Playoffs open up late this week for the Catholic League, District One and the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association, giving us a brief respite before the tournaments really turn up the heat. As is befitting, well, every other ranking this season, there’s plenty of change to go around. One team makes a big jump and one continues its slide. Here’s this week’s rankings (Records through end of regular season).
Note: The playoff preview featuring Academy Park’s Lashon Mapp is the last notebook for the season, which means the last Super 7 prior to the season’s conclusion. Stat leaders, which are updated here and here and here, will still be posted semi-regularly, and we’ll have to come up with something else to fill the space.
1. Archbishop Carroll (17-5) Last Week: No. 1
The Catholic League slate is replete with challenges. Put another way, for a team like the Patriots, it’s chockfull of showcase opportunities. The latest in a long string of them came last Sunday, when Carroll drubbed Archbishop Wood, 77-47, taking a little shine off the star of a Catholic League high-riser that had just gone into Roman and escaped with a win. The Patriots are in good shape as the No. 3 seed in the Catholic League playoffs, and while Conwell-Egan is no cupcake as a quarterfinal dance partner, the fact that the nearest Catholic League Class AAA team is Bonner-Prendergast means they’re a shoe-in (if not already a mathematical certainty, via the odd alchemy that is the Catholic League points system) for one of District 12’s four states berths.
2. Penn Wood (17-5) Last Week: No. 3
The second half of this Patriot 1-2 didn’t just close out a share of their second straight Del Val title Thursday; they did so in emphatic fashion with a 72-53 win over Academy Park, the team that threw a wrench in Chester’s title bid the previous week. The Patriots are winners of seven straight, and I think the playoffs may suit them more than most teams. Sure, if Malik Jackson or Addison Scott can’t hit shots, then they’re in for a long night, a fact true for most of the 32-team field if they can’t get their main guys rolling. But in the tense atmosphere of the postseason, while other teams may sit around looking for an individual or two to step up, Penn Wood has two players as good as anyone to shift the balance of play.
3. Ridley (19-5) Last Week: No. 6
The temptation here may be to favor the Green Raiders since their performance (impressive that it was) Monday is foremost in my mind. And certainly the novelty of their statement win factors into them climbing halfway up this ranking. But let’s look at the facts. Ridley beat – not “got lucky against,” not “caught on a bad night,” but beat – Conestoga, something none of the Pioneers previous 16 Central League opponents can say. That’s a Stoga team that was head and shoulders above the league in the regular season and is District One’s top seed. Oh yeah, and Ridley did it playing its eighth game in 13 days, two days after beating Lower Merion. Ridley does so many things that they can give anyone below Carroll in this ranking some trouble on any given night.
4. Episcopal Academy (17-6) Last Week: No. 2
The Churchmen were no match for Germantown Academy in their decisive Inter-Ac clash last Friday. Without Mike Jolaoso, EA had two offensive options on the court to the Patriots’ four, and there was no way that Nick Alikakos and Mike Hinckley were going to keep up. Nonetheless, this EA team has still overachieved this season. It would’ve been easy to settle for the duopoly narrative of Haverford School and GA, but EA actively disrupted the established order. We’ll see if they can make any headway in the PAISAA Tournament (which will require a return by Jolaoso).
5. Haverford School (15-10) Last Week: No. 5
It’s a small consolation prize, but beating Malvern Prep in the Inter-Ac finale isn’t something that I think last year’s squad would’ve been mentally tough enough for. That provides a glimmer of hope that the Fords could claim a measure of redemption in the PAISAA Tournament. This is a team that can beat anyone on any given day, one that that beat Imhotep and lost close games to very good teams (Roman Catholic, Phelps School, Our Savior). On any night, the Fords can hang around with anyone; having the consistency to do it over a 10-game league schedule with a rotation of four scorers was understandably a challenge that might be lessened by the one-and-done tournament format, though having top seed and defending champions Hill School is a tough matchup.
6. Glen Mills (16-6) Last Week: No. 7
Glen Mills’ losses in the last month are to Chester, Penn Wood and Ridley; in that time, they’ve beaten Chester, Penn Wood and Academy Park twice. The Battlin’ Bulls, who have the added bonus of Nazeer Sabree stepping up as an extra scoring option off the bench, will give teams fits in the postseason. This is not a team I would want to run into in an elimination game in the District One Class AAA tournament. (Reminder, they need two wins to advance as one of District One’s two representatives.)
7. Chester (13-9) Last Week: No. 4
You could even make a case for Academy Park, which did this to Chester, ahead of the Clippers. What keeps the Clippers here is an increasingly thin argument: Strength of schedule. Yes, Chester challenges itself out of league. But scoring 25 points and losing by 41 to St. Anthony’s doesn’t really impress in the SOS category, no matter how much of a powerhouse they are. Ditto losses by 32 to Westtown and 33 to Neumann-Goretti. Their three Del Val losses are by a combined seven points, but I went through the history books back to 1992-93 and couldn’t find another season where the Clippers had lost three Del Val games in the regular season, much less to three different teams. The postseason is where Chester greatness is judged, so let’s reserve final say until then. But the early returns encourage a fair amount of skepticism.
Honorable mention: Academy Park (16-6, the Knights are done no favors with their seed, taking a long drive out to Oxford before the possibility of meeting the top seed Conestoga, but few teams enter the postseason knowing they possess a pair of gamechangers like Travis Smith and Jawan Collins); Springfield (14-8, the Cougars have won six straight games, and Kevin McCormick has scored in double-figures in each of the last five, which can’t be a coincidence. The offense has been humming along very well of late); Penncrest (13-9, Penn Wood is a difficult matchup for the Lions, who have lost four of five. They have the potential to give the Patriots trouble inside, but they’ll need AJ Taylor and Chandler Henry to have success against Penn Wood’s undersized front); Marple Newtown (13-9, traveling up to Methacton is never going to be easy, but the Tigers have nothing to lose. Their season was dead in the water four weeks, so this is all gravy).