Trib HSSN 2020-21 WPIAL Class 3A boys basketball preseason breakdown

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Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | 3:26 PM


This will surely be a boys basketball season like no other.

WPIAL teams are set to tip off Friday and embark on a masked journey through a schedule likely to change many times as the year progresses.

Teams all have hopes of hoisting a WPIAL championship trophy in March, much like last year’s boys basketball champions — Butler (Class 6A), Laurel Highlands (5A), Highlands (4A), North Catholic (3A), OLSH (2A) and Vincentian Academy (A).

Here is a rundown of players to watch, team rankings and other notable facts for Class 3A boys basketball. Check out a breakdown of each class this week on the TribLive High School Sports Network. Click here to see Class 6A, Class 5A and Class 4A.

WPIAL Class 3A

Preseason Player of the Year

Antonio Epps

South Allegheny

5-11, Sr., G, 16.4 ppg

Players to watch

Michael Conley

Beaver Falls

6-4, Sr., G, 12.3 ppg

Bryce Epps

South Allegheny

5-11, So., G, 16.8 ppg

Klay Fitzroy

Apollo-Ridge

6-3, Sr., G/F, 19.2 ppg

Marcus Haswell

Laurel

6-0, Sr., G, 17.0 ppg

Brandon Patterson

Washington

6-3, Jr., G, 13.5 ppg

Preseason Top 5

1. South Allegheny (24-3 last season)

The Gladiators return the top three scorers from a team that went 21-1 in the regular season and reached the WPIAL semifinals in a breakout year. Antonio Epps (16.4 ppg), younger brother Bryce Epps (16.8 ppg) and 6-foot-5 forward Omar Faulkner (13.2 ppg) make South Allegheny the favorite in 3A. They celebrated a dramatic win over Beaver Falls with a buzzer-beater in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

2. Beaver Falls (16-8)

The Tigers were still alive in the state semifinals last season when the PIAA tournament was shut down. They’ll lean on four returning starters, including all-section guard Michael Conley (12.3 ppg), to take them on another run. Anthony Franchi and Isaiah Sharp rejoin Conley in the backcourt, but this team also has size: 6-4 Kai Hauser, 6-7 Camden Glass, 6-5 D’Mitri Nesmith and 6-5 Jye McKenzie.

3. Aliquippa (17-10)

Nick Lackovich, who resigned in 2016, was rehired to his old job in July. As Aliquippa’s coach from 2013-16, his teams won two WPIAL titles and a state championship. Sophomore guard Deandre Moye, who contributed as a freshman, is a name to watch this season, along with senior Ty Crocker and junior Sam Lane. In Lackovich’s first three seasons, the Quips finished 20-7, 29-1 and 30-0.

4. Washington (15-7)

Prexies coach Ron Faust, who owns more than 600 wins, returns three starters from last season’s team that shared the section title with Charleroi. Brandon Patterson, a 6-foot-3 junior, earned all-section honors. Two other returning starters are senior Ian Bredniak and junior Tayshawn Levy.

5. Ligonier Valley (23-4)

How will the newcomer from District 6 fare in the WPIAL? Over the past three seasons, the Rams went 65-13 and reached the PIAA playoffs every year. Junior guard Matthew Marinchak and senior forward Isaac Neidbalson return as starters, but there was a coaching change since last season. John Berger resigned two years into his second coaching stint and was replaced by girls coach Tim Gustin.

Notable

• Last season’s champion North Catholic and runner-up Lincoln Park both moved to Class 4A. They’d combined to win the past four WPIAL 3A titles.

Apollo-Ridge, Brentwood and Laurel were playoff teams in Class 2A now making the jump to 3A. A-R returns all five starters, including all-section senior Klay Fitzroy (19.2 ppg), from a team that went 16-7. Laurel went 14-9 and has all-section guard Marcus Haswell (17 ppg) among three returning starters. Brentwood graduated all five starters from a lineup that finished 18-7.

Summit Academy has opted out of winter sports. The private school in Herman, Butler County, also skipped fall sports.

Ligonier Valley was a WPIAL member from 1927-69 before leaving for District 6.

2020-21 Alignment

Section 1: Beaver Falls, Ellwood City, Laurel, Mohawk, Neshannock, Riverside

Section 2: Aliquippa, Avonworth, Freedom, New Brighton, Seton LaSalle, Summit Academy

Section 3: Apollo-Ridge, East Allegheny, Ligonier Valley, Shady Side Academy, South Allegheny, Steel Valley, Valley

Section 4: Beth-Center, Brentwood, Brownsville, Charleroi, McGuffey, Washington, Waynesburg

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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