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District 1 Class AAAA Playoff Preview

02/11/2016, 2:45pm EST
By Josh Verlin & Jeff Griffith

CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)

The District 1 AAAA playoffs are here, with all 32 teams opening first-round play on Friday night at the higher seeds’ home courts.

Here is everything you need to know about the three-week tournament, which has no fewer than seven or eight teams with realistic championship possibilities--and a few who could make deep runs in the state bracket as boot. A full 10 teams from the bracket--which can be seen in its entirety here--will advance to the PIAA tournament: the eight quarterfinalists plus two others from the eight teams who lose in the second round.

We’ll have our previews of the District 1 Class A/AAA and Class AA brackets, which begin Feb. 19 and Feb. 23 respectively, out next week.

(Regular-season Records in Parenthesis)

Oakley Spencer (above) and Plymouth Whitemarsh have a tough road ahead to the Liacouras Center. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Path to the Final Four
Let’s take a look at each of the top four seeds and see who’s got the toughest road into the semifinals at Temple.

1) Coatesville Red Raiders (23-1)
If Coatesville will have any problems getting to the Liacouras Center, it will come in the form of the team who they knocked from last year’s districts, the Chester Clippers, who hold the ninth seed. Chester, an always talented team, has proven it isn’t exactly what its 16-6 record would entail, having nearly beaten No. 3 Downingtown West, as well as earning four wins over playoff teams Academy Park and Penn Wood. That said, the Red Raiders have the district’s top seed for a reason; their senior-laden roster, highlighted by sharpshooter Rome Boyer and bulky yet coordinated center Justus Martinez, holds wins over five other teams in the district bracket. Other than a potential trap game against Chester, it looks like Coatesville has the easiest road to the final four, and it’s hard to think they won’t be playing for a shot at a championship appearance in two weeks.

2) Plymouth-Whitemarsh Colonials (20-2)
Jim Donofrio’s Colonials will face a few good teams on their way to the Liacouras Center, that’s for sure. They perhaps got a little lucky with the inclusion of No. 31 Radnor (11-11) in the tournament while 14-8 Chichester got left at home, but after that things quickly get more difficult. Assuming it avoids a first-round disaster, P-W’s next game will come against either the only team to beat them in league play (Upper Merion) or a dangerous, athletic Academy Park squad led by do-everything senior guard Jawan Collins (21.6 ppg) and talented freshman Khyree Temple (18.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg); either one could pull the upset. And in the other half of their mini-bracket includes No. 7 Central Bucks West, who beat them in the Suburban One League’s semifinal and went on to win the SOL title, as well as No. 10 Phoenixville, who went undefeated in PAC-10 play before getting upset by Perk Valley in the league semis.

3) Downingtown West Whippets (21-3)
Jason Ritter can’t be happy with the minefield he faces in this bracket, as his Whippets will be tested right from the get-go. No. 30 Garnet Valley, led by senior guard Andrew Louden. The Jaguars don’t have Downingtown West’s size, however--and 6-8 Cornell commit Josh Warren, 6-7 junior George Gordon and 6-6 senior Dom Guerrera should be too much for GV to handle. That could be the first of three straight Central League teams, as No. 14 Conestoga and No. 11 Lower Merion loom in the same mini-bracket, and both have their eyes on an upset or two and a place in the state tournament. And then there’s No. 6 Abington, who will have to get past Upper Dublin and then either LM or Penn Wood, but the Suburban One runner-up Ghosts are extremely talented though young, featuring 6-6 freshman Eric Dixon and sophomore point guard Robbie Heath.

4) Ridley Green Raiders (22-1)
As the lowest of the top four seeds, it would be expected that the Green Raiders would end up with the most difficult draw, and it's hard to argue otherwise. The other top three seeds in the mini-bracket are all good enough to win a game or two in the state bracket, and even the "lower" seeds are upset-ready as well. That starts in the first round with a No. 29 North Penn squad that took down C.B. West a few weeks ago, and is certainly more dangerous than its 11-11 record implies. The second round could feature a No. 13 Cheltenham squad that's got the bodies to defend Mike Snyder's talented perimeter trio of Julian WIng, Liam Bollinger and East Stroudsburg commit Brett Foster, or a No. 20 Perkiomen Valley bunch that's playing with a big chip on its shoulder after being denied the PAC-10 championship the other night. And assuming they get past there, there's three-loss No. 5 Pennridge and its inside-out duo of Danny Long and Max Wagner or PAC-10 champs Spring-Ford there waiting.

