A look ahead, and back, at boys’ hoops playoffs

Thanks to Neuman-Goretti's city championship win, they will compete in the state tournament. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Including Penn Wood, which hosted District 2 runner-up Wyoming Valley West in a Class AAAA play-in game Tuesday, there are 30 area boys' teams in the four classifications of the PIAA state basketball playoffs.

We'll take a look at the first-round matchups later this week, along with predictions for each contest. We'll also tell you who we expect to wind up at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center the weekend of March 25.

For now, here's an overview of the state tournament and what some schools can anticipate on the road to State College.

We'll close with some highlights from the recently completed District 1 and 12 playoffs.

Here's a preview of the state tourney:

Seeking redemption. In Class AAAA, Roman Catholic will open against Bethlehem Liberty, which features athletic combo guard and Villanova signee Darrun Hilliard. The 6-foot-4 senior hopes to rebound from a subpar effort in the District 11 final, a 45-35 loss to William Allen.

Against the Canaries, who had lost twice at the buzzer to Bethlehem Liberty during the regular season, Hilliard shot 3 for 19 from the field and finished with just six points.

Hilliard, who is averaging 21.2 points and has drained 51 three-pointers, exited early in the fourth quarter with a head injury suffered on his second nasty spill of the night.

Roman's Britton Lee, probably with help from freshman Shep Garner and Shafeek Taylor, will try to keep Hilliard from a first-round scoring explosion.

Annville-who? Neumann-Goretti will begin defense of its Class AAA championship against the Annville-Cleona Dutchmen, District 3's sixth-place finisher.

Annville-Cleona is about eight miles northeast of Hershey.

Possible rematch. If Archbishop Carroll and Holy Ghost Prep win their openers in Class AAA's west bracket, the Patriots and Firebirds would square off in the second round.

Last year, in a first-round contest at Norristown, Carroll, as District 12's No. 3 seed, ousted District 1 titlist Holy Ghost, 37-30.

Dark horse. With a favorable draw in Class AAAA, Lower Merion could see its way through to the quarterfinals - and a possible meeting with Jaylen Bond and defending champ Plymouth Whitemarsh.

Gregg Downer's Aces will open with District 2 winner Scranton. If they can handle 6-7 junior guard Terry Turner, a 1,370-point career scorer, and beat the Knights, they would face the Bartram-Red Land survivor in the second round. Against either foe, that, too, would be a winnable game.

Track meet in waiting. Neumann-Goretti and Octorara, which earned its first district title since 1985-86 with a 46-41 triumph over Holy Ghost, could end up battling in the Class AAA quarterfinals.

Both the Saints and the Braves, of the Ches-Mont League American Conference, favor a fast-paced tempo. Neumann-Goretti's Lamin Fulton vs. Octorara's Lamont Clark would be interesting to watch. Inside, 6-5 N-G junior Derrick Stewart would grapple with 6-7 senior Conor Kasabo.

Some reward. For compiling a 27-2 record and gaining the District 3 Class AAAA crown, York earned a probable first-round meeting with Penn Wood, District 1's No. 9 seed.

Aaron Brown (20 ppg., 50 treys) and the Patriots, runners-up to PW last year, stormed through the consolation bracket after losing to West Chester Rustin in the second round.

York averages 72.8 points a game. The speedy Bearcats have three double-digit scorers, with 6-4 senior Kelvin Parker (19.9 ppg.) heading the attack.

Here's a quick look back at the district playoffs:

Best individual performance. In the third quarter of the District 1 Class AAAA final, Chester's Maurice Nelson shot 7 for 7, draining five treys, in a five-minute stretch to spark the Clippers to a 66-43 romp over Council Rock North. He finished with 22 points.

Biggest free throws. Keith Washington sank both ends of a double bonus with 1.4 seconds to play to give Frankford a 48-46 victory over La Salle in the District 12 Class AAAA final.

District 1 Class AAAA all-tournament team: Chester's Maurice Nelson, Neshaminy's Ryan Arcidiacono, Council Rock North's Aaron Morgan, W.C. Rustin's Anthony Nash, and Lower Merion's Raheem Hall.

District 1 Class AAA all-tournament team: Octorara's Lamont Clark and Charles Cooper, Holy Ghost's Tyler Juchno and Mike DeStefano, and Lower Moreland's Ryan Abel.

Predictions. Before the 32-team District 1 Class AAAA tournament, we predicted the following order of finish: Chester, Penn Wood, Neshaminy, C.R. North, Plymouth Whitemarsh, Lower Merion, Norristown, Bensalem, and W.C. Rustin.

We had the right nine state qualifiers, but the order, due largely to No. 6 W.C. Rustin's second-round win over No. 11 Penn Wood, was off a bit: Chester, C.R. North, Plymouth Whitemarsh, Neshaminy, W.C. Rustin, Lower Merion, Norristown, Bensalem, and Penn Wood.


Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019 or robrien@phillynews.com.