Sunday, February 15, 2015

D6SN 2015 Boys AA Basketball Playoff Preview

The Favorites - Tyrone

Tyrone enters the 2015 playoffs as the team to beat, and that somewhat comes out of default. The field 1 through 16 are all capable of beating one another, but I think when it comes down to it, Tyrone mat stand out the most. The Golden Eagles won the Mountain League conference championship en route to a 17-3 regular season mark. Despite some big personnel losses from last season, the program of Tyrone stepped up and new play-makers emerged. Tyrone has played a challenging schedule that should prepare them for a big run, as the Golden Eagles hold a 13-3 record against teams that have qualified for postseason play. I like the battle-tested nature Tyrone has, and they will be ready for anything thrown at them in the district six playoffs.

The Challenger - Blairsville 

Blairsville enters the postseason with an imposing 18-4 record. Their only losses came to Hollidaysburg, Somerset, and Homer-Center twice. All three of those teams are legitimate championship contenders for their respective classes, and Blairsville lost all four games by a total of 10 points. The Bobcats are long and athletic and they are paced by perhaps the best player in the tournament, Troy Williams.  They also boast 6'0" senior guard, Cameron Livingston and 6'4" senior center and Slippery Rock football recruit, Rhadezz Henderson as second and third options. All three Bobcats average double figures, and could be the hero on any given night.

The Dark Horse - Bellwood-Antis

Bellwood is sitting as the sixth seed, but they are a very dangerous team on the bottom half of the bracket.  The Blue Devils have really stepped up down the stretch and will enter the playoffs riding a pretty good stretch of play. Bellwood had won 11 straight before falling in the ICC championship, but their month-long momentum should not be forgotten.  Junior forward Nathan Davis is having a monster of a season and has really put the team on his back all year long. He leads the team in scoring with an eye-popping 25 points per game, but he also has good rebounding, assist, and steal numbers.  The Devils are clicking on all cylinders right now, but they face a good Penn Cambria team in round one, a squad they lost to by 15 earlier in the year.

The Question Mark - West Branch

The 18 wins are hard to ignore, but the strength of schedule is what has a lot of people concerned.  You look at sixth seeded Bellwood, and they handled West Branch not too long ago.  They do not have many games (or wins) against quality opponents, and that's what is in question.  What is not in question is their ability to score the basketball and win games.  Sometimes it does not matter who you are playing if your teams know how to win - and this Warriors team has that mentality.  They play a pretty good Bald Eagle team right off the bat, and West Branch will be tested by the 15th seeded Bald Eagles.

The Defense - Penns Valley

Penns Valley has long been a program that runs on controlling tempo and suffocating opponents on defense.  The 2015 edition of the Rams are no different. Penns Valley has held their opposition to under 50 points on 12 occasions this season, but amazingly enough neither the Rams or their opponent hit 70 points in a game once this season. Terry Glunt's squads always impose their will, and they are coming off a recent 53-41 win over top-seeded Tyrone, thus proving they are ready to hang with anyone.

The Spoiler - Cambria Heights

Cambria Heights enters the tournament as the 16th seed, but they aren't just any old 16 seed.  The Highlanders hold some rather impressive wins this year over 2nd seeded A team Homer-Center, and top seeded AAA team Somerset.  It just goes to show you this Cambria Heights team can beat really good teams, and a lot of it has to do with their style of play.  Heights rolls with a small lineup that is shooter friendly, and if the outside shots fall, the opposing team is in trouble.  Cambria Heights also recently knocked off Central Cambria and Penn Cambria, so to put it as straightforward as possible, Cambria Heights could beat anyone in this field.

The Deeper Sleeper - Ligonier

If you look deeper into the bracket, you will see a good 10th seeded Ligonier team.  Looking at how the bottom half of the bracket may shake out, the Rams could be a candidate to make a bit of a run. They are paced by athletic forward Jordan Jones and he could put the team on his back and lead them to some wins. Ligonier played some quality non-conference games this year, and that could pay off for them in the playoffs.

