CLASS AAAA BOYS
The teams: Chester (1-1, 24-3), Cumberland Valley (3-7, 15-11), Williamsport (4-1, 22-2), Bethlehem Liberty (11-3, 19-7), Great Valley (1-4, 25-3), Wilson-West Lawn (3-4, 20-7), Parkland (11-1, 21-7), Ridley (1-8, 18-9), Roman Catholic (12-1, 19-6), Norristown (1-9, 23-4), Lancaster McCaskey (3-3, 26-3), Coatesville (1-5, 20-7), Abington (1-3, 22-5), St. Joseph's Prep (12-3, 21-5), York William Penn (3-3, 26-3), Methacton (1-7, 23-6), Harrisburg (3-1, 26-2), Central Bucks South (1-10, 17-10), Bethlehem Freedom (11-2, 17-9), Upper Darby (1-6, 18-9), Lower Merion (1-2, 25-3), Carlisle (3-5, 15-11), Martin Luther King (12-2, 23-4), Reading (3-6, 15-14), New Castle (7-1, 26-0), Gateway 7-5, 16-6), State College (6-1, 17-7), North Allegheny (7-4, 21-4), Perry (8-1, 12-13), Hampton (7-2, 21-5), Cathedral Prep (10-1, 21-2), Seneca Valley (7-3, 17-8)
2012 champion: Chester
The outlook: Seeing Chester carry off the PIAA Class AAAA boys championship trophy almost is a rite of spring. The Clippers have taken home the title four times since 2005 and lost in the finals in 2003 and 2007.
Chester enters the 2013 tournament once again the odds-on favorite. Led by Arizona recruit Rondae Jefferson, the Clippers haven't been beaten by a Pennsylvania team. Lower Merion was the only team that even remained within 15 points of Chester in the District 1 tournament.
The Clippers should have no problems with Cumberland Valley in the first round and should advance in what could be an entertaining game with Williamsport in the second. None of the four teams Chester could face in the quarterfinals seems likely to present a real threat.
Where it could become interesting is in the semifinals, where Chester probably will run into either Roman Catholic, the tradition-laden Philadelphia Catholic League power and District 12 champion, or District 3 runner-up York William Penn, a program no stranger to recent state title appearances itself.
D6 champion State College is on the lower bracket. The Little Lions open with a tough North Allegheny team. If they can survive that, they'll get a shot at one of two undefeated PIAA teams remaining in boys or girls: New Castle.
Although Cathedral Prep is highly touted and seems to be the favorite of many to eventually run into New Castle, the second- and third-place teams from the WPIAL - Hampton and Seneca Valley - might run into each other for the third time this season in the second round. The Talbots and Raiders split the previous two encounters. Hampton gave New Castle a close game at the end of the regular season.
As good as New Castle has been, there's a strong possibility the Hurricanes will meet their match in the semifinals against either Lower Merion or Harrisburg, a pair of teams that have combined to amass 51 wins this season against just five defeats. Harrisburg has the better record, Lower Merion the tougher schedule.
Mirror's finalists: Chester and Lower Merion
Mirror's state champion: Chester
CLASS AAA BOYS
The teams: Neumann-Goretti (12-1, 21-5), Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt (3-5, 19-7), Milton (4-1, 16-9), Scranton Prep (2-3, 18-8), Wilkes-Barre G.A.R. (2-2, 17-9), Donegal (3-3, 26-2), Allentown Central Catholic (11-1, 23-3), Northeastern York (3-6, 18-9), Abington Heights (2-1, 25-2), Shikellamy (4-2, 15-11), Palmyra (3-2, 18-8), Philadelphia Electrical (12-3, 15-11), Imhotep Charter (12-2, 23-5), Salisbury (11-3, 17-9), Upper Moreland (1-1, 14-11), Susquehanna Township (3-4, 24-2), Berks Catholic (3-1, 26-3), Archbishop Carroll (12-4, 19-6), Bethlehem Catholic (11-2, 13-11), Pope John Paul II (1-2, 15-10), Johnstown (6-1, 15-7), Lancaster Catholic (3-7, 18-9), Chartiers Valley (7-2, 22-4), Strong Vincent (10-3, 14-11), Montour (7-1, 21-4), South Fayette (7-6, 14-10), Girard (10-2, 20-5), Mars (7-3, 21-4), Bradford (9-1, 11-12), Beaver (7-4, 19-4), General McLane (10-1, 20-5), Thomas Jefferson (7-5, 17-7)
2012 champion: Neumann-Goretti
The outlook: Neumann-Goretti has captured the last two PIAA Class AAA titles, but the Saints will have their work cut out for them just to survive the challenge of a team from its own district.
