The SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Mid-Season Report

As we reach the midpoint in the Lehigh Valley high school winter sports season, it continues to be an interesting season for local boys basketball.  While we have had quite a few close ball games, with a handful going into overtime, a look at the different league standings shows there are a few teams doing very well, and even more teams a couple steps behind–finding themselves battling each other for the remaining playoff berths.

The biggest “non-surprise” is the Parkland boys basketball team, as they continue to dominate everyone they’ve faced in the area.  Even against an Easton team that was coming off a big win, the Trojans eventually wore them down and won the game easily.

DeVante Cross is a player who we talked quite a bit about during the football season, but I have really been impressed by what he has done so far on the hardwood.  The Trojans have more than enough firepower to go around, but I think Cross’s improved play has made for an even more well-rounded ball club that will look to go deep into the PIAA playoffs.

While Parkland has been the area’s best team and has already clinched both an EPC and District XI 4A playoff spot, the Rovers are a team that has been playing well of late.  Easton currently finds themselves a couple games below .500 and are making a push for a post-season spot, following a big win recently over Freedom HS.

Three other teams that I have seen playing well and figure to be in the running for both league and district playoff action include Whitehall, Emmaus and Allen.  The Zephyrs have been playing extremely well after a slow start and have won seven of their last nine games.  While they haven’t been posting explosive offensive numbers, it has been their defense—in particular, the match-up zone defense—that has been very impressive.  Whitehall  held a Liberty team—a squad I feel is as athletic as any in the area—to under 50 points last week.  The Zephyrs did the same to an Emmaus team that has been playing some of the toughest teams from both Pennsylvania and New York in its non-conference schedule.

Speaking of Emmaus, there aren’t many teams that can boast as deep a bench as Steve Yoder’s ballclub, and they can beat you a number of ways.  They’ve had some injury issues to overcome, which, combined with their tough out-of-league schedule, has delayed their clinching of a playoff berth until this point.  But once in the playoffs, they are definitely a team that figures to win a few playoff games.

Allen is another team that has been playing extremely well overall.  It’s unfortunate that the new league schedule does  not feature the Canaries playing some of their traditional basketball rivals—at least for this season.  It is entirely possible they will get a chance to face Parkland and Central Catholic once the  post-season begins.  Allen has clinched a district playoff spot and looked impressive in its recent ball game against Bethlehem Catholic.

Perhaps the story of the EPC this year has been the play of Northampton—a team that had struggled in recent years, but has looked phenomenal in nearly every game they’ve played.  They play in the same division as Parkland, Whitehall, Emmaus, Central Catholic and Nazareth and have done more than hold their own, including posting a strong win recently against Dieruff.

Northampton Head Coach Coy Stampone will be one of several local head basketball coaches who will be on our “RCN SportsTalk” show on Thursday, January 29th from 6-7 pm.  I’m looking forward to speaking with Coach Stampone and getting his thoughts on how he has turned the program around, and what his team’s expectations are for the remainder of the season.

Looking ahead to the first ever Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the playoffs will feature eight teams vying for their post-season positions.  The eight teams will consist of the three division winners (from the “Mountain,” “Skyline” and “Steel” divisions) and five wild card spots.  Many assume that the five “Skyline” teams not named Parkland will occupy most, if not all, of those wild card spots.  Keep in mind that all those teams will play each other over the next few weeks, so if any one of those teams in the Skyline division go into a funk and lose several in a row, it would open up spots for a couple teams from the other divisions to sneak up and advance to the league playoffs.

One final EPC note about the Vikings—while they may not be the favorite this year in 3A because of the quality play so far by Pottsville, don’t count out Central Catholic from making another district playoff run.  Despite many several quality opponents in their classification, the Vikings have a lot of pride on the line and are looking to win their fifth straight 3A Title and eighth over the last ten seasons.
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In the Colonial League, there are several teams that have continued to play outstanding basketball.  Salisbury has stayed right with the top teams (the others being Bangor, Saucon Valley & Southern Lehigh) and has played a strong non-league schedule once again this winter.

The wild card team—both physically and figuratively–in the Colonial League might be Wilson.  The Warriors ost to Pen Argyl, a team that lost to a struggling Northern Lehigh program and will probably not make the postseason.  They’ve also had some games in which they have struggled shooting from the floor and from the free throw line.  However, Wilson has also posted a number of huge wins,  among them an overtime victory over their rivals from Notre Dame-Green Pond and also played one of its best games of the season against Catasauqua.

Remember, the Colonial League has six berths for its playoffs this year, as opposed to just four teams advancing as in years past.  This could be huge for a team like Wilson, Palisades, Notre Dame or even Northwestern.  In previous years, it would appear to be a lock at this point that the Slaters, Falcons, Panthers and Spartans would be the only teams in the league playoffs.  But with the expansion of two more teams, it’ll make for a very entertaining race over the next few weeks to determine which other teams will qualify for the league playoffs.

Another thing to remember is that the league winners will automatically get top berths for the District XI playoffs.  So if a team that has been struggling during the first half of the year can get hot with a succession of victories over the next few weeks, they can receive a huge bump when it comes to District XI post-season seedings (see Notre Dame last winter).

Which teams have impressed you so far this season and what games have resulted in the biggest surprises?  Send us an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us on Thursday evenings as we read and respond to your sports questions and opinions on each program.

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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