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PIAA Preview: How the local 6A boys teams stack up

03/08/2023, 10:00am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The PIAA state playoffs begin this weekend, with more than 70 teams from the Philadelphia area still in the hunt for state trophies. All week look, CoBL’s staff will be taking a look at the teams to watch — local and not — who can compete for titles in all six boys and all six girls’ brackets. 

Here’s a look at all of the local boys’ teams in the 6A bracket, whose first round takes place Saturday, ranked by how likely they are to make a deep run, from least likely to most likely:

(1-12) Haverford High
There might not be anywhere in the state that’s less fun to play than at Reading, when the Red Knights’ fans are out in force during the state playoffs, because nobody in the state gets the support they have. But that’s the draw for Haverford High, which at 14-13 is just happy to be in the state playoffs, Keith Heinerichs getting the most out of a roster that isn’t maybe the most talented he’s had in his recent run of success, but certainly likes to play tough. Senior guard Googie Seidman, a Catholic (D.C.) commit, is their leading scorer and a shooter with range; classmates Brian Wiener, Gorman Bright Jr., Kevin Gannon and Tommy Wright have all been around for a year or two on the varsity level as well. But yeah, they’re in for a tough time on Saturday against one of the favorites to win it all.

Sizwe Morris-Louis (above) and Central are one of the bigger underdogs in the District 1 6A bracket. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

(12-2) Central
The second seed out of District 12, Central has a solid squad, led by a terrific point guard in 5-8 Sizwe Morris-Louis (5-7), one of eight seniors under head coach Jay Crawford. The Lancers (16-11), who compete in the ‘B’ Division of the Philadelphia Public League, also feature senior guard Spencer Rosman (5-9), sophomore guard Salim Kelly (6-2), freshman Yahmir Knight-Parker (6-0), junior guard Malachi Brown (5-10) and others. But their only experience against a team from the Suburban One League was a 17-point loss to Wissahickon, and the North Penn squad they’ll face in the first round is a good step better. Though it is true that should they win, their second-round opponent (Coatesville or Scranton) shouldn’t be of a similar level to the Knights.

(1-11) Perkiomen Valley
It was six years ago that Justin Jaworski led Perk Valley on a shocking upset of Roman Catholic in the first round of the state playoffs, part of the reason Jaworski earned himself a scholarship to Lafayette, where he scored nearly 1,500 career points and launched him into an ongoing professional career. So there’s a little history between these two programs, though this rematch will be played at West Philly, not St. Joe’s Prep. This year’s Vikings (17-8) will draw a shorthanded Roman squad in that first-round game (more on that below), which doesn’t make the upset impossible, but they’ll either get Lower Merion, or a Williamsport team that beat Lower Merion, in the second round. That’s a tough first couple games to get past. Junior guard Julian Sadler (6-2) is terrific, and they’ll have plenty returning with him, junior wing Kyle Shawaluk (6-4) and sophomore guard Mason Thear (6-1), while senior Morgan McKinney (6-5) gives them a solid post presence. 

(1-7) Garnet Valley
For most of the season, the Jaguars (17-9) looked like a potential final four team in the district, but — before beating North Penn in the final District 1 seeding game — had lost five of their last six, only a well-timed OT win over Methacton in the district’s second rounds putting them in states at all. That’s not a great trend heading into states, with a quality Cumberland Valley (21-4) hosting in the first round, with either Parkland or Henderson waiting in the second round should they reverse their recent run of play. Mike Brown, who’s turned GV from a perennial loser into a top-four program into the Central League, has a good group to work with, including York commit Max Koehler (6-2), wing Logan McKee (6-5) and wing Ryan Faccenda (6-1) in his senior class, plus high-scoring sophomore Jake Sniras (6-3), who just put in a career-best 39 points in the win over North Penn.

