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The SportsTalk Shop: HS Hoops Playoff Primer

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The Pennsylvania high school boys basketball playoffs have begun, with tons of talented teams ready to square off against each other over the next five weeks.

As we begin the road to state gold in Hershey, here are notes and highlights on some of the 4A teams that I’ve covered this winter for RCN Sports, along with a few predictions on what we might be able to expect from these teams this post-season.

We’ve spend a few blog entries talking about just how good this year’s Trojan team is, and they have not disappointed, entering the playoffs with an undefeated EPC record. Quite frankly, Parkland was rarely tested in any of their league games and appeared to “turn on the switch” whenever they wanted to, to put games away and win contests by significant margins.

One aspect of the team that we have not addressed in previous blog entries is the Parkland “role” players.  Jack Dreisbach, Kenny Yeboah, Justin Jones and Kevin Dulorie are four players who haven’t gotten much attention in the media this basketball season.  Yet, when opponents try to stop some of the other top players, these four guys have stepped up and led the team to sound wins.  Dreisbach recently scored in double figures when Nazareth tried to double-down on other players.  Yeboah is a force in the paint, averaging seven points and nine rebounds per game.  Jones recently fueled a “put-away” run with seven points in limited action against a very good Emmaus team. Dulorie is a player with moves that would probably make him the go-to-guy if he was on at least half of the other teams’ rosters in the Lehigh Valley area.

It’ll be hard enough for many of the Trojans’ upcoming opponents to try to contain Kyle Stout, Sam Iorio, and DeVante Cross…but when these role players step up, as they have been doing of late, it might just be the icing on Parkland’s cake for a serious run in the state playoffs.

The Hurricanes are probably one of two teams in the Lehigh Valley that have a legitimate shot at beating the Trojans on a given night.  Armed with an outstanding coaching staff, they have great balance  led by senior wingman Ludwin Gonzalez, and have the depth enabling them to attempt to beat Parkland with an up-tempo game.  They have an outstanding–and incredibly young–backcourt that would make for an exciting challenge for Cross to deal with.  Through no fault of their own, they haven’t been as battle-tested against the elite squads as other teams, thanks to their placement in the “Steel” division and the random selection of their non-division opponents.   However, they’ve proven themselves with dramatic victories over Allen, Freedom and Becahi, to name a few.

The Canaries might be the most athletic team in the area–period.  Although they didn’t face Parkland or Central Catholic, they have recorded more than their share of big wins.  They’ve also lost to Liberty twice, plus Nazareth and a few other teams that don’t have Allen’s solid winning percentage.  They have several scoring options in guards Bryson Walton, Koi Kostic and Talek Williams and from big men Isiah Hinton Gray, Jamiere Myers and Naequan Feliciano.  I don’t know if they have the consistency to be considered the leading candidates to win a league or district title.  That being said, they have the personnel to do it.  If they can channel the way I saw them play in the summer leagues, the Canaries might just win a winter title after all.

I have not seen the Rovers in person, but watching them on RCN On-Demand made me think they can definitely win a few playoff games.  They enter the post-season as one of the hottest teams in the EPC.  Following their loss to Wilson in the Rotary Classic over the Christmas holidays, many thought Easton would have trouble making the District XI playoffs, let alone the league’s.  The Rovers have very good balance and nice size up front.  If they can continue the momentum they maintained in January, I think the die-hard Easton fans will be happy with their team in the playoffs.

Besides Parkland, no team played better on their home court than the Zephyrs.  They provided just enough offense and showcased a very impressive “match-up” defense to qualify for both the league and district post-season. Brett Radocha is the team’s only player scoring in double figures and Mikey Esquilin is one of the most exciting freshmen in Eastern Pennsylvania this winter.  However, Whitehall didn’t finish the season as strongly as many fans of the maroon-and-gold would have liked, and the Zephs never did seem to have the level of success away from the newly christened “Coach Tracy Court.”  On the positive side, they recorded very impressive wins over Liberty and Emmaus and will need similar efforts to have playoff success.

The Hornets’ non-conference schedule might have been one of the most challenging of any team in the state.  The hope was that the high quality of competition they faced–and their wins in a few of them–would help Emmaus when they came home to play EPC teams.  They’ve had to withstand injuries to their top two players–twin brothers David and Matt Kachelries–who have both returned and picked up right where they were last season.  Junior center Joe Polczyski is one of the more underrated players in the league, but Emmaus fell short in several big divisional games in the season’s second half.  Head Coach Steve Yoder has done a remarkable job of rebuilding this program, I think, and his bench might be as deep as any in District XI.  I personally have yet to see the consistency in this team to put them in the “favorites” category to win a championship–this year, anyway.  I do think the team’s winning ways will continue even if they don’t win a title this season.

Both of these teams’ head coaches, Joe Arndt and Coy Stampone, are two of the nicest guys in the area.  Both the Eagles and the K-Kids posted several big wins during the season.  Northampton is the “feel good” story of the winter with their dramatic turnaround from a sub-.500 season last year.  They could use their disappointment of missing out on the league playoffs (the “power point tiebreaker” kept them out of the playoffs by a couple one-thousands of a percentage point) to use as motivation in districts.  Nazareth defeated Northampton twice during the regular season and scored an impressive win over Allen as one of their highlights during the season.  Nazareth and Northampton both played a thrilling game against each other in the regular season finale and both teams could come back stronger than ever in 2016.  I don’t know if either team will have the firepower to contend this season, but they should be very proud of how well they played and how far they’ve come this winter.

Basketball fans may not realize that the Spartans are a 4A team this year, but the way they finished the regular season (wins over Saucon and Salisbury) has certainly given them a ton of momentum heading into the playoffs.  Currently, Southern Lehigh is ranked at the very bottom of the District XI standings, meaning they could face the toughest competition in the playoffs.  However, a Colonial League title win later this week would boost them up to a #2 seed and keep them away from facing Parkland as long as possible.  I like the job that Ben Tannous has done in just his second year, and he told me a few weeks ago that he would not count this season as a “success” until they posted wins over elite teams.  I think with their recent wins that they now have achieved that level and feel that there will be many more reasons to cheer this team going forward.

What are your thoughts on the top EPC teams and which players will shine during the league playoff season?  Join RCN Sports Director Gary Laubach, Joe Craig and myself on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show live from 6-7 pm as we preview the EPC and Colonial League girls and boys championship series and preview the next round of the playoffs for all classifications within the RCN viewing area.