After Hazleton Area’s two-season reign as Wyoming Valley Conference Division I champions ended Sunday, coach Mike Joseph tried to be philosophical.
“Four out of the last six years after we won the league championship we were celebrating,” Joseph said, “and we went on and lost in the first round or the championship game (of districts). I don’t know if that was a case of guys being satisfied or what.
“I told them in (the locker room) they got to promise me they want more. We’ve talked about some of the goals we have with this senior group that has distinguished itself as one of the finest we’ve had.”
The District 2 boys basketball playoffs begin a new season. Divisional championships — be it in the WVC or Lackawanna League — mean little more than a seeding spot. Divisional champs trying to navigate the Class 3A and 2A brackets could find the sailing much rougher than in the past.
Here’s a look at all four brackets.
Outlook: Overall, the bracket is the weakest it’s been in recent memory. Hazleton Area (19-4) locked up the top seed weeks ago and is the only team with a winning record. District 4’s Williamsport (11-11) played some quality schools out of Philadelphia and didn’t fare well. However, they have the only Division I recruit in the tournament in Isaiah Washington, who will play at Penn State.
Scranton (8-12) and Wyoming Valley West (6-16) played in the first-ever D2-4A championship game last season after being ousted by Williamsport. Both teams, though, have been banged up all season. Delaware Valley (9-12) and Wallenpaupack (9-13) have been streaky.
Dark Horse: For the first time in a long time, there is none. Aside from Hazleton Area and Williamsport, the other four teams haven’t done much to make them much of a threat to the Cougars or Millionaires.
Upset Special: Valley West over Scranton, just based on seeding. Scranton defeated Valley West 60-52 on Dec. 16, but a game two months ago should have little bearing.
Best Opening Game: DelVal vs. Wallenpaupack. The teams split their regular-season matchups this season.
Prediction: Hazleton Area to defeat Williamsport and gain the only state spot.
Outlook: The field is very deep and very talented. Obviously, the top-five seeds — Abington Heights (21-1), Crestwood (20-3), GAR (17-5), Honesdale (19-3) and Scranton Prep (20-2) — are the elite among the 16-team bracket. But right behind them are two intriguing teams — Pittston Area (15-7) and Holy Redeemer (13-9).
Those second-tier teams — seeds six through 12 — could cause problems for the frontrunners. Not so with seeds 13-16, which all look like one-and-dones. The way the bracket shook out, the WVC will have at least one team in both the championship and third-place games.
Dark Horse: Pittston Area. Since opening the season with three losses, the Patriots’ only setbacks have been to Crestwood and Hazleton Area. Only the 71-41 loss to Hazleton Area serves as a red flag.
Upset Special: Tunkhannock over Pittston Area. The Tigers have struggled down the stretch, losing five of their last seven games. However, they played the Patriots tough on Feb. 4, losing 60-52. Bigger and deep teams have given Tunkhannock problems, but Pittston Area doesn’t have an overwhelming edge in either department.
Best Opening Game: Dallas at Holy Redeemer. Dallas big guys — 6-foot-8 Suk Mathon and 6-6 Allen Fell — have played well late in the season. Redeemer has been a bit shorthanded with 6-3 Brian Banas (knee) sidelined, although he could return. The teams didn’t play this season, adding to the intrigue.
Prediction: Abington Heights to defeat Crestwood for the title, with both teams moving to the state playoffs. Scranton Prep to top GAR for third place and a state berth.
Outlook: Last season’s finalists — Holy Cross (17-5) and Meyers (15-7) — were hit hard by graduation. Neither is as strong, but both are still above-average squads. Elk Lake (20-1) was rolling along until being bumped off 74-61 by Mid Valley on Feb. 10. Mid Valley (19-3) topped Holy Cross on Monday for a divisional title.
Hanover Area (15-7) looked like a team a year away from contending for a district title. But the Hawkeyes, who have one senior on the roster, have been fairly solid throughout. Dunmore (14-9) has been a pain in the neck to just about every team it’s played.
Montrose (12-9) received a high seed based on league play, but like Elk Lake there are questions about the quality of the competition.
Dark Horse: Riverside. Yeah, the ninth-seeded Vikings (15-7) were blown out by Mid Valley 67-32 recently, but lost the previous meeting by three points. They also lost two games by two points.
Upset Special: Nanticoke over Hanover Area. Rivalry games are tricky and No. 7 Hanover Area escaped with a 59-57 victory over 10th-seeded Nanticoke on Jan. 29.
Best Opening Game: Nanticoke at Hanover Area. It is one of the few first-round games that could be competitive entering the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Mid Valley to defeat Dunmore for the championship, with both teams moving to the state playoffs. Holy Cross to defeat Meyers for third place and a state spot.
Outlook: No team in the four-team bracket has a winning record. And the district champion isn’t expected to make much noise in the state tournament. Still, this could be fairly competitive overall.
MMI Prep (10-11) could be playing the best basketball of any of the four. The Preppers have won five of their last seven and the two losses were 53-49 to Lake-Lehman and 58-55 to Holy Redeemer. Old Forge (8-12) is always tough and played some quality teams well. The Blue Devils, though, have struggled to put points on the board.
Dark Horse: Four teams with losing records means there isn’t one. Or maybe there are four.
Upset Special: If MMI or Old Forge get bumped off in the semifinals, that would be shocking.
Best Opening Game: Susquehanna at MMI Prep should be the best of the two.
Prediction: MMI to defeat Old Forge in a close game for the title and a berth in the state tournament.