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2018 PIAA Tournament Preview: Class 6A

03/08/2018, 12:15pm EST
By CoBL Staff

Eric Dixon (above) and Abington, fresh off a District 1 6A title, will now go for a state championship. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
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The final segment of the 2017-18 Pennsylvania high school basketball season is upon us.

Six different brackets of 32 teams each get underway this weekend in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) state playoffs, the second year since the expansion from four classifications to six brought even more excitement to March in high school gyms around the Keystone state.

The CoBL staff will be going in-depth on each of the six classifications to preview the state tournament, with favorites, contenders, dark horses and players to watch.

Here’s a look at the Class 6A bracket (district-seed, record in parenthesis); all first-round games will take place Saturday, March 10. The full bracket, with times and locations, can be found here.

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The Favorites
Abington (1-1, 22-5)
Charles Grasty’s squad did something last week what no one else did all year; defeat Plymouth Whitemarsh. Add onto that the importance of the game, it was to win the District One championship. But in 2015 and 2017, when Abington has won the district title, the Ghosts have lost in the first round of states. But with the talent the Ghosts have this year, it looks like it’s going to be hard to take them down. Eric Dixon, a 6-7 junior forward, scored 16 points in the third quarter alone to beat P-W, and is a force to be reckoned with in the paint and outside. Robbie Heath, a four-year starter, is the Ghosts’ second scoring option, and the 6-3 bouncy senior scored 25 to win his third district championship. Add in the production of 6-6 junior guard Lucas Monroe, 6-4 senior Brandon Coffman, and 5-11 junior Darrious Brown, and Abington is going to be a tough matchup all the way through the state tournament.

Hazleton Area (2-1, 23-1)
Finally back in the state tournament play following a number of near-misses, Mike Joseph will introduce his tall, talented Cougars to the rest of Pennsylvania for the first time since 2014. With four regulars standing 6-5 or taller — 6-8 senior Josh Samec (15.1), 6-5 senior Jeff Planutis, 6-6 junior Da’mir Faison (12.5) and 6-5 senior Joey Grula (12.4) — those same four players average in double digits for a remarkably balanced Hazleton side. Also have a dependable lead guard in 5-11 junior Ryan “Sparky” Wolk, who consistently gets these guys the ball where they can do something with it. Scott Shamany, Adrian Otero and Andrew Vayda add depth for a dangerous squad that’s won 13 straight since its loss at Reading.

Plymouth-Whitemarsh (1-2, 27-1)
Until the Colonials lost to Abington last week, P-W was undefeated on the year, but that doesn't change the fact they're one of the odds-on favorites. One reason P-W was so highly ranked was the domination in the paint by 7-foot-1 junior forward Naheem McLeod. Not only can he dunk, but shoot the floater and make an impact on defense. The size doesn’t stop there, as 6-7 junior Jordan Evans and 6-8 junior Jason Cherry also see time in the paint. 6-4 senior Alan Glover isn’t as tall, but still makes an impact in the frontcourt with his motor and energy. In the backcourt, 6-1 senior Ish Horn, who went for 29 points in the district championship game, is an explosive guard. Twins Ahmin and Ahmad Williams round out the backcourt in the starting lineup, and 6-2 sophomore Caelin Peters also sees time on the floor.

Roman Catholic (12-2, 19-6)
Although they weren’t at the top of the Catholic League during the regular season, Roman Catholic ended up winning the prestigious Philadelphia league's tournament, as super-sophomore Lynn Greer III made a pass to junior Hakim Hart for the game winning bucket over Bonner-Prendergast as time expired. Greer has been the star player for the Cahillites this year, but he’s not to be out done by junior forward Seth Lundy. Both score about 16 points a game. Towson commit and senior Allen Betrand, a 6-4 wing, can hit the three and finish above the rim, and the 6-2 Hart can shoot the lights out from beyond the arc.

