By Tom Robinson, NEPABasketball.com
Coverage of the District 2 basketball playoffs is just beginning here and even moreso at our partner website NEPABasketball.com. Before we get into predictions, matchups and other analysis, we’ll get started with nine storylines to be watching as the district tournament unfolds.
A YEAR LATE
The only District 2 championship game canceled in the era of title games at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza was last year’s Class 5A boys final.
Abington Heights could not head to the arena to face Crestwood because of quarantine issues in the aftermath of COVID exposures from its semifinal win over North Pocono.
The teams are much different now but the Comets vs. Comets meeting will take place in what could be one of the better matchups of Opening Night (Tuesday). Defending champion Crestwood goes to Abington Heights as the underdog and fifth seed in the eight-team tournament after a subpar season, but Crestwood’s best few performances and a late-season, three-game winning streak make it a team that can’t be ignored.
Sidebar: Abington Heights had to exit the tournament between the semifinals and finals in 2021. Three teams – a favorite, a serious contender and a darkhorse threat – did not even get to go that far, sitting out the postseason because of COVID cases in their program.
The Holy Cross boys, Dunmore girls and Dunmore boys are in the field this year after missing last year.
ONE BRACKET, THREE CHAMPS
In any other season, the presence of the Scranton Prep girls, coming off their fifth straight perfect season in the highest division of the Lackawanna League, and Lake-Lehman, a division and overall tournament champion in the Wyoming Valley Conference, in the same bracket would be enough to draw attention to Class 4A girls.
Those teams, however, are seeded behind Dunmore.
The Lady Bucks have played 17 times within District 2 this season, taking leads of more than 20 points in every one of those games and winning 16 of them by at least 28 points.
Before finding out if anyone in the district can challenge Dunmore, the expected semifinal matchup of Lake-Lehman at Scranton Prep could be Friday’s best game.
Sidebar: Scranton Prep beat Lake-Lehman when they met in last year’s final, but there have been times in the last calendar year that COVID kept all three of the teams from squaring off with each other.
Dunmore missed the 2021 tournament and the most-anticipated arena matchup when it did not get to face Scranton Prep in a playoff battle loaded with future National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I players.
Lake-Lehman had non-league games this season against both Scranton Prep and Dunmore canceled.
UNBEATABLE AT ARENA
In six years of championships at the arena, only one team has won titles every year – the Scranton Prep boys.
The Cavaliers have been unbeatable at the arena.
For the teams in the Class 4A field, perhaps the task might be to try to get the Cavaliers before they reach the arena.
The smallest margin between any two teams in the District 2 Power Ratings system used to seed teams is Mid Valley’s .666562 to Scranton Prep’s .665593. That difference is the reason Mid Valley will get to host in the likely Saturday semifinal matchup.
Scranton Prep beat Mid Valley in the neutral-court final last year.
If the on-court difference between the two teams matches the ratings difference, it could be the best game of the tournament.
Sidebar: No one else is 6-0 at the arena, but the Susquehanna girls are 5-0 while the Abington Heights and Holy Cross boys are both 4-0.
The only teams besides the Scranton Prep boys to get to the arena all six years are the Abington Heights girls, who are 5-1 there, and the Hazleton Area girls, who are 4-2.
Another likely Saturday semifinal rematch features an overtime game from the 2021 finals.
Elk Lake led until Old Forge’s unlikely buzzer-beating, 3-pointer forced overtime where the Blue Devils won, launching a run all the way to a close battle in the state semifinals while the Warriors sat at home wondering what might have been.
They appear headed for a meeting in the Class 2A semifinals this time around.
Sidebar: There are many other rematches likely to unfold on the way to, and quite likely, in the finals that will be discussed more in this feature and over the next two weeks.
HOME SWEET HOME
The last position change in the Power Ratings took place in the District 2-4 Class 6A boys Subregional when Williamsport lost to Executive Education Friday night and fell behind Hazleton Area from second to third in the seedings race.
The teams will meet in the semifinals and the change in position means Hazleton Area gets the game at home where it has the district’s best boys home record at 11-0.
Will the teams possibly evenly matched, will that home court be enough to put the Cougars over the top and into the district final?
Sidebar: The Scranton, Dallas, Holy Cross and Holy Redeemer boys, as well as the Wilkes-Barre Area, Dunmore and Lake-Lehman girls, are all unbeaten at home.
