The 2011-12 area basketball season has been unpredictable. Trying to gauge the performance of any particular team has been difficult leaving many preseason prognosticators, the Salem News included, often scratching our heads.
So with tournament play beginning today for varsity girls, it really leaves a world of possibilities open for success in the post-season. Here's just a little taste, division by division as to why, as well as a few Salem News tournament predictions.
Division II Girls
On the girls' side of things, the Austintown bracket is solid, and sports three state-ranked squads in Ravenna, West Branch and Struthers. You can't split up three teams with only two sides to the bracket, so West Branch and Struthers appear to have the more difficult road to the final simply because if things pan out they would play one another in the semifinals.
Ravenna on the other hand, isn't exactly guaranteed a finals berth given that perennial Austintown district power Canfield has returned this year back to the Division II ranks. They really enter things as the sleeper and are capable of pulling the upset.
Salem would like nothing more than to foil Struthers' plans with a first-round upset Monday night, but the Lady Quakers must avoid a bad quarter at all costs to hang with the Lady Wildcats. You can't write off Poland in this district either who await the winner of Salem-Struthers.
The top five teams in this district, Ravenna, West Branch, Struthers, Canfield and Poland are all capable of coming away with the crown. My pick? West Branch. I think returning the experience of last year's district runner-up squad is going to help them get over the hump and into regionals this season.
Division II Boys
The Division II Boardman district should prove to be another one entirely up for grabs. Let's put it this way. The No. 1 seed is Struthers. Although Salem has had difficulties nearly all year, the Quakers beat the Wildcats 64-57 earlier in the season. While Salem is on the other side of the bracket and could only meet Struthers in the final, it shows that there's not a lot of disparity from No. 1 to No. 8 if any given team gets hot.
Salem opens with Niles and if they win would move on to face No. 2 seed Poland.
West Branch comes in as the No. 5 seed and opens with Southeast. There could very well be a Warriors-Quakers doubleheader March 2.
This district could pose some surprises, but I'm going with Poland to take it all. They're no stranger to regional play and I feel the Bulldogs will once again cut down the nets at Boardman High School.
Division III Girls
Ursuline has to be the clear-cut favorite, as they almost always are in the Division III Mineral Ridge district, but you can't count out No. 2 seeded United or even No. 8 seeded South Range. The Lady Raiders gave United all it could handle late in the season and if history has taught us anything about Wayne Johnson-coached teams is that they get better as the year goes along. Whether they have the experience to pull the upset of both Newton Falls and Ursuline remains to be seen, but I wouldn't rule it out.
United has been an ITCL staple in recent years and this season under new head coach Sam Mathias, it's no different. I do see United in the finals of this district likely against the Lady Irish. I just don't know if they can get past them, though. Time will tell.
Division III Boys
In recent years, Campbell has thwarted many area teams in the Division III Salem district. But not only was it a down year for the Red Devils, they're not even in this district anymore.
Springfield and South Range are the No. 1 and 2 seeds. Problem is they're on the same side of the bracket, so only one of them can reach the finals, and a third match-up between the two teams is quite possible for the semifinals. I'm predicting a Canton Central Catholic vs. South Range/Springfield final. Honestly, any one of the top three seeds here can win the title. it's too close for me to call. We'll have to wait and see if an area team can finally reach the regionals out of this district.
Division IV Girls
Lowellville has been a Division IV powerhouse. Not only have they won their league four years straight, they've done it convincingly.
Western Reserve is the No. 2 seed and on the opposing side of the bracket. But Reserve will likely have to avenge an earlier season loss to Crestview to reach the final and get a third crack to beat Lowellville. I'm going with a Lowellville-Western Reserve final, and I think although the Lady Blue Devils will give them a great game for round three, Lowellville just has too many things stacked in their favor here.
Division IV Boys
An oversight sent ITCL Tier 2 champs Jackson-Milton to another district. The Bluejays would've been the No. 2 seed in Struthers but they're off to fend for themselves in Warren.
Mogadore, Youngstown Christian and Wellsville hold the top three seeds in Struthers in what is perhaps the most wide open districts in the state. Western Reserve and Sebring are also in the Struthers district, and at times during the year, both squads have looked like the best in their league. At other times though, it's just been downright confusing as to why they haven't stayed consistent. It makes things extremely difficult to predict, but I do think we could see Western Reserve and possibly Sebring both in district semifinals contests. Whether they can knock off the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds remains to be seen, but this district is the most likely to have an upset and an unlikely team cutting down the nets. I think out of our area teams, and because of the road ahead of them, the Western Reserve Blue Devils have the best shot at being the team that pulls off the improbable.
Agree? Disagree? Have your own picks? E-mail B.J. Lisko at email@example.com or join the conversation online by posting a comment to this story.