The SportsTalk Shop: “FINAL” 2017 Basketball Poll

I have to keep it real here—it was not the most exciting regular season in terms of monitoring our scholastic ranking system this winter.

While we’ve seen some well-played games (last Friday’s Freedom/Liberty game by far the best contest I’ve called this winter) and I’m anticipating a very entertaining post-season, there wasn’t a whole lot of movement among our “SportsTalk” poll results over the course of the regular season.

Before we get to our last rankings of the year, here’s a quick recap if you are not familiar with our program.

Our pollsters are comprised of a combination of local media members (Morning Call’s Keith Groller, RCN Sports Director Gary Laubach and RCN basketball Announcers Tom Stoudt and Dennis Laub and Lehigh Valley Basketball Rankings’s Toomey Anderson).  We also have three distinguished head basketball coaches giving their insights on the top teams in the Lehigh Valley area.

All District XI schools were eligible for the poll and were divided into either our “big schools” (5A & 6A classifications) or “small schools” (4A & below) rankings.

The “small schools” consist of Wilson, Saucon Valley, Bethlehem Catholic, Northwestern, Palisades, Palmerton, Salisbury, Notre Dame-GP, Moravian Academy, Lincoln Leadership, Pen Argyl, Northern Lehigh and Catasauqua.

The “big schools” are Bangor, Central Catholic, Southern Lehigh, Whitehall, Allen, Dieruff, Easton, Emmaus, Freedom, Liberty, Nazareth, E. Stroudsburg North & South, Pocono Mountain East, Pocono Mountain West, Stroudsburg, Northampton, Parkland, and Pleasant Valley.

As far as our “final” results…which looked very similar to what our pre-season poll looked like:

Big School Basketball Poll—Class 5A & up (8 pollsters)

  • Allen – 40 points (8 first place votes)
  • Emmaus – 26 points
  • Parkland – 22 points
  • Pocono Mountain West – 14 points
  • Bangor – 13 points

____________________________________________________________

Small School Basketball Poll—Class 4A & Below (7 pollsters)

  • Becahi – 35 points (7 first place votes)
  • Salisbury – 24 points
  • Notre Dame-GP – 23 points
  • Saucon Valley – 15 points
  • Wilson – 5 points

Just to recap, Allen maintained its standings as the area’s (and the state’s) top “big school” team all winter by running the table (through this past weekend), and was only really challenged in a handful of games all year.

Among the “smaller schools,” Bethlehem Catholic lost just three league games to date—all by three points are less, and all of them to bigger-sized schools.

The only other teams that had any significant in-season movement in our polls were Parkland and Wilson.  The Trojans  got off to a slow start and fell off our poll completely before  bouncing back and, now, looking about as good as any team in the region (except perhaps Allen, who they played Monday night on RCN-TV).  The Warriors, under a new coach and armed with a very young squad, have made a late-season push and end the season as our “number five” team.

One other note, while Pocono Mountain West slid down from its “number two” position in our preseason poll, I had one local head coach whose opinion I really trust tell me last weekend that he is seriously concerned about “West” and does not want to face them in the post-season.  The Panthers dropped a few regular season games that, on paper, they probably shouldn’t have lost—but with all the talent on that squad and the match-up problems they could create–they very likely could play deep into the league and/or district tournaments.

To help break down these results in further detail and to talk about the Colonial League and Eastern Pennsylvania Conference playoffs, RCN Sports Director Gary Laubach will join us on this week’s “SportsTalk.”

We’ll also talk about high school basketball in the DC region on this Thursday’s show as DMV Elite’s Marcus Helton will join us via Skype to talk about the area’s regular season, identify the top players and teams and look ahead to a busy final week of the regular season.  Marcus will also give us some upcoming “match-ups to watch” along with his take on which teams will have the most success in the region’s post-season tournaments.

So tune in to the show this Thursday at 7pm or catch the podcast at rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk and let us know your basketball opinions and questions. If there’s a team, athlete or playoff match-up you’d like us to address on that show, be sure to email us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and tune-in for our panelists’ responses!

