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Preseason hoops talk: Top teams .... Dandy Dozen players .... another McConnell on scene

Written by Mike White on .

It's the week of the state semifinals for football, but high school basketball in Pennsylvania gets underway next Friday, so let's talk a little high school hoops:

Another McConnell

T.J. McConnell is in the NBA. His brother, Matty, plays for Robert Morris. Their father, Tim, is the highly-successful Chartiers Valley boys coach.

Now comes another McConnell on the WPIAL scene.

Megan McConnell is the younger sister of T.J. and Matty and the youngest of Tim and Shelly McConnell's three children. Megan is only a freshman, but she is slated to start for the Chartiers Valley girls team.

Megan McConnell is a 5-foot-5 ninth grader who will play shooting guard. Chartiers Valley has one of the top teams in WPIAL 5A. In fact, the Colts are ranked No. 1 by the Post-Gazette heading into the season. They have some talented, experienced players, including Mackenzie Wagner. It will be interesting to see how Megan McConnell develops. I've never seen her play, but I'm going to take a wild guess and say she's probably pretty fair.

Best teams

We will have a basketball preview as part of our Varsity Xtra section in Friday's paper. But here's an early line on the top WPIAL teams in each class. These may be different than our Post-Gazette rankings that come out Friday.

6A - 1. Pine-Richland. 2. Penn Hills. 3. Latrobe. 

5A - 1. Highlands. 2. Hampton. 3. Chartiers Valley

4A - 1. Beaver Falls. 2. New Castle. 3. Quaker Valley

3A - 1. Lincoln Park. 2. Steel Valley. 3. Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic

2A - 1. Bishop Canevin. 2. Sewickley Academy. 3. OLSH

1A - 1. Monessen. 2. Clairton. 3. Vincentian

City League - 1. Obama. 2. Westinghouse. 3. Allderdice.

Top players 

Here is a preseason Dandy Dozen for the WPIAL and City League (listed alphabetically). It was pretty easy getting the top seven or eight. But for the last four or five spots, there are maybe 7-8 players you could also pick.

AUSTIN BUTLER, LATROBE, 6-4, SR., GUARD

Is there anyone in Western Pa., with deeper shooting range? I think not. He can make 3's well past the volleyball line in games. Second-leading scorer in WPIAL last season at 25.8 a game. Has signed with Holy Cross.

ROBBY CARMODY, MARS, 6-4, JR., GUARD

One of the most heavily recruited players who has come through the WPIAL in the past decade. Only a junior, Carmody (pictured) already has scholarship offers from numerous major colleges, including Pitt, Duquesne, Penn State, Purdue, Notre Dame, Louisville, Ohio State and Michigan, among others. Extremely athletic and can play point guard or shooting guard. Averaged 19 points a game last season as a sophomore.

JOSH CREACH, BEAVER FALLS, 6-7, SR., FORWARD

Made Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 last year after averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks for WPIAL AAA champion. After high school, might go the junior-college route. Has 1,241 career points.

NELLY CUMMINGS, LINCOLN PARK, 5-11, SR., GUARD

Cummings signed with Bowling Green, turning down some other Division I offers. He is an excellent shooter, but also athletic. He has a chance to reach 2,000 career points this season. He has 1,521. Cummings (pictured) is the main reason many feel Lincoln Park is the team to beat in 3A this season. Cummings made the Post-Gazette Fab 5 a year ago.

ANTONIO IONADI, HAMPTON, 6-2, SR., GUARD

The kid with a sweet stroke. One of the best shooters around, Ionadi (pictured) averaged 22.3 points a game last season. Made a truckload of 3-pointers. One of the reasons some are picking Hampton as the No. 1 5A team entering the season.

JOHN PAUL KROMKA, GATEWAY, 6-8, JR., C

Kromka is one of the top juniors in the WPIAL. He averaged a double-double last year. He could use a little more muscle, but with him in the lineup, Gateway has a presence on the inside.

