Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The Catholic League quarterfinals are set.
Four games Friday night will determine this year’s PCL semifinalists –– and while the semis and finals of the Catholic League are sure to be just as epic, there’s something special about the quartet of battles for the right to play in the storied Palestra. For some teams, it’s a return to a court they’ve seen all too much of the last few years; for others, it’s a chance to finally set foot on hallowed ground.
7) Archbishop Ryan 49, 10) West Catholic 45
8) Archbishop Carroll 74, 9) St. Joe’s Prep 66
Here’s a close look at all four quarterfinal games –– including players to watch, potential storylines, and important factors in each (all games 7 PM at the higher seed unless otherwise noted):
Jaylen Stinson (above) and the rest of the Wood junior core led the Vikings to the top seed in the PCL playoffs. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
1) Archbishop Wood vs. 8) Archbishop Carroll
The Catholic League’s regular-season champs, Archbishop Wood enters the playoffs on a five-game win streak, their last four league wins all coming by double figures. The Vikings (18-4, 13-1) beat everybody in the PCL except Neumann-Goretti, including an 80-61 win at Carroll on Jan. 31. John Mosco’s group of juniors –– five of them in starting lineup, all with Division I offers –– could be the best collection of Class of 2021 talent anywhere in the Northeast, and they’re a year ahead of schedule in their quest to capture the school’s second PCL title after Collin Gillespie & Co. did it in 2017. This Wood squad is led by high-major point guard recruit Rahsool Diggins, a 6-foot-3 floor general with more than two dozen high-level Division I offers. But 6-5 wing Daeshon Shepherd, 6-1 combo guard Jaylen Stinson, 6-4 shooting guard Marcus Randolph and 6-5 wing forward Muneer Newton all bring a lot to the table.
The one thing Wood lacks is elite height (though the athleticism of Shepherd and Newton, especially, help make up for a lot of that), but size in the frontcourt is something that Archbishop Carroll brings to the table. The Patriots (15-8, 8-6) boast a frontcourt including 6-8 junior center Anquan Hill, 6-7 junior wing John Camden and 6-6 power forward Tairi Ketner, who’s the most interior-based of the three; Camden is an outside shooting specialist while Hill is a rim protector who can also face up with range out to the perimeter. The backcourt includes 6-3 senior Amiri Stewart and 6-1 freshman Dean Coleman-Newsome, one of the most promising young prospects in the league, who scored 20 points in the win over West Catholic. To pull off the upset, Carroll needs a strong shooting day from its entire rotation, and will need to find a way to contain Diggins and Stinson, no easy task.
Prediction: Archbishop Wood, 82-65
4) Bonner-Prendergast vs. 5) Roman Catholic
Bonner was expected to take a step back this season after graduating two high-major seniors in Isaiah Wing (Miami) and Tariq Ingraham (Wake Forest) amongst a group of four senior starters, but PCL Coach of the Year Kevin Funston did a tremendous job in his second year as head coach of the Friars. Though there isn’t a true big man in the main rotation, Bonner (17-4, 11-3) was able to pull off wins against some PCL contenders O’Hara, Ryan, Carroll –– and Roman, which it took down 81-75 in overtime at Roman Catholic on Jan. 7 for its biggest win of the season. The Friars feature a terrific backcourt of seniors Tyreese Watson and Donovan Rodriguez plus junior Malik Edwards, and any (or all) of the three are liable to score 20-plus in any given game. Senior guard Oscar Uduma and wing Connor Eagan also can make shots, but they’re in the lineup for their defensive ability and hustle, which they both excel at.
While Bonner doesn’t start anybody taller than 6-2, Roman (14-8, 10-4) boasts the presence of arguably the top forward prospect in the entire country. Sophomore big man Jalen Duren stands 6-10 and is an ever-present monster in the paint for the Cahillites, routinely racking up not just double-doubles but coming close to 20-20 games with blocks, steals, and assists to boot. Duren is what sets them apart in the PCL, but they still have great guard play thanks to senior Lynn Greer III, a sure-fire Division I prospect who might prep and enter the 2021 class, as well as highly-touted sophomore Justice Williams and freshman Xzayvier Brown, who’s earned a starting spot thanks to his maturity and two-end playing ability. If the Friars are able to hold Duren to 10 points again like they did in the first matchup, they could advance...but that’s much easier said than done.