The SportsTalk Shop: District XI Basketball Playoff Preview

Last week, we discussed a number of teams in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference or Colonial League post-season races—nearly all of them will look to be major players in the District XI tournament, which starts this week.  Today here at “The Shop,” we take a look at a few more teams that begin their district championship quests over the next few days.

“Give Me Liberty…”
Don’t let a first-round loss in the EPC playoffs fool you.  Chad Landis always seems to find a way to get his team playing deep into the district playoffs—and usually well enough to get at least one of the top-3 district seeds, which would give the Hurricanes a trip to states.

Liberty lost to a very talented Allen team last week.  On paper, however, I think Liberty could play with almost anyone in their bracket.  They have a tremendous talent on the inside in Cam Hoffman and exciting guard play with added depth now that Chance Neilly has returned and gotten some game action under his belt. They’ll open up the tournament by facing Nazareth on Wednesday (live, RCN4 at 7pm).

“…or Fly Like An Eagle”
Nazareth Head Coach Joe Arndt has to be on a short list of underrated basketball coaches in the region.  Following his great run in the post-season last year (more on that later), he has done a great job grooming young talents Jahan Dotson and Kevin Wagner to become one of the strongest 1-2 underclassmen punches among EPC teams.  Nick Youngkin has added scoring punch from different spots on the floor and probably deserves more attention that he’s received this season.  The key will be containing the likes of Hoffman, Andrew Hudak and Caleb Martinez on the inside and for Nazareth to get its share of rebounds.  More inside scoring could go along way for Blue Eagles—the loser of this ball game sees their season come to an end.

The 3A Race Should be Fun To Watch
Central Catholic has an incredibly talented team, filled with underclassmen and amazing potential.  But when you have a younger group of players, there’s always an element–however slight—of ambiguity in reading how they will play together in the post-season.  They lost to a very solid Pocono Mountain West team in the first round of the league playoffs and, unlike previous years, I don’t think the Vikings are your ‘stone-cold locks’ to win the district title.  Salisbury, Notre Dame and Saucon Valley are all good, well-balanced teams who can play with Central Catholic.

Bethlehem Catholic also showed a tremendous amount of poise in hanging with the area’s best team, Parkland, in their EPC first-round match-up and have scored some impressive wins during the regular season.  Ray Barbosa has done a great job in his first year with the Golden Hawks and I don’t think a lengthy run in districts should be seen as a shocker.

Also, waiting “in the wings” is a Pottsville team that just completed a perfect 22-0 regular season.  The Tide will face the winner of Tuesday’s match-up between Saucon Valley/Lehighton (live, RCN4 at 7pm).  There will be very few “easy” games in the District XI 3A Classification this time around, and I doubt very many people could clearly predict just how this bracket will shake out this winter.

This Year’s Cinderella?
Last year it was Nazareth’s boys team that surprised people with a lengthy and exciting run through the District XI tournament—winning a few more games than many expected.

Who will be this year’s dark horse squad to last the longest? Stroudsburg is always an underrated team that seems to find a way to advance deep in the playoffs—despite the fact local experts rarely predict a successful post-season run for the Mountaineers.  If they can get by Freedom on Wednesday, they have as good a shot against Pocono Mountain West, then would face the winner of the Bangor vs. Solehi/Whitehall matchup, so another post-season run by the Mounties certainly looks like it has potential.

Also, there’s a number of talented girls basketball individuals and teams to keep an eye on that don’t get the hype they deserve.  Easton is coming off an impressive performance in its EPC Championship victory and are led by standout stars like Gabby Bloshuk, Leanna Deegan, Olivia George and Shelby Stocker.

However, this might be one of the most competitive District XI girls playoff fields we’ve seen in some time.  Parkland features Emily Piston, Rachel Medlar, Nadine Ewald and Sarah Stagaard.  Among the other top EPC talents include Nazareth’s Tessa Brugler, Northampton’s Aja Blount and Victoria Keenan.  Colonial League players to watch include Southern Lehigh’s Amanda Mobley, Olivia Snyder and Ellie Cassel (all underclassmen, by the way), Palisades’ Karlee Krchnavi, Northwestern’s Erika Thomas and Bangor’s Marissa Fernandez-Tierney.  We talked about a number of these teams and players in last week’s “SportsTalk” podcast (listen here: rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk).