The Contenders
Lower Merion (1-3, 23-5)
The Aces’ deep junior class has propelled them all year to a Central League championship and the third seed out of District One. It starts with 6-5 Jack Forrest, a sharpshooting wing who holds offers from Penn and Columbia. Steve Payne, a 6-foot point guard, runs the offense and can score at the rim. Darryl Taylor is the defensive weapon for the Aces, as he’s usually dubbed with guarding the opponent’s best player. Look for 6-0 senior Harrison Klevan to light up the scoreboard with his shooting abilities as well.

Reading (3-1, 24-4)
Although sporting a much-different lineup than it did last season while winning its first state basketball championship, Reading already has done something this time around that it didn’t a year ago — and that’s claim District 3 gold. Since 6-1 junior Wesley Butler (16.0 ppg/49 treys) is the lone returning starter for Rick Perez’s club, he’s the catalyst out front directing traffic and getting others involved or making timely shots himself. Joining Butler in the backcourt are 6-1 senior Hector “R.J.” Dixon (9.4) and 6-2 senior Xavier Starks (9.0), while 6-5 senior Ricki Lopez (8.6) and 6-4 junior Daniel Colter (5.4) provide length up front while rounding out the starting five. While Pottstown transfer Larry Wingo (10.3), a 6-0 senior, brings all sorts of energy off the bench, so do 6-0 senior Bobby Heath, 6-4 junior Juan Mato and 6-4 Kahari Whitfield. Physical outfit that really brings it at the defensive end, regardless of the set in play.

State College (6-1, 23-1)
Talented group flush with athleticism and experience up and down the lineup, Joe Walker’s Little Lions are determined to make a deeper run than last season when State High tumbled to Butler in overtime in the second round. Could happen, too. Although Princeton-bound Drew Friberg is the only player averaging in double figures, the rest of Walker’s starters are mighty, mighty close to that number and that makes the two-time Mid-Penn Conference tournament champs tough to defend. While Friberg is option No. 1, 6-5 senior Ryan McNulty, 6-4 junior Tommy Friberg and 6-5 Brandon Clark also can get buckets. So can 6-0 junior lead guard Keaton Ellis. More production comes from a reserve group that includes 6-4 senior Max Benner, 6-0 junior Cam Villarouel and 6-4 sophomore Johnny Friberg. Have rattled off seven consecutive victories since losing to Reading in a late-January showcase.

St. Joseph’s Prep (12-3, 18-8)
Speedy Morris made history earlier this year as the legendary coach eclipsed 1,000 career wins. The Prep also made the Catholic League final four, where it fell to eventual champion Roman Catholic. Seniors Darius Kinnel, Kyle Thompson, and Ed Crosswell have led the Hawks all year, and 6-2 junior Gabe Arizin and 6-1 sophomore Trevor Wall have rounded out the starting bunch. The Hawks haven’t been in the state tournament since 2013, when they lost in the semifinals to Chester.

Allderdice (8-1, 24-2)
Tucked away in downtown Pittsburgh, Buddy Valinsky’s Dragons followed up their perfect run through the City League by winning its postseason tournament and then ousting Erie McDowell and Altoona in a pair of subregional outings that put Allderdice in the main draw. Scary part is Allderdice has put together a 21-game winning streak with a roster sporting just two seniors. Jackson Blaufeld, a 6-3 junior, rang up 20-point performances in the victories over McDowell and Altoona, while 5-10 senior Tyler Williams totaled 28 points. Additional production comes from 6-5 senior Shaun Morris, 6-3 junior Bobby Clifford, 6-2 sophomore Rob Jones and 6-4 junior Terrell Childs. Only losses came against Penn Hills and Penn-Trafford.

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The Dark Horses
Abraham Lincoln (12-1, 21-6)
Lincoln certainly flexed its muscle in the District 12 title game, beating Roman Catholic and opening eyes around the state, but the Railsplitters aren't suddenly just one of the favorites to take it all home. Head coach Al Brown, now in his eighth season, does have a senior-laden group including guard Khalif Mears, wing Tyree Corbett and forward Jahi Randall, but he'll get solid contributions from nine or 10 deep into the rotation. The bracket offers no favors, with a game against Upper Darby in the first round, and likely Coatesville waiting in the second, two teams that can match Lincoln's athleticism, but they've proven they can hang with anybody.

