March Madness comes around a little early in New York City. A week before the CHSAA Class AA intersectional playoffs tip off, the battle for seeding and division supremacy begins.
In Brooklyn/Queens, top seed Christ the King is the favorite, but Bishop Loughlin has won four of its five games since junior sensation Jayvaughn Pinkston was ruled academically ineligible, third-seeded Xaverian already has a win in Middle Village, seemingly everyone on Holy Cross is a dangerous shooter and Archbishop Molloy has the most electrifying scorer in the city in the ever-confident Russ Smith.
The fun begins Monday with a pair of first round match-ups with third-seeded Xaverian taking on No. 6 St. Francis Prep at 6 p.m. and fourth-seeded Archbishop Molloy taking on No. 5 Holy Cross at 7:30 p.m.
The semifinals are Wednesday and the Brooklyn/Queens title will be decided Friday night. All games will be played at Christ the King HS. http://www
At a Glance: Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan playoffs first round
Where: Christ the King Regional High School (68-02 Metropolitan Ave.)
When: Monday, Feb. 23 6 p.m.
Cost: $5 adults, $2 students
Head coach: Jack Alesi
Player to watch: Rasheem King
St. Francis Prep Terriers
Head coach: Tim Leary
Player to watch: Rob Nacer
Outlook: If you’re looking for a sleeper in this tournament or even the big one next week, it’s Xaverian. Jack Alesi is one of the best coaches around and he’s got his guard-oriented team playing its best basketball of the year, Saturday’s loss at Boys & Girls notwithstanding.
The Clippers are led by Rasheem King, the one player not to defect and transfer to other schools. Focus on stopping King if you want, but he still finds a way to will his team to victory as evidence of his performance in a 46-44 win at Christ the King on Feb. 8 when the senior guard went scoreless. The other players – Justin Exum, Jamel Fuentes and Yandell Denis – are essentially interchangeable, making them very difficult to guard.
Xaverian won both meetings this year, beating St. Francis Prep, 57-47, in Brooklyn on Jan. 9 and then crushed the Terriers, 48-27, in Fresh Meadows on Jan. 30.
The season started out optimistically enough for the Terriers, which won three of their first four games and had a 7-4 record going into the bulk of their league schedule. But that’s where things went sour as St. Francis Prep went on a nine-game losing streak and went winless in the division for a second straight season.
That’s not to say St. Francis Prep hasn’t been close – the Terriers were in battles with all of the teams in Brooklyn/Queens – because Tim Leary’s team plays extremely hard. When he’s shooting the ball well, Rob Nacer is a tough match-up and sophomore George Hatzionnides has matured into a legitimate scoring threat, as well.
You know Leary is going to remind his team of a brutal effort at home in a 21-point loss at home to Xaverian in the last meeting.
Archbishop Molloy Stanners
Head coach: Jack Curran
Player to watch: Russ Smith
Holy Cross Knights
Head coach: Paul Gilvary
Player to watch: Eric Klingsberg
Outlook: These two teams met on Friday, with Holy Cross coming away with an impressive 75-70 victory at Jack Curran Gymnasium. In that game the Knights sophomores – Marcus Hopper and Evan Conti – stepped up in a big way, combining for 35 points and 23 rebounds. That helps ease the blow of missing senior Sharif Mair, who was the Knights’ second leading rebounder and is out for the rest of the season with a broken arm.
Eric Klingsberg is one of the top scorers in the CHSAA and Joe Monahan is also dangerous from the perimeter. When all four are playing well, as was the case Friday, Holy Cross is a difficult team to beat.
Archbishop Molloy has the most dangerous scorer in the league in Russ Smith, who routinely scores 30-plus points a game. But the senior guard is an enigma and often hurts his team by playing out of control. Ryan Dillon is as good as they come in the league from 3-point range, Jin Hong is a strong presence in the paint and Ernest Rouse and LeBrandon Smith are good role players for Molloy.
Surely the Stanners will have revenge on their minds when they step on the court Monday, but more importantly the winner avoids playing in the Class AA intersectional outbracket on Sunday.