The Unknown - Juniata

The Juniata Indians are a bit of an unknown as they play in a league outside the district.  They enter the playoffs with an impressive 16-6 record and they are seeded 7th.  If we examine things a little further, we know Juniata is 1-4 this year against District Six competition. Juniata played well and they most certainly improved in the second half of the year, but it's hard to ignore that they did not stack up well with some of the local teams in the regular season. I label them as an unknown, because it is hard to judge what they were doing playing a schedule mostly made up of District 4 teams.

The Return - Westmont

After a two year hiatus from postseason play, Dave Roman's Westmont squad is back and they are hungry.  The Hilltoppers battled back from a 1-5 start, and finished with a respectable 11-10 record. Westmont actually hit a bit of a dry spell late in the year, but closed out with a 10 point upset win over Johnstown and enter the postseason on a positive note. Westmont has a go-to-scorer in Connor Mendelson and he is surrounded by a mostly balanced attack, they do hold a win over top-seeded Tyrone this season, and it would make for a very intriguing second round rematch.

The Wrong Way - Central Cambria

After a memorable 55-39 win over Penn Cambria to improve to 12-7, the Red Devils dropped three straight games and enter the playoffs trending the wrong way.  Central Cambria is still a dangerous team, but going into the playoffs losing three straight games is not always ideal.  Unlike past CC teams, they do not have a great go-to-threat to scorer to get them instant points, but they are a balanced attack on offense with all five starters averaging at least 7 points, and not one that averages more than 11.

The Post - Bishop McCort

If Bishop McCort is going anywhere this postseason, it will be on the strength of their two post players. 6'3" senior Karch Helsel and 6'4" junior Alex Conohan really provide this team with consistency and they can control the paint if they are involved in the game early.  Bishop McCort has really struggled this season and their 9-12 regular season record is one of their worst marks in recent memory, but they are dangerous and many of their losses came down to the wire.  If the two McCort post players can control the paint, they may be able to steal one over 3rd seeded Penns Valley.

The Athletes -  Mt. Union

Mt. Union is a very athletic team, and many of the players from their 12-1 football team are back on the court.  Mt. Union can use their superior athletic ability to pressure teams into bad decisions and they may be able to use that for a run in the district playoffs.

The Repeat - Penn Cambria

Penn Cambria is not going for a repeat championship, but they are going for a repeat performance against Bellwood-Antis in the first round. They beat the Blue Devils by 15 points on a neutral floor, and that is a telling sign in this 6-11 first round battle.  If Penn Cambria can duplicate that same game plan over Bellwood, the Panthers may be moving onto the second round.  Penn Cambria is looking for their second district championship in three years, and they are a team that may have a run in them.

The Underachievers - Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle is better than their 8-14 record indicates, and they are a dangerous first round opponent for West Branch. The Bald Eagles have three players averaging over 14 points per game and anyone of those guys are liable to go off for a big game in a playoff setting. Brandon Getting, Trey Butterworth, and Jason Jones are all capable play-makers, and watch out for them in the first round game against West Branch.

The Forgotten - Central

Don't sleep on Central, as they did make the district final last year.  There are still plenty of great athletes in this school and they have been on quite a run in just about every sport the past three years, and not to mention - they have a great coach in Reggie Nevins.  They can make some noise for sure.

The Rockets - Southern Huntingdon

Last but not least, Southern Huntingdon comes into the playoffs with a 9-12 record.  They have lost 4 out of their last 5 games, and many of their losses have come at the hands of quality teams, but they do face a daunting task with Blairsville in the first round.

The Picks

(1) Tyrone over (16) Cambria Heights
(8) Westmont over (9) Central Cambria
(5) Mt. Union over (12) Central
(4) Blairsville over (13) Southern Huntingdon
(3) Penns Valley over (14) Bishop McCort
(6) Bellwood-Antis over (11) Penn Cambria
(10) Ligonier over (7) Juniata
(15) Bald Eagle over (2) West Branch

(1) Tyrone over (8) Westmont
(4) Blairsville over (5) Mt. Union
(6) Bellwood-Antis over (3) Penns Valley
(10) Ligonier over (15) Bald Eagle Area

(4) Blairsville over (1) Tyrone
(6) Bellwood-Antis over (10) Ligonier

(1) Tyrone over (10) Ligonier in consolation

(4) Blairsville over (6) Bellwood-Antis

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