Time is of the essence in our field, and this week’s Super 7 demonstrates that. Thanks to the (threat of) snow, the weekly notebook (which led with the game-winning exploits of Chichester’s Shah Ahmed) was moved up a day, out of a combination of boredom and the anticipated backlog of games that the next three days would undoubtedly entail. And after one of those days, this week’s order is rendered, well, less than accurate, shall we say. It’s only fitting that the team that enters the rankings drops a game it probably shouldn’t have at home, and the team that departs the rankings scores a historic victory. In any event, let’s put the events of Wednesday night aside, and let’s just factor last week’s games in the logic behind this week’s Super 7. (Again, all records are through Tuesday, even if the explanation includes a brief allusion to Wednesday’s games.)
1. Archbishop Carroll (12-5) Last Week: No. 1
The Patriots have just two losses in Pennsylvania by a combined seven points to Roman Catholic and Neumann-Goretti. Their other three setbacks have been against nationally-ranked opposition. Carroll, you sense, is so close to a breakthrough, so close to eradicating that label over the last few years of having so much talent without winning anything. It’s going to take a break here or there, but it seems that beyond the uncontrollable (i.e. Ernest Aflakpui’s season-ending injury), that luck factor is all that’s missing.
2. Episcopal Academy (15-5) Last Week: No. 4
The aphorism of ‘we are what our record says we are,’ is among my least favorite nuggets of coach-speak. But with EA, you can see its merits. The Churchmen are 70 percent through the Inter-Ac season, and their record says they’re the best team. Forget about nonleague strengths of schedule and Division I commits and all those tangential factors. In a non-PIAA sphere where league finish is the be-all and end-all as a determinant of success, EA has been the Inter-Ac’s best team through seven games. They still have to finish the title run, with Germantown Academy the last remaining hurdle after what should be easy contests against bottom-dwellers Penn Charter and Springside Chestnut Hill. But right now, they’re the Inter-Ac front-runners.
3. Haverford School (13-9) Last Week: No. 3
When the wheels fell off Haverford School last year, there was nothing anyone could do to steer the out-of-control season to safety. This season, the sense is somehow difference. Win five straight, then lose to GA, then win a come-from-behind OT game against Friends Central, then lose to EA at home on a last-second shot, then wax SCHA. It somehow feels different. And with the Fords, you tend to expect the unexpected. That means if they beat GA Feb. 3, I wouldn’t be shocked. Likewise, I couldn’t be surprised if they then turned around and lost at Malvern Prep Feb. 6 with a share of the title on the line. Who knows?
4. Chester (11-6) Last Week: No. 2
The yo-yo of form that Chester had experienced early in the season was one thing. But this latest slide of two (now three, if we include Wednesday) must be deflating. They lose a one-point game to Penn Wood, then get shellacked by Westtown in a 32-point game that wasn’t that close, then recover to play well enough to win before getting devastated by an Academy Park buzzer beater. There are issues with balance on the court and who is and isn’t stepping up. But even for Chester’s notoriously tough players, you have to wonder about their mental state.
5. Penn Wood (13-5) Last Week: No. 6
Beating Chester will always entitle you to jump in the rankings, as does a three-game winning streak that includes a win over AP. But a concerning stat to temper the praise: Malik Jackson and Addison Scott are accounting for 63 percent of the Patriots’ scoring. The primary contributor to the other 37 percent, Calvin Melton, hasn’t been in double figures in four games, scoring just 13 total points over that stretch. To get into states, leaning on just two players is a risky proposition, even when they’re as undeniably talented as Scott and Jackson.
6. Glen Mills (13-4) Last Week: No. 5
At 7-12, this year’s Bensalem team isn’t the best. But not many teams go into the Owls’ place and beat them by 29 as Glen Mills did last week. They’ve lost just once in their last nine (to Chester), and a performance like Bensalem proves they’re not just a product of a daunting home environment. Replicating their success through the first turn of the Del Val will be daunting, especially with Penn Wood, Academy Park and Chester clustered back-to-back-to-back. Regardless, the Battlin’ Bulls remain a team to watch in Class AAA.
7. Ridley (13-3) Last Week: NR
The Green Raiders have won 11 of 12, why not give them a shot here? – was the logic I used to elevate them into the rankings. That was before Wednesday’s loss at home to Springfield. In a league with an alarming tendency to beat itself up, this is Ridley’s first misstep since the Dec. 19 loss to Haverford. To have avoided the pitfalls that have dragged down so many of their fellow Central contenders that long is remarkable.
Honorable mention: Academy Park (14-4, this’ll suffice); Haverford (8-10, whether or not the games are played in the 30s, the Fords keep winning them); Springfield (10-8, adding a win against Ridley to the victory over Lower Merion gives the Cougars the sudden look of a serious Districts team); Upper Darby (10-8, after alternating wins and losses for the first 10 games of the season, six wins in eight is quite the accomplishment, especially when the only losses are to Lower Merion and Conestoga); Penncrest (12-6, the single-digit first halves – that’s “halves,” not “quarters” – are an alarming tendency. It also means shooters like Nolan Carroll and Mike Doyle aren’t establishing themselves early).