ANDREW PETCASH, PINE-RICHLAND, 6-4, SR., GUARD

Helped team win WPIAL 4A title last season. Petcash (pictured) averaged 20.6 points a game. A good shooter, but also scores off the dribble. Has few Division I offers. His younger brother, Dan, a sophomore, also might join Andrew in starting lineup this year for P-R. 

SHERRON SCHIFINO, PENN HILLS, 6-2, SR., GUARD 

Penn Hills turned things around last season, making it to the WPIAL semifinals. Schifino played a pivotal role in the success, averaging 13 points. A good shooter.

JARROD SIMMONS, MOON, 6-8, SR., FORWARD

Lives in Moon, but attended Cushing Academy in Massachusetts the past three years before deciding to go to Moon for his final year. Versatile player who was once offered scholarship to Pitt when Jamie Dixon was coach. This fall, he said his final list of colleges included Boston College, Temple, Princeton, Yale, Pennsylvania and Brown.

NICK SMITH, NORTH HILLS, 6-1, SR., GUARD 

Made Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 last year. Helped North Hills make the WPIAL title game for the first time in school history. Averaged 23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals a game. A player who scores in various ways, Smith (pictured) has 1,100 career points. A few Division I colleges have expressed interest. He and Luke Chutko are three-year starters in the backcourt for North Hills.

BRANDON STONE, SOUTHMORELAND, 6-10, JR., FORWARD

Southmoreland has what is most likely its first future Division I college player. Stone already has a few scholarship offers, including one from Duquesne. Others are showing interest. Stone is thin and needs more muscle. But he has size and also skills that allow him to play some on the perimeter. He averaged 21.3 points a game last season.

ROSS WILKERSON, CHARTIERS VALLEY, 6-0, JR., GUARD

Wilkerson will be the leader of the Colts this year as they are again pegged as one of the top teams in their classification (5A). Wilkerson is a nice, all-around player who can shoot it but also score some off the dribble. Averaged 16.2 points a game last season.

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Dukes Dispatches: UT-Martin preview

Written by Brian Batko on .

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, Duquesne basketball fans. Are you spending your night watching/following as the Dukes play their sixth game in less than two weeks? If so, this is the place for you.

I don't know a whole lot about tonight's opponent, UT-Martin. In fact, I might even know more about former Steelers quarterback Tee Martin, who ironically went to the OG UT (hold the Martin). Did you know he's now the offensive coordinator at USC? Man, I loved Tee Martin.

OK, back to business. Dukes could really use a win tonight against another, we'll say, low-major opponent. But in today's college basketball world, the terms high-major, mid-major and low-major don't really have a whole lot of meaning. UT-Martin has won four in a row, which includes a close win over Canisius, which you'll surely remember got the best of Duquesne just before the buzzer Friday night. The Skyhawks' only loss this season? An 86-83 defeat at SEC outfit Ole Miss in the season opener, which is certainly nothing to scoff at.

All of that is to say that we should brace for the possibility these Skyhawks can fly (read: are pretty decent). I'm certain the Dukes will. They need any victories they can muster at this point -- road, home, in November on the night before Thanksgiving, whatever. Below, you'll find my scouting report for this game, as it appeared in this morning's fine Post-Gazette (which I trust you all picked up and read front to back), and I'll add one final note after the glance box: 

Screenshot 2016-11-23 at 5.46.25 PM

 

Well, I'll be. That "hidden stat" really sticks out to me! We knew the Dukes were young inexperienced, but maybe not that young inexperienced. And who knew UT-Martin would have such an old experienced bunch? Perhaps that factor will come into play here when we tip off in just about an hour at Palumbo Center (which will be something of a ghost town tonight as students are on break and many others might be meeting up with friends/family in town for the holiday).

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Complete playoff picture around the state ....... Sites set for WPIAL teams in PIAA playoffs

Written by Mike White on .

Wondering at all what's going on in high school football outside the WPIAL? Check out below for the complete picture.

