The SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Playoffs (Part 2)

Recently here at the “SportsTalk Shop,” we brought you highlights and insights on the larger Lehigh Valley basketball teams in this winter’s playoffs.  This week we look at some of the smaller schools, and a few of the girls teams that I had a chance to catch-up with over the last few weeks.

Like most basketball seasons, Allentown Central Catholic boys team is a favorite to compete for a District XI 3A title.  The Vikings are in search of their fifth straight championship, and may present the best chance of any team in the RCN area to win it.  The #1 seed is Pottsville–a team that also appears quite regularly in the playoffs.  Some winters, the Crimson Tide come into the playoffs with overwhelmingly impressive records…but that doesn’t always translate to postseason success.  Some years their quality of competition is not nearly what teams in the Lehigh Valley face, and the result is a quick exit from districts.  This is NOT one of those years, as Pottsville not only has played some very good teams, but also boasts some outstanding, multi-talented players.  These players also are great all-around athletes who excel at other sports.  Tamaqua is also having an outstanding year, but is in the “upper bracket,” meaning they’ll have to face the Tide in the district semifinal.  A loss to Pottsville means they would have to fight for the remaining playoff berth in the consolation game (FYI: District XI 3A has three teams that can qualify for the state playoff).

Speaking of “brackets,” it’s a shame that so many quality teams from the Lehigh Valley were all grouped together in the same (lower) 3A bracket, which limits the number of teams in the RCN viewing area teams to advance.  Central Catholic will face Salisbury in this Tuesday’s semifinal matchup.  The loser of that ball game will have to win the consolation game Friday in order to qualify for the PIAAs.

In the girls Colonial League championship, Notre Dame really impressed me with it’s lights-out defense and smart play.

The Crusaders held a very talented Northwestern offense to 15 first half points, while having five different players scoring eight or more points themselves.  Notre Dame featured outstanding balance on this year’s team.  Seniors Gabby Altmire, Sam Cabone and Julie Romich are outstanding leaders on and off the court.  Despite having a very young team (six of their nine regulation rotation players are underclassmen), they have many battle-tested players who’ve played in a number of close games against great competition throughout the past year.

Northwestern is also a very fun team to watch and showed lots of determination in the title game by coming back and not quitting, despite facing a 15-point deficit midway through the third quarter.  Seniors Sabrina Mertz and Sarah Segan are both capable of big scoring nights and leading a team that can also play great defense.  They are part of a 3A group loaded with talent. The Tigers figure to be viewed as underdogs heading into their semifinal game.

This brings us to the two best girls teams in the RCN viewing area–Bethlehem Catholic and Central Catholic–that met in the EPC championship this past Friday.

The Golden Hawks earned a hard-fought title, led by perhaps the best player in the state, Kalista Walters, who has scored 2,202 career points heading into the district playoffs.  Very few teams have been able to contain her in her scholastic career, and when they do she’s been amazing at finding the open teammate on the floor and dishing out assists.  Central Catholic might actually have more high-quality players and feature one of the premiere all-around athletes in the area (Darcy Wolf).  Becahi Head Coach Jose Medina has done a great job keeping the rhythm going after taking over the program very late in the process and Central Head Coach Mike Kopp is as good as it gets.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if these teams square-off against each other in districts, and make for another great battle.

You can watch the Becahi/Central championship and all of the local leagues’ girls and boys title games on RCN OnDemand.

Be sure to bookmark our RCN-TV website and check back often for updates on our playoff broadcast schedule as we cover the teams in the RCN viewing area over the next several weeks.  Also, we’d love to hear your comments on our local teams and athletes and want to spotlight great on-the-court performances on our “RCN SportsTalk: District Championship Preview Show” with guests Megan Dellegrotti and Joe Stellato, coming up this Thursday, February 26, from 6-7 pm.  Email your thoughts to rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and we may read and respond to your emails on this program.

The Sports Talk Shop – January 22nd

“SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Parody vs. Mediocrity”

Every few years, we have a high school basketball season like the one we have this year – lots of teams with similar records and “common opponents” knocking each other off with seemingly no single team, or even a couple squads, distancing themselves from the rest of the pack. Inevitably, we, as local sports fans, start to debate. Do we have a lot of really good teams this year, or are most teams merely average?

I actually feel we have more of the former. Here are some of the reasons why: field goal percentage, defensive points allowed, average, and turnovers.

First, field goal percentage. I don’t recall so many teams in recent memory that were shooting near 50-percent as a unit (no, I’m not going to bring up the woeful free-throw shooting percentage—that’s a whole other issue). The solid “FG” numbers indicate a good deal of high percentage shots being taken, which is a direct result of good execution. We’re seeing quite a bit of quality passes, good pick & rolls (yes, it’s back in style again), solid picks and some all-around good play. You could argue that this is a result of shoddy defense, but when you look at the points allowed, most teams’ numbers are down from a year ago, indicating an improvement in defensive performance. As for teams that are giving up more points than normal, like Easton, the Rovers have played in four overtime games, including two that went into double overtime. With the extra periods, it inflates their per game averages. However, if you look at quarter by quarter numbers, you’ll find nearly every team is playing better defense.

Secondly, the turnover numbers. Local teams are bucking the trend of actually cutting down on the number of turnovers per game. This despite a few teams trying to play a more up-tempo style of basketball. Most teams over the last few years averaged in the mid-teens, but I’ve seen quite a few teams averaging ten or 11 turnovers per game, which also supports the theory that teams are taking better control of the basketball, and, therefore, the quality is up from recent years.

One other point that supports more quality basketball in both the boys and the girls basketball teams, is that of depth. We’re seeing quite a few teams, shall we say “missing” players for various reasons (let’s just say I’ve heard a number of stories why players are not available to play this winter). Injuries or otherwise, teams are having to use their bench quite a bit more. In fact, both the Bangor girls and boys teams were without key players last weekend. Yet they got outstanding efforts from their reserves & younger players, and even members of their JV squad, that stepped up and battled some very strong teams last week. With more and more teams going deeper to their bench and getting quality efforts, it’s clear that there is an upswing right now in the level of play here in the Lehigh Valley. (Bangor, by the way, will be guests on “SportsTalk” this Thursday at 6pm to talk about their season).

Do I see any one Lehigh Valley team knocking off the powerhouse programs from the Philadelphia area, or even some of the top teams from the western part of the state? Probably not. But it has made for an entertaining season thus far. Do you think high school basketball is improving, or are we continuing down a trend of playing more of a ‘playground’ style that a number of long-time local sports fans have been lamenting the last several years? Send your comments to us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com & we’ll discuss on our upcoming shows.