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Philadelphia Catholic League: Boys Semifinal Previews (Feb. 21, 2024)

02/21/2024, 11:15am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The Philadelphia Catholic League boys’ semifinals are this Wednesday night (Feb. 21), at the famed Palestra, two high-level contests played in front of a packed Palestra. 

Here’s an in-depth look at both matchups:

1) Roman Catholic vs. 6) Father Judge (6:15 PM)
Previous Matchup: Father Judge, 76-62 (Jan. 22, Father Judge)

Head Coaches
Roman Catholic: Chris McNesby, 11th season
Father Judge: Chris Roantree, 3rd season

Roman Catholic junior Shareef Jackson is the only starter back from last seaosn's championship team. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)

Projected Starters
Roman Catholic: PF Shareef Jackson, G Hunter Johnson, PG Kabe Goss, PG Robert Cottrell, G Travis Reed

The Cahillite lineup is built around Jackson, the 6-7 junior post and Division I recruit who’s in his third year as a starter and his first as the Roman centerpiece. The rest of the lineup are all senior guards: Goss and Cottrell give them a pair of undersized-but-talented point guards and Reed, a Frankford transfer, has shown he can be a big-time scorer in the PCL; the 6-2 Johnson is a strong jump shooter who rebounds and defends well. 

Father Judge: PF Anthony Lilly, PG Kevair Kennedy, SG LaQuan Byrd, SG Derrick Morton-Rivera, G Nazir Tyler

Roantree’s got Judge in the semifinals for the first time in 25 years, and that’s built on the strength of a quality, diverse backcourt. Morton-Rivera is one of the league’s budding stars, a sophomore off-guard who’s been hitting big shots all season long. The muscular, athletic 6-2 senior Byrd and junior point guard Kennedy, both scholarship-level recruits, have both had their best years yet, and Tyler — a powerful freshman guard — already had varsity experience as an eighth grader at Germantown Friends. Lilly, a 6-6 plugger up front, isn’t a featured scorer but does the little things.

Key Reserves
Roman Catholic: SF Sammy Jackson, G Sebastian Edwards, SF Malik Hughes, SF CJ Miller

McNesby has changed lineups often throughout the season, so all four of these reserves have been in the top five at one point, but all of them will likely see minutes at some point. Jackson, a 6-6 sophomore wing, is Shareef’s younger brother but a far different type of player; the 6-5 Hughes, 6-5 Miller and 6-3 Edwards would also start for most teams in the area, and can all provide significant contributions off the bench. 

Father Judge: PF Everett Barnes, SG Rocco Westfield

Roantree has gone deeper into his bench at points this season, but this time of year coaches tend to shorten the reserve pool barring injuries or significant foul situations. Right now, Roantree’s bench consists mostly of the 6-8 Barnes, who splits time up front with Lilly, as well as the 6-2 Westfield, a sharpshooting combo guard who can fill in at point but has more commonly been used off the ball as a strong catch-and-shoot option. 

Sophomore Derrick Morton-Rivera is part of a talented backcourt trio. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Biggest Strength
Roman Catholic: Depth
No matter what lineup McNesby rolls out Wednesday night, he’s going to have the ability to bring out quality depth behind it, which is a major reason they were able to secure the league’s top seed despite playing without Shareef Jackson for a couple weeks. The only thing they don’t have a ton of is true frontcourt depth, but the group of guards and bigs is so deep, that doesn’t really matter, and McNesby knows how to win with quality guards this time of year. Judge will have to stay locked in every possession no matter who’s on the court, and that’s not easy to do for 32 minutes this time of year.

Father Judge: Guard play
The Crusaders’ backcourt is fun to watch, with all the different pieces that can go off for 20-plus points. Byrd, Morton-Rivera, Kennedy and Tyler are all quality lead guards in their own right, and they all can create their own shot as well as creating shots for others; they’re also all catch-and-shoot threats who can space the defense out. When Judge gets production from its frontcourt, that’s a bonus, but it’s the guards who lead the way.

Area of Weakness
Roman Catholic: Palestra inexperience
Okay, neither team has any Palestra experience, but the only other thing Roman lacks is a lot of elite size, and that’s not really an issue at this level; it’s not like anybody else in the PCL has a pair of 6-10 posts in the frontcourt. But if there’s one thing that could cost McNesby, it’s the fact that he’s brought in a lot of pieces from elsewhere this season — Johnson, Goss, Miller and Reed are all in their first and only years at Roman — who will all be getting their first Palestra experience together. Of course, McNesby has plenty of Palestra experience himself, which could help.

Father Judge: Youth
On top of Judge not having been on this stage in a quarter-century, Roantree’s rotation relies on production from a good dose of underclassmen, who will all be playing on the biggest stage of their lives thus far. As good as Tyler, Morton-Rivera et. al. have been this year, they’ve yet to play in front of eight or nine thousand screaming fans, in a hot gym, with the clock ticking down and every possession feeling like the game-deciding one. Many adults wouldn’t be able to handle that scenario, much less teenagers. 

