Boys’ Basketball: Virginia AAA Northern Region preview
By Brandon Parker,
The Northern Region boys’ basketball tournament gets underway Monday with first-round matchups. The tournament will continue with Tuesday’s quarterfinal round, followed by Friday’s semifinals and Saturday’s championship. The semis and championship will be held at Robinson, with the two finalists qualifying for the state tournament.
Because of Virginia High School League realignment, this will be the last Northern Region tournament in its current form, at least with the full complement of schools that have been long been associated with the region.
Next school year, 21 of the current Northern Region schools will play in 6A North, a group that might retain the Northern Region name. The other nine region schools (Jefferson, Marshall, Edison, Falls Church, Mount Vernon, Stuart, Wakefield, Lee and Stone Bridge) will play in 5A North and not meet the 6A teams in the conference playoffs.
Here’s a breakdown of Monday’s first-round contests:
Chantilly (17-7) at Marshall (17-7): Just one year removed from winning two Liberty District games, Marshall continued its turnaround season by winning its first district tournament crown on Friday. The Statesmen have won seven of their last eight games and possess a balanced attack that can yield a new leading scorer on any given night. Sharpshooter Grant Leibow and Towner Hale have been the most consistent producers for surging Marshall. In their way is a Chantilly squad that began the season 9-0 but has struggled of late. Leading scorer Brian Sydnor is battling a hand injury that has hurt his efficiency but Deandre Harris has stepped up with his impressive outside shooting.
South County (9-16) at Mount Vernon (12-12): Both teams are coming off surprising runs to their respective district championship games. South County possesses talent and size in 6-foot-5 playmakers Oren Burks and Justin Hampton (18.8 points per game). The Stallions will need to improve their play down the stretch, as they’ve lost five games by five points or less. Following a five-game losing streak, the Majors have gotten hot at the right time with four wins in their last five contests. Mount Vernon boasts three double-digit scorers, led by Shawney Loveitt at 16.2 points per game.
Yorktown (11-13) at W.T. Woodson (20-4): For most of the season, W.T. Woodson has appeared to be the region’s top team, and despite a few recent stumbles, the Cavaliers are still considered a strong contender for the crown. Senior swingman Tommy Stepka serves as the Cavaliers’ main threat with a strong outside shot while sophomore Eric Bowles facilitates from the point and can score when necessary. With eight players at 6-3 or taller, Yorktown stands as one of the few teams that can match up with the Cavaliers’ size. And the Patriots can fill it up, too, witnessed by three players averaging double-digit points led by Zach Escherick (13.7).
Fairfax (11-13) at Herndon (17-6): Two of the region’s top scorers in Herndon’s Will Ferguson (22.0 points per game) and Fairfax’s Nick Burnett (16.7) will battle in this first-round matchup. Since the turn of the calendar year, the Hornets have been on a roll, winning 10 of their last 12 games en route to the Concorde District crown. With the way Ferguson can score in bunches, no lead is safe against Herndon, which has another sound playmaker in Dorian Johnson. The Rebels have their own formidable one-two punch in Burnett and John Robic, leading a team that built up its mettle through four overtime contests this season.
Stuart (11-13) at Lake Braddock (17-7): Lake Braddock reconfigured its offensive and defensive schemes for the playoffs and it worked, resulting in a Patriot District championship. Will Gregorits came up big, averaging 18.3 points during the Bruins’ run to the title as the district’s No. 4 seed. Awaiting them is an upstart Stuart squad that has become known for its resilient play. Zachary Danker-Feldman has been a monster in the paint this season, averaging 18.3 points and 10.9 rebounds for the Raiders.
McLean (12-12) at Robinson (17-8): Despite graduating its top five scorers from a year ago, McLean ended this year’s Liberty District tournament the same way it did last season — in the championship game. The Highlanders seem to find most of their success in grind-it-out defensive battles, as witnessed by their last three wins, when they failed to crack 50 points. Robinson also came up just short in the Concorde District championship against Herndon, but the Rams continue to display a balanced scoring attack within their uptempo offense.
Oakton (12-10) at Langley (19-5): After putting together an impressive regular season that saw them win nine straight, the Langley Saxons have struggled of late with two losses in a week to McLean. The Saxons still are a threat with big man Brad Dotson and capable scorer Justin Galiani in the fold. Oakton boasts one of the area’s best scorers in Robert Bacon as well as several three-point threats that have hit a total of 108 shots from downtown this season.
T.C. Williams (14-10) at No. 18 Wakefield (21-4): Winners of 13 straight, Wakefield stands as the region’s hottest team entering this week’s tournament. During that stretch, the Warriors have won by an average margin of 18 points behind scoring threats Khory Moore, Ermias Nega and Dominique Tham. While the Warriors are the current buzz, T.C Williams has the historical clout with its 10 region crowns and two state titles. The Titans have struggled to find consistent production this season but it’s safe to say that Coach Julian King will have his players primed for another potential playoff run.
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