But first, while there are still two WPIAL championships to be played Saturday, three WPIAL teams will play in the PIAA playoffs this weekend.

The sites, dates and times for all games are now set for this weekend. In Class 6A, WPIAL champ Central Catholic plays Williamsport Saturday, 1 p.m. at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona. Two WPIAL teams will play on Black Friday. Thomas Jefferson meets Erie Cathedral Prep in the 4A quarterfinals Friday, 7 p.m. at Baldwin. West Allegheny takes on Meadville in the 5A quarterfinals Friday, 7 p.m. at North Allegheny.

Beaver Falls has the week off. It does not play until Dec. 2-3.

But here is the complete rundown of what teams are still left around the state, their records and the matchups. This courtesy of Kenny "The Horse" at the P-G.

WPIAL CLASS 2A

Championship

Saturday — Steel Valley (12-0) vs. Neshannock (12-1) at Robert Morris University, 6 p.m.

WPIAL CLASS 1A

Championship

Saturday — Clairton (12-0) vs. Jeannette (12-1) at Robert Morris University, Noon.

PIAA CLASS 6A

Quarterfinals

Western Region

Saturday — Central Catholic (12-1) vs. Williamsport (12-1) at Mansion Park Stadium, Altoona, 1 p.m.; West Lawn Wilson (11-1) vs. Cumberland Valley (9-3) at Hersheypark Stadium, 6 p.m.

Eastern Region

Friday — Garnet Valley (11-2) at North Penn (13-0), 7 p.m.

Saturday — Parkland (10-2) vs. St. Joseph's Prep (11-0) at Philadelphia Northeast Supersite, 1 p.m.

PIAA CLASS 5A

Quarterfinals

Western Region

Friday — Meadville (11-2) vs. West Allegheny (12-0) at North Allegheny, 7 p.m.; Manheim Central (11-1) vs. Harrisburg (9-3) at Hersheypark Stadium, 7 p.m.

Eastern Region

Friday — Academy Park (12-1) at Springfield-Delco (12-1), 7 p.m.; Archbishop Wood (9-2) vs. Whitehall (9-4) at Northampton, 7 p.m.

PIAA CLASS 4A

Quarterfinals

Western Region

Friday — Erie Cathedral Prep (11-0) vs. Thomas Jefferson (12-0) at Baldwin, 7 p.m.; Shippensburg (11-1) vs. Berks Catholic (10-1) at Hersheypark Stadium, 1 p.m.

Eastern Region

Friday — North Pocono (10-3) vs. Imhotep Charter (11-0) at Northern Lehigh, 7 p.m.

Saturday — Johnstown (12-1) vs. Bethlehem Catholic (10-3) at Chambersburg, 1 p.m.

PIAA CLASS 3A

Quarterfinals

Western Region

Friday — Martinsburg Central (11-1) vs. Karns City (10-2) at DuBois, 7 p.m.

Bye — Beaver Falls (11-1).

Eastern Region

Friday — Scranton Prep (12-1) vs. Middletown (12-0) at Bethlehem, 7 p.m.

Saturday — Delaware Valley Charter (8-4) vs. Notre Dame-Green Pond (11-2) at Bethlehem, 1 p.m.

PIAA CLASS 2A

Quarterfinals

Western Region

Saturday — Kane (13-0) vs. Wilmington (11-1) at Slippery Rock University, 1 p.m.

Eastern Region

Friday — Dunmore (13-0) vs. Ligonier Valley (13-0) at Bald Eagle Area, 7 p.m.

Saturday — Schuylkill Haven (12-1) vs. Southern Columbia (13-0) at Shamokin, 1 p.m.

PIAA CLASS 1A

Quarterfinals

Western Region

Friday — Ridgway-Johnsonburg (12-0) vs. Farrell (9-3) at Slippery Rock University, 7 p.m.

