Except for when it comes to the two teams that will play for top honors at Villanova on March 2, the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA boys' basketball tournament should be wide-open.
Look for No. 1 seed Chester, the defending champion, and No. 2 Lower Merion to cruise pretty much to the final. The suspense lies in finding out which squads will join the Clippers and Aces in advancing to states.
Here's our take on how the district's Class AAAA and AAA playoffs will shake out, with the predicted order of finish. The madness will begin Friday night.
In Class AAAA, we expect all but two of the higher seeds to advance to the second round.
Look for No. 18 Plymouth Whitemarsh, with junior Anthony McKie (18.5 ppg, 57 three-pointers) leading the way, to knock off No. 15 Conestoga. And, in a mini-upset, No. 17 Springfield (Delaware County) ousts No. 16 Methacton.
No. 3 Coatesville's probable second-round foe? No. 14 Penn Wood, highly dangerous with speedy guards Jerry Price and Malcolm Richardson heading the attack.
In addition to facing Chester twice in Del-Val League play, Penn Wood battled against the likes of Boys' Latin, St. Joseph-Metuchen (N.J.), William Penn, and Williamsport. The Patriots, toughened by their competitive nonleague slate, derail Coatesville.
Other intriguing second-round matchups? No. 10 Souderton at No. 7 Council Rock North, and No. 12 Bensalem at No. 5 Wissahickon.
Look for Souderton, spurred by Luke Moyer (15.3 ppg, 39 treys) and Ryan Connelly (25 treys), to send Arron Goodman (17.3 ppg.), Aaron Morgan (52 treys) and company to the consolation bracket.
Bensalem, with Julian Hyden and Leo Vincent among the catalysts, throws a scare into Wissahickon, but the Trojans, boosted by the scoring of Jordan Reed (25.8) and bruising talents of Tonah Kpassagnon, prevail.
In the other second-round matchups, Chester tops Springfield, No. 9 Norristown upends No. 8 Pennsbury, No. 13 Cheltenham upsets No. 4 Central Bucks West, Lower Merion downs Plymouth Whitemarsh, and No. 11 Abington topples No. 7 Great Valley.
Our quarterfinal pairings: Norristown vs. Chester, Cheltenham vs. Wissahickon, Souderton vs. Lower Merion, and Penn Wood vs. Abington.
Cheltenham and Wissahickon, rivals in the Suburban One League American Conference, split two taut regular-season meetings. The Trojans won, 64-63, on Jan. 17. The Panthers turned the tables, 49-47, last Friday.
Nafis Walker (17.4 ppg) and Jarrell Haywood (42 treys) keep it close for Cheltenham, but Wissahickon, with a better inside-out attack, moves on to the semifinals. The other quarterfinal victors: Chester, Lower Merion, and Penn Wood.
In the semifinals, to be played at Temple's Liacouras Center, rising junior Rondae Jefferson leads Chester to a double-digit victory over Wissahickon. And Lower Merion, with B.J. Johnson and Raheem Hall starring, ends Penn Wood's bid for a second title in three seasons.
That brings us to the all-but-certain final between Lower Merion and Chester. We see the Aces slowing the Clippers, forcing turnovers at key times, and, with Hall coming up big in transition in the latter stages, posting a 67-63 victory.
Nine teams will advance to the state tournament. Our predicted order of finish: Lower Merion, Chester, Wissahickon, Penn Wood, Norristown, Souderton, Cheltenham, Abington, and C.R. North.
In the 12-team Class AAA tournament, set to begin next Wednesday, we're predicting a rematch of last year's final between Holy Ghost Prep and Octorara. On March 3 at Haverford College, the No. 2 Braves retain the crown, beating the No. 1 Firebirds, 55-50, in overtime.
Three teams will advance to the state tournament. Our predicted order of finish: Octorara, Holy Ghost Prep, and No. 4 Pottstown.