Perhaps my favorite piece to write all season is the annual playoff primer. This year’s primer adds a new twist as Dan checks in with his predicted final fours, winners and MVPs.
It wasn’t easy, particularly Classes A and B. I expect both of us to pick a few of these dead wrong, but, hey, wouldn’t you consider it boring if we didn’t at least try?
Also, check back around lunchtime. Dan has another fun feature in store that will look at key players who will have a major impact on each bracket.
Favorite: Mount Vernon. The seven-time defending Section 1 champ and two-time defending state champ probably won’t roll out one of its best teams, but it remains plenty good enough to win it all. The Knights are unbeaten in the section and, in fact, have won ‘em all by double digits.
Challengers: Spring Valley, North Rockland, Mahopac. The Rockland Class AAs had the best overall seasons but Mahopac has won 13 straight. The Indians will vie for a third straight trip to the County Center. Spring Valley and North Rockland are less experienced but both possess a nice blend of size, skill and depth.
Best first-round game: No. 10 Clarkstown North at No. 7 Scarsdale. North had its best win last week when it beat North Rockland, a possible quarterfinal opponent. To secure a rematch, the Rams would have to win at Scarsdale, a team that dropped its last four. North’s undersized frontline will have to contend with 6-foot-6 big man Jack Hewitt.
Upset special: No. 11 Ossining over No. 6 Fox Lane. These teams are evenly matched. Both are guard-heavy and have experienced their share of ups and downs. The winner will likely earn a date at Mount Vernon in the quarterfinals.
X-factor: Handling pressure. Mount Vernon and Spring Valley will pressure opponents relentlessly. For New Rochelle and Mahopac, handling pressure has been a weakness. Their ability to protect the ball could decide how far both advance.
MVP candidates: Joe Clarke, New Rochelle; Josh Doughty, Mount Vernon; Brendan Hynes, Mahopac; Kai Mitchell, Spring Valley; Brandon Martin, Mount Vernon; Elijah Tillman, North Rockland.
County Center-bound: (Josh) Spring Valley, North Rockland, Mount Vernon, Mahopac. (Dan) New Rochelle, North Rockland, Mount Vernon, Mahopac.
Championship: (Josh) Mount Vernon over Mahopac. (Dan) Mount Vernon over Mahopac.
MVP pick: (Josh) Josh Doughty, Mount Vernon. (Dan) Brandon Martin, Mount Vernon.
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Favorite: Poughkeepsie. Last year’s runner-up has found its form after losing its opener to Peekskill. The Pioneers have great depth and experience after returning all but two players from last season.
Challengers: Byram Hills, Eastchester. These teams are a combined 33-2, but their schedules were far from challenging. It will be interesting to see how they react as the competition intensifies. Byram has reached the County Center the past two seasons and won it all in 2011. Eastchester hasn’t been since the 1970s.
Best first-round game: No. 9 Gorton at No. 8 Somers. Somers is big and can shoot, but Gorton will be a challenge for the Tuskers and Mr. 59, John Decker. The Wolves are athletic and feature two lethal scorers in Dane Williamson and Rashan McKay.
Upset special: No. 13 Panas over No. 4 Albertus Magnus. Albertus had been one of the surprises of the regular season, but the Falcons slipped ever so slightly of late. Panas has won nine of 10 and has the length to give Albertus trouble.
X-factor: Homecourt advantage. With a bevy of good quarterfinals on the horizon next week, playing at home will be a key advantage for the top seeds. Byram Hills, Eastchester, Poughkeepsie and Albertus Magnus will have the edge if they escape the first round.
MVP candidates: Jay Cabell, Peekskill; Jaleel Carter, Poughkeepsie; Jack Daly, Eastchester; Jermar Dancy, Poughkeepsie; Ryan Golden, Byram Hills; Devin Lawrence, Poughkeepsie; Joe Letizia, Tappan Zee; Jeff Lynch, Byram Hills; Chavis Pigott, Peekskill; Jack Sullivan, Albertus Magnus.