Chambersburg (3-2, 19-5)
Since his clubs are always competitive and always prepared, few teams are going to want to deal with Shawn Shreffler’s Trojans going forward. While the District 3 runners-up have just one player averaging in double figures — agile 6-6, 280-pound senior Joel Torres (13-14 ppg) — there are plenty of others who can put the ball in the basket. Such as 6-2 senior Cade Brindle, 5-11 junior Seth Brouse, 6-8 junior Tyler Collier, 6-1 sophomore Terell Williams, 6-2 senior Tyron Williams, 5-10 senior Noah Beidel and 5-11 senior Evan Shreffler. Trojans were down 15 in the third quarter of the D-3 title game against Reading, but made it a one-possession game Saturday afternoon before falling 46-43 at Hershey’s Giant Center.

Penn Hills (7-1, 23-3)
While Dan DeRose’s senior-dominated Indians opened the season with 14 consecutive victories, the satisfying stuff came several weeks later when Penn Hills edged Pine-Richland 60-56 and claimed its first WPIAL championship since 2003. Daivon Stephens, a 6-5 senior and Penn Hills’ top scorer, split 46 points in the final with 6-0 classmate Cory Fulton. Other starters typically include 6-2 Cam Wiley, 6-6 Keyshawn Adams and 6-0 Myles Yarbough, all seniors. Reached states two seasons ago, but were sidelined in the opening round by an Allderdice club that eventually reached the championship game.

Pine-Richland (7-2, 20-6)
Still plenty of pop in place following last season’s run to the PIAA Class 6A title game — Jeff Ackermann’s Rams lost 64-60 to Reading in the final — Pine-Richland nearly collared its third WPIAL crown in as many years. While that didn’t happen, a group led by 6-5 senior Phil Jurkovec, 6-6 Andrew Kristofic, 6-4 junior Dan Petcash, 6-3 junior Colin Luellen and 6-0 junior Greg Shulkosky will elicit respect from the opposition when the Rams open states against a Central Catholic club they split with during regular-season play.

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The Stars
Jhamir Brickus, Coatesville
Although he’s only a sophomore, Brickus is just a few points away from 1,000 career points. He’s made an impact since he was a freshman, and he has only improved since then. Brickus is most dangerous in transition, where he can finish at the rim with his soft touch and body-control. A 5-9 guard, Brickus can also shoot it from the outside, and in the paint with his quickness.

Tyler Crespo, Manheim Twp
A three-year starter at the suburban Lancaster school, the 5-9 Crespo is a high-octane offensive package who has all sorts of tricks tucked away. Blessed with quicks and lift, Crespo (17.4 ppg/55 treys) can get to the rack, finish from deep and find his teammates with crisp dishes. Has a number of college basketball programs intrigued by his array of abilities.

Eric Dixon, Abington
Dixon showed his ability in the district championship last week, dropping 16 points in the third quarter alone to bring home the Ghosts’ second straight championship. A bulky 6-7 forward, Dixon can score on all three levels, though he’s most comfortable in the paint. The southpaw has the ability to take over the game by himself, as he can make an impact on both ends of the floor. Dixon is being recruited by the likes of Villanova, Xavier, and Virginia.

Drew Friberg, State College
Returning all-state forward has been productive all season long, as the 6-7 senior headlines a Little Lions lineup (23-1) that repeated as Mid-Penn Conference tournament champions before winning yet another District 6 title. Destined for the Ivy League and Princeton, Friberg went into the District 6 title game averaging 19.1 points per and didn’t come out until he netted 23.

Phil Jurkovec, Pine-Richland
While many in the greater Pittsburgh area speculated on whether Jurkovec would even play basketball this season, the dependable 6-5 senior has been scoring at a 15.8 ppg clip after checking back into the Rams lineup after leading Pine to a state football championship — just months after Jeff Ackermann’s club reached the PIAA Class 6A hoops final. A promising Notre Dame football recruit as a QB, Jurkovec also landed on last year’s all-state hoops squad.

