Breaking down the 2020 WPIAL boys basketball playoffs
Tuesday, February 11, 2020 | 7:48 PM
Favorite: Butler hasn’t won a WPIAL title since 1991, but Purdue recruit Ethan Morton might have the Golden Tornado in position to finally win one. Morton has come close twice, losing in the WPIAL finals in both 2017 and ‘19. The 6-foot-6 guard averages 23 points, but he’s not the team’s only scoring threat. Devin Carney (20 ppg) and Mattix Clement are outstanding shooters.
Challengers: Upper St. Clair, which has Class 6A’s highest-scoring offense (72.7 ppg), is the hottest team in this bracket despite finishing second in Section 2. The Panthers have won six in a row with impressive victories over Mars (77-69), Mt. Lebanon (53-49) and Fox Chapel (61-46) among them. Mt. Lebanon, the defending WPIAL champion, won the Section 2 title behind Jake Hoffman (21.2 ppg) and Blaine Gartley (14.5). Section 3 champion Fox Chapel owns the stingiest defense in Class 6A (43.2 ppg) and a pair of double-digit scorers: Eli Yofan (15 ppg) and Arnold Vento (14). Pine-Richland had single-digit losses to Butler, Mt. Lebanon, North Catholic, Penn Hills and Allderdice, but does own a one-point win over USC from December. The Rams are led by seniors guards Kyle Polce (17 ppg) and Logan Murray (14).
Don’t overlook: Central Catholic and first-year coach Brian Urso enter the playoffs with three straight losses but the team looked like a contender several weeks ago. The Vikings celebrated wins over Mt. Lebanon, Pine-Richland and Penn Hills.
Prediction: Butler over Mt. Lebanon
Favorite: Penn Hills seeks its second WPIAL title in three years after winning 6A in 2018. The Indians won Section 1 this season with the top scoring offense in Class 5A (71.9 ppg) and four double-digit scorers: Kyree Mitchell (15.8), Wes Kropp (15.7), Ed Daniels (13.1) and Deondre Mitchell (10.2). Their tough nonsection schedule includes wins over Pine-Richland, Highlands and Aliquippa, as well as single-digit losses to Butler and Central Catholic.
Challengers: Notre Dame football recruit Michael Carmody is averaging 18.6 points and 19.2 rebounds per game for Section 3 champion Mars, the two-time defending WPIAL champion. The 6-6 Carmody has posted a double-double in 18 of his 19 games this season. Junior guard Mihali Sfanos is a 15-point scorer for the Planets. Section 2 champion Chartiers Valley has won 14 in a row against Pennsylvania schools, including an impressive victory Monday over Mt. Lebanon. Brayden Reynolds (18 ppg) and Jared Golstrom (16) are CV’s top scorers. Shaler has one of the WPIAL’s top scorers in Mekhi Reynolds (22 ppg) but struggled down the stretch. McKeesport’s Deamontae Diggs (20 ppg) is always a tough matchup.
Don’t overlook: Laurel Highlands freshman Rodney Gallagher has lived up to his phenom hype, averaging 22 points per game. The Mustangs defeated Penn Hills, McKeesport, Thomas Jefferson and Uniontown, but also have some head-scratching losses.
Prediction: Penn Hills over Mars
Favorite: Highlands shared the Section 1 title with Knoch but also played one of the toughest nonsection schedules. The Golden Rams celebrated wins over WPIAL playoff teams Lincoln Park, McKeesport, Nazareth Prep, Beaver Falls and Shaler, along with Allderdice. Luke Cochran is an 18-point scorer for Highlands, and Korry Myers adds 16.5.
Challengers: Quaker Valley has reached the WPIAL finals three seasons in a row, each time losing to New Castle at Petersen Events Center. Might this finally be the Quakers’ year? Markus Frank (17.6), Adou Thiero (17.3) and K.C. Johns (16.1) all average double digits, and 6-5 senior John Weir is back from a broken hand. Knoch defeated Highlands by five early in the season, part of a 16-game winning streak that was finally ended when the Knights lost to Highlands, 72-65, in the Jan. 28 rematch. Ryan Lang and Scott Fraser are both 17-point scorers for Knoch. Uniontown went undefeated in Section 2 behind senior guard Billy DeShields (18.1). The Red Raiders didn’t face too many tests, but they do own wins over Ambridge, Hempfield and Laurel Highlands. Blackhawk has a lackluster overall record, but the veteran group shared the Section 2 title with Quaker Valley.
