Four strong preseason favorites — Mount Vernon, Spring Valley, Woodlands and Haldane — enter the County Center seemingly poised to fulfill their destiny. So can their push for the gold ball be stopped — by anyone?
My Championship Week preview in today’s Journal News tried to answer those questions. I’ll also have a story tomorrow about four seniors with a unique bond who hope to make a difference this week.
2014 champ: Mount Vernon. After an hiatus they’d soon like to forget, the Knights finished strong against Spring Valley and returned to the top of Section 1.
Favorite: Mount Vernon. Despite a roster of six sophomores and two freshmen, the Knights have won 12 straight and are unbeaten in Section 1.
Dark horse: Arlington. Sure, this is not a familiar Class AA semifinalist, but 20-0 is 20-0 and the Admirals have shown a knack for winning close games. That deserves respect.
Game to watch: Mount Vernon vs. Saunders. This should be a high-flying affair. Both teams like to press and play uptempo. Regardless of the outcome, the game should be entertaining.
Championship pick: Mount Vernon over Clarkstown South. The Vikings just know how to win big games. Although they’ll get to the final, they’ll meet a program that wins even more of ‘em. More than anyone, that is.
MVP pick: Marco Morency, Mount Vernon
Team profiles —
No. 1 Arlington (20-0)
Coach: Matt Hoyt
Key players: Brendan Sunday, Sr., F; Dan Schweitzer, Sr., G; Jonathan Girard, So., F.
X-factor: With the outcome at stake, this teams knows — and expects — to win. Sunday and Girardi headline a talented frontcourt that has given the Admirals an edge, but will the team continue to hit its potential against the best competition it has seen all year?
No. 2 Mount Vernon (16-3)
Coach: Bob Cimmino
Key players: Marco Morency, So., G; Marlon Taylor, Sr., F; Noah Morgan, So., G/F; Greg Calixte, So., F.
X-factor: Youth. With eight underclassmen – not to mention no senior starters – the Knights are prone to inconsistency. Their best is clearly the best, but will they bring it?
No. 3 Saunders (18-2)
Coach: Anthony Nicodemo
Key players: Derrick Felder, Jr., G; Anthony Miller, Jr., G; Dyheim McMillan, Sr., F.
X-factor: Pressure…as in none. The Blue Devils are in the semifinals with nothing to lose, playing an opponent viewed as a heavy favorite. They should be free and loose, thinking upset.
No. 5 Clarkstown South (15-5)
Coach: Matt Backs
Key players: Conor McGuinness, Sr., G; Justin Rivera, Sr., F; Andrew Bunyan, Sr., G.
X-factor: The floor general. The Vikings boast the section’s best pure point guard in McGuinness. This will be his third trip to the County Center in four years, and his experience should be a major plus for South.
2014 champ: Panas. It was a magical ride for the Panthers, who upset Eastchester behind a memorable performance from point guard Tim McCauley.
Favorite: Spring Valley. Ever since it was clear the Tigers would move down in class, they’ve been the favorite. That certainly hasn’t changed during their current 14-game winning streak.
Dark horse: Tappan Zee. Winning in Class A is about knocking off Spring Valley. No team has a better chance than TZ, http://www.lohud.com/story/sports/high-school/basketball/2015/01/14/spring-valley-proves-mental-toughness-comeback-win-tappan-zee/21786031/.
Game to watch: Spring Valley vs. Tappan Zee. This semifinal is Round 3. Spring Valley swept the regular season meetings, but TZ has a history of toppling juggernauts in the postseason.
Championship pick: Spring Valley over Byram Hills. The Byram-Somers semifinal will be a defensive slugfest in front of a huge crowd. No matter which team prevails, no one in the field is built to stop Spring Valley.
MVP pick: Rickey McGill, Spring Valley
Team profiles —
No. 1 Spring Valley (19-1)
Coach: Willie Worsley
Key players: Rickey McGill, Sr., G; Kai Mitchell, Sr., F; Jamarr Joseph, Sr., F.
X-factor: Jordan Duncan. When he plays his best, the 6-foot-5 senior makes the Tigers special. He’s a double-double threat.