Imhotep Charter, up from Class AA and led by Providence signee Brandon Austin, already beat Class AAAA contender Lower Merion and gave two-time defending PIAA Class AAAA champ Chester one of its closest call of the year before succumbing by three points. The Panthers lost to Neumann-Goretti by a point for the District 12 title.
Imhotep probably will need to get past a dangerous Susquehanna Township team in the second round, but it should be up to that. Philadelphia Electrical seemed the logical quarterfinal foe, but an injury to big man Jai Williams might open the door for Abington Heights to get a shot at Imhotep in the quarterfinals.
Neumann-Goretti seems unlikely to get pushed hard until the quarterfinals unless it comes from Donegal. The only district champs in its quarter of the bracket at Milton of District 4 and Allentown Central Catholic of District 11.
Teams from the southeastern part of the commonwealth figure to be major factors in the bottom half of the bracket as well. In perhaps the most interesting first-round game, Archbishop Carroll of the Philadelphia Catholic League takes on District 3 champion Berks Catholic, which is very tall and has won 26 games.
D6 champion Johnstown also is in that quarter of the bracket. The Trojans tip things off against District 3 seventh-place team Lancaster Catholic for the right to probably play Chartiers Valley.
There are four teams to watch in the lower fourth of the bracket. It looks like WPIAL champion Montour will get District 10 runner-up Girard or Mars in the second round.
General McLane seems likely to come out of the bottom pod, although Beaver and Thomas Jefferson don't figure to be pushovers.
Mirror's finalists: Imhotep Charter and Archbishop Carroll
Mirror's state champion: Imhotep Charter
CLASS AA BOYS
The teams: Communications Tech (12-1, 19-7), Camp Hill (3-3, 15-10), Loyalsock (4-1, 24-3), Mid-Valley (2-3, 23-5), New Hope-Solebury (1-1, 15-9), Sayre (12-4, 17-9), Wilkes-Barre Meyers (2-2, 23-3), Camp Hill Trinity (3-2, 18-7), Holy Cross (2-1, 23-5), Lewisburg (4-3, 23-4), Conwell-Egan (12-2, 8-15), Delaware Valley Charter (12-5, 10-15), Delone Catholic (3-1, 17-9), Wellsboro (4-2, 23-2), Notre Dame-Green Pond (11-1, 15-10), Constitution (12-3, 16-9), Beaver Falls (7-1, 23-3), Bald Eagle Area (6-4, 21-4), Brockway (9-1, 15-7), Mercyhurst Prep (10-3, 17-8), Penn Cambria (6-1, 20-4), Greensburg Central Catholic (7-6, 22-2), Lakeview (10-2, 21-4), Conemaugh Township (5-1, 22-3)/Westinghouse (8-1, 15-8), Brentwood (7-5, 14-10), Northern Cambria (6-2, 21-5), Apollo-Ridge (7-3, 17-8), Burrell (7-2, 19-7), Bishop McCort (6-3, 18-8), West Middlesex (10-1, 22-3), Jeannette (7-7, 18-5)
2012 champion: Imhotep Charter
The outlook: With Imhotep Charter moving up to AAA, Strawberry Mansion experiencing a down year and not making it the state playoffs and no Jeters or Pryors from the top WPIAL entries, this is probably the most wide-open year in the PIAA Class AA boys field in a long time. Not so much that a lot of teams look like serious contenders, but there is a lot of uncertainty and a number of teams that look fairly even on paper.
In fact, you have to go to 30th place in MaxPreps state computer rankings before you find a PIAA Class A team - WPIAL champ Beaver Falls, last year's runner-up. There are two Philadelphia-area schools with sub-.500 records in the field.
If you are looking for a possible finalist out of the top half of the bracket, three teams stand out. Philadelphia Public League power Communications Tech is one of them, but it will need to get past a pair of very worthy opponents from District 3 to reach the state finals - the Phoenix are slated to run into Trinity in the quarters and potentially Delone Catholic in the semis so long as Delone doesn't lose a round earlier.
Trinity is good enough to have beaten Berks Catholic - which defeated Communications Tech - but two of the Shamrocks' seven losses have come against Delone.
The regional entries might be in position to win a couple of games. District 6 runner-up Northern Cambria actually has what looks like a pretty favorable draw, getting WPIAL upstart Apollo-Ridge from the other side of Indiana County, and, if it wins there, potentially facing Conemaugh Township or a 10-loss Brentwood squad.