Don’t forget, we’ll be discussing many more teams, previewing match-ups and making District XI playoff predictions on Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show, live from 7-8pm on RCN-TV with the show’s podcast available on Friday.  Guests include RCN Basketball Analyst Tom Stoudt along with Toomey Anderson and Andre Williams from LVBasketballRankings.com.  Email your high schools opinions and questions to rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and our panel will read and respond to your comments live on the air!

Behind the Mic: Why not baseball?

This past Saturday night, second-base umpire Mike Estabrook called pinch runner Kyle Kendrick of the Phillies out at second base on a pick-off play in the ninth inning. Replay showed that the Milwaukee Brewer shortstop tagged Kendrick without the ball. No one saw the ball come free and roll into the bare hand of the shortstop. The Phils were down 4-3 at the time and the next Phillies batter doubled, but was left stranded. Right call = tie game; wrong call = lost game.

Baseball only uses replay for home run calls and, within the last two weeks, the umpires even got a home run call wrong. In the American league championship series last year, a Detroit player was called safe at second and TV replay showed the runner was out and the inning would have ended. Detroit scored two runs in the inning and won 3-0. There is a remedy to these bad calls. The NFL, NBA, NHL, major tennis tournaments, and some NCAA sports all use a form of instant replay. Why not baseball?

A subcommittee made up of Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholtz will make recommendations for 2014. At first, consideration was to use replay only for a trap play and fair/foul. Now, all plays are being considered.

Baseball Instant Replay Concerns

  1. Do you allow a challenge system by the managers, much like NFL football?
  2. Do you use a replay official in the booth?
  3. Do you use replay for all situations?
  4. How much will replay disrupt the game?
  5. Will it add even more time to a game which most people think takes too long now?

All these questions will be answered soon. Eliminate the arguments, take some of the pressure off the umpires, and get the call right. After all, isn’t that the most important element?

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Speaking of baseball, as of May 15, there were 21 weather-related postponements, the same total as all of last year.
  2. Did you know that no other state has hosted more USGA championships than Pennsylvania? The number is 80 entering 2013. Merion golf Club, the venue for the US Open in 2 weeks and Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh are the top two. They are the only two to host more USGA events than our own Saucon Valley Country Club which has hosted six. Saucon Valley will host their seventh in 2014 when 264 players converge at the club’s Old Course and the Weyhill course from September 5-11 for the Mid-Amateur Championship. 4,000 golfers attempt to qualify for this event. These are “true amateurs” who are over 25, with handicaps at 3.4 or less and have real jobs like the rest of us. The winner has an exemption for the Masters.
  3. The NHL hockey playoffs are experiencing some good ratings for NBC and, particularly, for the NBC Sports Network. The May 29 Western Conference Semifinal Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings posted a 2.07 rating and averaged 3.354 million viewers, making it the highest-rated NHL game ever on NBC Sports Network, and the most-watched Semifinal game ever on cable.
  4. Congratulations to Parkland, Tamaqua, Salisbury, and Tri-Valley for winning District XI baseball championships this past week. On to states for them and for us. We have the PIAA state championships LIVE on PCN, Friday, June 14, beginning at 10:30 AM.
  5. I am hosting Sportstalk this Thursday (June 6) and the panel will be discussing the best 5 high school football players at various positions. Dick Tracy, Dennis Laub, Jack Logic and Joe Craig will offer their lists. I am putting my list together. There have been some great ones over the years Join us with your opinions. I am sure there will be many.

The SportsTalk Shop: Local Baseball Championships

While most of the RCN crew was broadcasting the LVC Baseball Championships, “SportsTalk” cameraman Mike Kingsley and I had the privilege of reporting on the Colonial League Championship in Limeport. It was a special night for a few reasons.

First … what a tremendous turnout! I decided to drive my personal car to the event and allowed Mike to have our “press spot”, not realizing that I would end up parking about a quarter-mile away due to the tremendous turnout and a completely overloaded parking area. Needless to say, it was a beautiful night and I NEEDED some exercise, so everything worked out fine. Too often, baseball (and other spring sports) are hurt by having to play games in the afternoon when parents/family members/friends, etc. are working and can’t see their kids in action. With this event, the under-the-lights atmosphere of the historic/unique Limeport Stadium (complete with cows in the right field “bullpen”) was heightened by the jammed-packed stands. It was great representation for the Colonial League to have so many people in attendance.