No. 2 Somers (17-3)
Coach: Chris DiCintio
Key players: Matt Maloney, Sr., G; Tommy Gargiulo, Sr., F; Anthony Maestri, Sr., F; Ryan Grossman, Sr., G.
X-factor: Shooting. The Tuskers have size and depth. If their outside shots are falling — and they will shoot them — they are very tough to beat.
No. 3 Byram Hills (17-3)
Coach: Ted Repa
Key players: Andrew Groll, Sr., C; Skylar Sinon, Fr., G; Ross Weinfeld, Sr., G.
X-factor: Weinfeld’s health. The senior point guard missed last game with an ankle injury. Byram needed a late basket to hold off Hen Hud. The Bobcats are simply a better team when Weinfeld is on the floor, but he’s expected to return by Wednesday.
No. 5 Tappan Zee (15-5)
Coach: George Gaine
Key players: Luke McLaughlin, Sr., F; Robert McWilliams, Jr., G/F; Victor Clervil, Jr., C.
X-factor: Defensive intensity. If TZ wants to upset Spring Valley, it must channel the intensity of its 2010 and 2012 Class A champs, who played like every loose ball was made of gold.
2014 champ: Woodlands. Brandon Johnson’s shooting and the team’s defensive pressure fueled a 22-0 run as the Falcons rallied to beat Putnam Valley.
Favorite: Woodlands. Favorite does not even begin to describe it. With arguably its top four players from last year’s team back, the Falcons appear to be the strongest favorite in any class.
Dark horse: Briarcliff. Depth and balance — five players average between 7.1 and 12.1 ppg — would seem to give the Bears an outside chance.
Game to watch: Briarcliff vs. Irvington. Irvington will have to put the ball in the basket to win, but its defense and senior leadership should give it a chance against the talented Bears.
Championship pick: Woodlands over Briarcliff. Remember: The Falcons beat Briarcliff by 17 back in their season opener. That’s a lot of ground for the Bears to make up.
MVP pick: Jamil Gambari, Woodlands
Team profiles —
No. 1 Woodlands (17-3)
Coach: Bob Murphy
Key players: Jamil Gambari, Sr., F; Ross Joseph, Sr., F; Pierre Lys, Sr., G; Brandon Johnson, Sr., G.
X-factor: Gambari. The 6-foot-3 senior, who averages a team best 18.0 ppg, is Woodlands’ best player when he’s on.
No. 2 Briarcliff (16-4)
Coach: Cody Moffett
Key players: Malik White, Sr., G; Jack Reish, So., G; Sean Crowley, Jr., C.
X-factor: Depth. White, Reish, Crowley, Jeff Blair and Jackson Wexler all average 7.1 ppg or more. The Bears also returned their top eight players from last season. They have to use those strengths to their advantage.
No. 3 Irvington (17-3)
Coach: Casey O’Keefe
Key players: Andrew Brennan, Sr., G; Kevin Tierney, Sr., F; Justin Martins, Sr., F.
X-factor: Score. The Bulldogs will defend and rebound, but can they put the ball in the basket consistently? Scoring in the 40s likely won’t be enough.
No. 5 Putnam Valley (14-6)
Coach: Mike McDonnell
Key players: Ryan Basso, Sr., G; Zack Nolan, Sr., F; Joe Spinola, Jr., C.
X-factor: Balance. Basso, a 1,000-point scorer, averages 20 ppg, but the Tigers will need other players to contribute. Andres Spittal shined in the fourth quarter against Ardsley; Putnam Valley will need that and more to upset Woodlands.
2014 champ: Haldane. The Blue Devils ended a 13-year drought without a championship, beating Tuckahoe for the title behind MVP Peter Hoffmann and a double-double off the bench by Will Zuvic.
Favorite: Haldane. With Hoffmann, Zuvic, Garret Quigley and Edmund Fitzgerald all back, the Blue Devils are the same team, just a year older.
Dark horse: Hamilton. Don’t sleep on the Raiders, who have won 15 games and have five of their top six back, led by Eli Sierra.
