CLASS AAAA BOYS
The teams: Chester (1-1, 27-0), Lancaster McCaskey (3-7, 22-7), York William Penn (3-3, 24-5), Norristown (1-5, 19-8), Pocono Mountain West (11-1, 22-4), Coatesville (1-7, 23-6), Batram (12-2, 11-15), Central Dauphin East (3-4, 15-12), St. Joseph's Prep (12-1, 21-5), Central Bucks West (1-8, 22-5), Abington (1-3, 20-7), Central Dauphin (3-5, 26-2), Williamsport (4-1, 17-8), Souderton (1-6, 20-7), Harrisburg (3-2, 19-6), Fels (12-4, 18-8), Chambersburg (3-1, 18-9), Delaware Valley (2-2, 20-7), Wissahickon (1-4, 22-5), Easton (11-3, 20-7), Lower Merion (1-2, 25-3), Dover (3-6, 19-8), Parkland (11-2, 21-6), Roman Catholic (12-3, 16-9), Gateway (7-1, 20-6), Seneca Valley (7-5, 15-10), Allderdice (8-1, 18-6), Shaler (7-4, 23-3), State College (6-1, 18-4), Pittsburgh Central Catholic (7-2, 15-11), Cathedral Prep (10-1, 18-5), Obama Academy (8-2, 17-6)
2011 champion: Chester
The outlook: Can anyone deny the Chester Clippers a second straight PIAA Class title, adding to a well-stocked trophy case of state hardware? Probably not.
Led by 6-foot-6 junior guard talent Rondae Jefferson, the Clippers have dropped one game in two years and, in going undefeated this season, have only had two games decided by less than 10 points. They've already face first-round opponent McCaskey and beaten it by 10 on the road early in the year before hitting stride.
Chester will have some teams capable of giving it a run and forcing it to bring its 'A' game in its quest to return to the Bryce Jordan Center. York William Penn and Norristown, who meet in the other first round game in Chester's pod, both have played in recent PIAA finals and should have a very interesting opening rounder. Coatesville, another product of always-strong District 1, enters the tournament with 23 wins and looks like a good bet to get a rematch with Chester - it lost by 13 to open the season - in the quarterfinals.
Look for the winner of the probably second-round matchup between District 12 champ St. Joseph's Prep and Central Dauphin, which, surprisingly, ended up fifth in District 3, to reach the semifinals. Both have more than 20 wins and big-time Division I prospects: St. Joe's has junior shooting guard Miles Overton along with forward Steve Vasturia (Notre Dame), and Central Dauphin's Devin Johnson is heading to Wake Forest.
Fronted by 6-6 wing Tony Scott, Gateway, the WPIAL champ, once again is looking like the traditional west's best shot to be represented in University Park in Class AAAA. The Gators will have to get by a Seneca Valley team it only escaped by three in the WPIAL quarters in the first round and dangerous Shaler and its Penn State-bound junior Geno Thorpe in the second, though. Then, it's likely a District 7 finals rematch with Pittsburgh Central Catholic, although the Cathedral Prep/Obama winner could surprise.
Unfortunately for those Pittsburgh-area schools, there are now powers from the Philadelphia area in its half of the bracket, like traditional Catholic League front-runner Roman Catholic, District 1 fourth-place finisher Wissahickon and District 1 runner-up Lower Merion, Kobe Bryant's alma mater. Roman beat Lower Merion in a close game early in the year, and look for one of these two schools to oppose Chester in the state finals.
Mirror's finalists: Chester and Roman Catholic
Mirror's state champion: Chester
CLASS AAA BOYS
The teams: Berks Catholic (3-1, 27-2), Philadelphia Electric Charter (12-4, 16-10), Abington Heights (2-1, 22-5), Northern Lehigh (11-3, 20-5), Boys Latin (12-2, 22-6), Pope John Paul II (1-3, 17-10), Allentown Central Catholic (11-1, 15-9), Shikellamy (4-2, 16-8), Holy Ghost Prep (1-1, 27-1), Northeastern 3-5, 17-9), Danville (4-1, 22-2), Scranton Prep (2-2, 18-7), York Suburban (3-3, 22-5), Wilson Area (11-2, 15-10), Neumann-Goretti (12-1, 23-3), Greencastle-Antrim (3-6, 23-4), Camp Hill Trinity (3-3, 23-3), Archbishop Carroll (12-3, 18-7), Octorara (1-2, 22-4), Lampeter-Strasburg (1-2, 22-5), Johnstown (6-1, 22-2), Mars (7-5, 18-7), Hampton (7-2, 22-4), Warren (10-2, 19-6), New Castle (7-1, 26-0), Hickory (10-3, 16-9), Bradford (9-1, 13-11), Montour (7-4, 20-4), Westinghouse (7-1, 7-17), Beaver (7-3, 18-7), General McLane (10-1, 24-0), Central Valley (7-6, 16-10)
2011 champion: Neumann-Goretti
The outlook: For the past four years, Neumann-Goretti has been the unchallenged master of PIAA boys Class AAA basketball and very likely been the best team in the commonwealth regardless of class.