Prediction: Roman Catholic, 65-61
Robert Smith (2) and Bishop McDevitt finished second in the PCL after winning their last 11 league games. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
2) Bishop McDevitt vs. 7) Archbishop Ryan
After making the Catholic League semifinals last year, with their top three players returning, expectations were high for McDevitt this season. Then Will Chavis’s squad lost two of its first three PCL games (to Wood and O’Hara, beating La Salle by just three points), starting the season 5-5 (1-2), and it looked like the Lancers might be in for a letdown year. But after one final non-league loss to Jersey powerhouse Gill St. Bernard on Jan. 11, McDevitt has gone unbeaten, winning its last 10 games to finish the regular season 16-6 (12-2) and in second place in the PCL. That closing stretch included a three-point home win over N-G and then road wins at Bonner (by two) and Roman (by five), showing they can truly beat anybody in this league. Those three top players: seniors Jamil Manigo, a 6-4 forward and matchup nightmare, plus 6-1 scoring guard Robert “Man-Man” Smith and point guard Ahmir Harris. And keep an eye on 6-8 sophomore Alassane Amadou, who’s been giving them key minutes off the bench of late.
Archbishop Ryan (15-8, 8-6) looked like it might be in the running for a home spot in the quarterfinals, standing at 7-2 after beating Father Judge on Jan. 24. But a tough closing stretch (vs. Neumann, @ Bonner, vs. Carroll, @ Roman, @ Wood) was made even more difficult with the season-ending injury suffered by star junior wing Aaron Lemon-Warren, who was averaging north of 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game while making almost half of his 3-point attempts. Without Lemon-Warren, who got hurt before the Judge win, Ryan lost four of its last five regular-season games before bouncing back to beat the Burrs in their playoff opener. Gediminas Mokseckas, a 6-6 senior wing forward, is their go-to player in Lemon-Warren’s absence, as well as junior guard Dom Vazquez, with sophomore sharpshooter Luke Boyd stepping up as well. But without Lemon-Warren, it’s going to be an uphill battle against the Lancers, who they lost to 64-54 on McDevitt’s court on Jan. 10 with everybody healthy.
Prediction: Bishop McDevitt, 70-53
3) Neumann-Goretti vs. 6) Cardinal O’Hara
Before the season began, the buzz around the Catholic League, as talented as the teams are from top to bottom, seemed to all come back to one squad: Neumann-Goretti. And with good reason; Carl Arrigale’s Saints (18-4, 12-2) have won plenty of PCL titles over the years, most recently six straight from 2009-15.This year’s Neumann squad is senior-laden and talented, including 6-8 point-forward and St. Joe’s commit Jordan Hall, ultra-athletic 6-6 wing and Bowling Green commit Cameron Young, speedy 5-10 point guard and Marist commit Hakim Byrd, and 6-7 junior forward Blaise Vespe in the frontcourt as well. Junior guard Chris Evans provides shooting depth, and junior sixth man Hysier Miller has become a mid-major Division I recruit at least with his scoring ability off the bench. They also have 6-8 San Diego State commit Che Evans, whose family moved from Maryland to Philadelphia last offseason, who just got healthy and scored 10 points in his first game back after missing most of the season recovering from a knee injury. If Evans can play up to potential, these Saints just got even more deep and dangerous.
O’Hara, on the other hand, entered the season with middling outside expectations after going 3-11 in league play last season, with no notable new additions in the offseason, for second-year head coach Ryan Nemetz. But the Lions (16-6, 9-5) served notice early on that this season would be different, opening up 11-0 (3-0), beating McDevitt and Ryan, then playing Wood to four points in its first loss of the year. O’Hara also had close calls against Bonner (66-64) and Roman (77-70) but finally picked up a big one, beating N-G in their season finale, 61-54. Now they have to travel back to South Philly for a rematch of that game against a Saints squad with extra things to play for. It’ll take a heroic effort from the Lions’ backcourt of senior Tre Dinkins and juniors Anthony Purnell and Adrian Irving, not to mention 6-6 junior forward Solo Bambara; 6-8 junior forward Jax Trickey will also need to give them quality bench minutes against the much taller Saints.
Prediction: Neumann-Goretti, 70-64