Boys' Hoops: Preview of Class AAAA and AA state playoffs

While Roman Catholic coach Chris McNesby likes his team's shot at making noise in the PIAA Class AAAA boys' basketball tournament, he's not looking past Saturday's opener against Oxford.

That's understandable, as the Cahillites have been ousted in the first round of states in three of the last five seasons. Last year, they were surprised out of the gate by Norristown.

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Zach Yonda and Conestoga will open the PIAA Class AAAA state tournament vs. La Salle at 3 p.m. Saturday at Spring-Ford High in Royersford.

"We have to be ready to go right away," McNesby said Thursday. "When I look at the bracket, I see a lot of teams that are capable of winning it."

Like Imhotep Charter in Class AAA, Roman, District 12's champ, has recently been hit by the injury bug. TreVaughn Wilkerson, a 6-foot-6 junior starter, is sidelined with ankle ligament damage; and 6-5 senior reserve forward Carnell McGirt is out for the year with a torn meniscus.

McNesby said he expects Wilkerson, who did some light jogging Wednesday, to sit out vs. Oxford, District 1's No. 9 seed. The game is set for 3:30 p.m. at Archbishop Carroll.

"He's a been a glue-like guy for us," McNesby said. "It'd be a big boost for us if he can get back on the court. I'm hoping that he might be able to give it a go in the next week or two."

The shorthanded Cahillites will rely heavily on senior guards Shep Garner and Rashann London, sophomore floor general Tony Carr, 6-6 junior Manny Taylor, and junior wing and three-point threat Gemil Holbrook.

Here is our preview of the boys' Class AAAA and AA playoffs, with predicted champion in each classification.

Class AAAA

Chester, seeking its third title in four seasons, opens against Carlisle; Conestoga and La Salle, employing similar styles, square off in Royersford; and defending champ Lower Merion takes on high-scoring Hershey.

Lower Merion vs. Hershey is arguably the most intriguing first-round matchup. The athletic Trojans, who have averaged 79.4 points in their last five outings, are spurred by 6-5, 250-pound senior Chase Watkins and 6-8 sophomore Dylan Painter.

Also for Hershey, which begins state play just a mile from its campus, guards Jack Gunkel and Taylor Sweeney have combined for 96 three-pointers.

The Trojans will be a handful for the Aces, but we like Gregg[CQ] Downer's coaching and a solid effort from Justin McFadden to be the difference in a taut contest.

Our other area survivors Saturday in Class AAAA are Roman, La Salle, Abington (over Emmaus), Pennsbury (over Wilson), and Martin Luther King (over Cumberland Valley).

Our second-round picks involving the locals: Chester over Hazleton; Roman over Lower Merion; Cedar Crest over La Salle; York over Abington; and Pennsbury over M.L. King.

We have Chester (taking out Parkland) and Roman (ousting Cedar Crest) winning in the quarterfinals, but see Pennsbury's run ending vs. District 3 champ York.

In a highly anticipated semifinal meeting between Chester and Roman, the Cahillites, fueled by their backcourt play, punch a ticket to Hershey. In the Western half, we have District 7 titlist New Castle knocking off York in the semis.

New Castle is led by Malik Hooker, a 6-2 guard who will play football, as a defensive back, at Ohio State. Also in the mix for the undefeated Hurricanes are guards Anthony Richards and Drew Allen. Stew[CQ] Allen, Drew's twin brother, is a 6-3 center.

In the final, Roman, aided by Wilkerson's earlier return, nips New Castle, 53-52, at the Giant Center.

Class AA

Constitution, behind juniors Ahmad Gilbert and Kimar Williams, heads the list of local contenders. The Generals' biggest challenge could come in the second round vs. District 4's Lewisburg.

Our favorite in the Western region is District 7's Seton-La Salle, which features a balanced attack headed by 5-9 senior guard Dale Clancy. His uncle, Sam Clancy, starred in hoops at Pittsburgh and was later a defensive end for the Cleveland Browns.

Look for Constitution to pull past Lewisburg, streak to the final, and gain its first crown with a 69-64 win over Seton-LaSalle.