The system is broke. Actually, it has been broken for years and changes desperately are needed.
Anyone who has read my columns over the years, knows I like the way District 4 seeds its teams on nothing more than records alone as much as Skip Bayless likes integrity. Teams consistently are punished for playing demanding schedules and because no strength of schedule component is used the best teams often end up meeting before the district final. Go back to Loyalsock playing Lewisburg in last year's District 4 Class AA quarterfinals as evidence.
And yet, here we go again. Unless, Lewisburg (17-1) wins out, beats Loyalsock on Saturday and earns the top seed, these two HAC-II heavyweights likely will be paired in the same bracket as No. 2 and No. 3 seeds while Wellsboro takes the top spot and East Juniata and Towanda jockey for the No. 4 and 5. I am not saying that Loyalsock and Lewisburg are the best teams, but they have had the best regular seasons and have played the toughest schedules.
Think about how illogical this system is. If Loyalsock beats Lewisburg and wins the HAC-II, it likely will be the No. 3 seed BEHIND Lewisburg and behind Wellsboro which Lewisburg beat on a neutral court earlier this season. Did I mention Loyalsock's three losses are to Class AAAA powers State College and Williamsport and Class AA state-ranked Communications Tech?
This only makes sense in Bizzaro world. Consider that the HAC-II has produced 15 straight district champions and again this system shows its flaws.
It's not just this year either. It happens nearly every season. Lourdes traditionally is seeded low despite having strong teams, but because it plays such a demanding schedule it usually ends up as a lower seed and state-caliber games like the one it played against Muncy in 2004 and Mansfield in 2010 are played in the quarterfinals. HAC-II teams traditionally beat up each other during the regular season than have to square off early in districts (Lewisburg vs. Hughesville in 2007 and 2011 ring any bells?) In 2009, only a coin toss prevented a ridiculous quarterfinal between eventual state semifinalist Hughesville and Southern Columbia led by Colin Klebon.
Dr. Masse's Top 5
1. Williamsport (15-2)
Jahad Thomas has put his names up there with some of the all-time Williamsport greats after scoring his 1,000th point in Saturday's 71-58 victory over Bartram. The thing is Thomas could not care less about 1,000 points because he is a consummate team-first player and only wants to win. Thomas is one of the hardest workers to play at Williamsport and earned all-state honors last year. His main focus right now is helping Williamsport make a run in states. The Millionaires have won six straight and have a big test at State College Tuesday in a game between two teams that have state title aspirations. Chris Kinley had 20 points against Bartram and when he plays well inside Williamsport is especially tough to beat.
2. Loyalsock (15-3)
Communications Tech holding the ball for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter Saturday is yet another example of why the PIAA needs to get with the times and adopt a shot clock. Playing without a shot clock stunts player growth, especially for those who will play at the next level with a shot clock. And who wants to watch a team hold the ball for minutes at a time? That's not real basketball. The positive for Loyalsock is that it had one of the state's best Class AA teams, that can get players from wherever it wants, playing scared against it. The Lancers validated their state credentials and received another strong performance from Roger Wilson who scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against a team with a big front line.
3. Lewisburg (17-1)
Guard Jesse Flannery is becoming yet another weapon in Lewisburg's dangerous arsenal. Flannery scored a career-high 20 points in Saturday's 58-28 rout of Central Columbia and is one of several players making defenses pay for focusing so much on standout Travis Conrad. Flannery also is a good passer and is adept at setting up his teammates. Lewisburg made a nice statement, winning three games in three nights, all by double digits.
4. St. John Neumann (18-0)
The Knights can clinch their first HAC-III title with two more league wins but have tough games coming up with Bloomsburg, South Williamsport and Muncy. "We have a tough stretch coming up and we have to stay focused," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. Sophomore Ryan Reid has been coming up big off the bench and is giving Neumann another weapon. He had seven points and three rebounds against Sullivan and has a nice touch around the basket. He also is a hard-nosed player who is tough on defense and under the boards.
5. Wellsboro (18-1)
The Green Hornets are NTL-West champions for a third straight year and for the fourth time in five seasons. Wellsboro has created a dynasty the last five seasons and has lost just three league games during its four championship runs. The Hornets thumped Cowanesque Valley, 69-25 to win the crown and have had the most dominant league season since Elkland went undefeated in 2002. Mike Pietropola has arguably been the district's best sixth man this season, averaging 12 points per game. He scored 39 points in the CV win and an 80-52 rout of rival Mansfield.
Player of the Week
Ammar Sabanovic, Muncy
The senior point guard is one of the area's best passers and proved it last week, dealing 38 assists in three Muncy wins. Sabanovic highlighted his week with 17 assists in a 78-64 win over Bucktail while adding 10 more in a 60-53 win over playoff-bound Bloomsburg.
Game of the Week
Loyalsock at Lewisburg
The HAC-II title likely will be determined Saturday. Lewisburg can earn a share of the crown with a win while Loyalsock can win it outright for a second straight year. Both rivals have split the last two league titles with the winner celebrating on the other's home floor.
The nonsense has to stop. There is no way Loyalsock and Lewisburg should be paired in the same bracket this season. Call me crazy, but I think the best solution is to adopt a selection committee similar to what the NCAA does for its tournament. The committee would include not just the District 4 officials, but also basketball beat writers from all District 4 regions and other media who consistently cover the teams. The more eyes, the better.
Of course, there still would be disagreements and some controversy but common sense would at least prevail for the most part. The teams that have the best regular seasons and play the toughest schedules no longer would be punished and/or meet in the early rounds. Use the playoff points system that high school football does and then use that as a tiebreaker, like the RPI for the NCAA Tournament.
This is not perfect but it is better than this current, illogical and archaic system.
For the first time, the Heartland Conference will hold a postseason tournament similar to the one in the Schuylkill League to determine an overall champion. The three division winners, plus a wild card with the best league record will compete in the tournament the weekend before districts start.
The fun aspect of the tournament is seeing an overall champion crowned and watching four elite boys and girls teams play on the same weekend. The downside is that the semifinal winners will have little off time before competing in districts and fatigue could be a concern. I think the positives outweigh the negatives, though, and it should be entertaining and good for the district.
St. John Neumann completed a regular-season sweep of defending District 4 Class A champion Sullivan County Saturday, winning 50-41. The Knights (18-0) are the only team that have beaten Sullivan (17-2), handing it a 67-56 defeat in Laporte last month. Both times, the Knights have fueled those wins with big first-half runs, building double-digit leads both times.
Sullivan has rallied and made it close each time, but the double-digit leads have proven too much to overcome and the Knights now are closing in on a HAC-III championship.
"The difference both times was they played a more complete basketball game," Sullivan coach Glenn Vaughan said. "We always talk about wanting our team to play 32 complete minutes of basketball and basketball being a game of runs and they made more runs. They played a more complete game both times and got the job done."
Montoursville pulled off a stunner Saturday, defeating Hughesville, 47-33. Instead of the Spartans clinching a playoff berth, Montoursville made an impressive statement, handling a team that beat it by 41 points last month. Montoursville allowed 38 fewer points this time as Pierce Ranck and Matt Krezmer combined for 34 points ... South Williamsport's Riley Hengler has scored 49 points in his team's last two wins and had 25 in Saturday's 62-37 win over Montgomery ... Central Mountain is on a tear, having won 10 of its last 11 games. The Wildcats (10-5) edged Altoona, 57-56 when Tyler Everhart converted a 3-point play with 13.2 seconds remaining ... Jersey Shore (9-8) plays Central Mountain tonight and is two wins from clinching a playoff berth after downing Selinsgrove, 58-50.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.