Roman senior Lynn Greer III is the straw that stirs the drink for the Cahillites' offense and played a critical role in last year's PCL title game win.
There’s a reason these teams are here.
Certainly, it doesn’t hurt the cause that Neumann-Goretti and Roman Catholic can lay claim to 52 combined Philadelphia Catholic League titles all-time — not to mention 13 of the last 15 seasons.
But there’s plenty of talent to go around with this year’s teams. From Roman freshman Xzayvier Brown to Neumann senior Hakim Byrd, there are guys young and old who will have a role to play in Monday’s PCL title game at The Palestra, which tips at 8:15 p.m.
With a clash between the Catholic League’s two powerhouse programs on tap, let’s take a look at three of the biggest storylines going into what should be a barnburner at The Cathedral of College Basketball.
No. 3 Neuman-Goretti (20-4)
G Hakim Byrd, Sr., 5-10
G Hysier Miller, Jr., 6-2
F Jordan Hall, Sr., 6-8
F Blaise Vespe, Jr., 6-7
F Cameron Young, Sr. 6-6
G Chris Evans, Jr., 6-2
G Masud Stewart, Soph., 6-0
The Neumann-Goretti lineup includes three Division I commits in Young (Bowling Green), Hall (Saint Joseph's) and Byrd (Marist), while Hysier Miller has pulled in several mid-major offers during his first year with the Saints. The frontcourt is dangerous and versatile; Young is one of the best athletes around, and a much-improved outside shooter, while Vespe has the most physicality of the three while also being able to stretch the floor. Hall is one of the more versatile talents in the Northeast, a wing-forward whose best asset is his passing ability, though he's also an adept scorer, rebounder and defender. Byrd is the smaller, quick point guard who makes it all happen, but any of that starting five can make plays. Off the bench, Evans is a sharpshooter, while Stewart is more of a distributor who lets the stars shine around him.
No. 5 seed Roman Catholic (18-6)
G Xzayvier Brown, Fr., 6-1
G Lynn Greer III, Sr., 6-3
G Justice Williams, So., 6-4
F Christian Kirkland, So., 6-6
C Jalen Duren, So., 6-9
G Nasir Lett, Sr., 5-11
F Kyle Maska, Sr., 6-6
Roman's starting lineup is undoubtedly younger than Neumann-Goretti's, with four underclassmen, including a baby-faced freshman running the point in Brown, who's certainly played above his years the entire season. The shining centerpiece is Duren, the No. 2 player in the Class of 2022 and a physical specimen of a forward, an elite rim-runner, shot-blocker and rebounder with an increasing array of post moves and developing face-up ability. Throw in Williams, another top-25 player in his class, and it's one of the brightest young cores in the country. Greer III, who's still deciding on whether he'll do a prep year next year or select from several mid-to-high Division I offers this year, has the ability to take over a game when he wants, but he can also go through cold stretches from the floor. Kirkland's moved into the starting lineup as the season's gone on for his defensive abilities, and typically doesn't offer much in the scoring column.
Running it back
One of the best games of the PCL season happened a little more than a month ago when these two teams met at Neumann-Goretti. It took the Saints, the No. 3 seed in the PCL playoffs, two overtimes to surge past the No. 5 Cahillites 77-69, but the final margin doesn’t reflect the intensity of the 40-minute battle.
With the gym packed to its gills, Duren logged 27 points and 15 boards, having his way inside all night long, including a game-tying dunk with 2:40 to play in overtime.
Brown and Young traded triples. Then, Roman's Greer III and the Saints' Hall exchanged layups, making it a 63-all game inside the final minute.
That ultimately set the stage for overtime — and eventually a second extra period — but demonstrates the depth of both sides. Every player that will see the floor Monday night is a threat to score, and while the talent at the top is undoubtedly impressive, it would be unwise to expect any particular player to be the hero.
Carl Arrigale will have a chance to win his 11th PCL title Monday, which would be a record for any coach in league history.
More than enough experience
Although Neumann-Goretti hasn’t played in a PCL title game since 2017, they’ve played in the semifinals each of the last three seasons, meaning just everyone on this team has experience with the bright lights of The Palestra; juniors Hysier Miller (Martin Luther King) and Blaise Vespe (St. Augustine Prep) were the two who weren't around last year.
If the Saints start the same lineup as last week’s semifinal, that’ll mean they send out three seniors and a pair of juniors.
Add in longtime coach Carl Arrigale, who has won 10 of Neumann’s 20 PCL titles, and there’s no reason to think the pressure of a big game will faze the Saints.
But this Roman team, despite its youth, has been here before. Greer scored 14 points in last year’s title game victory and both Duren and Justice Williams played significant minutes as freshmen.
And though coach Matt Griffin is in just his fourth season at the helm of the Cahillites, this will mark his third PCL title game appearances.
How the game goes
Roman isn’t afraid to score the ball — it needed 83 points to top Archbishop Wood and earn a place in Monday’s final — but the Cahillites aren’t typically a deep-shooting squad.
They knocked down seven of its nine long-distance tries against the Vikings, but their 1-of-12 performance in the regular-season finale against Bishop McDevitt was more indicative of Roman’s offensive style. The Cahillites will lean on Greer to jump-start the offense, and he’ll often make sure the ball finds its way to Duren, the nation’s second-ranked sophomore, inside.
Neumann, on the other hand, is more than happy to push the pace. In the Saints’ semifinal against Archbishop Ryan, the Raiders dictated tempo for much of the night and kept N-G to a mere 51 points on 18-of-50 from the field.
Junior Hysier Miller is the Saints’ leading scorer at 15.0 points per game and Byrd is equally capable of knocking down from distance.
In theory, the tempo early could give a hint of who will have the advantage Monday night, but both teams have proven more than capable of winning in a variety of ways.
Ed. Note: I thought about putting a prediction in down here, but honestly, this one's about as close to 50-50 as it gets. My prediction is that it'll be within a three-point game one way or the other, played in the low-60s. But saying Roman 63, N-G 62 or N-G 62, Roman 60...it would just be a coin flip at that point. This might be taking the easy way out, but I didn't feel comfortable putting my foot down one way or the other in this one. –– JV