The HAC-II has produced 15 consecutive District 4 Class AA champions. Saturday, the division's top two teams played for the overall Heartland Conference championship. Together, Loyalsock and Lewisburg are 42-6 despite playing demanding schedules.
Loyalsock swept three games from Lewisburg and is the only team to beat it. It is the defending district champion and went 18-0 against HAC teams, a conference that produced three district champions last year. Loyalsock's only losses are to Class AAAA state title contenders and AA state-ranked Communications Tech.
What does it all mean? Nothing. Because District 4 officials continue to use no common sense, teams are blindly seeded on winning percentage alone. That is how Loyalsock, the defending district champion gets seeded below No. 2 Lewisburg and Wellsboro, a team that has not won a playoff game since 2006 and that Lewisburg beat on a neutral floor. That is how Loyalsock and Lewisburg end up in the same bracket despite having the best regular seasons.
Welcome to District 4 where you get punished for playing difficult schedules and where no thought is put into seeding. My advice? Write the District 4 officials and vent. They did a nice job going to a league-record tiebreaker instead of a coin flip so maybe they can be pushed to take another step forward.
For now we are stuck with this ridiculous system, so let's analyze the fields.
District 2-4 Class AAAA
(6 teams, 1 advances)
Top-seeded Williamsport is seeking its second straight championship and has to win to reach states again. The top two teams no longer advance since the PIAA gave away District 2's second spot to District 1, bringing its number to 10. Good move, PIAA. Why not just make the whole field District 1 from now on?
The Millionaires (19-2) have a bye into Saturday's semifinals and will meet either surging Wyoming Valley West or Wallenpaupack. Unlike in years past, every team in the six-team field is dangerous and has at least 13 wins. No. 3 Delaware Valley made a run to the state tournament's second round and Valley West (14-7) has won 14 of 17 after putting a scare into Williamsport early this season.
Scranton and No. 2 Hazleton always are dangerous. Together, they won seven district championships in eight years prior to last season.
The field is tough and Williamsport has the bulls-eye on its collective back. Still, if the Millionaires play the way they are capable of they should repeat. This is the last chance for a stellar group that includes Jahad Thomas, Isaiah Washington and Chris Kinley to make a run together, so there should be a sense of urgency and motivation. I'll go with Williamsport over Hazleton in the final.
(5 teams, 2 advance)
Take away No. 2 Athens (17-5) and this is a HAC-I tournament. That bodes well for defending champion Danville which has won 30 straight league games since 2011. Danville (18-4) is battle-tested, has pounded all the HAC-I teams in the field and has five starters who can all effectively shoot the 3-pointer.
The Ironmen face either No. 4 Shikellamy (12-9) or No. 5 Mifflinburg (11-11) in the final. They won four games against that duo by a 32-point average although Shikellamy played them tough the second time and gave State College a tough game Friday.
No. 3 Milton (14-8) has had a huge bounce-back season, increasing its win total by eight while finishing second in the HAC-I. Chad Diggan is a 1,000-point scorer and Michael Jacobs averages more than 15 points per game. The Black Panthers face Athens, a team with good height that reached the Class AA state tournament last year. Expect a close one.
Projected Semifinals: Danville over Shikellamy; Athens over Milton
Projected Final: Danville over Athens
(11 teams, 3 advance)
Loyalsock (21-3) captured its seventh district championship since 2001 last year and deserved a better seeding fate, but the bottom line is it still controls its destiny. The Lancers meet either Bloomsburg or Hughesville in the quarterfinals and are hoping to reach states for a fifth straight year.
Senior center Roger Wilson has had a sensational season, averaging close to a triple-double, while guards Kyle Datres, Omar Little and Mike Pastore form one of the district's best backcourts. Ben Sosa is a quality forward and all five are averaging in, or near, double figures. Loyalsock went 14-0 in HAC-II play, the first to go undefeated in the five-year history of the league.
Either Bloomsburg or Hughesville could be dangerous. No. 6 Bloomsburg (15-7) was the only team to beat St. John Neumann in the regular season and has one of the field's best players in senior guard Zach Mrozek who can score quickly in a variety of ways. Tyler Vincent also is dangerous.
No. 11 Hughesville (11-11) might be the field's toughest team to figure out. There have been times the Spartans looked capable of competing for a championship and others where they looked like they did not belong. Hughesville has won four championships since 2006 and has one of the field's most versatile players in senior Tristan Jeffreys. Fred Newhart is tough inside, but Hughesville needs some others to step up if it is to do damage like it did two years ago when it won districts as a No. 6 seed.
Lewisburg (21-3) was probably the district's second-best team last year but was hurt by the foolish District 4 seeding system, losing to Loyalsock in the Lancers' toughest district game. The Green Dragons are similar to Loyalsock with excellent guard play and a big front line that includes 6-foot-6 Sam Allen and 6-5 Erich Kline. Travis Conrad is one of the district's best guards, Jesse Flannery runs the offense well, Mike Driscoll is versatile and Kline can take his game inside or outside. This is a disciplined team that beat HAC-I champion Danville last week and has a shot to win its first district title since 2000.
Lewisburg plays either No. 10 Williamson or No. 7 Mount Carmel. Williamson (12-10) rallied to reach districts after a slow start and has a potent scoring duo in Troy Adriance and Hunter Huyett. Those two combine for more than 32 points per game and the Warriors gave eventual semifinalist South Williamsport fits in last year's opening round.