Dion Harris (above) and Lower Merion have their eyes on one of the 10 berths in the state tournament. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Bracket Busters
Here are several teams outside the top 10 seeds who could win a few games and make a state tournament appearance:

11) Lower Merion Aces (15-7)
Under longtime head coach Gregg Downer, Lower Merion has established itself as a program to watch every postseason, with state championships in 1996, 2006 and 2013. This year’s Aces got shut out of the Central League postseason thanks to Ridley’s undefeated season, so they’re extra-hungry heading into a wide-open bottom half of the district tournament. Lower Merion has good guard play with senior K.J. Helton and junior Terrell Jones, plus a much-improved big man in 6-8 senior center Jeremy Horn. As well-coached as any other team around, LM knows how to maintain even a slight advantage and finish off games this time of year.

13) Cheltenham Panthers (16-6)
The Panthers have stumbled a bit heading into districts, losing three of their last five games--to Upper Moreland (60-59) and Norristown (81-74) on the road plus P-W (58-56) at home. But this is a dangerous, senior-laden squad with 11 players set to graduate from John Timms’ squad. They’re guard-heavy, led by seniors Khalil White, Anthony White and Maurice Valentine outside plus 6-4 Justin Sutton inside, but also get very productive minutes from junior wing Trevonn Pitts and sophomore guard Amir Lewis. The Panthers have made a lot of progress in Timms’ three years, but after getting blown out in the first round of districts last year, they’re hoping to make a more positive impression this time around.

15) Upper Merion Vikings (16-6)
A state playoff berth would be the icing on the cake for an Upper Merion squad that won just two games last year but looks primed to be one of the better teams in the district next season. That’s thanks to a terrific group of juniors, including 6-7 forward Matt Faw, who’s turned himself into a potential Division I prospect with a strong season; he's joined up front by two other juniors with size, 6-6 Ethan Miller and 6-5 Chris Carita. Point guard Aiden Newell is a true floor general who knows how to penetrate and dish off to the bigs, while seniors like Isaiah Graham-Mobley, a Temple football commit, bring the requisite experience and some additional athleticism to the squad. Jason Quenzer's group looks primed for a big 2016-17 season, but this one isn't over yet.

18) Academy Park (16-6)
Obviously this is an “either-or” scenario with AP and Upper Merion, as they meet in the first round; however, that means one of them will be only one win away from that state berth. The Knights are a sharp contrast to Upper Merion, with a guard-heavy attack that features Jawan Collins, a super-athletic 5-11 combo guard who shoulders a heavy scoring burden for head coach Allen Brydges. But what really has made them dangerous was the midseason addition of freshman wing forward Khyree Temple, who’s had quite a first seven games, averaging 18.4 ppg and 10.6 rpg. The two of them are going to cause problems for whoever they meet, and the rest of the Knights form a solid supporting cast.

Pennridge's Danny Long (above) is one of many players to watch in the District 1 AAAA tournament. (Photo: Abigail Hoffer/CoBL)

Twenty Can’t-Miss Players
Rome Boyer -- Sr./G, Coatesville
Darryl Caldwell -- Sr./PG, Conestoga
Khaleeq Campbell -- Sr./PG, Chester
Jawan Collins -- Sr./G, Academy Park
Eric Dixon -- Fr./PF, Abington
K.J. Helton -- Sr./G, Lower Merion
Matt Faw -- Jr./F, Upper Merion
Mark Flagg -- Jr./PF, Pennsbury
Brett Foster -- Sr./G, Ridley (East Stroudsburg)
Matt Gnias -- Sr./G, Spring-Ford
Justin Jaworski -- Jr./G, Perkiomen Valley
Christian Kelly -- Sr./SG, Phoenixville
Danny Long -- Sr./G, Pennridge (Monmouth - baseball)
Andrew Louden -- Sr./G, Penncrest
Xzavier Malone -- Sr./SG, Plymouth-Whitemarsh (Rider)
Tyler Norwood -- Soph./G, Penncrest
Cal Reichwein -- Sr./G, Central Bucks West (Lafayette)
Riley Thompson -- Sr./G, Council Rock North
Josh Warren -- Sr./PF, Downingtown West (Cornell)
Khalil White -- Sr./G, Cheltenham

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