Roman Catholic, 66-62


2) Neumann-Goretti vs. 5) Archbishop Ryan (7:45 PM)
Previous Matchup: Neumann-Goretti, 60-59 (Jan. 26, Neumann-Goretti)

Head Coaches
Neumann-Goretti: Carl Arrigale, 26th season
Archbishop Ryan: Joe Zeglinski, 9th season

Senior Hofstra commit Amir Williams and Neumann-Goretti are back at the Palestra. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL File)

Projected Starters
Neumann-Goretti: G Stephon Ashley-Wright, F Larenzo Jerkins, G DeShawn Yates, G Torrey Brooks, SF Amir Williams

The Saints have been banged up this season, losing standout guard Khaafiq Myers (St. Joe’s) to a knee injury while the 6-6 Hofstra commit Williams has been banged up as well, missing some games and parts of others with a shoulder injury. Jerkins, a 6-6 forward and West Chester commit who sat out his whole junior year, has had a big senior season scoring inside and out and rebounding at a high clip, while the 5-11 Brooks has been a baby-faced assassin in his first year in the Catholic League. With Myers out, Yates has stepped up in the scoring column, and Ashley-Wright is another talented ball-handler and scorer who can go off with little warning.

Archbishop Ryan: PF Thomas Sorber, F Jaden Murray, PG Darren Williams, G Rocco Morabito, G Matt Johnson

The centerpiece of the Raiders and the league’s co-MVP, the Georgetown-bound Sorber has continually worked on his game and his body to become a singular two-way force. Williams, a 6-2 left-handed point guard and FGCU commit, has had a stellar senior season as well; the 6-6 Murray and 6-3 Morabito are both physical seniors with a lot of game experience, and Johnson is a 5-10 sophomore who moved into the starting lineup midway through the season.

Key Reserves
Neumann-Goretti:G Keon Long-Mtume, G Matt Guokas
Both Long-Mtume and Guokas are typical Arrigale guards — hard-playing and aggressive, willing to do the dirty work, and able to score 10 points in about 30 seconds if the defense isn’t ready. Guokas is a multi-year varsity contributor for Neumann-Goretti who’s ready to step in at a moment’s notice and deliver a big moment; Long-Mtume is a transfer from Martin Luther King, hoping to follow in the footsteps of former King-turned-Saints guard Hysier Miller. 

Archbishop Ryan: G Ryan Everett, SF Brandon Russell
Zeglinski does have a deeper bench than just two, but as the season’s gone on and he’s gone with a shorter bench, Everett and Russell are the two who’ve consistently gotten quality minutes. Everett is a lanky 6-2 guard who’s one of the team’s marksmen from deep, though he’s also a quality ball-handler with good length defensively. Russell, a 6-5 wing, has three-level scoring ability and is a strong athlete as well. 

Archbishop Ryan senior Thomas Sorber was the PCL co-MVP. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Biggest Strength
Neumann-Goretti: Carl Arrigale
The all-time PCL leader in league championships, Arrigale has a dozen Catholic League trophies in his cabinet; if there were a Catholic League Hall of Fame, he’d be a no-doubt first ballot selection. No matter who the Saints have on the court, they’ll always be in it because they have Arrigale on the bench — and that’s no slight to Zeglinski, who’s proven to be a quality coach in his own right, but he’s yet to get it done on this stage, and he’s going against someone who’s done it more than anybody else.

Archbishop Ryan: Thomas Sorber.
Nobody else in the PCL has someone like Sorber. Much more than a back-to-the-basket big, he’s got terrific post moves, can defend the perimeter and the rim, and has even expanded his shooting range to the 3-point arc as he gets ready for the Big East. He’s also improved his conditioning and foul avoidance so he can play almost every minute, and Ryan needs him on the floor as much as possible in order to win its first Catholic League championship in program history.

Area of Weakness
Neumann-Goretti: Depth
Arrigale never carries a ton of depth on his roster, focusing more on concentrating his talent in a top six or seven, so the injuries to Myers and Williams are extra problematic. Arrigale’s one of the best coaches in the tri-state area, and it hasn’t been a major problem yet, but if one or two players get into foul trouble, he’s going to have to turn to some inexperienced pieces to contribute in big moments against a Ryan group that’s been here before.

Archbishop Ryan: Outside shooting
The Raiders have some solid shooters on the team, but they don’t really have anybody who’s a real knockdown threat. Williams, Morabito and Murray can all be streaky shooters who can shoot Ryan in or out of some games, and Williams is the only one to really shoot with volume from outside. In the games where they can knock down a handful of treys, that can be a real boon, but they have the ability to have a really rough night from outside if Sorber isn’t producing.

Archbishop Ryan, 69-62

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