Game to watch: Haldane vs. Hamilton. This sectional final has seemed almost preordained. Both teams have been well-regarded all season in the state rankings and return a majority of their talent from a year ago.
Championship pick: Haldane over Hamilton. Expect this one to go down to the final minutes. Haldane’s size vs. Hamilton’s speed. In the end, the Blue Devils have the experience to repeat.
MVP pick: Peter Hoffmann, Haldane
Team profiles —
No. 1 Haldane (14-4)
Coach: Joe Virgadamo
Key players: Peter Hoffmann, Sr., G; Garret Quigley, Sr., F; Edmund Fitzgerald, Sr., F.
X-factor: Size. At 6-8, 6-5 and 6-4, Fitzgerald, Hoffmann and Quigley give Haldane the type of height that is rare for a Class C team. And Hoffmann – a 1,000-point scorer with guard skills who averages 21 ppg, — brings plenty of skill, too.
No. 2 Hamilton (15-3)
Coach: Keith Wright
Key players: Eli Sierra, Sr., G; Jaleel Barr, Sr., F; Jason Barrera, Sr., F.
X-factor: Star power. Sierra (16.7), Barr (14.9) and Barrera (17.6) average a whopping 49.2 ppg alone. That’s a great recipe for stopping an off night before it starts.
No. 3 Tuckahoe (6-12)
Coach: Al Visconti
Key players: Jamon Murray, So., G; Dishon Wise, Jr., G; Rob Kiernan, Jr., F.
X-factor: Paint presence. The Tigers can score, but can they keep Hamilton or Haldane off the boards? They have struggled all season when pitted against top competition.
No. 4 Solomon Schechter (5-13)
Coach: Chris Delamonico
Key players: Jason Scheff, So., G; Noah Dunn, So., F; Cameron Roth, So., F.
X-factor: Youth. With five seniors on the school’s annual trip to Israel, the Lions will make their first appearance at the County Center since 2007 with no seniors. Their youth can be a bit of a misnomer; both Scheff and Dunn are all-league players.
2014 champ: Clark Academy. Despite just a six-win season, the young Knights upset Biondi to win their third gold ball in seven years.
Favorite: Clark. But only slightly. The Eagles split with MLK and swept Children’s Village by just seven points combined. This is most unpredictable of the five brackets.
Dark horse: MLK. Back in Class D, the Tigers have a history of finishing strong in the postseason. They have as good a chance to hoist the gold ball as anyone.
Game to watch: MLK vs. Children’s Village. Clark should advance to the final, but the other semifinal could go down to the wire. Both teams can be explosive.
Championship pick: Clark over MLK. With seven players back from last year’s championship team, Clark has evolved into a much better team, including a near-victory over Haldane earlier this season. The Eagles are a slight favorite.
MVP pick: Shane McCalla, Clark
Team profiles —
No. 1 Clark Academy (11-7)
Coach: Anthony Gaines
Key players: Shane McCalla, Sr., F; Rahmel Lowden, Sr., F; Andre Carthorn, Jr., G.
X-factor: Experience. The Knights have players who have won before, including last year’s MVP Carthorn.
No. 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. (10-8)
Coach: Scott Green
Key players: Tyrell Johnson, So., G; Chris Sanchez, Sr., G; Johari Evans, Jr., F.
X-factor: Speed. The Tigers don’t have their usual compliment of size up front, but their athleticism more than makes up for it. They can generate offense in a hurry.
No. 3 Children’s Village (6-11)
Coach: Tim White
Key players: Jeffrey Mercharles, Sr., G; Kelvin Kendall, So., F; Justin Lozado, Jr., G.
X-factor: Patience. Turnovers can be an issue for Children’s Village, which will look to control the pace and move the ball to Mercharles, who averages a team-high 17 ppg.
No. 4 Biondi (2-12)
Coach: Jimmie Kimbrough
Key players: Ronald Garcia, Sr., F; Trevor Toney, Sr., F; Robert Collins, Sr., G.
X-factor: Reaching their potential. Despite just two wins, the Lions have played better than their record, including a few close losses to their fellow semifinalists. They aren’t nearly the underdog the records would indicate.