The Favorites - Aliquippa
The Quips enter the state playoffs with an unblemished 25-0 record. It marked only the second time Aliquippa made it through the WPIAL with an undefeated record. It was their first District Championship since 2007. The Quips have a star-studded team with quick guards and athletic forwards, and they have the makeup of a team capable of winning a state championship. Stephon McGinnis and Jassir Jett are two very good guards, and they separate the Quips from the pack. Toss in one of the best football players in the state like Kazeon Pugh, and you have a team that is tough to defend from a physical standpoint. The pressure is on, but Aliquippa is definitely the team to beat.
The Local Favorites - Blairsville
The Blairsville Bobcats defeated West Branch for the District Six crown on Saturday to set their record at 22-4. Blairsville has an athletic team and could surprise some of the WPIAL teams out there with their size and athleticism. Blairsville is paced by 6'4" forward, Troy Williams. He is the team's leading scorer and can explode for some big games in a playoff setting. Rahdezz Henderson is a grown man in the post, as he will be going to Slippery Rock to play Defensive End next season, but he also happens to be a very talented high school basketball player. The big three for Blairsville is rounded out by senior guard, Cameron Livingston, who is second in the team in scoring. Blairsivlle has the ability to make a run in the playoffs, more so than any of the other local teams.
The Challengers - Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park sustained an upset in the quarterfinals of WPIAL, and forced the Leopards to win a pair of play-back games to earn their berth in the state playoffs. Maybe the loss to Quaker Valley could have been a wake-up call for the defending class A state champions, and it showed them that the move to AA should be a little more challenging. Lincoln Park is paced by a pair of dynamic guards in sophomore Renell Cummings and senior Antonio Kellem. Lincoln Park gets a tough draw with West Middlesex in round one, but I can assure you that Lincoln Park isn't an ordinary 5th seed from the WPIAL - they are a state championship contender.
The Longshot - Central Cambria
Central Cambria gets a rough draw in round one having to go to Pittsburgh to take on the undefeated Aliquippa. OK this draw may be a little more than rough, if Central Cambria wins this game it may require a movie script - they are that big of underdogs. Central Cambria enters the state playoffs with back to back double digit losses to close out the district six playoffs. The Red Devils' hope could be resting with a talented and big freshman, 6'5" Matt Holsinger. If the next brother in the long line of Holsinger's can control the paint and the Red Devils play a slow-it-down style of game, that would be Central Cambria's best chance right there.
The Darkhorse - Greensburg Central Catholic
GCC has a favorable draw in the playoffs, and could realistically find themselves Western semifinals if they take care of business like they should. The Centurions have an impressive 23-3 record to date, and they come battle tested. GCC always plays a tough schedule and they still have some pieces from last season's run to the Western Final, most notably Romano Sebastiani. If Sebastiani can post some big games here in the playoffs, he could lead Greensburg Central on a run.
The Sleeper - Quaker Valley
Quaker Valley already proved they can beat elite teams by knocking off Lincoln Park in the WPIAL quarterfinals. The Quakers have a senior-laden team led by 6'5" senior Chris Conlan. The senior big man can be a double-double machine as he averages 15 and 8 on the year. Quaker Valley is led by one of the best coaches on this end of the state in Mike Mastroianni and he usually can pull the best out of his teams. Look for the Quakers to give it a good run here in the state playoffs.
The Snub - West Middlesex
Often the case when you win a district championship, you at least get one easy draw before it starts to pick up in the second round. Unfortunately for the Big Reds, it did not work out that way as they get Lincoln Park in the first round. Of the three District Ten teams that made it to the state playoffs, West Middlesex likely got the toughest draw despite winning the championship. Now I do not want to make it look like West Middlesex has no chance, because this is a very good basketball team and they certainly can beat Lincoln Park. West Middlesex has a beast in the middle in Trey Stuanch, and he could certainly overpower Lincoln Park in the paint. Of all the first round games, this is likely the best match-up. Good for basketball fans, tough on the teams.