County Center-bound: (Josh) Byram Hills, Eastchester, Poughkeepsie, Peekskill. (Dan) Byram Hills, Albertus Magnus, Eastchester, Poughkeepsie.
Championship: (Josh) Poughkeepsie over Byram Hills. (Dan) Byram Hills over Poughkeepsie.
MVP pick: (Josh) Jermar Dancy, Poughkeepsie. (Dan) Ryan Golden, Byram Hills.
Favorite: Briarcliff. The Bears have played a strong schedule and maintained their dominance throughout. Their bench isn’t deep, but experienced leaders Brian Daniels and Ryan Huegel never need much rest.
Challengers: Putnam Valley, Our Lady of Lourdes. These two aren’t annual contenders. In fact, Putnam Valley had never even had a winning season before this one. Both arrive to the postseason not only as County Center hopefuls, but as serious contenders for the gold ball. Their athleticism alone gives them a chance.
Best first-round game: No. 13 Pleasantville at No. 4 Dobbs Ferry. Both teams were among the preseason favorites and have encountered their ups and downs. Dobbs’ Eric Paschall is the best player in the draw, but Pleasantville may have the athletes to defend him.
Upset special: No. 11 Blind Brook over No. 6 Valhalla. Whether it’s Class C or B, these two have developed a regular-season and postseason history. The Trojans have held a slight edge in recent years, although they split during the regular season.
X-factor: North Salem. After a regular season of banging against Class AA and A schools, the Tigers enter the postseason as a dangerous opponent. Umar Singh and Joey Tunas are a prolific duo. They could scare top-seeded Briarcliff in the quarterfinals.
MVP candidates: Jelani Bell-Isaac, Putnam Valley; Zach Coleman, Putnam Valley; Brian Daniels, Briarcliff; Mike Donnelly, Our Lady of Lourdes; Eric Paschall, Dobbs Ferry; Kyle Santoro, Our Lady of Lourdes; Umar Singh, North Salem.
County Center-bound: (Josh) Briarcliff, Putnam Valley, Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobbs Ferry. (Dan) North Salem, Putnam Valley, Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobbs Ferry.
Championship: (Josh) Dobbs Ferry over Lourdes. (Dan) North Salem over Lourdes.
MVP picks: (Josh) Eric Paschall, Dobbs Ferry. (Dan) Umar Singh, North Salem.
Favorite: Tuckahoe. Yes, the same team that finished 4-14. The truth is, Tuckahoe played only one Class C team all season and didn’t play any Class C or D schools inside the section. The Tigers are obviously tested and return three key players from last year’s state champ.
Contender: Palisade Prep. In just its third season as a program, the Phoenix finished 15-3 and earned the No. 1 seed. The Yonkers school has Class C’s only quarterfinal bye.
Best quarterfinal game: No. 5 Haldane at No. 4 Tuckahoe. Like Tuckahoe, Haldane is tournament tested, having challenged itself against bigger, better teams. Don’t judge either team by its record. Whoever emerges will be dangerous at the County Center.
Upset special: None. If either No. 4 Tuckahoe or No. 3 Keio win in the semifinals, it won’t be an upset. Both are tournament tested from recent years.
X-factor: Finding that go-to guy. To win the gold ball, it will require a leader. Other than Tuckahoe’s Shyheim Nixon, a football and basketball star, none of the contenders feature a standout with that type of experience. If Tuckahoe doesn’t repeat, a new Class C star will have to emerge to help claim the gold ball.
MVP candidates: Jake Diamond, Solomon Schechter; Shyheim Nixon, Tuckahoe; Brandon Tate, Palisade Prep; Isaiah Ward, Palisade Prep.
County Center-bound: (Josh) Palisade Prep, Solomon Schechter, Keio, Tuckahoe. (Dan) Palisade Prep, Solomon Schechter, Keio, Tuckahoe.
Championship: (Josh) Tuckahoe over Keio. (Dan) Palisade Prep over Solomon Schechter.
MVP picks: (Josh) Shyheim Nixon, Tuckahoe. (Dan) Isaiah Ward, Palisade Prep.