Although Mount Vernon and Clark Academy return to the postseason as favorites, scores of teams will open the first round of the Section 1 boys basketball tournament this week with a legitimate chance to win a championship. The race is particularly competitive in Class A, where the field is cluttered with obstacles and could produce a Cinderella champ.
As usual, boys basketball writer Josh Thomson is here to provide insight on how the postseason might unfold.
Favorite: Mount Vernon. The Knights started just 2-3 and haven’t been steady closing games, but they remain solid favorites. Marco Morency and Noah Morgan are probably Section 1’s two best players, and the emergence of 6-foot-8 big man Greg Calixte has taken Mount Vernon to another level in the last month.
Challenger: Saunders. The Blue Devils have played Mount Vernon in two competitive games in the last calendar year. Even though Spring Valley actually beat the Knights earlier this season, the Tigers wouldn’t have home court or key big man Devan Lawson (shoulder injury) in a potential rematch. Saunders probably has the best chance, although it would be a huge upset.
Sleeper: New Rochelle. If the Huguenots can get past Scarsdale in the opening round, they will likely play at Fox Lane in the quarterfinals. Their style could give the Foxes fits. If they ever reach the County Center, remember this: No team is ever less afraid to take on Mount Vernon. Their players always believe they can win.
Best first-round game: No. 11 White Plains at No. 6 North Rockland. The Tigers are en vogue as an upset pick for Section 1 fans. They boast a top backcourt in Luis Cartagena and C.J. Layne and should be a serious test for the Red Raiders, who finished the season 3-4.
Upset special: No. 7 New Rochelle over No. 2 Fox Lane. The Huguenots pose many of the same questions as Saunders, which Fox Lane couldn’t answer in a 50-32 loss Jan. 30. If Jamel Wallace gets hot from the outside, New Rochelle will be a tough out.
Toughest road: No. 3 Spring Valley. The Tigers have since recovered after losing Lawson for the season last month, but they will have to beat a league foe, Clarkstown North, and then overcome the White Plains-North Rockland winner in the quarterfinals. It certainly could’ve been easier.
County Center-bound: Mount Vernon, Spring Valley, Saunders, New Rochelle.
Championship: Mount Vernon over New Rochelle, 74-61.
MVP candidates: Greg Calixte, Marco Morency, Noah Morgan, Mount Vernon; Marc Dorsainvil, Spring Valley; Derrick Felder, Anthony Miller, Saunders; Matt Redhead, Sean New, Fox Lane; Jamel Wallace, New Rochelle.
Favorite: Tappan Zee. This is close, but the Dutchmen get the edge as the No. 1 seed. They are 18-2 and have a history of winning big games, including the 2010 and 2012 championships. No other program in the field has that experience outside of maybe Byram Hills.
Challenger: Lourdes. The Warriors finished 14-5, but they have improved since December. Several players were key members of the football team that reached the Class A state championship game. Plus, Lourdes boasts James Anozie, a 1,000-point scorer as a junior who might be Class A’s best player.
Sleeper: Nanuet. The Golden Knights have won nine straight, including their last meeting with Tappan Zee. Their backcourt of Terence Rogers and Kevin Mackin could be championship-worthy. Their frontcourt is big and strong and it could hold the key to winning a title.
Best first-round game: No. 13 Albertus Magnus at No. 4 Nanuet. Albertus is not the team Nanuet wanted to see. The Falcons are small, but they can rain 3-pointers, which Nanuet learned when they split during the regular season. They will also be motivated playing for the memory of longtime coach and athletic director Joe McGuinness.
Upset special: No. 10 Pelham over No. 7 Eastchester. Although inconsistent, the Pelicans are big and talented. They beat Eastchester twice during the regular season and also split with would-be quarterfinal opponent Byram Hills. If they were ever going to put it together, now’s the time.
Toughest road: No. 3 Lourdes. The Warriors will likely have to host Dutchess County rival Beacon in a quarterfinal game. They are both so good, the winner might be stamped the new favorite.
County Center-bound: Tappan Zee, Byram Hills, Lourdes, Nanuet.
Championship: Lourdes over Nanuet, 66-60.