The road for the Colts gets considerably tougher from there, because whoever comes out of the bottom pod of Bishop McCort, Burrell, West Middlesex and Jeannette will be very good. Although it lost in the D6 semis, McCort isn't overmatched here, and the Crushers have played a schedule that shouldn't have them in awe.
Penn Cambria actually got the tougher matchup in the first couple of rounds. Greensburg Central Catholic was a PIAA runner-up two years ago and boasts two of the top seven scorers in the WPIAL as well as a 6-foot-7 big man. Quaker Valley most likely would be the Panthers' second-round opponent if it got by the Centurions. However, Penn Cambria is playing pretty well and has the size and strength to compete with those teams, especially if it can reproduce the kind of game it enjoyed in the district final win over Northern Cambria.
Beaver Falls is the team most likely to succeed. The Tigers, who have eaten District 6 teams for lunch over the years, open with Bald Eagle Area and figure to meet the Mercyhurst Prep/Brockway winner in the second round; the District 10 consy winner is the pick here to advance against the District 9 champ.
Mirror's finalists: Delone Catholic and Beaver Falls
Mirror's state champion: Beaver Falls
CLASS A BOYS
The teams: Lebanon Catholic (3-1, 18-7), Sankofa Freedom (12-3, 14-12), Old Forge (2-1, 12-12), Pius X (11-2, 20-3), Math, Civics & Science (12-2, 23-2), Gospel of Grace (1-2, 14-9), Neumann Regional (4-1, 23-1), Harrisburg Christian (3-4, 12-14), Church Farm (1-1, 21-6), New Hope Academy (3-3, 18-5), Mahanoy Area (11-1, 21-5), Muncy (4-3, 18-7), Greenwood (3-2, 21-4), Sullivan County (4-2, 21-3), Vaux (12-1, 19-8), Delco Christian (1-3, 19-8), Vincentian (7-1, 25-1), North Clarion (9-3, 24-2), Bishop Carroll (6-2, 21-5), Shanksville-Stonycreek (5-2, 21-4), Ridgway (9-2, 22-5), Homer-Center (6-3, 19-6), Kennedy Catholic (10-1, 17-6), Lincoln Park (7-4, 19-6), Bishop Guilfoyle (6-1, 20-5), Smethport (9-4, 22-3), Clairton (7-2, 16-7), Cochranton (10-2, 15-9), Shade (5-1, 25-1), Pittsburgh North Catholic (7-3, 16-6), Johnsonburg (9-1, 26-2), Eisenhower (10-3, 10-15)
2012 champion: Constitution
The outlook: It's been awhile since BG has made a deep run into the state playoffs. However, it's been shown over the years that area teams can do that in Class A, and, with the way the Marauders are playing right now, the stars might be lining up.
There aren't a lot of "gimmes" in BG's draw, but there also don't appear to be any teams that would stack up as a big favorite over the Marauders in the first few rounds. Opening-round foe Smethport has some great height but also is coming off back-to-back losses. Potential second-round opponent Clairton is athletic but several of its seven losses are against non-state playoff teams. BG would appear to at least be on par with the two district champions it could face in the quarterfinals - District 5's Shade or District 9's Johnsonburg. District 7 third-seed North Catholic is a sleeper to knock off both of those teams in the first two rounds.
BC has the more difficult road. Not to sell Shanksville short, but the Huskies are a solid favorite to beat the Vikings. That, however, would put Carroll into a game probably with District 7 champ Vincentian, and, even if the Royals got upset, a North Clarion team would be the one to pull it off. Carroll handed Vincentian its only loss, 83-81, on Jan. 12, so the Huskies are capable of beating the Royals and making it into the semifinals.
Lincoln Park, with its overwhelming size and recent history, is the team that everyone seems to be eyeing in the bottom side of the bracket and, if it can get going, it can be very formidable. However, this doesn't seem to be the Lincoln Park of the last few years - it seems very mortal, and it might not even get past District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic.
Philadelphia Public teams are the heavy favorites to meet up in the semis on the top side of the bracket. Vaux and Math, Civics and Science look well-matched, too: they split a pair of earlier meetings, with MCS the more decisive winner, by four points.
The teams with the best chance of somehow derailing a rubber game between Vaux and MCS are Williamsport Neumann (could play MCS in the second round) and Lebanon Catholic (MCS in the quarterfinals). Vaux looks like it has a reasonably clear path to the semis with the exception of a likely clash with District 1 champ Church Farm in the quarterfinals being the biggest potential stumbling block.
Mirror's finalists: Math, Civics & Science and Vincentian
Mirror's state champion: Math, Civics & Science