Eastern Region

Friday — Steelton-Highspire (5-7) vs. Williams Valley (12-1) at Shamokin, 7 p.m.; Homer-Center (11-1) vs. Bishop Guilfoyle (12-0) at Mansion Park Stadium, Altoona, 7 p.m.

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WPIAL championship rewind: After making history, Palko on verge of another milestone

Written by Mike White on .

Notes, quotes, highlights and thoughts on Friday's four WPIAL championship games:

Palko now going for 200

There is an "L" in Bob Palko's last name. That's about the only time you associate an "L" with him.

Maybe we should just go ahead and call him Bob Pawko. Because this guy is all about the "W's."

No one in the history of WPIAL football has won more championships than Palko. He won No. 8 Friday. But he is one win away from another impressive milestone.

Palko has 199 career wins. He has a chance for No. 200 when West Allegheny plays in the PIAA quarterfinals Friday against Meadville. The game is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. at North Allegheny.

Palko became West Allegheny's coach in 1995. His record is 199-66, an impressive .750 winning percentage. (Palko is pictured in yesterday's championship).

I'd go ahead and call him one of the best coaches in WPIAL history - in any sport. The culture he has created, the program he has built, at a public school is impressive. He doesn't always have the best players, either. But man, does Palko and his staff know how to build strong teams. His staff is excellent and they somehow get kids to buy in to everything and work extremely hard in the offseason.

I've covered West Allegheny's program since Palko became coach. Now I know there were some questionable calls in that title game Friday and the McKeesport faithful are not happy. But that doesn't take away what Palko has done at West Allegheny. The culture of that program doesn't exist in many places - anywhere. Even outside the WPIAL. I don't know if people around here fully realize what Palko has done at a school that never had much success until he took over. And it's his alma mater.

Check out highlights from that great West Allegheny-McKeesport 5A final:

Champions list

Here is the list of coaches with the most WPIAL titles:

8 – Bob Palko, West Allegheny

7 – Phil Bridenbaugh, New Castle 

6 – Bill Cherpak, Thomas Jefferson

6 – Chuck Klausing, Braddock

6 – George Novak, five at Woodland Hills and one at Steel Valley

6 – Art Walker, five at Mt. Lebanon and one at Shady Side Academy

6 – Tom Nola, Clairton

6 – Mike Zmijanac, Aliquippa

He said it

Here is McKeesport coach Matt Miller on Palko's decision to go for the two-point conversion and the win in overtime.

"It didn't surprise me," said Miller. "They were getting pretty decent chunks of yards and I think we were moving the ball pretty good, so it makes sense.

"The whole game comes down to one play at the end. I was just coming off after the timeout [before the two-point conversion] and was like, 'God, this is, like, over if we don't stop it.' It felt like we were just going to keep exchanging blows for a while. And all of a sudden, it was like you just collapse. Like your heart sunk."

The magic of 248

How coincidental that Quinton Hill rushed for 248 yards for Thomas Jefferson in Friday's 4A final, tying for the Orlando Torresthird-most yards in a game at Heinz Field or Three Rivers Stadium. He tied former Thomas Jefferson RB Orlando Torres, who ran for 248 in 2007.

Torres ([pictured to the left in the 2007 title game against Montour) was certainly a talented runner, but I might remember him most for his nickname. I still remember Torres telling me after a game, "They call me the 'Streakin Puerto Rican."

Good one.

Hill is the all-time leading rusher at Thomas Jefferson and now has more than 4,300 yards.

Now Thomas Jefferson moves on to the PIAA quarterfinals. Best game in the quarterfinals in any class might be Thomas Jefferson against Erie Cathedral Prep Friday. Tentatively set for Baldwin.

Beaver Falls not a surprise

Some were surprised at Beaver Falls' victory against Aliquippa. But really, it should surprise no one.

I think we forget that this was supposed to be possibly Beaver Falls' year. Coach Ryan Matsook had a truckload of starters back from last season. This team had talent, size and speed. Many thought the Tigers were the No. 1 team in 3A before the season. But then came that bad loss to Aliquippa in the first game.