The Defending Champs - Seton LaSalle
Hey let's not forget about Seton LaSalle, the defending Western PA AA Champions from last season. The Rebels went 30-2 last season, they won the WPIAL and represented the West in the state championship and lost to a very good Constitution team from Philadelphia by two points in Hershey. The two stars from that team moved onto UPJ to continue their careers, so how do they follow that up? Well, Seton LaSalle is 23-3 and gave Aliquippa a game in the WPIAL championship. Seton LaSalle has the ability to make another run, as the cupboard certainly isn't bare. Watch out for the Rebels.
The Youth - Bellwood-Antis
Bellwood-Antis does not have a senior at the top of their regular rotation, and it is possible Bellwood is "a year away" from a deeper run in the playoffs. The Blue Devils are paced by all-everything junior forward. Nathan Davis. Davis leads the team in scoring (25 PPG), rebounds (9 RPG), and assists (5.7 APG). Bellwood went 5-17 last year, and they have made quite the improvement to 20-6 this season. Bellwood has a favorable draw and nothing to lose, watch out for Brent Gerwart's team.
The Deeper Sleeper - Neshannock
Neshannock enters the state playoffs on a bit of a skid, but they still are a dangerous team. The Lancers played a difficult schedule. Three of their eight losses have come to one Lincoln Park this season, so take away that and they have fared well against everyone else. Neshannock has talent, and they are battle tested. Despite them being a six seed from the WPIAL, they absolutely can give District Six champ Blairsville some trouble in the first round.
The Local Sleeper - West Branch
West Branch gets a 14-11 Mercyhurst team in the first round, and that could be one of the better draws of any local team in the playoffs. West Branch should benefit from Mercyhurst making a long trip to come play them Saturday. Truth be told, I'm already surprised by West Branch and they are a much better team than I realized. I'll readily admit I was wrong about the Warriors. The Warriors can stroke the three, and if they outside shots are falling - West Branch could be moving onto the Sweet 16.
The Hot Streak - Chestnut Ridge
Chestnut Ridge enters the playoffs having won six straight, and they appear to be playing their best basketball of the season. They avenged an early season loss to Berlin by defeating them in the District 5 championship game by taking down them down by 12 points on Saturday. Ridge has a very good player in Tyler Wiley, and they will need him to be on his A-game when they take on Greensburg Central Catholic on Saturday. Ridge is hot right now, and this is the best time of the year to be hot.
The Bad Note - Fairview
Fairview had an excellent 20-2 regular season, they won their first round playoff game over Reynolds. Things were looking good with a state playoff berth clinched, but a 32 point loss to West Middlesex in the District 10 championship game certainly gives them a different outlook heading into the PIAA playoffs. It sends this team into the state playoffs on a bad note. It is one thing to lose a championship game, it's another to lose by that much and you have to question which way this Fairview team is trending going into a first round game against Quaker Valley.
The Grinders - Cranberry
Cranberry is not a flashy team, and will have games played at their pace in the postseason. The Berries (best nickname in the field) have played some lower scoring games this season, and Patrick Irwin's team will typically dictate the tempo. Look for Cranberry to try to slow down against a much more athletic Seton LaSalle team in the first round.
The Record - Mercyhurst Prep
The Lakers from Mercyhurst Prep have a 14-11 record, and that certainly has to raise some eyebrows. Look a little deeper, and you will see Mercyhurst started the year 2-5, and they definitely changed their fortunes once the calender flipped to January. They are a dangerous team with Chris Vallimont in the middle. The 6'5" senior could certainly give West Branch some troubles in the first round.
The Long Ball - Redbank Valley
Redbank Valley takes a lot of three pointers with Jake Dougherty and Devin Shumaker leading the way. The two senior guards have both attempted well over 100 three point shots this year, and they are the two leading scorers for this team. If Redbank Valley has a run in them, it may be with the three-point shot.
Aliquippa over Central Cambria
Quaker Valley over Fairview
Mercyhurst Prep over West Branch
Bellwood-Antis over Redbank Valley
Lincoln Park over West Middlesex
Seton LaSalle over Cranberry
Greensburg CC over Chestnut Ridge
Blairsville over Neshannock
Aliquippa over Quaker Valley
Mercyhurst Prep over Bellwood-Antis
Lincoln Park over Seton LaSalle
Greensburg CC over Blairsville
Aliquippa over Mercyhurst Prep
Lincoln Park over Greensburg CC
Aliquippa over Lincoln Park