(1-5) Central Bucks East
The Patriots (22-4) have had a great season, making it to the Suburban One League championship game and then into the district quarterfinals, winning two seeding games to lock up the 1-5 seed, but all that did was put them into a first-round matchup with Catholic League powerhouse Archbishop Wood. That’s a rough slot, considering Erik Henrysen certainly has the pieces to win a state game, led by seniors Tyler Dandrea (6-2), Joey Giordano (6-0), Kyle Berndt (6-5) and juniors Miles Demby (6-5) and Dhruv Mukund (6-4) giving them some size at the ‘4’ and ‘5’.  They’ll have to have a lockdown day defensively and their best shooting day of the season to advance — and even if they do, P-W could be waiting in the second round.

Nadir Myers (above) and Upper Darby ended up with the sixth seed out of District 1. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

(1-6) Upper Darby
The Royals (18-8) have had a strong year, a group of seniors that came together under longtime head coach Bob Miller, as half of their losses (literally) have come to Lower Merion. Point guard Nadir Myers (5-11) is the table-setter, with wings Yassir Joyner (6-3), Khysir Slaughter (6-2) and wing forward Niymire Brown (6-4) all capable of scoring 20+, with plenty of games where two (or even three) of them have done so simultaneously. While they can all get their own bucket, it’s an unselfish group that shares and shoots the ball well, also playing in-your-face defense for 94 feet. They’ve got a winnable game for sure at Liberty in the first round, but it’s highly likely that Reading awaits in the next — and while the Royals won’t back down against the Red Knights, that’ll be an uphill battle.

(1-10) West Chester Henderson
The Warriors (16-11), who are in the state playoffs for just the third time in school history (1977, 2007), have never won a state playoff game, and they’ve got a tough draw in the opening round in District 11 champs Parkland, led by a terrific high-scoring junior guard, Division I recruit Nick Coval. Hendy has a trio of bucket-getters in senior K’Mari Smith (6-2) and juniors Nyle Ralph-Beyer (6-4) and Connor Fleet (6-0), all three of whom can get theirs in different ways; throw in forwards Danny Surowiec (6-4) and Evan McFadden (6-6), both multi-sport standouts, and they’ve got a well-rounded starting five, with depth as the primary issue. Parkland is good but the 18-9 record shows they’re beatable, and a good day from the field for Fleet and Ralph-Beyer and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Henderson pull the upset, with a winnable second-round game possible as well.

(1-9) Coatesville
Even though Coatesville ended the District 1 playoffs seeded worse than a few of the teams we have below them here, John Allen’s squad ended up with a pretty good first-round draw in Scranton (14-11), which won a small District 2/4 6A pool and gets home-court advantage, but is not quite the same team that went 21-2 and made it to the state quarters a year ago. Beyond that game is North Penn and Central, though whoever gets through that PW/Wood/CB East pod will be waiting in the quarterfinals. Coatesville (18-9) is backcourt-heavy, including seniors Jeremiah Marshall (6-3) and Christian Proctor (6-2), juniors Zuri Harris (6-0) and Dior Kennedy (6-2), and sophomore Amon Fowlkes (6-2), while 6-7 freshman Larry Brown gives them an interior presence who’s getting better and better.

(1-8) North Penn
The Knights (18-8) are back in the state tournament for the first time since 2020, though that NP group was the final qualifier in the district and entered the state tournament with a 12-15 record; they haven’t won a state playoff game since at least 2010. This year seems like a good time to break that streak, with Central waiting in the first round, and either Scranton or Coatesville after that, and North Penn beat Coatesville 64-60 in the district second round to clinch its state bid. The Knights, under John Conrad’s direction since 2011, are led by senior guard Mario Sgro and junior guard Norman Gee III, plus senior forward Ryan Zeltt, junior wing Teddy McAllister, senior guard Ryan Deininger and more. 

(1-4) Downingtown West
For Downingtown West, it’s all about playing up to potential. When the Whippets (19-7) are at their best, they can play with anybody in the state; when they’re not, including in their last two games, they can look vulnerable. After a 29-point loss to Lower Merion in their last district seeding game, they’ll have had eight days to prepare for Waynesboro (21-6), the fourth seed out of District 3. The good news for Downingtown West is that it gets seeded into the western half of the bracket, away from the Catholic League and top part of District 1; the downside is the road trips they’ll need to make to keep advancing. 

