The Favorites - Monessen
The WPIAL Championship puts the target on their backs. The Monessen Greyhounds are definitely the team to beat, and I do not think they will have much of a problem with that. Joe Salvino has been coaching for a long time, and he is one of the best in class A. He will have his team ready for whatever is thrown at them. Justice Rice and Lavelle Rush are two very good guards, and the Greyhounds like to get out and run and push the tempo. Not many teams will be able to keep up with this team.
The Challenger - Kennedy Catholic
The champions from District 10 should be a formidable foe to Monessen, and a potential game with Greyhounds would happen in the Western quarterfinals, not the finals. The Golden Eagles have one of the most talent, and intriguing players in the entire state and they can ride him to a big run in the playoffs. Sagaba Konate ended up at Kennedy by way of the African nation of Mali, and the 6'8" junior has grown into a legitimate college prospect and was recently offered by Pitt. Not many people will be able to check the big man at the class A level.
The Local Favorites - Bishop Carroll
Bishop Carroll is 75-6 the past three seasons, including a 52-2 mark the past two years. The Huskies are 24-1 this season and they play an up-tempo style that is dependent upon full-court pressure for 32 minutes a game. Carroll made it the Western Final last season, and any atmosphere or opponent will not bother some of the more experienced Huskies. Brandon Martinazzi will most certainly be named all-state once again this season and with him leading the attack - Carroll can beat anybody.
The Dark Horse - Cameron County
Cameron County has a 6'8" senior heading to play division one basketball at Bucknell next season in Nate Sestina. He averages 21 points and 13 rebounds a contest, and is one of the best players in the entire state. He is the type of player that can put the team on his back and go on a run. Cameron County makes the upper half of this bracket that much more dangerous joining the likes of Monessen and Kennedy Catholic. The Raiders can play, and despite the upset in the District 9 championship - I still think they have as good of a chance as any to represent the West.
The New Guys - Eden Christian
Eden Christian is new to the concept of playing in the PIAA and WPIAL. Eden played mostly a schedule consisting of other Christian schools until last season. This year the Warriors pulled off a few upsets to advance to the state tournament for the first time. ECA knocked off Clairton and undefeated Sewickley Academy en route to this PIAA tournament berth. The get a tough first round opponent with Kennedy Catholic, but perhaps this team is a little better than we all realized.
The Defense - Southern Fulton
Southern Fulton plays a smothering brand of basketball, and they really can grind out wins. 16 times the Indians have held their opponent to 40 points or less, with four of those games they held the opposition to under 30 points. This is a tough-minded team that takes on the identity of their coach, Kent Hendershot. They lost for just the second time all year in the District Five title game, but this team has some skill and they are poised to go up against a very contrasting style against their round one opponent, Vincentian.
The Offense - Vincentian Academy
As I mentioned, contrasting styles when Vincentian and Southern Fulton will meet up Friday night at UPJ. The Royals play an up and down, run and gun style that has seen them eclipse 80 points in 16 games this season. In fact, Vincentian has toppled the 100 point mark three times also. Think about that, 100 points in a 32 minutes game is no easy task. They will put the pressure on a slower-paced Southern Fulton team in round one, and they have an offense capable of going on a run for a few games.
The Big Man - Venango Catholic
The story with Venango Catholic is simple; they have a 6'11" player. Devon Zagar is a big force inside for Venango Catholic, and may provide the biggest match-up nightmare of any player in the field. Obviously there are some good big guys in this bracket, but having a near 7-footer is an advantage. Monessen will have a tough time stopping the big man, and if Venango sets the pace and gets their guys in foul trouble, an upset could ensue.
The Youth - Saltsburg
Saltsburg's five leading scorers are sophomores, and the three seed from District Six may be up against it with their youth and inexperience. The Trojans are only 13-11, but they showed some resolve by winning some postseason games. With only two seniors on the roster, it looks like Saltsburg can be a threat for the next two seasons, but it is hard to expect them to take down a good Cameron County team in round one.
