Bernard Lightsey (above) and Imhotep Charter are three wins from defending their Pub titile. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The Philadelphia Public League playoff is down to its final eight teams, narrowed from a field of 38 which began the tournament last week.
With the bracket no longer broken down by PIAA classification, this could be the best year in a while for the final few rounds of the Pub’s postseason, considering the top eight seeds all made it through to this round, instead of the sometimes-imbalanced quarterfinals that resulted from the former system.
Here’s a quick look at each of the four games, which will be played Friday and Saturday; the semifinals are on Feb. 20 at South Philadelphia HS and the championship is Sun., Feb. 25 at the Palestra (3 PM):
Imhotep Charter vs. Bartram
Fri., Feb. 16, 5 PM @ Martin Luther King HS
Of the four quarterfinals, this is the one that is the least up-in-the-air; in fact, it would be a pretty shocking upset if Bartram can upset the Public League’s ‘A’ Division champs, who went an unbeaten 10-0 in league play and boast the most powerful roster not just in the city but perhaps the entire region. The Panthers are led by a strong junior core that includes Division I recruitings Donta Scott (6-7), Chereef Knox (6-6), Jamil Riggins Jr. (6-6), Dhamir Bishop (6-5) and Kamar Cummings (6-4), plus a stud sophomore post in Elijah Taylor (6-9) and senior sharpshooter Bernard Lightsey, a D-II talent. The defending Public League champs are without David Beatty (South Carolina) and all-time leading scorer Daron Russell (Rhode Island) from a year ago, but are no less dangerous this time around. Bartram, led by senior guard Tyrae Green, an all-league selection a year ago, will have to play basically a perfect game to have a chance.
Sankofa Freedom vs. Mastery North
Sat., Feb. 17, 1:30 PM @ Ben Franklin HS
Unlike the Imhotep game, the other three should all be competitive. The second-place finisher in the ‘B’ Division, Sankofa is junior-driven, led by 6-6 Khalil Turner and 6-3 Scott Spann; though shorter, Spann is the tougher interior player, while Turner is a guard with a smooth 3-point stroke who can also fill up the rebound and assist columns. The Warriors also boast an intriguing sophomore guard, 6-3 Derrius Ward, who can go off from 3-point range on any given night. Mastery North doesn’t quite have the size up front, but the Pumas have some terrific guards, including junior Jamir Reed, one of the best scorers in the entire Public League, plus senior Harold Daily and junior Lakeem McAilely. If Mastery North can’t keep Sankofa off the glass, it could be a tough day for the Pumas, who made it to the PIAA Class AA championship game two years ago.
Martin Luther King vs. Math, Civics & Sciences
Fri., Feb. 16, 3:15 PM @ Samuel Fels
This should be an interesting game, though nobody will be around to see it -- King and MCS are playing their quarterfinal with no spectators, due to fan issues the last time the two proud programs matched up. This is the only quarterfinal matchup that features two teams from the same division (‘A’); King took both regular-season matchups, by seven at home in December and then by 11 at MCS in January, but it’s certainly not easy to beat the Mighty Elephants three times in the same year. Sean Colson’s King squad is led this year by senior guard Denelle Holly and big man Will McNair, a 6-9 space-eating post who presents a significant challenge for an MCS squad that has great guards like junior Jihad “Squid” Watson and senior Kwazhere Ransom but doesn’t quite match up in the size department. But Dan Jackson has guided MCS to multiple state championships in his decade-plus with the program, so don’t count them out by a long shot.
Abraham Lincoln vs. Constitution
Fri., Feb. 16, 6:45 PM @ Martin Luther King
The top team in the Public League’s ‘B’ Division, Lincoln has had a strong season, going 12-1 in league play, including a win over Sankofa Freedom to claim the crown late in the year. The Railspitters get their scoring from all over the place, including lanky 6-6 senior wing Tyree Corbett, guards Khalif Mears and Shikier Morrison, and sophomore point guard Travis Coleman, who provides some pop off the bench; forward Jahi Randall gives them some toughness and inside scoring ability. Constitution is guard-heavy as usual, led by senior guard Damon Wall, a transfer from Doane Academy (N.J.) who’s making the most of his only high school season played in his hometown. Senior guard Jahmir Marable-Williams and sophomore KeShaun “Champ” WIlliams can both go for 20 points as well for Rob Moore’s Generals.