Naheem McLeod, Plymouth Whitemarsh
One offensive weapon the Colonials have that no one else does in the state is the ability to dump it down to McLeod, and almost every time be guaranteed a dunk. Standing 7-foot-1, McLeod doesn’t need to get to high off the ground to slam it home. When he is going against someone smaller to grab a rebound, it doesn’t take much for the junior to snatch the board. His offensive skill set has expanded in the last year; now he’s comfortable shooting the floater and using the glass to his advantage.

Josh Samec and Da’mir Faison, Hazleton
While the 6-8 Samec is a multi-dimensional threat who can knock down the 3-ball consistently, the West Chester recruit also uses his length effectively to slick his way around and over bulkier big men. Averages a team-best 15.1 ppg and 8.2 rpg. Faison, who likely is several inches taller than his listed 6-5, is the most athletic of Hazleton’s impressive grove of trees. Capable of competing inside and out at the offensive end with his length, Faison also has the athleticism needed to run Hazleton’s attack and get to the tin — while his sizable wingspan enables the junior to protect the rim. Is receiving some D-I interest, most notably from Howard and NJIT.

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First-Round Games to Watch
Hempfield (23-4) vs. Coatesville (22-6)
Those heading for Lititz;s Warwick High School might want to avoid U.S. 30 since this opening-round contest might draw plenty of traffic from east and west of Lancaster. Danny Walck’s Hempfield bunch has played one game at Warwick this season, but it’ll be up to a thinner group led by 6-5 senior Ryan Moffatt, 6-4 senior and Temple football recruit David Martin-Robinson, 5-10 junior Elijah Washington and 6-1 senior Anthony Alston to ignite a lengthy state run. All four average in double digits, but a Black Knights program that last year reached the quarterfinals suffered a loss when 6-2 senior glue guy Teagan Hazel went down with a season-ending injury. Chuck Moore will run more players in an out than Walck and he’s probably going to want his Red Raiders to get up and down since players such as 5-11 soph Jhamir Brickus, 5-9 soph Dapree Bryant, 6-4 senior Chuck Smith, 6-4 junior Tione Holmes and 6-1 senior Avery Young thrive in transition. Additional depth, whether in the lineup at the start or coming off the bench, comes from 6-9 senior Eastern Kentucky recruit Tyrel Bladen, deep-shooting 6-3 senior Donte Crews and 6-0 senior Haasan Young.

State College (23-1) vs. Woodland Hills (20-4)
Interesting that these same programs tipped it up 12 months ago in the opening round of the state playoffs — also at Bald Eagle Area High School — a game State High claimed 82-71. While Little Lions seniors Drew Friberg, Ryan McNulty and Brandon Clark are back for yet another state run, so are juniors Tommy Friberg and Keaton Ellis. Although State High averaged 92 ppg in winning the Mid-Penn Conference and District 6 tournaments, Joe Walker’s bunch has not played in two weeks. Woody Hills was right there with Pine-Richland in the WPIAL semifinals, but Odell Miller’s outfit wound up losing 65-61 despite 31 points from senior Amante Britt and 14 more from 6-1 junior Keandre Bowles.

Allderdice (24-2) vs. Mt. Lebanon (20-4)
Since this is the state tournament, one can toss out the earlier result between these sides, a regular-season scrap won 71-63 by Allderdice at home. Nonetheless, Buddy Valinsky’s Dragons should have confidence in hand when they tip it up at Pittsburgh’s Obama Academy. Particularly since players such as 6-3 junior Jackson Blaufeld and 5-10 senior Tyler Williams averaged double digits in ‘Dice’s two subregional victories. Joe David’s Blue Devils picked up a combined 43 points from 5-10 junior Michael Palmer, 6-1 junior Hayden Mitchell and 6-6 senior Caden Hinckley in the WPIAL semifinals, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a 69-66 loss to eventual champion Penn Hills that halted a six-game winning streak.


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