Who will take the WCAC Championship? A look at the top contenders

The Washington Catholic Athletic Association (WCAC) is the home to three teams that have appeared in the USA Today Super 25 Rankings this season. Both Paul VI Catholic and DeMatha are currently ranked at Nos. 7 and 15, respectively.

When discussing the top basketball conference in the United States, the WCAC is a league that is always mentioned. Located in the recruiting hotbed of the DMV (District-Maryland-Virginia), the WCAC routinely produces some of the nation’s best teams and most talented prospects.

In preparation for the 2018 WCAC Playoffs, which starts this week, here’s an in-depth look at the top five contenders for the title.

1. Paul VI Catholic (27-2, 18-0 WCAC)

From 1983 to the present day, Paul VI Catholic captured only two WCAC Championships. Both of those titles came in the last six seasons in 2012 and 2014.

Paul VI Catholic enters this postseason with a perfect conference record and several impressive wins over some of the nation’s top teams in Huntington Prep (W. Va.), Oak Ridge (Fla.) Roselle Catholic (N.J.) and Wesleyan Christian Academy (N.C.).

If the message wasn’t already clear, Paul VI proved itself to be the region’s top team in early January after burying Gonzaga and DeMatha in a one-week span by an average of 14.5 points.

There’s no shortage of talent on the Paul VI roster, and the country’s high-major programs are taking notice. Villanova head coach Jay Wright has traditionally recruited well in the DMV. Former players Josh Hart (Sidwell Friends School) and Kris Jenkins (Gonzaga) were critical to the team’s 2016 national championship run.

At 6-foot-6 (same size as Jenkins), senior guard Brandon Slater (Villanova signee) displays a lot of similarities to Jenkins, being a streaky three-point shooter and a relentless finisher at the rim.

Unfortunately for Panthers fans though, Slater will be unavailable for the rest of the season after the talented senior broke his hand in a game on Feb. 6th against Archbishop Carroll. Still, in a testament to the team’s resilience, Paul VI won its final four games of the regular season to cap an undefeated conference record in arguably the toughest league in all of high school basketball. Despite the loss of Slater though, Paul VI has two consensus top-100 point guards in Anthony Harris and Jeremy Roach.

Harris has stepped up his production since the injury of Slater. The 6-foot-3 guard is averaging 18.3 points per game in the team’s last four outings. He was also responsible for the Panthers’ game-winning basket in a 56-54 win over DeMatha last week.

Capital city hoops fans are especially excited about the talent of Roach. The 6-foot-2 sophomore is highly-touted as one of the best point guards in the country in the class of 2020. Freshman point guard Trevor Keels, who is already drawing interest from schools like Wake Forest (offered scholarship in December), might be just as talented.

2. DeMatha Catholic (25-5, 14-4 WCAC)

DeMatha started the season as one of the hottest teams in the country. The Stags rolled into the D.C. National Hoopfest in early December and crushed Emmitt Williams (5-star LSU signee) and Oak Ridge by a score of 84-69.

The three-headed attack of Hunter Dickinson, Earl Timberlake and Justin Moore then put the DMV on notice when defeating St. John’s and Bishop O’Connell by a combined 38 points just two weeks later.

The Stags were not ranked in any of the major national preseason polls. Dickinson and Timberlake were highly-touted as the future of DeMatha basketball; however as only sophomores, the duo was expected to face their share of growing pains. Not to mention, junior point guard Moore missed the majority of last season after suffering from a torn ACL.

All of these factors translated to a level of uncertainty on what to expect from DeMatha. Nevertheless, since the season’s opening tip, there’s been little doubt concerning the legitimacy of DeMatha Catholic. In a conference where several of the teams have loaded talent at the guard position, DeMatha distinguishes itself as a team with star-power on multiple fronts.

Dickinson is the conference’s best center. He is an elite shot-blocker with an almost unstoppable post-up game. Timberlake might be the most physically imposing forward in the WCAC. Finally, Moore provides the team with an elite presence at the point guard position.

After losing both games against Paul VI in the regular season, The Stags are eager to get another shot at the Panthers in the WCAC Playoffs.