Second … thanks to the fans who came up to me and had so many nice things to say about the spring sports season, the kids, the teams, the great ball games and the numerous complements our “SportsTalk” team members received for our coverage of local teams and players. There are so many wonderful people in this area. It’s always good to talk about the positives in the community when dealing with high school athletics.

Third … Congratulations to the championship-winning Falcons, who are getting used to quality performances in big game situations. The Salisbury baseball team won their second consecutive league title, and fourth championship in the last five years (3-leagues & one district title). The “kids” were great to speak with and truly handled themselves with class and respect for the runner-ups, a very good Southern Lehigh team. The Falcons know how to play the game and appreciate their accomplishments, without letting it inflate egos or affect their focus.

Salisbury Baseball

You can view the segment at http://youtu.be/Wt3wS3W8isI

Justin Aungst had a particularly spectacular night; keeping hitters off-balance all evening on the mound, while providing the only offense the team would need–a first-inning, two-run home run over the left field fence. The team made some great plays behind him and they didn’t hurt themselves with mental errors (this team rarely does under Manager Mike Pochron). Their “celebrity” status (see the number of Youtube hits for their basketball game’s last second playoff win over highly-touted Wilson) hasn’t affected the players during their near-perfect baseball season to date (ironically, their only loss thus far was to Wilson). This group of underclassmen, most of whom have played together since third-grade, look for even higher goals the rest of this season.

Likewise, we had produced a feature on the Whitehall baseball team a few weeks ago on our “RCN SportsTalk” show (available on video-on-demand), and they, too, have envisioned some lofty goals thanks to their very workmanlike approach and success. Here are some of the highlights from the Zephyrs’ LVC championship win.

Lehigh Valley Conference HS Baseball Championship 2013 Highlights

You can view the segment at http://youtu.be/WwU7R1cQ1RE

Post below who you would like to win the District XI baseball playoffs. Can any teams from the RCN viewing area make a run in the state playoffs? Selfishly, I hope so. Gary Laubach, Scott Barr and I will once again be working with the RCN crew to broadcast the PIAA state finals at State College again this year. While I find it interesting to meet and interview new people every year at this event, it’s also nice to see some familiar faces in the title games.

Never on Sunday – Behind the Mic – April 8th

After doing this job for over 41 years, I have tried to maintain one rule of thumb. Do not work on Sunday, if at all possible. With so many weeknights and weekends away from home, I have always tried to keep Sunday as a day I can spend with my wife and/or my family. Obviously, over the years, there have been occasions that have superseded my wish, but when I am in control, I try hard to abide by the rule.

About three weeks ago, the Salisbury Athletic Director called to see if I would attend their boys’ basketball banquet. I hesitated in responding prior to knowing the date and day because, very often, I turn down these requests. To attend one, sort of obligates one to attend them all, if possible. To attend them all, however, is not possible. This request for me to attend centered around the highlight of their season – beating a team that had beaten them three times during the year and doing it in dramatic fashion: a half-court shot, trailing by one, as time expired in overtime, in the first round of the District playoffs!!

The Booster Club and the AD wanted to relive that moment and do it by reliving our broadcast and my call of the shot. Obviously, flattery usually is a great enticement. I did not decline the invitation, nor did I accept it. I asked for the date and was told April 7, a Sunday!

Well, I am sure many of you have accepted challenges that sound like a good thing, only to question your reasoning when the day actually arrives. That was my disposition this past Sunday. It was a beautiful day – the perfect day to spend with my wife. My granddaughter was home from college; my oldest daughter invited us to spend the day in the mountains; and my son-in-law (an accountant) wanted to get our 2012 tax returns completed. I said “no” to all of the options. You see, I had already accepted the invitation to the Salisbury basketball banquet.