(12-1) Roman Catholic
Why are the 2023 Catholic League champs, who roll into states with a 23-3 record, not the overall favorite to win a state title? Well, the Cahillites are without two starters in Erik Oliver-Bush and Jermai Stewart-Herring, the wings both ineligible for the state playoffs after transferring in for their senior years, and that’s a problem when Chris McNesby only went six deep for most of the regular season. He still has a great top three to work with in two St. Joe’s commits, seniors Xzayvier Brown (6-3) and Anthony Finkley (6-7), plus 6-6 sophomore Shareef Jackson, and that should be enough to get past Perkiomen Valley — the same team that beat them in the first round in 2017 — but they have to prove themselves capable of winning much more than that. Junior guard Robert Cottrell (5-10) and sophomore Will Felder (6-3) will see much-enlarged roles, while Jackson’s brother, freshman Sammy Jackson (6-3), and a couple others should see minutes off the bench. 

Jaden Colzie (above) and Plymouth Whitemarsh won the District 1 6A title. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

(1-1) Plymouth Whitemarsh
Yes, we actually have the District 1 champs ranked below the team they beat in the title game, but that’s only because of their path, not because of the teams themselves. The Colonials (27-2) get the sixth seed out of District 3, Chambersburg (15-11) first, but after that will likely have to go through Archbishop Wood, or if not Central Bucks East in the second round, which is a tough group to come out of, arguably the toughest pod of any in the state. Jim Donofrio has plenty of playoff success under his belt, including the 2010 state title, and he’s got a group that can definitely make a run, led by senior guard Qudire Bennett (6-3), junior guards Chase Coleman (6-2) and Jaden Colzie (6-1), junior wing Jah Sayles (6-5), senior forward Lincoln Sharpe (6-5), and more. 

(1-2) Spring-Ford
The District 1 runners-up are under good management: head coach Joe Dempsey has made a run to the state title game, in 2014 with La Salle College HS, and he’s got a group this year that’s shown it can hang with anybody. Sophomore guard Jacob Nguyen (6-3) is a budding standout, while junior guard E.J. Campbell (6-1) has had a breakout second half of his season; senior point guard Caleb Little (6-0) keeps them all together. They don’t have a true ‘5’ man, but sophomore Tommy Kelly (6-5), senior Alex Lewis (6-4) and senior Zach Zollers (6-3) all give them some interior presence. The Rams (25-3) play great defense, and are out in the Western side of the bracket, with the most wins of anybody in their quadrant and the most outside of Reading of anybody in that half of the bracket. 

(1-3) Lower Merion
The Aces (21-4) have one of the state’s best coaches in Gregg Downer and one of its best players in senior Sam Brown, and an experienced group around him. Given that Roman’s playing shorthanded, if LM can get past Roman in the second round, it could very well find itself in the semifinals, though it won’t by any means be a walk in the park. Brown, a 6-3 left-hander and Penn commit, is one of the state’s best shooters, but has also become a terrific ball-handler and shot-creator, both for himself and others. The Aces’ secondary offensive option is senior Sam Wright (6-2), another well-rounded combo guard, while seniors Jordan Meekins (6-4), Teddy Pendergrass III (6-2) and Justin Poles (6-1) fill out the rest of the starting perimeter; junior wing John Mobley (6-2) is a high-level athlete and a rebounding/put-back specialist.

(12-3) Archbishop Wood
The Vikings don’t have the easiest draw, for sure, but in a loaded bracket, they’re still the most likely of the local squads to end up in Hershey. Even though they’re in the same seed that they were a year ago, when they made it to the state championship before losing to Roman Catholic, now they’re up in the top half of a reorganized bracket, meaning they have to go through the East instead of the West, though it’ll cut the travel time significantly. Wood’s most notable name is junior Jalil Bethea (6-4), who’s primed for a major climb up the 2024 rankings after a huge season, while his classmate Josh Reed (6-2), plus sophomores Milan Dean (6-2) and CareyDeuce’ Maxey (6-1), all look like Division I recruits. Senior Carson Howard, a 6-8 forward bound for East Stroudsburg, gives them some size up front, and senior guard Gus Salem (6-2) is a good shooter who fits into their offensive system. 

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