WPIAL Class 4A boys basketball preseason breakdown

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Monday, December 2, 2019 | 6:07 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 4A boys basketball. Check out a breakdown of each class this week on the TribLive High School Sports Network. Click here to check Class 6A and 5A.

Class 4A boys basketball

Preseason Player of the Year

Isiah Warfield

Central Valley

6-5, senior, guard

25.3 ppg in 2018-19

Players to watch

Johnny Crise

Highlands

6-6, Sr., F, 16.0 ppg

Billy DeShields

Uniontown

5-10, Sr., G, 21.0 ppg

Demetris McKnight

New Castle

6-0, Sr., G, 13.4 ppg

Mike Wells

New Castle

6-2, So., G, 11.1 ppg

Derek Whitlock

Belle Vernon

5-8, So., G, 18.0 ppg

Preseason Top 5

1. New Castle (23-5 last season)

The Red Hurricanes are the team to beat in Class 4A. That is not exactly breaking news after New Castle finished 23-5 last season, captured a third straight district championship and reached the state quarterfinals with a team of underclassmen. Senior Demetris McKnight led the team in scoring and rebounding and is joined by junior Sheldon Cox and sophomores Michael Wells and Michael Graham.

2. Highlands (17-9)

The Golden Rams earned a share of the Section 1 championship last year with Knoch as the two teams finished four games ahead of the next closest teams. Highlands reached the district Final Four but lost to New Castle by six. Seniors Luke Cochran (19 ppg) and Johnny Crise (16 ppg) return to lead the way for the Golden Rams.

3. Uniontown (19-4)

The Red Raiders finished 14-10 and in third place in 2017-18. Thanks to the play of Billy DeShields, Uniontown improved to 19-4 and won the Section 3 title by four games. However, Uniontown was knocked off by Highlands in the quarterfinals. DeShields returns after averaging 21 points last season.

4. Central Valley (7-14)

The Warriors finished in sixth place in the seven-team Section 2 last season. However that was in a section that housed three semifinalists and the two finalists in 4A. Central Valley’s young core also got a major boost when Isiah Warfield transferred from Sewickley Academy with his 25.3 points-per-game average.

5. Quaker Valley (21-5)

The Quakers beat New Castle twice in the regular season, but the third meeting was not a golden charm as Quaker Valley fell in the WPIAL Class 4A title game to the ‘Canes, 60-54. QV said goodbye to a pair of outstanding seniors in Ryan Stowers (22.8 ppg) and Danny Conlan (16.7 ppg), but return promising point guard Adou Thiero among other contributors.

Notable

• New Castle begins a new decade much like it spent most of the past 10 years, on top of its class. Since 2010, the Red Hurricanes have won six WPIAL basketball championships, including the last three Class 4A district crowns. In fact, last year’s title was the ‘Canes second three-peat of the decade.

• While New Castle has been victorious in all three Class 4A championship games since the expansion to six classifications, each time it defeated section rival Quaker Valley. The Quakers lost by 15 points in the 2017 title game, by five points in the 2018 final and fell 60-54 in the 2019 championship clash.

• The first year for Joe Salvino as coach at Belle Vernon did not go as smoothly as he hoped. After 34 years, 638 wins and six WPIAL championships at Monessen, the Leopards finished 8-15 and in fourth place in Section 3. The Leopards did reach the playoffs, but lost to Highlands in the first round, 75-67.

• At Beaver, Greg Cercone takes over the reins of the Bobcats after Andy Podbielski resigned after last season.

• Once again, Section 2 will be extremely competitive and deep. The section already has three teams ranked in the preseason top five, plus Blackhawk, led by senior forward Ryan Heckathorn, and Ambridge, with senior forward Liam Buck, are again expected to be in the mix for playoff spots. Section 1 co-champ Knoch also is a team to watch with the return of Scott Fraser and Ryan Lang.

Alignment

Section 1: Derry, Freeport, Highlands, Knoch, Mt. Pleasant, Yough

Section 2: Ambridge, Beaver, Blackhawk, Central Valley, Hopewell, New Castle, Quaker Valley

Section 3: Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Ringgold, South Park, Uniontown, Waynesburg

Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.

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