Well, sorry this will post a little late. I fell into a deep hibernation after yesterday’s exhausting six-game slate at the County Center and only recently emerged from it.
Today should be great. After these endless delays, you almost forget this week is/was supposed to be about the games. And in the boys draw, none of those games were more highly anticipated than today’s two. The best part? We really don’t know who will win. I think these are my toughest predictions of Championship Week.
Here’s my take on each:
CLASS AA —
No. 2 North Rockland vs. No. 3 Poughkeepsie, 3:30 p.m.
Head2head: The teams did not meet during the regular season.
How they got here: North Rockland beat No. 18 Fox Lane 56-18 in the opening round and edged No. 7 White Plains 49-48 in the quarterfinals. Poughkeepsie topped No. 19 Mahopac 78-48 in the first round and No. 6 Lincoln 84-58 in the quarterfinals.
Breakdown: You can almost disregard the blank “head2head” section because these teams have met before with plenty on the line. That was last year in the semis at the County Center when North Rockland held a late lead but squandered it. The game was played at North Rockland’s speed (glacial) and was so close, with leads changing hands constantly, but it was Poughkeepsie that advanced 47-42 behind 16 points from Dayvon Whitaker. (BOX SCORE) For last year alone, we should all look forward to the rematch. North Rockland returns the same exact team. It has won 17 straight after a 1-2 start. But do the Red Raiders return here as the favorite? Yes, this Poughkeepsie team is depleted inside compared to last year’s edition, but it’s backcourt, which returns Whitaker, has been bolstered by the emergence of N’ate Gause, who has become one of the top players in the section. Can North Rockland’s vaunted defense put one of the section’s top duos on lockdown?
Prediction: North Rockland 54, Poughkeepsie 53. The other semifinal may be more highly anticipated, but this one should prove to be one of the closest games all week. North Rockland’s near collapse in the fourth quarter against White Plains in the quarterfinals gave me pause, but it should prove as a wake-up call for a team that didn’t play the toughest competition late in the year. Still, I think North Rockland’s seniors have one more win in them.
No. 1 New Rochelle vs. No. 4 Mount Vernon, 6:30 p.m.
Head2head: New Rochelle won 62-58 at home on Jan. 30 behind 22 points from Antoine Mason and 17 from P.J. Torres (BOX SCORE) and 77-67 on Feb. 8 at Mount Vernon. A.J. Burton led four players in double figures with 20 points. (BOX SCORE)
How they got here: New Rochelle beat No. 17 John Jay-East Fishkill in the first round and No. 8 Ossining in the quarterfinals. Mount Vernon beat No. 13 Scarsdale in the first round and No. 5 Horace Greeley in the quarterfinals.
Breakdown: If you’re reading this, you better hop in the car. The place will be packed tonight when one of the area’s top high school sports rivalries is renewed tonight for a spot in the Class AA final. The four-time defending champion Knights have appeared vulnerable this season for the first time since New Ro shocked them for the 2005 championship behind a brilliant performance by Geoff McDermott. Mount Vernon has picked off whoever stood in its way since then, most recently last year’s wipeout of Poughkeepsie. But this is not the same Mount Vernon team, and New Rochelle’s mature, strong and experienced group poses a serious threat. You know the story: New Ro twice trailed by 13 points in the fourth quarter yet somehow rallied to win anyway. How’d they do it? By punishing Mount Vernon with its press, and Antoine Mason, A.J. Burton and P.J. Torres relentlessly slashing for steals and layups. As always, the pressure falls on the shoulders of Mr. Basketball, Jabarie Hinds, the most talented player in the section. The Knights can’t win without a big game from the junior. But no matter who emerges, someone must serve as his sidekick, whether it’s Khalid Samuels, Brandon White or someone off the bench. Hinds can do it alone against some teams, but not against New Rochelle.
Prediction: Mount Vernon 78, New Rochelle 73. I mentioned up top New Rochelle’s +40 in the fourth quarter. It’s perhaps the most incredible stat of this basketball season, to see one team so dominate its rival — a team that happens to be the best program in the history of Section 1 sports — in crunch time. But, of course, there’s a flip side to that stat in this case. Mount Vernon has won five of the other six quarters it played against New Rochelle. In fact, the Knights are +26 in those other six quarters, and carried a 13-point lead during the fourth period of each meeting. So while it may be heresy to pick Mount Vernon (if you’re a New Ro reader), I truly feel the Knights can win. They must defend better in the fourth quarter, as New Ro has scored a whopping 47 points combined in the two fourth quarters this year. But many of those points came in transition off turnovers. The larger County Center court will give Mount Vernon room to operate against the dangerous Mason-Burton fronted press. But I’d also imagine Bob Cimmino and his staff will have primed the team on how to handle the pressure. If the players handle it, MV will win.