Breaking down the 2021 WPIAL boys basketball playoffs

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021 | 8:48 PM


Here is a breakdown of the 2020-21 WPIAL boys basketball playoffs:

Class 6A

Favorite: Upper St. Clair has talent and depth but also experience, having reached the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA second round a year ago with much of the same lineup, led by Luke Gensler (13.7 ppg), David Pantelis (12.9), Luke Banbury (11.0) and Ethan Dahlem (9.4). The Panthers have the second-highest scoring offense in WPIAL Class 6A (71.9 ppg) and the second-best defense (51.5).

Challengers: The only team to defeat Upper St. Clair was Fox Chapel (72-70 at USC on Jan. 22). The Foxes are led by 22-point scorer Eli Yofan, a 6-2 junior. Their only other losses were to Chartiers Valley by three points and Penn-Trafford by two. … North Allegheny started 8-0 in Section 1 but then lost its final four. Greg Habib (20 ppg) and Matt McDonough (17 ppg) give the Tigers steady scoring. … Seven of Hempfield’s 15 games were decided by three points or less, including a one-point loss to Fox Chapel and a three-point loss to USC. … Defending WPIAL champion Butler got healthy down the stretch and 30-point scorer Devin Carney heated up. The Golden Tornado owns the top-scoring offense in 6A (75.5), making them a tough matchup. … Pine-Richland with Joey Dudkowski (17.6) or Seneca Valley and Connor Lyczek (17.5) could make a run. … Mt. Lebanon averages just 54 points per game, but the Blue Devils allow only 49.9, best in 6A. Jake Reinke is a 17-point scorer for Lebo. USC and Mt. Lebanon share a section, but the rivals didn’t play in the regular season because of the schools’ conflicting mask policies.

Don’t overlook: North Hills had a trying season with multiple covid-related shutdowns, but 6-6 forward Royce Parham (17.4) is one of the best freshmen in the WPIAL, and junior Alex Smith (15.4) is a steady scorer.

Prediction: Upper St. Clair over Fox Chapel

Class 5A

Favorite: Chartiers Valley and New Castle shared the Section 2 title with each team winning big on the other team’s court. CV won the most recent matchup, 77-59 on Feb. 12, behind 42 points from high-scoring senior Brayden Reynolds. The 6-foot-3 guard has the Colts averaging 69.8 points per game, second-best in WPIAL Class 5A. They’re trying to reach the finals for the first time since winning 6A in 2015.

Challengers: New Castle owns the highest-scoring offense in WPIAL 5A behind 1,000-point scorers Mike Wells (17.3) and Sheldon Cox (16.3). The Red Hurricanes average 73.1 points and topped the 100-point mark in January. The team won six WPIAL titles in the past eight seasons but jumped up in classification this winter. … Defending champion Laurel Highlands returns 20-point scorer Rodney Gallagher, a sophomore who’s one of the WPIAL’s top players. However, the cast around him has changed with the addition of two talented transfers. … Mihali Sfanos (17.7) could help Mars reach the WPIAL finals for the fourth year in a row. The Planets won 5A titles in 2018 and ’19. … Highlands won Class 4A a year ago before jumping up in class. Jimmy Kunst (17.4) gives the Golden Rams hopes for another WPIAL trophy. … Penn Hills went undefeated in its section under first-year coach Chris Giles.

Don’t overlook: Thomas Jefferson owns nonsection wins over Belle Vernon, Montour, Quaker Valley and Mt. Lebanon. The Jaguars came within two points of knocking off Laurel Highlands late in the season.

Prediction: New Castle over Chartiers Valley

Class 4A

Favorite: Belle Vernon hasn’t won a WPIAL title since 1978. Might this be the Leopards’ year? The team is led by junior guard Devin Whitlock, who carried Belle Vernon to the WPIAL finals last season and lost to Highlands. Whitlock averages 20 points per game and the team averages 71.7, best in WPIAL 4A. The Leopards have won 11 in a row since a season-opening loss to Thomas Jefferson. That winning streak includes a victory over New Castle.

Challengers: Pick a team from Section 2. Lincoln Park, Quaker Valley, Montour and Central Valley all reached double-digit wins totals. … Lincoln Park, last year’s runner-up, seeks its 10th WPIAL finals appearance since 2010. The Leopards are big, with a front court standing 6-5, 6-7 and 6-8. … Montour lost twice to Lincoln Park but defeated Quaker Valley twice including a double-overtime win Monday. … Quaker Valley has two double-digit scorers in Adou Thiero (22.8) and Markus Frank (18.6). … Quaker Valley and Central Valley were the only section teams to beat Lincoln Park. … Defending champion North Catholic is led by 17-point scorer Connor Maddalon. The Trojans went undefeated in Section 1 but played only half of their scheduled games. They’ve reached the WPIAL finals in four of the last five years.

