The basketball season ended early for Section 1 and the other locals, but the whole thing came to a close Sunday when the last state Federation champions were crowned in Albany.
With no more evidence to gather and/or consider, Dan and I have filed our final rankings of the season. We differ a bit in our Top 10, although we come to the same conclusion on who deserves to be in the conversation. Class AA was particularly strong this season. Just consider that Spring Valley was nearly upset in the first round at home by Carmel, the No. 11 seed…and then gave Mount Vernon a really good game in a championship many observers believe it could’ve won.
One very difficult issue to tackle is where to rank Iona Prep? The Gaels proved they were clearly one of the area’s Top 2 teams at full strength, but their season temporarily unraveled when their two best players were hit by injury. Still, they healed, recovered and played some of their best games in the playoffs.
That’s a good place to take this intro: As you can imagine, teams are ranked both on where they stand now, with a nod to how they performed over the course of the season. If a team proved it was better on the court late in the year, it deserves the higher ranking. Our lists will reflect that.
You probably won’t all agree with our lists, but that’s the beauty of rankings. They are subjective and offer you plenty of chance to weigh in. So let’s hear it.
JOSH THOSMON’S TOP 10 — (file complaints/critiques here: @lohudinsider)
1. Mount Vernon (21-2): This wasn’t the best Mount Vernon team, and the Knights ultimately fell short of their goal. And, truthfully, they were good enough to win the state title, as evidenced by the winner, Green Tech, being a team they beat during the season. Still, what made this team No. 1 in the area was that it accomplished what others couldn’t: Save that one final game, Mount Vernon won every close game it played. And, this year, there were a lot more than usual.
2. Iona Prep (14-14): The Gaels finished the season .500, but the record is misleading. The Gaels lost six games when starting point guard Ty Jerome was out. Matt Ryan’s season-ending hip surgery made matters worse. But when Jerome returned Iona looked very much like the team it was at midseason (even without Ryan). The best evidence? With Jerome, Iona beat Stepinac by 29 just nine days after losing to the rival Crusaders at home by 19. Yup, a 48-point turnaround. To say he’s a difference-maker is to put it lightly. And, in my eyes, that’s the Iona team I’m ranking—not the one who encountered a late-season skid.
3. Spring Valley (17-5): The Tigers remained tantalizing until the very end. It still seemed like they never quite realized their potential, which is both a fair critique and perhaps an example of unfair expectations. When you consider that Spring Valley will be in Class A next season, it’s pretty remarkable that it reached the Class AA final and had a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Rumors persist that Kai Mitchell and Rickey McGill are gone, but if the two juniors forgo prep school and return, Spring Valley can contend for a state championship.
4. White Plains (16-4): When the brackets were revealed and it became clear that White Plains and Spring Valley would meet in the quarterfinals, we knew one of the section’s best teams would fall short of the County Center. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were the unlucky ones. They were a basket short against the Class AA runner-up. That and a strong regular season proved where White Plains stood among the area’s best.
5. Clarkstown South (19-2): The Vikings lost just twice all season, both to Spring Valley. The three games were all right there to be won, especially the last one. Indeed, South might have played in the final had Joe Zayer – the area’s best 3-point shooter this season – not encountered foul trouble, along with point guard Conor McGuinness. South had incredible chemistry and cohesiveness, which was a testament to both the players and the coaching staff. They really maximized the talent and got the most from the team.
6. Mahopac (17-4): All the ugliness after the County Center overshadowed what happened on the court, but it was certainly worth your attention. Mahopac went into Fox Lane – perhaps the toughest place to play this season in Section 1 – and survived a tight game in overtime to reach the County Center. The Indians then led Mount Vernon for a long stretch and were within one shot of sending their semifinal to overtime. It was quite an accomplishment for a team that had its share of limitations, but Mahopac simply never quits and is never intimidated. Those were two staples of Kevin Downes’ very successful tenure at his alma mater.
7. Fox Lane (17-3): I think Fox Lane fell a game short of its destiny. This was a team with all the talent to make a run to the County Center, but Mahopac was just a bit better when it counted most. This was a very deep team with shooters surrounding James Morales, one of the area’s best guards. Their three losses (White Plains, Mahopac, Woodlands) were nothing to sniff at.
8. Panas (18-5): In a one-and-done tournament, an upset is always possible. But let’s face it: Panas’ run was no fluke. The Panthers clearly outplayed pre-tournament favorites Eastchester and Beacon, and won a thrilling semifinal against a program (Tappan Zee) that has made a habit of winning big games. Panas’ unyielding commitment to its style of play and the brilliance of Timmy McCauley made the sum significantly better than its parts. Overall, it was very impressive and fun to watch.
