegheny. The Class AA girls bracket had a clear No. 1 (Seton-La Salle) and No. 2 (Burrell), but the next several spots proved tough.

This was the second consecutive season New Castle, Hampton and North Allegheny earned the top three seeds in Class AAAA boys. All three reached the semifinals in 2013, with New Castle beating Hampton in the final. The decision to make them the top three was met with little if any complaint.

“I would agree with that decision, without a doubt,” USC coach Danny Holzer said.

“They've proven once again that they're the three best teams until somebody beats them.”

Hampton was seeded No. 2, and North Allegheny was No. 3, but don't read too much into those numbers, O'Neil said. Each team had just three losses: twice to New Castle and once to each other. So the committee's goal was to make the three teams around Hampton and North Allegheny similar in competition.

“There's no way we can separate (Nos.) 2 and 3,” O'Neil said. “We wanted those two quadrants to be equal.”

Overall, Class AAAA boys proved tough.

“From No. 4 to No. 12 or 13 was so tight,” O'Neil said. “It was splitting hairs to see who was going where. The first three were easy, but then we looked at them and said, ‘What separates these teams?' ”

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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