Don’t overlook: Elizabeth Forward finished second in Section 3 behind Belle Vernon, but the Warriors own one of the stingiest defenses in WPIAL 4A (48.9 ppg). Plus, sophomore guard Zach Boyd is a steady double-digit scorer.

Prediction: Lincoln Park over Belle Vernon

Class 3A

Favorite: South Allegheny was a feel-good story a season ago when the Gladiators reached the WPIAL semifinals after years of losing. Now, they’re serious title contenders. Led by brothers Antonio (16.4) and Bryce Epps, the team was ranked No. 1 throughout the season. They accepted a tough nonsection schedule that included a win over Thomas Jefferson, plus close losses to Mars (two points) and Lincoln Park (two points).

Challengers: Shady Side Academy was the only 3A team to defeat South Allegheny. The teams split their regular-season series with the Bulldogs winning at home, 68-61, on Feb. 17. … Section 1 champion Neshannock was undefeated until a late-season loss to Beaver Falls. The Lancers (37.5) are the only team in 3A holding opponents to fewer than 40 points. They’re chasing their first WPIAL title since 1987. … Avonworth has the top offense in 2A, averaging 69 points behind Andrew Gannon (19.6). … Aliquippa is trying to win another WPIAL title with coach Nick Lackovich, who was rehired this season. He was two titles in a three-year stretch from 2013-16. DeAndre Moye averages 15 points for the Quips. … Washington went 9-1 in Section 4 behind Tayshawn Levy (19 ppg). The Prexies last reached the WPIAL finals in 1990. … Brentwood also has a top scorer in Chase Rosing (17). … Beaver Falls started the season second in preseason rankings, stumbled early but rebounded from a slow start.

Don’t overlook: Ellwood City finished third in Section 1, but the Wolverines knocked off Beaver Falls last week and had a pair of single-digit losses to Neshannock this season. Steve Antuono (18.3) and Joseph Roth (17.3) are double-digit scorers.

Prediction: South Allegheny over Shady Side Academy

Class 2A

Favorite: There’s probably no bigger favorite in the WPIAL this season than the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart boys. They’re undefeated for a reason. Led by senior Dante Spadafora (19.9) and junior Jake DiMichele (29.9), OLSH has an electric offense (75.9 ppg) and a disruptive defense (45.4). The Chargers own impressive nonsection wins over North Catholic, Aliquippa, Highlands and South Allegheny. They won the WPIAL title last season and were hunting a PIAA title when the state playoffs were shut down by the pandemic.

Challengers: Greensburg Central Catholic has an offense that might be able to keep pace with OLSH. The Centurions average 70.4 points per game, second-best in WPIAL 2A. Brevan Williams is a 20-point scorer. … Sto-Rox lost to OLSH in the WPIAL finals last season, but the Vikings could go back this winter with a new head coach. Former Aliquippa coach Dwight Hines led them to a section title in his first season. His top scorer is guard Corey Simmons (15 ppg). … Frazier won its first section title in 31 years behind Owen Newcomer (17.8) and Luke Santo (17.4). … Springdale knows the challenge OLSH presents. The Dynamos lost twice to the section foe, 75-54 and 91-60. Demitri Fritch is a 22-point scorer for Springdale. … Jeannette would have had a higher seed if not for a couple of close losses on its resume. The Jayhawks lost to Springdale by two points and Greensburg Central Catholic by one.

Don’t overlook: Shenango reached the WPIAL semifinals last season and could make another run this winter behind Brody McQuiston (16 ppg). Stuck behind OLSH and Springdale in Section 1, the Wildcats showed their potential and beat Springdale by 20 points earlier this month.

Prediction: OLSH over Greensburg Central Catholic

Class A

Favorite: Bishop Canevin reached the WPIAL finals just once and finished as the runner-up in 2006. A year ago, the team’s run ended in the semifinals. However, this year’s group certainly scheduled like a team with championship aspirations, adding Chartiers Valley, Quaker Valley, Springdale, Seton LaSalle, Sto-Rox, Mt. Lebanon and Central Catholic to its nonsection matchups. The Crusaders defeated some and competed with all of the others. The most impressive win under third-year coach Gino Palmosina was a 29-point victory over Central Catholic. The team leads Class A in scoring at 74 points per game.

Challengers: Eden Christian went undefeated in Section 3 behind Elijah (18.4 ppg) and Malachai Manges (16). However, the team played only three nonsection games. … Imani Christian finished second behind Eden. The Saints reached the WPIAL quarterfinals last season. … Rochester had the biggest turnaround this winter. The Rams went 0-21 last season. … Vincentian Academy, last year’s champion, closed its doors since last season. The Royals won last year over Cornell.

Don’t overlook: Aquinas Academy has the WPIAL’s leading scorer in Vinnie Cugini, who’s averaging 39.3 points. His scoring ability could make Aquinas a tough matchup.

Prediction: Bishop Canevin over Eden Christian

Watch the archive of the WPIAL Basketball Playoff Pairings Show on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

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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