The Deeper Sleeper - Farrell
Farrell comes in as the second representative from District 10, but don't forget they spent the majority of the season ranked in the top five of the state. The Steelers are an athletic bunch and Farrell is one of the more storied basketball programs in Western PA. Farrell has played a loaded schedule, and their four losses have all come to quality teams. The Steelers have also put up some impressive wins for a class A team, and they could easily be the team to come from out of the pack to win the lower half of the bracket.
The "unLuck" of the Draw - Jeannette
Jeannette made a big run to get to the WPIAL championship and gave Monessen a good game in the final at the Petersen Events Center. So with that, you would think a reward or an easier first round would be coming the Jayhawks' way, but that is not the case. Jeannette has to deal with Farrell in the first round, a team that was ranked second in the state rankings as recently as last week. (For perspective, Monessen was ranked sixth.) Jeannette has a tough game, but they are a talented and athletic team that can match what Farrell can bring. Julian Batts is as good of a guard in the bracket, and could lead them to a first round win, and perhaps a run beyond.
The Experience - Clarion-Limestone
Clarion-Limestone has a senior laden attack, and it led them whole way to a District 9 championship. The Lions finished last season with three straight losses to some quality teams like Ridgway, Johnsonburg, and then Bishop Carroll in the PIAA playoffs. Clarion-Limestrong finished stronger in the district this time, and they look like they are a more capable team to make a run in the state playoffs. CL knocked off Elk County Catholic and Cameron County, the two proverbial favorites to win District 9 initially. If Clarion-Linestone can continue their improved play, they will be a tough out.
The Longshot - Portage
I like Portage's first round draw, and I think the Mustangs have a chance to pick up a state playoff win when they take on McConnellsburg on Friday. Portage played some good basketball down the stretch, and despite the lopsided loss to Bishop Carroll in the district final, I would say Travis Kargo's team accomplished a lot this season. If they make it to the round of 16, Portage will have a difficult showdown with Monessen, but Michael Bryja (21 PPG 10 RPG) and company will give it the best they have.
The Road Warriors - Elk County Catholic
Elk County Catholic finished third in District Nine with a 25-2 record. They are a very good team, but they are walking into a hostile environment for a state playoff game. The Crusaders are going to play one loss district champion, Bishop Carroll of district six. The game is going to be held at Central Cambria, which is literally right next door to Bishop Carroll. Obviously ECC is a talented team, but having to deal with a good Bishop Carroll team and their home crowd will be a tough task.
The Consistency - North Catholic
It may not be talked about much, or enough, but North Catholic is in the PIAA Tournament for the ninth straight season. Dave Long's program is a consistent force in the WPIAL and has been a factor in either class A or AA for some time now. The Trojans are 16-10 this season, and they earned their way into the PIAA tournament by defeating Sewickley Academy and Cornell in play-back games and those two pretty solid teams. NC could be team to be reckoned with in a playoff setting.
The Unknown - McConnellsburg
The Spartans have a solid 16-7 record and have beaten some good teams throughout the year, I just have a hard time gauging what they are capable of doing in the state tournament. They open up with Portage at Hollidaysburg, and that should be a very competitive and winnable game. After that, it probably gets tricky with a potential date with Monessen. The Spartans are not a big offensive team, and may struggle keeping up with a faster paced team.
Monessen over Venango Catholic
Portage over McConnellsburg
Cameron County over Saltsburg
Kennedy Catholic over Eden Christian
Bishop Carroll over Elk County Catholic
Farrell over Jeannnette
Vincentian over Souther Fulton
Clarion-Limestone over North Catholic
Monessen over Portage
Cameron County over Kennedy Catholic
Farrell over Bishop Carroll
Vincentian over Clarion Limestone
Monessen over Cameron County
Farrell over Vincentian
Farrell over Monessen