With the tournament using home courts for the quarterfinals and semifinals as a COVID-era adjustment, the biggest of the favorites may be even tougher to upset in the early rounds.
Three number-one seeds suffered potentially demoralizing losses during the Wyoming Valley Conference Tournament, four-team boys and girls events for the top two finishers in each division.
For those teams in particular, is the tournament good preparation for the rest of the postseason or a potential momentum killer?
The Pittston Area girls, top-seeded in Class 5A, lost in a Mercy Rule game in Saturday’s final, falling behind 41-9 midway through the third quarter of a 45-19 loss to Pittston Area.
Holy Redeemer, the top seed in Class 3A boys, had its lowest-scoring game of the season in a 50-34 semifinal loss to Hazleton Area Thursday night.
Wilkes-Barre Area, the top seed in Class 6A girls, lost three games with title implications in five days, including Friday’s 42-34 semifinal loss to Lake-Lehman in a game when it fell behind 33-18 through three quarters.
Sidebar:Other teams coming off losses in the WVC Tournament include the Hazleton Area boys, seeded second in Class 6A, and the Nanticoke boys and Holy Redeemer girls, both seeded fourth in Class 4A.
Hazleton Area lost, 73-46, Saturday night to Dallas in the championship game.
After a year of district champions only in the state tournament, District 2 is back to having two state qualifiers in Class 5A, 3A and 2A.
In Class 4A, the district gets three state qualifiers in both boys and girls.
That means all quarterfinal winners in Class 4A get two chances to make the state tournament.
Others could certainly end up being the beneficiaries, but going in, it looks like the loser of those possible third-vs.-second seed games have the best chances of taking advantage. If Mid Valley and Scranton Prep do indeed meet in boys and Scranton Prep and Lake-Lehman in girls Saturday, the losers of those games still have a path open to the state tournament.
Sidebar: All semifinal winners in Class 5A, 4A, 3A and 2A guarantee themselves of state berths, even if they ultimately lose at the arena.
WHO’S NUMBER ONE?
Riverside, the preseason No. 1, and Western Wayne, the current No. 1, have traded the top spot in the Small School girls portion of the My City Mortgage Super Six Basketball Power Rankings of District 2 teams throughout the season.
Unless Lackawanna Division 4 champion Montrose or some other surprising team gets in the way, they will get to settle the debate to begin the five-game March 5 schedule at the arena.
A comparison of their meetings with district title favorites Dunmore and Jim Thorpe says Western Wayne is the better team. A comparison of outcomes against Abington Heights or North Pocono says Riverside is better. Their games vs. West Scranton point to teams of similar strengths.
Riverside is the defending champion from a convincing win in last year’s championship game meeting.
Western Wayne is the top seed and has much more back from that meeting.
Sidebar: Dunmore, in Big School girls, and Holy Redeemer in Small School boys, have been No. 1 in the Super Six every week of the season.
Scranton was No. 1 in Big School boys for most of the season before being replaced last week by Dallas.
All four of those teams are top seeds.
Other teams advanced further in the brackets, but arguably the closest District 2 team to a state title in 2021 was the Holy Cross girls, who led late on the road in the quarterfinals against eventual state champion Mount Carmel.
It’s reasonable to at least characterize the late calls that helped decide that outcome as “borderline.”
Competing in Class 2A after playing 17 of its 21 games against teams from larger classifications, Holy Cross is among the most prohibitive favorites in the District 2 tournament and one of the district’s best hopes on the state level.
Sidebar: Since the Abington Heights boys won it all in 2018, the Dunmore girls have been the most consistent threat to be next and land their first state title ever.
Although forced to play above their enrollment size in Class 4A, as a Class 3A school, in a legally contested interpretation of a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association transfer rule, the Lady Bucks seem to again lead the state title threats from the district.
Holy Redeemer, in Class 3A, would appear to be the best boys shot, possibly followed by Dallas as a darkhorse in Class 4A.
TribHSSN.com, a suburban Pittsburgh media outlet, has Dunmore ranked third in Class 4A girls behind Villa Maria Academy from suburban Philadelphia and unbeaten Delone Catholic, the team the Lady Bucks lost to in the 2019 Class 3A state final.
The same organization does not rank any District 2 boys teams in the top five in their classifications.