Notes, quotes and thoughts with the PIAA basketball semifinals on tap for tonight.
All four WPIAL boys champions have made it to the PIAA semifinals. You might ask "what's the big deal?"
Well, it's an unusual occurrence.
Since the PIAA and WPIAL went to four classifications in the 1983-84 season, this is only the fourth time that all four WPIAL champs have made the semifinals.
The first time was 1993 when New Castle, Valley, Sto-Rox and Duquesne made it to the semifinals. It happened again in 1994 when Penn Hills, Beaver Falls, Aliquippa and Duquesne advanced to their final fours. The last time it happened was 2000 when Cornell, Aliquippa, Blackhawk and Penn Hills made it to the semifinals.
The WPIAL champs this year are New Castle, Central Valley, Seton-LaSalle and Lincoln Park. I think there are two reasons why the champs have made it this far this year. First, this is an "up" period for WPIAL basketball, I believe. We've got some pretty darn good teams in a number of classes. That might not be true again next year or the year after. Looking ahead, Class AAAA seems down for next year.
Secondly, the Erie area is down. Erie usually has a few top teams, but not this year.
**** I'm still trying to figure out how Hampton's Ryan Luther got only one shot and did not score in the second half of that New Castle game Saturday.
**** Speaking of New Castle-Hampton. Considering everything that was on the line, considering the history between the two teams, the crowd and how the contest unfolded, that was one of the best games I've seen in a while.
**** Hampton had trouble scoring down the stretch and one of the reasons was New Castle's hands. It might not seem like much, but the way New Castle uses its hands on defense is tremendous. Down the stretch, New Castle was constantly knocking balls away, stripping Hampton players from down low as they went up for a shot and getting their hands in passing lanes. I think New Castle's hands play a big part in their defensive success and especially the hands of Malik Hooker (pictured driving to the hoop against Hampton). His quick hands came up with so many big defensive plays for New Castle. It makes you wonder if those hands will help make him a good defensive back at Ohio State.
"His hands are like a weapon. They're so big and so strong and they're quick," said New Castle coach Ralph Blundo. "Often times, I see him soft off the ball and I get upset because he's not in a defensive stance. But he's just baiting you to make a defensive play. Malik Hooker is the greatest athlete I've seen at New Castle. I haven't seen them all, but he's the best I've seen and I don't think it's even close."
As for the hands of the rest of the team?
"You hear so many coaches talk about not using your hands on defense," said Blundo. "But we talk a lot about using your hands. Not to hand check but I think active hands and active feet give you a better opportunity to be successful defensively and generate some offense."
**** New Castle carries an undefeated record into tonight's game against Abington. It is the second year in a row New Castle takes an unbeaten mark into the semifinals. The last WPIAL boys team to take an undefeated record into a PIAA title game was Blackhawk in 2000. The team had heralded point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham. But Blackhawk lost to Steelton-Highspire, 68-56, at Hersheypark Arena. I remember Blackhawk having trouble solving Steelton-Highspire's 3-2 zone.
**** From the Do You Remember department? Steve Lodovico is Blackhawk's girls coach and will try to get the Cougars to the PIAA title game. Blackhawk meets Palmyra tonight. Eighteen years ago, Lodivico was a starting guard for the Blackhawk boys and scored nine points as the Cougars beat Valley View, 67-55, for its second consecutive state championship. Blackhawk also won a state title in 1995, but Lodovico came off the bench for that team. He was a starter in 1996.
**** The past few days in gathering information on the PIAA semifinalists, it is amazing to me how many transfers play for the Philadelphia teams. It's more evident on the boys side but it also exists on the girls side. Do PIAA administrators in Philadelphia care? Apparently not much. The transfer subject has been brought up at PIAA board of control meetings also, but apparently hardly anybody seems to care there, either. Oh well. It's almost as if there are two different athletic worlds in Pennsylvania - Philadelphia as opposed to the western side of the state.
I found one of the most interesting comments from the playoff so far came from St. Basil girls coach Terry Mancini after his team lost to Neumann-Goretti, 64-29, in the Class AA quarterfinals. Neumann-Goretti has some transfers and Mancini said to the Montgomery News, "I can't tell you why it got away from us so early. That was not the team I coached all year. I think they bought into the hype of Neumann-Goretti because they saw them play. What can you say? They are the best AAU team in the state. ... We got this far with four-year seniors, no transfers. Unfortunately, we are playing against teams with an influx of transfers. We can't compete with that at St. Basil. We are too small of a school."
**** Follow @PGVarsityXtra on Twitter tonight for score updates on all semifinal games.
**** If you are interested on some notes and news on the semifinal games, check out this morning's P-G boys semifinal forecast and the girls semifinal forecast.
**** See ya. Can sports writers take a pregame nap, too?