For high school basketball fans, it is the most wonderful time of the year.
The Section VI tournament tipped off with first-round games Tuesday night and continues with prequarterfinal playoffs tonight.
Most higher-seeded teams tip off on Quarterfinal Friday, on which 32 games will determine what teams are headed to the final four next week at Buffalo State or Jamestown Community College. The Manhattan Cup quarterfinals are Thursday with the winners advancing to Sunday’s semifinals at Canisius College.
Here’s a bracket-by-bracket breakdown:
Favorite: Clearly Canisius, the No. 1 News large school and the state’s No. 1 Class A team. Playing at a very high level with Canisius College-bound Adam Weir leading the way.
Challengers: St. Joe’s deserves this spot to itself. No. 2 large school fell, 72-60, to Canisius last Saturday. That’s more a compliment to Canisius than a detraction for St. Joe’s, which could beat almost any other school in Western New York. Marauders are a favorite to reach the final, where they’d love another shot at their rival.
Sleepers: Based on its excellent late-season play, St. Mary’s is about the only qualifier for this spot. However, the Lancers lost to Canisius, 76-41, in January. Again, a sign of what level Canisius is at in this league.
Best matchup before Canisius College: Easy call here as it is the 4-5 game between St. Mary’s and Nichols at 6:30 Thursday at Canisius High (second game of a doubleheader with the Crusaders). The pair have been in The News’ small school top 10 all season and – barring a monumental upset by a lower-seeded team in the other quarterfinals – this game will determine the Monsignor Martin Association’s Class B representative for the state playoffs. The teams split their season series, with St. Mary’s scoring a 66-52 statement win at home last Friday. The Lancers continued fine play with big win (65-53) over another top 10 team in Cleveland Hill on Monday. Nichols presents matchup problems with talented sophomore big men Chris Miner and Cam Lewis.
Favorite: Niagara Falls has been ranked either first or second in the large school poll the entire season. Canisius College-bound Jermaine Crumpton and fellow seniors J.J. Wilkins and Ramir Burton rolled through Niagara Frontier League, as expected (14-0), but went 1-3 in tough tests vs. out-of-area teams.
Challengers: Jamestown and Williamsville North. A Red Raiders-Falls meeting at Buffalo State is practically an annual tradition, but Sterling Taplin (1,400 points as junior) and Will North would love to get in the way of another edition – which would mean taking down Falls in the semis.
Sleepers: Lockport is 8-2 since the first week of January, with only two losses to Falls. If Kenmore West can play like it did early on, when it was a top 10 team, it would be an upset candidate at Williamsville North on Friday (Blue Devils wouldn’t mind paying North back for its quarterfinal win at Kenmore West last year).
Best matchup before Buff State: Lockport at Clarence in what could be a fun ECIC-NFL showdown. Clear favorite is Clarence, which has been ranked in the top 10 all season.
Favorite: Clearly McKinley, which is the No. 2 seed but has been the only A-1 team in the top 10 all season. The Macks are seeking their second straight sectional title, and if they play their game, they’ll get it.
Challengers: Sweet Home has the top seed only because it plays in a league (ECIC II, in which it went 11-1) with larger schools, and thus more power points. Third-seeded Williamsville South is the No. 10 large school and should go to school on tapes of the Macks’ losses (St. Joe’s, Canisius, Oracle).
Sleepers: Hutch-Tech, the fifth seed, has battled with Yale Cup I powers all year to the point where it could go into Hamburg and come away with a win.
Best matchup before Buff State: Along with Tech’s game at Hamburg, the quarterfinal of Williamsville East at Williamsville South. South won by four and 12 during the regular season and is on a nice run of late, but the rivals battling for Buff State should be fun.
Favorite: The team in B-1 (wait for it) is probably the biggest favorite in the tournament, but the 13-team B-1 field has many more quality teams than this nine-team bracket.