When I arrived, I was greeted by the Booster Club president, many parents, the AD, her parents, and the players. It was a very, very warm atmosphere. The meal was excellent, the company at my table was congenial, and the setting was simple. I was asked to speak. I thanked everyone for the invitation, talked a bit about the thrill of competing, asked the players to make sure they understood that their parents, faculty, coaches, school, and the Booster Club make everything possible. We relived the “big shot” together and my job was done.

Then the coaches spoke. They spoke, like many coaches, about the season, the dedication, the work, the hours, the development of the players, etc. But the coaches, also, spoke of a player who had never scored less than 100 on any test so far in high school. He was #1 in his class. They spoke of a player who had garnered a perfect math score on his SAT’s and was headed to Lehigh to become an engineer. They spoke of a JV player who volunteered to perform the task of doing varsity stats (a job nobody wanted and had to be ordered to do in the past). They spoke of a highly energetic manager who just beamed when he was presented with a little gift of appreciation. They talked of the tremendous parental and community support they received throughout the season.

And as I listened, I got a sense that this is what sports should be all about. There was acknowledgement, but it was all done in the right way. There were tokens of appreciation, but they were not elaborate. There was praise, even for those who simply practiced hard. There was a sense of community, a sense of family. I left, sincerely hoping that these kinds of banquets happen throughout the Lehigh Valley.

So despite missing a Sunday with my family, I enjoyed the invitation to join another “family”. It was nice.

 


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

1. I usually give Saturday Night Live a chance to entertain me. I am often disappointed. Some of the skits are just awful. However, if you can, call up the VOD of this past Saturday’s show. Melissa McCarthy is the host and she literally had me in tears in the first half hour. Her opening, trying to walk in the latest style of shoes for women, was hilarious and her takeoff of Rutger’s basketball coach, Mike Rice, is absolute comedy genius. Check it out!

2. Speaking of the infamous Mike Rice practice video, those of us who have played sports probably spent this past week thinking of coaches we have played for who, in some fashion, berated and belittled us into performing better. I practiced basketball for 3 hours in galoshes because the night before we played so poorly. The next day, I could not lift my legs. I had football coaches who would “jack” us up against the wall to get our attention and make us tougher. I had coaches keep us on the football practice field for hours on end until we “got it”. The list is long. Now, Big Brother is watching. Cell phones and video cameras are everywhere. This requires a better way to coach and that is a good thing.

3. The Phillies and the Yankees are off to awful starts and there are no signs to indicate things are going to get better. Even the Iron Pigs look dismal early on. It could be a very long year for local fans.

4. The Masters starts on Thursday. Try not to bother me.

5. Jim Best will be a guest blogger next week talking about his trip to the National Wrestling Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. Enjoy!

Behind the Mic – February 26th

“The Thrill of Victory; The Agony of Defeat”

Ever since Jim McKay immortalized those words on the introduction to ABC’s Wide World of Sports, those eight words have perfectly described so many sporting events. They were the perfect words again on Friday night at around 9:10 PM. Let me explain:

The Wilson Warriors were playing the Salisbury Falcons in a high school PIAA District XI quarterfinal game. This is the only round where the loser sees their season come to an end. Win this one and you are guaranteed two more; win one of those and you enter the state basketball tournament.

Wilson was enjoying one of their greatest years in Warrior history. They finished the regular season 21-1 having lost their third game of the year in overtime. They then reeled off 20 consecutive wins, a school record. Among those victories were 3 wins over the same Salisbury team they would face on Friday. The Warriors won the three previous match-ups rather easily – 58-43; 63-50; 48-36, the latter just 10 days earlier in the Colonial League semi-finals. Wilson then played for the Colonial League championship against Bangor, a team they had also beaten during the regular season. Wilson lost the game and the championship in overtime (yes, that’s right). The bad news, no championship; the good news, their season was not over.

One week later was the fourth Salisbury game, do or die this time. It was a good game from the very start. Salisbury led 17-9 after one; 30-27 at the half; and Wilson led 42-39 after three. Wilson was able to tie the game in the final ten seconds of the fourth quarter at 50-50. The overtime was a tense affair with Wilson finally taking the lead 55-54 with 3 seconds to go. Wilson’s coach, Bob Frankenfield, a 32-year veteran, walked over to Salisbury’s coach, Jason Weaver, and said, “No matter what happens, Weave, this has been a great game. Unbelievable.” He would not know how perfectly his final word would describe the final 3 seconds. Salisbury’s Dan Reichenbach caught the inbounds pass at midcourt, turned, took two dribbles and fired up a jump shot from 35 feet away. Only the buzzer kept the absolutely silent crowd from hearing the swish of the basketball cleanly passing through the nylon net. Salisbury – 57, Wilson- 55! In overtime! Salisbury’s fans stormed the court to celebrate “the thrill of victory”. They would play a minimum of two more games.

