Five things to watch for the PIAA basketball tournament
By: Chris Harlan
Wednesday, March 7, 2018 | 9:39 PM
Will the City of Brotherly Love show some compassion to the rest of the state?
Since Philadelphia high schools joined PIAA basketball more than a decade ago, only rarely has a boys trophy traveled to Western Pennsylvania.
As the PIAA playoffs start later this week, it's again clear that the path to a state title for many teams runs through Philly.
Among the favorites, defending Class 3A champion Neumann-Goretti features 6-foot-9 George Washington commit Marcus Littles, while reigning 4A champ Imhotep charter has 6-4 junior Dahmir Bishop, a guard with Big 10 offers.
When Prep Charter won consecutive state titles in 2006 and 2007, it was a sign of things to come. Since Philadelphia public schools joined the PIAA playoffs in 2005, District 12 teams have won 24 of 54 boys titles.
But most of that dominance has taken place since 2009, when Philadelphia Catholic League teams also joined District 12. In the past seven seasons, D12 schools won 22 of 38 boys titles.
The WPIAL won seven titles in that nine-season span, and District 1 (suburban Philadelphia) won six.
The three remaining titles were claimed by District 10's Kennedy Catholic (Class A in 2016 and 2017) and District 3's Reading (Class 6A in 2017).
Take Class 3A, for instance. No boys team outside of District 12 has won that classification since Steelton-Highspire in 2008, a year before Philadelphia's Catholic schools joined. Neumann-Goretti (2010-12, 2014-17), Archbishop Carroll (2009) and Imhotep Charter (2013) have won the last nine in a row.
District 12 won three of the six boys state titles last season.
However, Philadelphia hasn't dominated the girls brackets as much.
District 12 girls teams have won 10 of 54 state titles since 2005. The WPIAL won 15 in that span and Harrisburg-based District 3 won 11.
A ‘GIANT' TASK AHEAD
The state basketball playoffs start with first-round matchups Friday and Saturday at neutral sites, and the five-round tournament finishes March 22-24 with six boys and six girls championships at Giant Center in Hershey.
Giant Center has hosted the championship games from 2003-2006 and since 2012, after the finals returned to Hershey after a six-year stint at Penn State.
Hersheypark Arena housed the PIAA championships for decades, but Civic Arena, Pitt Stadium and the Palestra in Philadelphia are among the various host sites since the first state championship was played in 1920 at the Armory in State College.
For the second time, under the new six-class format, the PIAA will crown 12 state basketball champions this year.
Complete brackets are available here:
SEWICKLEY TRIES FOR BACK TO BACK
The WPIAL qualified 71 teams for the state playoffs, a list that includes the defending state champion Sewickley Academy boys in Class 2A.
Sewickley Academy just defended its WPIAL title and starts the PIAA postseason against Cochranton (16-10), the fourth-place team from District 10. The Panthers defeated Philadelphia's Constitution, 68-63, in the state finals last season.
No WPIAL boys team has won back-to-back state titles since Blackhawk in 1995-96.
The Vincentian Academy and Blackhawk girls each won consecutive titles in 2014-15.
The Pine-Richland boys and North Allegheny girls were state runners-up in Class 6A a year ago. Trinity girls finished second in Class 5A, and the Lincoln Park boys were runners-up in 3A.
BOUNCING BACK FROM A LOSS
The state playoffs will provide a second chance for some almost-perfect teams.
The Quaker Valley boys (23-1) and East Allegheny girls (24-1) were undefeated all season before each lost in the WPIAL finals at Petersen Events Center, but they're not the only teams in the state to face that dilemma.
In Class 6A boys, top-seeded Plymouth-Whitemarsh was 27-0 before losing to Abington, 75-73, in the District 1 finals.
In Class 2A boys, top-seeded Ridgeway was 23-0 when it lost to Coudersport, 66-46, in the District 9 championship.
There are four undefeated teams in the PIAA playoffs, all in the girls brackets: North Allegheny (25-0), Lancaster Catholic (27-0), West Chester Henderson (28-0) and North Clarion (24-0).
GOOD RIDDANCE TO REMATCHES
This will be the last year for all-WPIAL matchups in the first round of the state playoffs, much to the delight of players and coaches.
In this year's Class 5A boys bracket for example, WPIAL champion Mars draws fifth-place finisher Hampton in the first round, while WPIAL runner-up Franklin Regional faces fourth-place team Highlands.
In the first round next year, the WPIAL finalists in 5A will face teams from District 3 in the first round instead.
The PIAA agreed to eliminate the all-WPIAL matchups from the PIAA playoffs for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, according to updated playoffs brackets tentatively approved by the PIAA board in January.
However, one all-WPIAL matchup will remain next season.
The WPIAL Class 4A girls champion will face the sixth-place team from the WPIAL to start the state playoffs in 2019 and 2020.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.