BOYS BASKETBALL: McConnellsburg, Southern Fulton take on unfamiliar teams in state playoffs
There's only but so much you can predict when it comes to the state basketball playoffs.
In the first round of the PIAA Tournament, it's likely teams will face unfamiliar opponents, and McConnellsburg and Southern Fulton's Class A boys are no different.
On paper, the Spartans (18-7), who are the No. 3 seed out of District 5, got the better draw. They'll travel to Hollidaysburg on Friday at 6 p.m. to face Portage (19-6), the District 6 runner-up. The team's have similar styles of play and fairly equal statistics.
Southern Fulton (24-2), who lost in the District 5 final, on the other hand, travels to Pitt-Johnstown for a 5 p.m. contest with Vincentian Academy (16-9), a private school and the No. 3 seed out of District 7. Although the Indians have a better record, the Lions are averaging more than 80 points per game. The most Southern Fulton has scored in a game this year was 74.
But paper doesn't always tell the whole story.
"I'd say we're probably a 10-12 point underdog," Vincentian coach George Yokitis said. "They're probably the better team than us all around, certainly defensively and rebounding. We consider them an extremely strong team, maybe even one of the top five teams in the state."
Fortunately for the Indians, Trent Rider will be back on the court. Rider, who is averaging 14.3 points per game missed the district championship when Southern Fulton scored by far its lowest point total of the season. The Indians will also rely heavily on leading scorer Connor Litton (15.4 ppg), who has had a double-double in all three games this postseason, and Dylan Gordon (15.1), the team's defensive anchor.
And the Indians will need all the defense they can get against the high-flying Lions, who have four players averaging in double figures. Jamison Nee is the team's leader with 17 ppg, and Ryan Wolf is averaging 16. Jay Cortese is around 15 ppg, and Ian Taylor averages 10.
"They have a lot of people who are scoring a lot of points," SF coach Kent Hendershot said. "But they're not that big, so we won't be overwhelmed inside. We have to defend and keep the ball out of the paint, but also not allow open shooters to shoot. They're a good team if you let them play the way they want to play."
While it seems likely to be a good matchup, the McConnellsburg-Portage contest has the makings of being even closer.
The Mustangs have one extremely strong shooter, Michael Bryja, who is averaging 21 points per game. The only other playing averaging in double figures is Jake Swank with 10.3 ppg. Likewise, McConnellsburg's top scorer, Chase Novak, is averaging 14.4 ppg, and Ian Cheatle is a double-figure threat with an average of 10.9 ppg.
Both teams are young featuring only one senior starter: Bryja for Portage, and Tyrelle White for McConnellsburg.
Neither team is very familiar with the state tournament; Portage hasn't been to states since 1990; the Spartans have never won a PIAA game.
"Sound familiar? We're a lot like McConnellsburg," Portage coach Travis Kargo said. "It seems like they have a lot of guys that score and different kids hitting the three. There's also a resemblance in our size. We play a lot more man-to-man defense than zone. We'll try to key in on the tendencies that we've heard about and go from there."
McConnellsburg coach Dane Pollock said, "I think it's always an advantage to play a team you've never played before. You have no mindset coming in, whether overconfident or with none at all. It's a disadvantage defensively because you've never seen them play, but it's an advantage on offense because they're not as prepared for our offense either."
If there's one thing Pollock is looking for, it's a complete game, especially in a game that could come down to the wire.
"We need consistent execution, and my goal is to always make them call the first timeout," Pollock said. "It doesn't seem to matter who we play, we're always the team that calls the first timeout. We've won a ton of games, but I can't name a whole lot of first quarters we've won. I'm hoping we'll get some good looks early, and I think we'll have some mismatches on them we'll try to exploit.
"But for us, it's about consistency. We'll come out and look like world-beaters for a while then turn around and not score for four minutes. Just have four quarters of good basketball, and I think we'll give ourselves a good chance."
Game data: PIAA Class A boys basketball first-round game ... Southern Fulton Indians vs. Vincentian Academy Lions ... 5 p.m. Friday at University of Pitt-Johnstown.
Media: Follow @ShawnCMichael on Twitter for live updates from the game.
Teams: Southern Fulton (24-2) was the runner-up out of District 5, falling to Shanksville in the championship ... The Lions (16-9) are the No. 3 seed out of District 7.
Implications: The winner will face the winner of Clarion-Limestone (22-3) vs. CW North Catholic (16-9) in the second round on Tuesday.
P.O. pick: Lions by 5.
Game data: PIAA Class A boys basketball first-round game ... Portage Mustangs vs. McConnellsburg Spartans ... 6 p.m. Friday at Hollidaysburg.
Media: Follow @liziarbogast on Twitter for live updates from the game.
Teams: Portage (19-6) was the runner-up in District 6, falling to Bishop Carroll in the championship ... The Spartans (18-7) are the No. 3 seed out of District 5 after defeating Conemaugh Township in the consolation game.
Implications: The winner will face the winner of Monessen (20-6) vs. Venango Catholic (16-9) on Tuesday in the second round.
P.O. pick: Mustangs by 3.