For Wilson, the season was over. The Warriors won 87% of their games; 22 games, 20 in a row, and had very little to show for it. They lost just 3 games all year – every loss was in overtime. One foul shot made, one jump shot defended, one whistle not blown and they may have been undefeated. Instead, they did not win a League championship; they could not win a District championship; and they would not compete in the state playoffs.

A great season for sure, but on this past Friday night, there would be no “thrill of victory”, but, most certainly there was “the agony of defeat.”


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Remember the Tony Johnson story from last week? His father came in from California to watch his son, Lafayette’s point guard, LIVE at Lafayette for the first time all year. Tony hit the game-winning shot against first-place Bucknell! Well, last Wednesday, Lafayette traveled to Holy Cross to play the Crusaders. Lafayette never led in the game until, you guessed it, Tony Johnson hit a three-point shot to win the game with 1.3 seconds on the clock. His father stayed in town to watch Sunday’s Lafayette-Lehigh game. Tony Johnson had a career-high 29 points in that one and the Leopards knocked off second-place Lehigh for the second time. What a week for a son and his father.
  2. I watched the Lafayette-Lehigh game at the Kirby Sports Center yesterday and was just as interested in all the production people running around for CBS College Sports. I understand they put a great product on the air, but ours is pretty good considering we have 1/3 the staff and 1/10 the equipment. It took 7 people surrounding the announcers just for the pre-game.
  3. If I were an Academy member, I would have been hard-pressed to pick the Best Picture. I saw Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, and Lincoln. They were all outstanding as I am sure Life of Pi, Amour, and Beasts of the Southern Wild were. When the movies are as diverse as these were, how do you pick a best ONE?
  4. The Academy awards show bored me. Daniel Day-Lewis had the best acceptance speech when he said he was signed to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl Streep was signed for Lincoln and they decided to swap roles.
  5. It’s championship week on RCN Sports. AAAA, AAA, AA, and A District champions in both the boys and the girls classifications. And then on to states. March Madness starts Friday!

The SportsTalk Shop – February 11th

SportsTalk Shop: Basketball Playoff

High school basketball playoff time is here!

After a very long, cold and dreary winter weather season (it wasn’t really that bad this year, was it?), it’s time to turn our attention to the 2013 winter sports playoff season. With the boys’ basketball players getting underway, here’s a look at some of the top teams in both the Colonial League and Lehigh Valley League who either clinched a spot in their respective conference playoffs, or teams that came close and could still be very formidable come district postseason time. In no particular order:

Central Catholic – Probably the best team in the area right now, and why not? A dynamic player in Muhammad Ali-Abdul Rahkman who can score from anywhere on the court, along with several other talented guards up front, an inside force in Jean Lee Baez, and underrated players in David Stevens and Jimmy Vaughn. The Vikings seem to be the most balanced and deepest all-around team in the LVC, and could do some major damage in states—assuming they don’t get tripped up en route to the 3A title game.

Wilson – Maybe the biggest surprise of the “elite” teams this year. It’s no wonder they’re good, but I don’t know how many people outside of Wilson thought this team might just end up as the greatest Warriors team ever. After a league opening loss to Southern Lehigh, Wilson has basically had a ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach in nearly every game played, including a win over rival Easton, winning most of their games by double digits. With exciting players like Gerald Terry and Daye-Shawn Bailey slicing & dicing to the hoop, the soon-to-be-top center in the Colonial League Phil Pierfy in the middle, and great depth throughout, this might be the year in which Wilson tops CCHS for the 3A crown.