Wellsboro is the top seed for a second time in three seasons. It earned that seed two years ago after going 22-1 but lost in the quarterfinals to No. 9 Central Columbia. The Green Hornets might be deeper than that team and are a hard-working, cohesive unit that also is well-coached. While the Hornets should not have been seeded ahead of Loyalsock and Lewisburg based on bodies of work, they definitely can win this championship. Senior point guard Jordan Jackson is outstanding and six players have averaged in or near double figures. Wellsboro is athletic, quick and has a lot of shooters.
Wellsboro meets either No. 8 Canton or No. 9 Line Mountain. Canton (13-9) is having its best season this century and won 13 of its last 18 games. Emmett Watson and Eddie Larcom both are 1,000-point scorers and the scrappy Warriors have a big win over Athens while also nearly upsetting Wellsboro. Line Mountain (13-9) won eight straight following a 5-7 start and beat East Juniata during that stretch.
No. 4 East Juniata (18-4) has one of the field's best big men in 6-6 Bailey Coder and sharpshooter Nick Lorenz averages 21.7 points per game while draining 43 three-pointers. It plays No. 5 Towanda which plays for the NTL-East championship Tuesday. It is a young and athletic team that has won 13 of its last 15.
Best first-round game:?Hughesville vs. Bloomsburg - The Spartans reached states six straight seasons before last year. The Panthers played well down the stretch and Hughesville's defense will have its hands full.
Tournament Sleeper: Mount Carmel - The Tornadoes (13-9) took a lead into the fourth quarter against Loyalsock a few weeks ago and outscored Lewisburg in the second half the same week. Mount Carmel finished third in the HAC-II, plays tough and has good balance. Putting the Tornadoes in the same bracket as Loyalsock and Lewisburg makes that side of the bracket brutal and the other one much softer which is embarrassing.
Player to Watch: Mike Pietropola, Wellsboro - The sophomore might be the area's best sixth man, averaging more than 11 points off the bench. Pietropola can shoot from anywhere and heat up fast.
Projected Semifinals: Wellsboro over East Juniata; Loyalsock over Lewisburg
Projected Final: Loyalsock over Wellsboro
(7 teams, 3 advance)
St. John Neumann (21-2) captured its first HAC-III championship and went 5-0 against the next three seeds while earning the top seed. The rest of the field is aiming for last year's runner-up which was dealt a blow when forward Tyree Vidal sprained his ankle last week against Muncy. Vidal is a difference maker, but the Knights held off Muncy without him and a hard-nosed team whose toughness matches its talent. Senior center Alize Johnson is having an all-state worthy season while guards Jordan Cole and Richard Allen are terrific together. Ryan Reid and Noah Beiter are hard-working players inside who add depth.
The Knights will either meet No. 4 Muncy for a third time or No. 5 Mansfield. Muncy nearly beat Neumann on its home court last week, dropping a 59-54 heartbreaker. Four Indians are scoring in double figures and point guard Ammar Sabanovic is one of the field's best. Junior center Nick Ring is a force inside and forward Billy Kolletzki has come on strong. Dawson Fox and Teddy Clark also are capable of big games and Muncy finished third in the district last year.
Mansfield (13-8) is peaking at a good time. The Tigers have won three straight and pounded their last two opponents by 81 combined points. Taylor Hillson averages 17 points per game and also is a good distributor while Reece Correll can do damage too and Bo Burleigh has developed nicely throughout the season.
No. 2 Sullivan County (20-2) is seeking its second straight championship and third straight state playoff appearance. Neumann is the only team to beat Sullivan which rallied from a nine-point deficit at Bloomsburg two weeks ago to win in overtime. Point guard Kelby Mullen, forward Derek Wilkins and guard Zach Meyer started on last year's 23-win team while Conner Wylie and Lucas Hatton played extended minutes. Wylie and Wilkins average close to double-doubles and the Griffins might have more depth than any team in the field.
Sullivan plays No. 7 Galeton. The Tigers (10-10) have improved from last year and are led by talented sophomore Dakota Shadle who averages 16 points per game.
No. 3 Lourdes (17-5) is similar to Neumann, Sullivan and Muncy. Four Raiders are averaging in double figures and all started on last year's state qualifier. Lourdes is a disciplined and tough team that always is dangerous come playoff time.
No. 6 Sayre (13-9) faces Lourdes and received a huge boost when leading scorer Nate Williams returned from injury last week.
Best Quarterfinal: Muncy vs. Mansfield - One of these teams has reached states every season since 2009 and Kipper Burleigh usually has the Tigers playing their best in the playoffs. This could be fun and close.
Tournament Sleeper: Muncy - If the Indians get past Mansfield they know what to expect when facing Neumann. Last week's game was a thriller and a rematch could be even better.
Player to Watch: Conner Wylie, Sullivan County - The junior forward has had a breakout year. He is strong, smart and has a nice touch around the basket. He is a big reason the Griffins have had no drop off this season.
Projected Semifinals: Neumann over Muncy; Lourdes over Sullivan
Projected Final: Neumann over Lourdes
Dr. Masse's Top Five
1. Williamsport (19-2); 2. Loyalsock (21-3); 3. Lewisburg (21-3); 4. St. John Neumann (21-2); 5. Wellsboro (21-1)
Player of the Week
Alize Johnson, Neumann: On consecutive nights against Muncy and Loyalsock, Johnson scored 49 points, grabbed 30 rebounds and dealt 11 assists.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.