Jason Mackey Column

What to make of the area basketball scene?

Where local teams fit in pairings

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I get paid to cover high school basketball – go to games, keep stats, interview people, write stories, the whole deal. It’s one heck of a gig, too.


Especially now because I sure wouldn’t want to make sense of this mess, to be a WPIAL official and have to seed teams based on what has transpired over the past few months.


Or, put another way, to separate a bunch of teams that have yet to separate themselves.


The WPIAL Basketball Tournament Pairings Meeting will be held tonight at the Green Tree DoubleTree, and I doubt it will be as eventful as the football draw, where South Fayette, Washington and Monessen were rewarded with favorable seeds.


Not that we care any less, though, right?


With that in mind, let’s take a look at what to expect, starting with the boys bracket.


Canon-McMillan punched its ticket with a win over Peters Township Friday night. The Big Macs finished 6-8 in Section 4-AAAA, one of four of our boys basketball teams to make the tournament despite a losing section record.


Beth-Center and Jefferson-Morgan, both 6-8, made it. So did 3-7 Mapletown.


The Big Macs will be seeded somewhere between 13th and 16th, meaning a first-round matchup with someone like New Castle, Central Catholic or Upper St. Clair.


OK, that sounds less fun than putting together brackets.


I like South Fayette in Class AAA for this reason: The Lions have gone out and played people. An ugly win-loss record? Maybe. But it’ll pay off here.


At Montour last week, I watched a fan come up to a South Fayette assistant and compliment him on how the Lions play – and for good reason.


Balanced South Fayette has three scorers in Evan Bonnaure, C.J. Rudisill and Zach Challingsworth. All can shoot from the outside. Nice mix of driving and rebounding, too.


Last year, the Lions were upset in the first round, but I think this year might be different. They’ll be a scary No. 7-10 seed.


What to make of Wash High, California and Charleroi, our top Class AA teams?


With a 67-43 win at South Fayette Jan. 28, Wash High proved it could play with anyone. And with losses to Perry and Burgettstown, as well as a near-loss to Peters Township’s backups, the Prexies just might lose to anyone, too.


Dupree Jenkins has given Wash High some added offense, around nine points per game. And they’ll need it – as well as strong post play from Jordan Drew and Rikwon Moore – to make a run.


California has a pair of veteran guards in Tanner Huffman and Brian Fisher – never a bad thing this time of year – but the non-section slate was soft: wins over Chartiers-Houston, Mapletown and Belle Vernon, three teams with a combined record of 15-48. Losses were at Monessen and Steel Valley. Still, the Trojans will nab the fourth, fifth or sixth seed. What they do with it? Great question.


Charleroi and Brownsville, the two teams below California in Section 5-AA, could surprise some people as lower seeds.


Monessen, which finished 7-3 in Section 3-A, might get a relatively favorable seed, based on the Greyhounds’ past success. Carmichaels will be around 12th, 13th or 14th, while Mapletown figures to engage in a heated battle for the No. 16 seed – with 3-7 Rochester, 4-6 Quigley Catholic and 4-6 St. Joseph.


I’m all for ample opportunity, but this everybody-makes-it-mentality has gotten a little out of hand, don’t you think?


While 10 of our 21 boys basketball teams made the playoffs, 12 of 21 made it on the girls side.


Nobody in Class AAAA. South Fayette and Ringgold highlight the Class AAA crowd, with the Lions, the WPIAL’s walking wounded, possibly trotting out an ideal lineup for the first time all season.


The real intrigue, to me, is in Class AA, where McGuffey, Charleroi, Wash High and Chartiers-Houston made it.


McGuffey has battered nearly everyone this season, winning 16 straight before losing a non-section game to Chartiers-Houston last night. The Highlanders have an elite player (Sammie Weiss) and should receive a favorable seed.


But do they have enough to compete within what’s undoubtedly the WPIAL’s strongest classification, loaded with powerhouses such as Seton-La Salle, Bishop Canevin and Jeannette?


My sleeper here is Chartiers-Houston, a team that plays in that absurd section that includes Seton-La Salle, Bishop Canevin and Steel Valley.


Ignore the 6-6 section record. Those were meaningful losses, if such a thing exists. Just look at the McGuffey win.


If you can make sense of Section 3-A, let me know. Avella won it, though the Eagles also lost to Carmichaels … which lost to Jefferson-Morgan. The Eagles’ top player, Olivia English, would be returning from back/neck injuries – if at all.


Carmichaels could surprise some teams, given Morgan Berardi’s ability to take over a game, the improved shooting of Caroline Cree and the inside presence of center Amanda Brown.


Look for Avella to receive a middle-of-the-road seed, if that, and Carmichaels not far behind. California and West Greene figure to be among the bottom four.


Monessen is a mystery: eight-game losing streak to start the season, winners of five straight entering last night’s non-section game at Thomas Jefferson. Seed should be OK, given Monessen’s mystique. And my gut says the Greyhounds, coached by one of the best in Gina Naccarato, make a little bit of a run.


The tournament could begin as early as Friday. With any luck – and if tonight goes well – let’s hope it doesn’t end shortly thereafter. Wouldn’t mind covering some more basketball.



Jason Mackey can be reached at jmackey@observer-reporter.com


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