Shoutout to Matsook for keeping things together and not letting the ship sink after the Aliquippa game. 

This was not a great Aliquippa team. Even coach Mike Zmijanac said before the title game that Beaver Falls was probably better. Doesn't matter. Beating Aliquippa is huge for Beaver Falls.

More thoughts and notes

**** Zmijanac will retire soon from Aliquippa, but it won't be now. He has a handful of starters back on both sides of the ball. I say possibly after next season he hangs it up.

**** Of all the WPIAL champions, it's hard to say who has the best chance to win a state championship. Maybe Beaver Falls? But the Tigers will likely have to play a strong Hickory team in the semifinals. Hickory is ranked No. 1 in the state by the Post-Gazette.

**** Beaver Falls is off next week. I don't know if Matsook and his staff think that is a good or bad thing.

**** The Class 2A and 1A semifinals are tonight. A few sources have told me Clairton QB Noah Hamlin might not play because of an injury. That's just what I'm hearing. That would be a gigantic loss for Clairton against Northgate.

**** Did you know Bishop Guilfoyle (Altoona) now has a 44-game winning streak? Guilfoyle plays in Class 1A, but the team will play through the eastern side of the bracket. The WPIAL champ would not meet Guilfoyle until the state final.

**** Attendance at Heinz Friday was around 17,5000, according to WPIAL. Not bad. The WPIAL would love to have 20,000 every year.

**** Central Catholic's 42-7 victory against Seneca Valley was the biggest blowout in a title game in the largest class since Woodland Hills beat Central Catholic, 41-6, in 2001.

Check out highlights and comments from Beaver Falls' victory against Aliquippa:

 

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Dukes Dispatches: Saint Francis preview

Written by Brian Batko on .

Checking in quickly from courtside here at Palumbo Center, where the Dukes will take on Northeast Conference outfit Saint Francis (does it really need the "Pa."?) at 7 p.m. Good chance for Duquesne to rebound here from Sunday's loss at Penn State, where neither team played particularly well but the Nittany Lions turned it on down the stretch. 

Obviously, the Red Flash won't have the kind of athletes and size Penn State brought to the table, let alone talent, but sophomore guard Jamaal King threw in 21 points Saturday in a 92-82 loss at St. Bonaventure, another A-10 opponent. King was 7 of 15 from the floor, 4 of 8 from 3. And 82 points at Bonnie's? Makes me think this could be an up-and-down game with lots of scoring.

Saint Francis has one local guy, Gateway grad Deon Baker, who played at the Community College of Beaver County last year. He's a 6-5 junior wing, but did not see action at Bonnie's.

On the Dukes front, sophomore two-guard Josh Steel is dressed for what I believe is the first time this season. Does this mean his suspension is over? That I can't tell you, but we'll see.

Fresh off his A-10 rookie of the week honor to start his college career, I'll be interested to see if freshman guard Mike Lewis II has another nice game tonight. And one of these days, I'm expecting his more highly touted freshman teammate Isiaha Mike to get off.

Now, the scouting report from today's hard-copy P-G that I trust all of you picked up this morning:

Matchup: Duquesne (1-1) vs. Saint Francis, Pa. (0-1), 7 p.m. today, Palumbo Center.

Radio: WJAS-AM (1320).

Duquesne: Coming off 82-74 loss Sunday at Penn State. … Freshman G Mike Lewis II led the way with 19 points and was named Atlantic 10 Conference rookie of the week. …Has won 10 consecutive non-conference home games.

Saint Francis: Coming off 92-82 loss Saturday at St. Bonaventure. … Is 44-79 under fifth-year coach Rob Kimmel. … Was picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Northeast Conference preseason poll.

Hidden stat: Duquesne has just 19 assists on 50 field goals with 34 turnovers in two games, an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.56 that was tied for 316th in Division I entering Tuesday.

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