Don’t overlook: New Castle finished third in Section 2 but the Red Hurricanes are three-time defending WPIAL champions. Michael Wells is a 20-point scorer.
Prediction: Highlands over Quaker Valley
Favorite: Lincoln Park is a two-time defending WPIAL champion and the reigning state champion. So, until someone knocks them off, the Leopards are probably the WPIAL favorites. The team has four scorers averaging 10 points or more: Isiah Smith (15.7), Andre Wilder (12.8), Tanner Mathos (12.7) and Dakari Bradford (10).
Challengers: If Upper St. Clair isn’t the hottest WPIAL team, then it’s maybe North Catholic. The Trojans own a 14-game winning streak and ended their regular season Monday with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to defeat Pine-Richland. Isaac DeGregorio averages 18 points for NC, which went unbeaten against WPIAL teams this season. NC won the WPIAL 3A title in 2017, defeating Lincoln Park in the finals. It’s hard to overshadow a one-loss team, but that’s happened to Section 3 champion South Allegheny. The Gladiators lost just once (to Shenango) behind brothers Antonio and Bryce Epps, who average 32 points combined. Charleroi and Washington shared the Section 4 title. Steel Valley’s Cam Polack (31 ppg) is one of the WPIAL’s top scorers.
Don’t overlook: Aliquippa and Beaver Falls tied for second in Section 1, but both programs know their way to the WPIAL finals. The Quips won 2A titles in 2015 and ’16, while BF won 3A in 2016.
Prediction: North Catholic over Lincoln Park
Favorite: Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the defending WPIAL champion, has two dynamic scorers in sophomore Jake DiMichele (27.4 ppg) and junior Dante Spadafora (23.3). The Chargers (77.3 ppg) feature the second-highest scoring offense in the WPIAL behind only North Catholic (79.0). OLSH seeks its fourth consecutive trip to the finals.
Challengers: Section 1 champion Sto-Rox and Section 2 champion Jeannette had very similar seasons. Sto-Rox started the season 3-6 before winning 13 straight games after the calendar turned to 2020. Jeannette started 1-6 but has won 14 of 15 since. Sto-Rox’s top scorer is Malik Smith (18.9), and Jeannette is led by Jackson Pruitt (16.4). Springdale shared the Section 1 title with Sto-Rox behind Demitri Fritch (24.3), one of Class 2A’s top scorers. The Dynamos split with Sto-Rox, winning 86-85 before losing the rematch 72-49. Laurel played OLSH tough twice, losing by seven and three points. Brentwood’s C.J. Ziegler (19.2) or Serra Catholic’s Jayden Bristol (17.6) could spark a playoff run from the Section 2 runners-up.
Don’t overlook: Shenango tied for second in Section 3 behind OLSH, but the Wildcats were the only team to defeat South Allegheny all season. They also finished their schedule by beating Mars on Monday.
Prediction: OLSH over Jeannette
Favorite: Vincentian Academy is searching for the banner that got away last season when the Royals finished as WPIAL and PIAA runners-up. The team averages 72.5 points per game, best in WPIAL Class A, and topped 90 points three times this season.
Challengers: Vincentian’s toughest tests could come from teams in its own section. Section 1 runner-up Cornell split with Vincentian in the regular season, winning the section rematch 66-57 on Feb. 7. Cornell has three standout scorers: Kaden DiVito (21.2), Zaier Harrison (18) and Isaiah Langston (17). Nazareth Prep suffered a pair of one-possession losses to Vincentian Academy, losing 51-48 and 74-72. It was Nazareth Prep that defeated Vincentian in the WPIAL final last season. Bishop Canevin, which went undefeated in Section 2, seeks its first playoff win since reaching the semifinals 2017. Greensburg Central Catholic and Imani Christian shared the Section 3 title. GCC’s Christian McGowan and Brevan Williams are 15-point scorers. Monessen has an ugly overall record, the result of a tough nonsection schedule. But the Greyhounds played Canevin tough twice, losing by a combined nine points.
Don’t overlook: Leechburg tied for third in Section 3, but the Blue Devils won seven of their last eight games.
Prediction: Vincentian Academy over Cornell
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .
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