WPIAL Class 3A boys basketball preseason breakdown

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Tuesday, December 3, 2019 | 8:48 PM


A new decade of WPIAL boys basketball tips off next weekend.

Preparing to defend their district championships from a year ago are Mt. Lebanon (6A), Mars (5A), New Castle (4A), Lincoln Park (3A), Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (2A) and Nazareth Prep (A).

New Castle is looking for a fourth straight WPIAL crown while Mars and Lincoln Park are shooting for a three-peat in 2020.

Also last year, Moon won a PIAA title in Class 5A and Lincoln Park won state gold in 3A.

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 check out Class 6A, 5A and 4A.

Class 3A boys basketball

Preseason Player of the Year

Isaac DeGregorio

North Catholic

5-11, senior, guard

21.0 ppg in 2018-19

Players to watch

Michael Bigley

Seton LaSalle

6-0, Sr., G, 16.2 ppg

C.J. Cole

McGuffey

6-4, Sr., G, 24.0 ppg

Antonio Epps

South Allegheny

5-10, Jr., G, 17.0 ppg

Camden Polak

Steel Valley

6-0, Sr., G, 22.8 ppg

Isaiah Smith

Lincoln Park

6-0, Sr., G, 12.0 ppg

Preseason Top 5

1. Lincoln Park (27-4 last season)

The Leopards won extremely competitive Section 1 a year ago before moving on to win a second straight WPIAL Class 3A championship and winning the program’s second PIAA championship and first since 2014. Lincoln Park returns several players from that golden run last year, including senior guard Isaiah Smith and senior forward Andre Wilder.

2. North Catholic (21-6)

The Trojans return a pair of first-team all-section performers from a year ago. Senior guard Isaac DeGregorio, son of head coach Dave, led the way with 21 points per game while senior forward Jackson Paschall chipped in 15 points per game to lead North Catholic to the WPIAL championship game where it lost to Lincoln Park, 62-50.

3. Aliquippa (17-9)

The Quips finished second in Section 1, but could not beat out the two finalists for the district 3A crown in the postseason. In the WPIAL playoffs, Aliquippa lost to runner-up North Catholic in the semifinals and then fell to rival and eventual state champion Lincoln Park in the second round of the state playoffs. Senior forwards Zuriah Fisher and Michael Dawkins return to give the Quips power on the blocks.

4. Seton LaSalle (20-6)

The Rebels will rely on a pair of returning guards who were first-team all-section players. Senior Michael Bigley led Seton LaSalle at 16.2 points per game while fellow senior guard Jacob Verner contributed an average of 13 points as the team earned a share of the Section 2 title with North Catholic and reached the semis before falling to Lincoln Park.

5. Beaver Falls (11-15)

The Tigers were a streaky bunch last season, with two separate three-game winning streaks and a pair of three-game losing skids that kept them around .500 for the season. Beaver Falls reached the quarterfinals of the district playoffs and the second round of the state playoffs thanks to contributions from returning players such as senior Kyzer Cleckley, senior Razier Jones and junior Michael Conley.

Notable

• Lincoln Park closed out a successful decade in which the Leopards played in the WPIAL championship game in eight of the 10 years. The Leopards won four of those eight district title games. They have reached the WPIAL finals four straight years. Lincoln Park has also played in five PIAA finals in the last 10 years, winning state gold in 2014 and again last year when they beat Camp Hill Trinity.

• Class 3A is the only WPIAL boys basketball classification with more than three sections. However, when it was time for the district postseason, teams from two sections dominated. Of the eight teams that reached the quarterfinals, four were from Section 1 and two from Section 2. By the semifinals, it was two each from Sections 1 and 2.

• It didn’t lead to a long playoff run, but after decades of coming up empty in the playoffs, 2019 turned out to be the year of the deer. Deer Lakes, that is. The Lancers won the Section 3 title and then beat Charleroi, 57-47, for the program’s first playoff win in 34 years. Despite losing to North Catholic in the quarterfinals, Deer Lakes won two state playoff games before losing to Sharon in the state quarterfinals.

• Four Class 3A schools made changes in head coaches since last year. Mike Fantuzzo is the new coach at Burrell, replacing Shawn Bennis. After Mark Marino left to take the Plum job, Stewart Davis was hired as the new boys basketball coach at Brownsville. Warner Johnson takes over at East Allegheny, replacing Pete Logan. Jim Kirker takes over at Fort Cherry for Dwayne Canton.

• Other teams to watch in Class 3A include Neshannock, led by senior guard Preston Turk and junior forward Spencer Perry; Keystone Oaks, which has senior guard Frank Stumpo (17.3 ppg) returning; Steel Valley, which returns senior guard Cam Polak (22.8 ppg); defending Section 4 champion Washington, with Zahmere Robinson (11.5 ppg); and McGuffey, which has last year’s leading scorer in 3A, senior guard C.J. Cole (24 ppg).

Alignment

Section 1: Aliquippa, Beaver Falls, Ellwood City, Lincoln Park, Neshannock, New Brighton, Riverside

Section 2: Avonworth, Carlynton, Fort Cherry, Freedom, Keystone Oaks, North Catholic, Seton LaSalle

Section 3: Burrell, Deer Lakes, East Allegheny, Shady Side Academy, South Allegheny, Steel Valley, Valley

Section 4: Beth-Center, Brownsville, Charleroi, Frazier, McGuffey, Southmoreland, Washington

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