Challengers: Iroquois (second), Lew-Port (third) and South Park (fourth) are challengers in seeding only. While Amherst has been a top 10 team all season, no other A-2 team has received a vote all season.
Sleepers: Any non-Amherst team in ECIC III. Lake Shore, Pioneer and Cheektowaga are all on the road for quarterfinals, but after playing in a league with No. 1 Amherst, Depew, Maryvale and East Aurora, they will be very tough outs for higher-seeded home teams.
Best matchup before Buff State: Lake Shore, a team that owns a gutty league win at Maryvale, heads to South Park where it will try to slow down the Sparks and senior scoring standout Tyrell Mitchell.
Favorite: Absolutely Olean, the No. 1 Class B team in the state. All of the key Huskies are back from last year’s run to Glens Falls.
Challengers: No shortage of standout small schools here with Lackawanna, East Aurora, Maryvale, Newfane and Depew. Whether they have something for Olean is a different question, but watching the battles along the way should be great fun.
Sleepers: Newfane is likely at Maryvale for a great game while Yale Cup III champ Lafayette has won five straight.
Best matchup before Buff State: Perhaps the best quarterfinal matchup overall pits two longtime small school powers as Depew, which is playing quite well of late, at co-No. 9 small school Lackawanna.
Favorite: The seedings say defending champion CSAT, the News poll says second-seeded Cleveland Hill (No. 5 small school), but it just might be familiar face East of the Yale Cup (No. 6 in poll).
Challengers: How about Fredonia? Its 14-4 record has 12 double-digit wins. The losses are to Olean (twice) and top 10 large schools Timon and Clarence. We’ll call the No. 4 seed a first-tier sleeper.
Sleepers: Deep class loaded with potential potholes for higher-seeded teams. No. 7 seed Roy-Hart recently gave CSAT a great run. If Emerson can get past City Honors, its Yale Cup seasoning might help it give CSAT a great run in the quarters. Well-coached Akron could challenge at Fredonia.
Best matchup before Buff State: Roy-Hart, which lost to CSAT by one at home on Friday, should pose a tough test for Cleveland Hill.
Favorite: Take your pick from Middle Early College (No. 1 seed, No. 4 small school) and Oracle Charter (No. 2 seed, No. 3 small school). Middle has the seasoning and is playing well of late; Oracle is a great story with 17 straight wins, including its best-in-school-history victory at McKinley.
Challengers: Great part of this bracket is the diversity. Holland always competes as hard as anyone after its ECIC IV season while dangerous Randolph, out of CCAA II, has been toughened by losses each to Silver Creek, Maple Grove and Portville (two to each, only losses of season).
Sleepers: Cassadaga Valley, two years removed from sectional title, is seeded 10th entering what could be the first of two games with charter schools (a win over Maritime today would send it up against Oracle).
Best matchup before Jamestown CC: No. 6 seed Barker won three of its last five, with a one-point loss to Roy-Hart and a five-point loss to CSAT, likely at Holland.
Favorite: Unbeaten Silver Creek is No. 2 in the small school poll and No. 2 in the Class C state poll.
Challengers: Once-beaten (early in the season to Olean) Maple Grove isn’t far behind at No. 9 in small school poll and No. 3 in the state poll and deserves this title all to itself.
Sleepers: Portville is a rock-solid No. 3 seed, but with everyone looking toward a Silver Creek-Maple Grove showdown, the Panthers (led by senior standout Zack Blask) fit the description.
Best matchup before Jamestown CC: Westfield is likely to travel north to face MST Seneca in Friday’s quarterfinals in what should be as competitive as a 4-5 game should be.
Favorite: The seedings say Brocton, which went 15-1.
Challengers: Second-seeded Sherman and third-seeded Clymer are veterans of big games at JCC and played Brocton tough during the season, with Sherman handing Brocton its only loss in December.
Best matchup before Jamestown CC: Ellicottville heads to North Collins Friday after the teams split their season series.