In that span, the Saints have lost just twice to other PIAA teams. One of those was an upset at the hands of Philadelphia Catholic League rival Archbishop Carroll that denied Neumann-Goretti being able to look for a four-peat this year; Carroll ended up winning the state title that season.
Neumann-Goretti's three losses this year have come to out-of-state powers, and the Saints have made mincemeat of pretty much everyone else. It's hard to imagine them breaking much of a sweat against Greencastle-Antrim or the York Suburban/Wilson Area winner. Once-beaten Holy Ghost Prep, the District 1 champ, has done well in states in the past and could be the first team to give Neumann-Goretti a run for its money in the quarterfinals.
A trio of new names on the scene stands to face the two-time defending state champs in the semifinals. Boys Latin Charter, a fourth-year program, lost to Neumann-Goretti by nine in the District 12 championship. Pope John Paul II, in its second year, finished third in District 1. District 1 champion Berks Catholic is the heir to the Reading Central Catholic tradition as well as its coach and many of its players, including Duquesne recruit Donovan Jack.
Trinity, Archbishop Carroll, New Castle and General McLane are the top teams for which to keep an eye out in the bottom half of the bracket. Trinity and Carroll are traditional powers from Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Both New Castle and McLane are undefeated and have done well in past tournaments, too.
One of those teams will bow out in the first round, because Trinity and Carroll have to face each other. The winner of that figures to play either Johnstown or Hampton in the quarterfinals.
New Castle is something of an aberration: The Hurricanes lack a player taller than 6-3, but they haven't crossed the path of any opponent that could take advantage of that perceived weakness yet, winning all of their games and all of them by double digits. McClane, meanwhile, is exceptionally well-balanced. These two teams seem to match up very well, and a quarterfinal round meeting between them could be quite a treat to behold.
Mirror's finalists: Neumann-Goretti and New Castle
Mirror's state champion: Neumann-Goretti
CLASS AA BOYS
The teams: Communications Tech (12-1, 19-9), Columbia (3-3, 17-9), Holy Cross (2-2, 22-4), Southern Columbia (4-2, 20-6), Pine Grove (11-1, 19-7), Del-Val Charter (12-5, 14-7), York Catholic (3-2, 18-8), Vaux (12-3, 14-10), Delone Catholic (3-1, 18-8), Imhotep Charter (12-4, 17-8), Wilkes-Barre Meyers (2-1, 23-2), Athens (4-3, 22-3), Philadelphia Bishop McDevitt (12-2, 10-12), Shenandoah Valley (11-2, 21-4), Loyalsock (4-1, 22-3), Riverside (2-3, 22-4), Beaver Falls (7-1, 24-3), Lakeview (1-3, 19-6), Conemaugh Township (5-1, 22-3), Bellwood-Antis (6-2, 20-6), North East (1-2, 19-6), Greensburgh Central Catholic (7-4, 19-6), Smethport (9-1,18-5), Jeannette (7-5, 16-8), Bishop McCort (6-1, 17-7), Quaker Valley (7-7, 21-4), Sto-Rox (7-3, 22-3), Brookville (9-2, 18-6), Monessen (7-2, 22-3), Westmont Hilltop (6-3, 20-5), Mercyhurst Prep (10-1, 23-2), Shady Side Academy (7-6, 18-6)
2011 champion: Imhotep Charter
The outlook: Class AA might be the second smallest qualification in Pennsylvania sports, but it also has provided some of the most entertaining boys basketball over the last decade or so. Pittsburgh and its suburbs have consistently turned out high- quality teams like Jeannette, Sto-Rox and Beaver Falls. The rise of the charter schools in and around Philadelphia has raised the stakes even more, with Imhotep stepping to the forefront there.
The lower half of the bracket features a lot of the usual suspects from the WPIAL. Sto-Rox was third and Jeannette fifth this year. Of course, the cream of the crop is Beaver Falls, led by all-everything Division I prospect Sheldon Jeter, who can play almost anywhere on the floor at 6-6. The Tigers lost two games this year and avenged one of those losses by 39 points. They won their four playoff games by 25, 18, 30 and 19.
Bellwood-Antis, the lone area team in the mix, as fate would have it would get Beaver Falls in the second round if it could beat District 5 champion Conemaugh Township in what looks like a fairly competitive first-round game.
Beaver Falls probably will see the winner of Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic, WPIAL section rivals whose two meetings this year were decided by four combined points, in the quarterfinals.
The team that beat Bellwood in the D6 finals, Bishop McCort, might have a hard time getting as far as the Blue Devils do in interdistricts. The Crushers have to open with WPIAL seventh-place finisher Quaker Valley, which took it to District 5 runner-up Chestnut Ridge the other night. If McCort passes that test, it draws a tough, tall and talented Sto-Rox squad.
Monessen and Mercyhurst Prep will vie for the right to face the McCort/Sto-Rox winner.
The three schools on which to focus in the top half of the bracket are all from District 12: Communications Tech, Vaux and Imhotep.
