5 things to watch in the PIAA boys basketball playoffs

Thursday, March 7, 2019 | 10:37 PM

Coach Dan DeRose and his Penn Hills boys basketball players are leaving at 10 a.m. Friday for a four-hour bus ride to Hershey, the site picked for their state playoff opener.

Franklin Regional and Pine-Richland will take the same trip this weekend.

Without question, WPIAL boys basketball teams will travel far more miles than in the first round last year, but that’s because WPIAL teams won’t be facing one another. The PIAA rearranged the brackets to avoid pitting teams from the same district head-to-head in the first round.

“I’m fine with it,” DeRose said of the travel. “I’m happy that we’re not beating each other up and knocking each other out.

“We had to play Fox Chapel in the first round of states last year, and it was kind of hard to get motivated,” DeRose added. “We had already played them twice in the regular season. When you’re in the state playoffs, you’re thinking about teams from across the state. You’re not thinking about teams you play all the time.”

The disliked WPIAL-rematch quirk had affected Class 6A and 5A — both boys and girls — along with some teams in Class 4A girls. But at the request of the WPIAL, the PIAA eliminated almost all of those district rematches.

A year ago, there were nine first-round games that matched two WPIAL teams. This year there are only two, both in the girls brackets.

“It’s nice that we are not cannibalizing each other the first weekend,” said Mars coach Rob Carmody, whose WPIAL champion Planets defeated section rival Hampton in the first round last year. “You’d like to see our league represent itself in the best way possible.”

Now, most WPIAL Class 6A and 5A qualifiers will draw first-round opponents from Harrisburg-based District 3.

Tall task awaits Fox Chapel

Under the WPIAL’s follow-the-leader format, Fox Chapel earned a state playoff berth when Mt. Lebanon won the WPIAL Class 6A title.

The Foxes’ reward is a daunting first-round matchup with Kennedy Catholic, the top-ranked team in the state. The District 10 champions feature 6-foot-8 center Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia recruit), 6-5 guard Maceo Austin (Duquesne), 6-8 power forward Mattia Acunzo (Toledo) and 6-6 guard Ike Herster.

The teams meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at Farrell.

City League vs. WPIAL in Class 6A

City League champion Allderdice went 5-2 against WPIAL teams this season, but the Dragons had some trouble against Section 2-6A opponents. They lost to Upper St. Clair, 58-51, on Jan. 16, and Mt. Lebanon, 52-50, on Feb. 9.

Their PIAA first-round opponent is Canon-McMillan, which finished third in Section 2 behind Lebo and USC.

Allderdice and Canon-Mac meet at 3 p.m. Saturday at Mt. Lebanon.

Roadblock ahead in Class 4A?

Imhotep Charter is a two-time defending state champion that’s won six state titles since 2009. The Philadelphia power has defeated a WPIAL opponent in Hershey three times.

But this year, Imhotep is in the “western” half of the Class 4A bracket. That means it’s likely that WPIAL qualifier New Castle, Quaker Valley, Highlands, Ambridge or Ringgold would need to defeat Imhotep just to reach Hershey.

Imhotep lost in overtime to Bonner-Prendergast in the District 12 final. Before this year, all District 12 teams were on the “eastern” side of the bracket. But this season the D12 runner-up was shifted to the “west,” creating a potential all-Philadelphia final.

Imhotep Charter faces District 3’s Berks Catholic on Friday.

The other team in Hermitage

Kennedy Catholic isn’t the only talented basketball team in Hermitage. The area’s public school, Hickory, went 24-1 and won the District 10 title.

The Hornets drew a PIAA first-round matchup against Ambridge (15-9) that could be among the best in Class 4A. The teams meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Sharon.

Hickory is led by 20-point scorer Donald Whitehead, a 5-9 junior, and 14-point scorer Peyton Mele, a 6-2 sophomore.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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