Parkland – Might have the best overall backcourt in the league (I’m still hoping Jimmy Hahn gets into broadcasting some day). They have a very versatile combination of guards who can do a ton of things well, and are an unselfish group with different players capable of stepping up on any given night. Very tough to defend. However, for the LVC playoffs, I think Central Catholic is a tough matchup for the Trojans, and the team I think you have to get through to win the league championship.

Freedom – Maybe the most talented single player in the league is Nyreef Jackson (he nearly scored 16 points in a row a few weeks back at Sewards Gym), and some very good Patriot players right behind them. (Maceo Connor is VERY underrated in my book). They don’t seem to have as much “fire” or at least the “gusto” as last year’s team, which might account for some of their inconsistencies this year. On any given day they could beat anyone, but will it be on a playoff championship night?

Easton – They’ve had an adventure trying to find their third-scorer, normally a necessity for a team to have post season success. I only saw DeVante Queen once this year, but he REALLY impressed me with his ability to score, his court vision, and his unselfishness in giving up the ball to a hot teammate (see Ezra Gaines in the Allen game). Also, Xavier Jenkins, who just announced he’ll be headed to Central Connecticut State, is a very steady player at both ends of the floor. They have some tough matches against LVC opponents, but if they play their usual top-notch defense and develop some consistency offensively as they did last season in the playoffs…? Remember, the Red Rovers were the last Lehigh Valley team standing last year.

Liberty – A team so good, I haven’t been able to see them (Gary Laubach always gives himself the top team each year =), but a team nearly as inconsistent as any in the LVC. Great guards, great post presence, poised players with experience in big games (and the fortitude to win some close games this year), this SHOULD be the team to beat. They have also had some issues that have really kept them from getting in a solid, sustained rhythm without everyone in the lineup. I’m looking forward to seeing them in the playoffs, especially if they play the way they did against Easton on Tuesday.

Emmaus – Another “enigma” team that looks fabulous one minute, then loses a game you would think they would win. Three solid players in Derek Tannous, Nate Feiretag and Joe Nicolini, as well as a nice supporting cast make the Hornets a team to watch. However, they may still be a year away from being contenders for a championship. Their JV and Freshmen teams, at last check, were raking in the wins. They could be laying the groundwork for a potential mini-dynasty if they can win some tough games this postseason.

Bangor – Includes my vote (as of now) for league MVP in Alex Colton, based largely on what he did without four key players in guiding his team in a close loss to Wilson—probably the grittiest game I’ve seen all year. They have the depth to win the Colonial League, but as Bron Holland correctly stated on a recent “SportsTalk” show, until they win the big one, they’ll be questions about them.

Notre Dame – Vincent Eze had some ups-and-downs early this year, but seems to be back and gives the Crusaders another well-rounded team. Behind Whitehall’s win over the Canaries, Notre Dame had the comeback win of the year over Salisbury in their first meeting, and is deep enough to be able to run and gun with the other teams in the Colonial League. Don’t know if they have enough firepower to beat Wilson, but counting out Notre Dame is always a very dangerous thing to do, especially come playoff time.

Salisbury – Their win over Northern Lehigh was the single most dominating performance that I saw in-person all year long. Perhaps the most underrated head coach in the valley (Jason Weaver keeps his own team’s stats), his team has some outstanding guards that love to push the tempo, and are eager to avenge a district-opening loss that ended their season a year ago. Don’t know how well they will fare in the 3A level this year, but if their “bigs” can stay out of foul trouble, they could very well contend for the league crown.

Catty – I always thought they would be in the mix for the Colonial League playoffs and they’re making a great run at just the right time of year. I think the winning atmosphere from the football season is carrying over, mixed with one of the top coaches in the area in Eric Snyder and some very good athletes. This makes the Roughies a fun team to watch this post-season. Hope they don’t suffer from the long layoff for the 2A district playoffs.

What do you think of my assessments of the top teams this year? Which teams are underrated? Which teams will win titles? Post your opinions here and/or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your comments on our upcoming shows on Thursdays at 6pm, in which we’ll be recapping & previewing the next wave of playoff matchups.

Because of space, I’m hoping to be able to talk about more teams in a future blog post (including Whitehall, Bethlehem Catholic and Northern Lehigh) … so keep winning guys! I hope to have the chance to watch (and type) more about you in the coming weeks!