MVP candidates: James Anozie, Lourdes; Justin Bullock, Albertus Magnus; Zach Evans, Harrison; Matt Groll, Skylar Sinon, Byram Hills; Kevin Mackin, Terence Rogers, Nanuet; Robert McWilliams, Tappan Zee; Charlie Nagle, Rye; Xavier Mayo, Beacon.
Favorite: Briarcliff. The Bears have won 18 straight and feature the most unique player in the class in 6-foot-5 Sean Crowley. They also have several players back from last year’s finalist who are hungry to take the next step.
Challenger: Putnam Valley. This is easy. The Tigers are clearly No. 1A in Class B, having won 14 of 15 with the only loss coming at Briarcliff, 54-48 on Jan. 7. They kept it close on the road despite plenty of foul trouble. It would not be shocking if they won the rematch.
Sleeper: Woodlands. Although Blind Brook is clearly the third-best team, Woodlands is a two-time defending champ. Almost all of those players are gone, but the remaining group is young and talented. They might be capable of a big County Center performance after facing a brutal regular season schedule.
Best first-round game: No. 12 Croton-Harmon at No. 5 Woodlands. This could be the final game at Croton for coach Bill Thom after 31 seasons and 394 wins. His Tigers will play hard with an upset in mind.
Upset special: No. 10 Pleasantville over No. 7 Westlake. Westlake definitely had the better season overall, but Pleasantville won both regular season meetings. The guard-heavy Panthers will have plenty of defenders to throw at 1,000-point scorer Jesse Boyce in an effort to take Westlake out of what it wants to do.
Toughest road: No. 4 Hastings. It’s been quite an emergence during Hastings’ second season under Bob Delle Bovi. His team won 14 games and has been especially good in the New Year. Still, its first round game with Palisade Prep is no lock and the Woodlands-Croton winner would be a bear in the quarterfinals.
County Center-bound: Briarcliff, Putnam Valley, Blind Brook, Woodlands.
Championship: Briarcliff over Putnam Valley, 58-56.
MVP candidates: Sean Crowley, Josiah Cobbs, Jack Reish, Briarcliff; Harrison Deegan, Joe Spinola, Anders Spittal, Putnam Valley; Jake DiGiansante, Austin Lavitt, Kyle Mak, Blind Brook.
Co-favorites: Tuckahoe and Hamilton. Their credentials are so similar. Both played well after slow starts and they split a pair of meetings during the regular season. Hamilton won 70-58 on Jan. 12 and Tuckahoe earned revenge 50-45 on Feb. 4. Remember: Tuckahoe upset Hamilton in last year’s semis.
Sleeper: Hawthorne Cedar Knolls. This team might not win it all, but watch out for Brandon Thomas, whose propensity to fill it up could key an upset or two.
Upset special: Although Tuckahoe and Hamilton appear bound for the final, Hamilton could face a tricky semifinal against Haldane, the two-time defending champ. The Blue Devils still have a few players with championship experience, which can pay dividends at the County Center.
County-Center bound: Tuckahoe, Hamilton, Haldane, North Salem.
Championship: Tuckahoe over Hamilton, 61-57.
MVP candidates: Kyle Atkins, D.J. Belcher, Hamilton; Alex Williams, Dishon Wise, Tuckahoe.
Favorite: Clark Academy. The Eagles are a heavy favorite after winning the last two championships. They competed all season in games against larger schools and should be ready to romp at the County Center.
Sleeper: Biondi. After losing 15 straight to open the regular season, Biondi beat Keio and Hawthorne Cedar Knolls in its last two, sending the Lions into the postseason with some confidence.
County-Center bound: Clark, MLK, Biondi (all automatic berths).
Championship: Clark over Biondi, 80-61.
MVP candidates: Andrew Carthorn, Taiquam Johnson, Antonio Lowden, Clark.
Josh Thomson’s Top 10 rankings
1. Mount Vernon (14-5)
2. Spring Valley (15-5)
3. Saunders (14-6)
4. Fox Lane (17-3)
5. Lourdes (14-5)
6. Briarcliff (19-1)
7. Tappan Zee (18-2)
8. New Rochelle (13-6)
9. Nanuet (15-5)
T10. Beacon (15-5)
T10. Ossining (16-4)