Imhotep is only the fourth seed out of District 12, but take that with a grain of salt. The District 12 tournament has an unusual setup, and Imhotep was every bit as good as Communications Tech, splitting a pair of games in the regular season. Imhotep's top player is 6-6 junior forward Brandon Austin, who already has committed to Penn State.
Imhotep opens with District 3 champ Delone Catholic and will probably see Wilkes-Barre Meyers and Penn State football recruit Eugene Lewis in the second round.
The other pod in that quarter of the bracket is wide open. Bishop McDevitt has the worst record but faced the best competition in the Philadelphia Catholic League. Loyalsock, Riverside and Shenandoah Valley have nearly identical records to each other.
In the top quarter of the bracket, the pivotal games have District 3 runner-up York Catholic meeting Vaux in the opening round and Communications Tech going up against District 2 runner-up Holy Cross in the second round. One of these teams should meet Imhotep in the semifinals, unless Myers pulls an upset.
Mirror's finalists: Imhotep Charter and Beaver Falls
Mirror's state champion: Beaver Falls
CLASS A BOYS
The teams: Greenwood (3-1, 21-1), Lourdes Regional (4-4, 14-12), Susquehanna Community (2-1, 8-15), Faith Christian (1-2, 23-4), Neumann Regional (4-2, 18-7), Mahanoy Area (11-2, 19-6), Constitution (12-1, 18-9), Camp Hill (3-3, 12-14), Pius X (11-1, 17-8), Math, Civic & Sciences (12-2, 16-9), Sullivan County (4-1, 21-3), Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic (6-3, 14-11), New Hope Academy (3-2, 17-8), Muncy (4-3, 16-9), Church Farm (1-1, 20-5), Old Forge (2-2, 9-15), Lincoln Park (7-1, 22-4), Clarion-Limeston (9-4, 19-6), Shade (5-1, 21-4), Elk County Catholic (9-3, 16-11), Johnsonburg (9-1, 22-5), Bishop Carroll Catholic (6-2, 14-12), West Middlesex (10-1, 20-4), Pittsburgh North Catholic (7-4, 18-6), Northern Cambria (6-1, 20-5), VisionQuest (10-3, 13-9), Vincentian (7-3, 21-4), Berlin Brothersvalley (5-2, 15-10), Cornell (7-2, 19-6), Kennedy Catholic (10-2, 15-9), Ridgway (9-1, 26-1), Sewickley Academy (7-5, 11-12)
2011 champion: Math, Civics & Science Charter
The outlook: Of all the classifications, this is the one that has the thickest area flavor with three teams - Northern Cambria, Bishop Carroll and Bishop Guilfoyle. The odds that they remain part of the mix very long are not as strong. Guilfoyle opens with a Sullivan County team that is tall enough to look like it was grown in the woods and fields of District 4; if the Marauders somehow get by that, they'll have either defending PIAA champion Math, Civics and Sciences or District 11 champion Pius X in the second round. Carroll gets a very well-coached and tested Johnsonburg team. Northern Cambria gets enigmatic VisionQuest, the court-adjudicated school from Franklin which is very athletic but still lost 10 games.
One thing that really stands out in this bracket is some unusually competitive-looking first round games. In the bottom half of the bracket, a Ridgway team that downed District 6 Class AA winner Bishop McCort opens with defending PIAA finalist Sewickley Academy, Cornell faces Kennedy Catholic, District 10 winner West Middlesex - which beat Beaver Falls this season - meets up with North Catholic of Pittsburgh and Shade gets usually tough Elk County Catholic. In the upper half of the bracket, the survivor of that Math, Civics & Science/Pius X game could go far.
If Northern Cambria is to add an additional step or more to its second-round showing in 2011, the Colts will have to play even better. VisionQuest is a more difficult first-round draw than Union-Rimersburg was. Vincentian, the likely second round opponent, is the third seed from the WPIAL and beat Bishop Carroll a few weeks ago by 16; NC just beat the Huskies by one in the 6-A championship.
Ridgway or Cornell looks like the logical foe if the Colts make it to the quarterfinals.
Of course, the real monster on the bottom side of the draw is Lincoln Park, with 6-10 Temple recruit Devontae Watson patrolling the paint and Trey Hosack lighting it up from outside.
The Leopards haven't lost to another Class A team this year and have beaten several much larger schools. The interesting thing is that one of the teams that beat Lincoln Park was Beaver Falls, and one of the teams to which Beaver Falls lost was West Middlesex, and Lincoln Park and West Middlesex are likely to cross paths.
The top half of the bracket is headed by Constitution and Math, Civics & Sciences, the top two finishers in District 12, along with District 1 champion Church Farm. Greenwood, the winner of District 3, also could go places.
However, when it boils down to it, the two Philadelphia schools just possess too much talent to see them not playing each other for the right to go to the BJC. And, with one of the nation's premier talents in 6-6 wing Savon Goodman now plying his trade at Constistution, the Generals are the team to beat in their side of the bracket.
Mirror's finalists: Constitution and Lincoln Park
Mirror's state champion: Lincoln Park