3. Bishop O’Connell (26-6, 13-5 WCAC)

If you’re looking for a team that could surprise some people at this week’s WCAC Playoffs, then look no further than Bishop O’Connell. The Knights are on an impressive eight game winning-steak with critical wins over DeMatha, Gonzaga and St. John’s during that span.

Bishop O’Connell was expected to be competitive in the WCAC this year, but you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a person that picked the Knights to win the league in the preseason. Fast forward to February and Bishop O’Connell might be the team best positioned to take down Paul VI Catholic.

The Knights are again coached by Joe Wootten, the son of legendary head coach Morgan Wootten, who enjoyed a 45-year career at DeMatha and racked up an astonishing 1,274 wins on his way to the Naismith Hall of Fame. Since taking the job at Bishop O’Connell in 1999, Joe Wootten has been busy writing his name in the history books like his father.

Before Wootten’s arrival, Bishop O’Connell had captured only one state championship and had never won a WCAC Championship. After 18 seasons with the program, Wootten has helped the program to five state championships and two WCAC titles.

Wootten’s team this year is led by senior standout Xavier Johnson. Listed as just a 3-star prospect by 247 Sports, Nebraska head coach Tim Miles is getting a major steal in Johnson. The 6-foot-2 guard has devastating quickness and a soft touch around the basket. Johnson is also an intelligent passer and an exceptional ball-handler in traffic.

When combined with the speed of junior point guard Ayan Teel and the sharpshooting of Matthew Becht (Mount St. Mary’s signee), the Knights possess one of the deadliest backcourts in the WCAC. Sophomore Jahmal Banks and junior Charlie Weber can also provide the team with significant production in the frontcourt.

4. Gonzaga 24-5 (13-5 WCAC)

Like Paul VI and DeMatha, Gonzaga also boasts one of the DMV’s most exciting future prospects in sophomore Terrance Williams. Already at 6-foot-7 and still growing, Williams is continually developing his game. Future college coaches are especially taking notice of his capacity to stretch defenses with a smooth mid-range jumper and a proficient three-point shot. Combining this part of his game with an ability to distribute and create for himself, makes Williams one of the most sought after prospects in the class of 2020.

It’s scary to think about how good Gonzaga could be if point guard Prentiss Hubb (Notre Dame signee) was healthy for his senior season. The consensus top-100 prospect has been forced to miss the entirety of the year after tearing his ACL. Even without Hubb though, Gonzaga has posted together a terrific season, ascending as high as No. 8 in the Super 25 rankings at one point.

The Eagles certainly struggled down the stretch of the regular season losing four of their last six games. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t count Gonzaga out in this week’s tournament. In addition to Terrance Williams, head coach Steve Turner’s team is loaded with underclassmen talent in Chuck Harris, Myles Stute and Carlos Hubb (younger brother of Prentiss).

Not to mention, senior shooting guard Myles Dread (Penn State signee) has been absolutely magnificent for Gonzaga in the absence of Prentiss Hubb. Dread is a talented scorer, but he’s also the type of player that’s not afraid to step-up and take a charge or sacrifice his body for the team.

Power forward Allin Blunt is enjoying a breakout senior campaign. Junior combo guard Anwar Gill is also critical to the success of Gonzaga.

5. St. John’s 20-9 (12-6 WCAC)

St. John’s is the sneaky pick to win tournament this week. The Cadets knocked off both Bishop O’Connell and Gonzaga in the regular season. The team also pushed Paul VI Catholic and DeMatha to the brink before ultimately losing in both contests. Nevertheless, the results prove that St. John’s has the ability to beat anyone in the WCAC.

The Cadets are led in the backcourt by senior Tre Wood (UMass signee) and junior Casey Morsell. The one-two punch of Wood and Morsell creates a truly dynamic duo for St. John’s.

Wood is the ultimate playmaker with lightning-quick speed and an explosive bounce. Morsell provides excellent three-point shooting along with a crafty offensive game. Morsell is especially lethal when running the fast break.

Senior power forward Richard Njoku (Navy commit) has an extremely important role to play. In the guard-driven league that is the WCAC, Njoku provides the Cadets with a gifted rim-protector and a steadying force on both ends of the floor.

Sophomore guards Ishmael Leggett and Darius Maddox will also need to be significant contributors if the Cadets hope to win the program’s fifth WCAC Championship.

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