One of the best days on the Western New York high school sports calendar is tomorrow’s Quarterfinal Friday. There are 32 spots in the Section VI final fours available, and 32 games will decide them.
The next day tips things off in the Monsignor Martin Association, as the Manhattan Cup quarterfinals will be held Saturday afternoon.
Section VI quarterfinal winners advance to Championship Week, starting Monday at Buffalo State and Jamestown Community College. The Manhattan Cup semifinals will be next Wednesday at the top seed while the final is March 2 at Canisius College.
Here’s a class-by-class breakdown of what to watch during what is the most wonderful time of the year for a Western New York boys basketball fan.
Favorite: Canisius, and it’s not close, because none of their league games have been. A league that has had a combined six teams in The News polls this year has remarkably seen 20-point blowouts administered by the Crusaders against the likes of Bishop Timon-St. Jude and St. Joe’s. Two of those wins came in the last week. Canisius opens the playoffs at noon Saturday against the No. 8 seed, which will be decided at 6:30 this evening at St. Joe’s when Niagara Catholic plays Cardinal O’Hara.
Challengers: With the Manhattan Cup winner receiving the league’s berth in Class A, the top challengers in the bracket are vying for the league’s small-school representation in the state playoffs in Class B. St. Mary’s, Park and Nichols have had very good battles throughout the season, with all three beating St. Joe’s.
Sleepers: St. Francis has spent the past week or so giving league foes headaches before falling. One of those teams was No. 2 seed Timon, which hosts the No. 7 Red Raiders Saturday at noon.
Best quarterfinals: Unfortunately the top two games are being played at the same time at two separate sites Saturday.
At Canisius at 1:30, it is Park against Nichols in what will be a major Class B decider. Park won at home in the teams’ first meeting, but Nichols won at home Saturday in overtime against a Pioneers team that has a depleted lineup (two starters out). A major factor is whether Park’s full lineup will be ready to go.
At Timon at 1:30, No. 3 seed St. Mary’s takes on No. 6 St. Joe’s. St. Mary’s won the teams’ only meeting of the season on Tuesday night, prevailing by 60-56. Another question going into that one is if St. Joe’s will have its full lineup as well (it has been without two starters).
Favorite: For this one, you’d almost have to flip a coin.
That’s what happened at the Section VI seeding meeting, as Jamestown, Williamsville North and Clarence were in a three-way coin flip tiebreaker to settle things after the trio shared the ECIC I title. The flip actually mirrored my poll ballot (and the overall poll order) of Jamestown first, then Will North, then Clarence.
The Red Raiders have posted double-digit wins, albeit in cozy circumstances in its McElrath Gym, over both league rivals in the last few weeks. Throw in Jamestown’s pedigree and Ben Drake’s year-in year-out success in getting his to Buffalo State, junior guard Zack Panebianco’s scoring bursts and their fine team play, and it deserves to be favored.
Challengers: The two others from ECIC I – Williamsville North and Clarence – along with two more co-champions in the Niagara Frontier League’s Lockport and Kenmore West. As has been the case for the last four years, two-time All-Western New York first-teamer Sterling Taplin leads North. Clarence has a solid, balanced group which took down Jamestown in their second meeting. If the seedings hold, these two will meet one of Monday’s semifinals (Section VI moved the AA semifinals to Monday, which does extract a large amount of build-up from the week) while the Niagara Frontier League survivor will take on Jamestown in an terrific pair of games.
Sleepers: Fans who have not looked at the standings this year might be shocked by this one – Niagara Falls. They head to Williamsville North in the strange position of trying to pull a major upset to get to Buffalo State.
Best quarterfinal: Kenmore West and Lockport split their regular season meetings, and while Lockport has the upper hand in the large school poll based on it beating West in the teams’ most recent meeting, a coin flip decided that West is the No. 4 seed and the host for the teams’ quarterfinal on Friday.