9. Eastchester (19-3): Everything seemed to be there for Eastchester right up until the very moment it wasn’t. Sometimes that happens in sports, a team’s destiny slips between its fingers with one bad performance. The Eagles fell victim to that. They still had an excellent regular season and were terrific at their best. No team in Class A outside of Panas can sniff their resume.
10. Woodlands (19-6): Holy cow is Woodlands going to be good next season. In fact, at last Tuesday’s awards banquet, there was plenty of talk that the Falcons would rank among the area’s best teams next season regardless of class. Not only do I agree, I think they have a very good chance to play for a state championship. But let’s focus on the here-and-now: Their development this season is a great testament to the job Bob Murphy did. With four juniors holding down key roles, his team just got better and better, ultimately playing an opponent with Class AA-level talent to the final minute in a state semifinal. No doubt in my mind: Murphy and Shawn Sullivan of Panas were the section’s best coaches this year from beginning to end.
DAN DEFRANCESCO’S TOP 10 — (file complaints/critiques here: @lohud_defran)
1. Mount Vernon (21-2): It was far from the flashiest team the Knights have ever fielded, but at the end of the day it got the job done by bringing the gold ball back to California Road. While an exit in the regional finals was certainly not what Mount Vernon wanted, the Knights still proved they were the best team in the area.
2. Spring Valley (17-5): The Tigers fell just short of a sectional title when their offense sputtered against the Knights. Expect junior standouts Rickey McGill and Kai Mitchell to use the experience gained from the run for one final title push as seniors next season.
3. White Plains (16-4): The Tigers got some bad luck drawing Spring Valley in the sectional quarterfinals. Had they played any other team, with the exception of Mount Vernon, I think they would have reached the County Center.
4. Clarkstown South (19-2): With their only losses coming against the sectional runner up, the Vikings’ season has to be considered a major success, despite coming up one point short in the semifinals against Spring Valley.
5. Iona Prep (14-14): It’s extremely difficult to rank this Iona Prep team. Had they stayed healthy the entire season, they’d certainly rank among the top-3 teams in the area. Despite injuries, they still managed to put together a somewhat successful playoff run.
6. Mahopac (17-4): The Indians got criticized all season for playing a “soft” schedule, but still managed to return to the County Center for the third-straight season.
7. Fox Lane (17-3): At times, the Foxes looked like a legitimate dark horse for the sectional title, but stumbles at the end of the season against Woodlands and Mahopac hurts their ranking.
8. Panas (18-5): Plenty of people, myself included, seem to have already awarded the Class A sectional title to Eastchester. The Panthers proved all of us wrong, winning their first title since 1999.
9. Eastchester (19-3): After sitting atop the Class A rankings the entire season, the Eagles came up short in the final. As disappointing as a result as that was for Eastchester, the Eagles still proved they were one of the best throughout the season.
10. Tappan Zee (18-4): The Dutchies played Panas tight in the finals, and showed throughout the season they were one of the best teams in A and atop the second tier of Rockland teams, behind Clarkstown South and Spring Valley.
CLASS-BY-CLASS RANKINGS —
Here’s our final Top 10 (or 5, for smaller classes) in each class:
Class AA: Although it would depend on the matchups, spots 1 through 6 are probably separated by no more than 10 points. Class AA might not have had a dominant team this season, but it was a very deep group. Still, Mount Vernon is a clear No. 1. Sure, the Knights were forced to survive a number of close games in the section, but they were still unbeaten in those games.
1. Mount Vernon
2. Spring Valley
3. White Plains
4. Clarkstown South
6. Fox Lane
8. New Rochelle
Class A: Eastchester was No. 1 all season until the championship game, but Panas earned this ranking, not only beating the Eagles but surviving a very difficult path en route to the final.
3. Tappan Zee
6. Our Lady of Lourdes
7. Pearl River
8. Byram Hills
Class B: When a season points to two teams meeting at the County Center in a much-anticipated final, it usually doesn’t work out. When it does, it rarely lives up to the hype like Woodlands-Putnam Valley, which was one of the best games all week at the County Center.
2. Putnam Valley
3. Rye Neck
5. Palisade Prep
6. Blind Brook
10. North Salem
Class C/D: Haldane’s postseason push really hinted at what’s to come. Peter Hoffmann leads a strong group of returning players next season. Haldane should and will be the preseason favorite, although Hamilton might provide a challenge.
5. Children’s Village
Catholic/Private: Despite the two regular season losses, Iona proved it was the best local Catholic by a considerable margin in its last meeting with Stepinac. Kennedy did well in the CHSAA’s A division considering it had a very young team and will have much higher aspirations going into next season. You also had Sacred Heart playing for a championship and Rye Country Day winning one. It turned out to be a pretty impressive postseason for the area’s non-publics.
1. Iona Prep
4. Rye Country Day
5. Sacred Heart