Favorite: McKinley may have stumbled in Yale Cup play (Middle College won it while East finished second) to the point where it has the No. 3 seed, but the large school poll likes the Macks. Last year McKinley went on a memorable playoff run that ended with a state title – it wasn’t one that many saw coming and it was one that came with plenty of sectional playoff drama.
Challengers: Two from ECIC II: Williamsville South and Iroquois. South won at Iroquois in the final game of the regular season to earn the top seed, and the Billies put together one of the best nonleague schedules in Western New York (including Canisius, St. Joe’s, Olean and Batavia), so they won’t be intimidated by a possible final matchup with McKinley.
Sleepers: While McKinley is a favorite, ECIC II-battle-worn Williamsville East heads into the city Friday with thoughts of an upset.
Best quarterfinals: Hamburg heads to Iroquois a couple of weeks after the Chiefs held on for a two-point win at Hamburg in ECIC II play. Sweet Home heads to North Tonawanda for a fun one – if NT prevails (it had a quality nonleague win at Cleveland Hill last week), it will have beaten one ECIC II team, and beating another to make the final is certainly a possibility.
Favorite: Amherst, as defending champion and ECIC III champ, is the top seed.
Challengers: Cheektowaga is first on the list not only for being the No. 2 seed, but its league sweep of Amherst has some (including me) rating them higher than Amherst on their large school ballot.
Sleepers: In another case of the Niagara Frontier League trying to spoil what is largely an ECIC party, Lew-Port hosts East Aurora in the No. 4-5 quarterfinal and would try to take down Amherst in a likely semifinal.
Best quarterfinal: If the seedings hold, league mates and crosstown rivals Maryvale and Cheektowaga would meet in the semifinals. Always fun to keep an eye on in this bracket: Amherst and coach Chris Kensy and No. 3 seed Maryvale and coach Mark Kensy, Chris’ dad, can only meet in the final.
Favorite: Olean. Big-time. Don’t let the No. 2 seed fool you. The Huskies are No. 1 in The News small school poll and its senior-laden team’s sights are on brackets much later in the calendar. Wil Bathurst, Sam Eckstrom and Nick Schmidt are all 1,000-point scorers, while point guard Luke Hennessey racks up assists setting them up. Coach Jeff Anastasia has proven, beyond this crew, that he is one of the best coaches in Western New York.
Challengers: Fredonia has the top seed, plays great team ball and has been a fixture in the small school poll.
Sleepers: Depew won Wednesday and heads to Medina of the Niagara-Orleans League in the top quarterfinal. The Wildcats are seasoned by an ECIC III season in which they beat Cheektowaga, and they know the road to Buffalo State. They missed out last year for the first time in several years.
Favorite: East is nearly as big a favorite as Olean, which is why hoop fans have been looking forward to their possible overall Class B title matchup since November. If that game is to happen, it won’t be until March 4.
Challengers: Those in this category appear a tad bit more formidable than Olean’s competition. Cleveland Hill won ECIC IV and has been in the top 10 small school poll much of the year, while Salamanca has been there in recent weeks after good play late in the season, including its regular season finale victory over Randolph.
Sleepers: Health Sciences might not deserve to be in this category based on its record (14-4) but since it is in the same bracket as East, we’ll put them there. Could be this year’s charter school to turn heads, as Oracle was last year and Tapestry and CSAT before that.
Favorite: Despite an undefeated team in the bracket, it is Yale Cup champion Middle College.
Challengers: Barker is the top seed at 18-0, but Middle College has key components at every position, including senior standout Bri’an Brown doing a little bit of everything.
Sleepers: No. 4 Silver Creek and No. 3 Holland have had fine seasons, but they have big tasks ahead of them in the semifinals if the seedings hold.
Favorite: The seedings say International Prep at Grover Cleveland by virtue of its Yale Cup II title, but the small school poll says Randolph, a state champion in football and has seen time in the small school top 10 this season, led by sharpshooting two-sport standout Bryce Morrison.
Favorite: As has been the case since the season tipped off, defending champion Sherman, the only D team to receive votes in The News small school poll all season, is expected to continue what has been an excellent 17-1 season.