Paul VI’s Marcus Derrickson (right) leads a quartet of sophomores that have sparked the Panthers to the area’s No. 2 ranking (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post).

On paper, Paul VI was primed for a letdown this season. Four of the team’s top scorers had either graduated or transferred, taking with them much of the talent and experience that fueled the Panthers’ undefeated run to the WCAC and City Titles last winter.

But there the Panthers stood, No. 2 in the Post Top 20 preseason rankings, buoyed by the handful of coaches who lauded their depth and talent during our typical round of preseason conversations gauging the field. And since then, the reloaded Panthers have lived up to the hype. They still hold that No. 2 spot and a 22-6 record entering this weekend’s WCAC tournament, thanks in large part to a quartet of sophomores.

At point guard, there’s Kevin Dorsey (or the “bulldog” as Coach Glenn Farello likes to call him). At shooting guard, Franklin Howard has emerged in his first year at Paul VI. Off the bench, Josh Reaves provides a spark with his athleticism. And at forward, there’s the versatile and highly touted Marcus Derrickson.

“Those four are considered one of the best sophomore classes in the country and it’s been fun to see their progression,” Farello said. “One of our mottos is ‘Why wait to be great?’ and that’s the mentality they bring. These guys have great maturity and poise and that allows their natural ability and skills to really show.”

In Derrickson, the Panthers possess the epitome of versatility. The 6-foot-6 forward can score inside and light it up from the perimeter, a combination that has produced his team-high 12.6 points per game. His toughness shined through during a four-game stretch of consecutive double-doubles in January and through his willingness to take charges often. Derrickson is the most celebrated of the group with offers from the likes of Georgetown, Indiana, Maryland, Miami, N.C. State, Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Villanova.

Dorsey is the glue that holds it all together as the team’s facilitator. He handles the ball with ease, almost like a yo-yo, and is easily one of the area’s fastest players. Farello said that Terps Coach Mark Turgeon (along with Rutgers, Miami Virginia, Tech and West Virginia) has been high on Dorsey since last year after seeing how “he gets after it on defense.” And he demonstrated his clutch scoring ability with the consecutive buzzer-beaters he nailed in leading the Panthers to the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions title in January.

“Us as sophomores, we’re more focused than ever,” Dorsey said.

Howard is the newcomer to the bunch after spending his freshman year at Gonzaga, but he has transitioned smoothly. He’s developing a consistent stroke from the outside, can score points in a hurry and his length at 6-4 allows him to be successful on the defensive end. The sophomore holds offers from the likes of Connecticut, DePaul, Florida, Georgetown, Ohio State, Seton Hall, South Florida and Villanova.

“All the things Coach Farello said he saw me doing for this team have happened,” said Howard, who is averaging 11.8 points. “He’s given me the freedom on offense to make plays and get my teammates involved.”

The hidden gem in the bunch is Reaves. To get an idea of his athleticism, check out this video from the dunk contest at the City of Palms. Schools like VCU, Delaware and Mount Saint Mary’s have been drawn to Reaves’ defensive prowess and length — attributes that remind Farello of former NBA high-flyer Stacey Augmon (aka the “Plastic Man.” If I lost you with that name drop, just click here).

Mix this fresh dose of talent with guys like rebounding machine Quadree Smith and senior leader Jamall Robinson (more on him later) and it’s easy to see why the Panthers stand as a threat to repeat as WCAC champs — and be a very scary team over the next two years.

In Wednesday’s hoops action:

  • Malachi Alexander slammed home the game-winner in No. 6 Eleanor Roosevelt’s 69-67 win against No. 8 Potomac (Md.) in the Prince George’s County title game. Eleanor Roosevelt’s girls’ team wasn’t so fortunate, as Gwynn Park handed the No. 6 Raiders their first loss en route to the PG County crown. Read Eric Detweiler’s game story for details.
  • Annapolis upset No. 14 Arundel, 51-49, in the Anne Arundel County championship. According to this Baltimore Sun article, Annapolis’s Juan Brown went the length of the floor for a layup just before the buzzer, capping a late comeback behind an 8-0 run.

Learn more about Madison point guard Megan LeDuc, who averaged a team-high 13.6 points this season and is headed to Cornell.

Total wins that Paul VI senior Jamall Robinson has been a part of as a four-year starter for the Panthers. The number marks a school record and stands to increase come this weekend’s WCAC tournament.

— Take a moment and read Andrew Simon’s well-written feature on Atholton senior hockey player Jake Mills, who has dedicated this season to his older brother Eugene, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan.

— Oakton’s chances at defending its state title took a blow Wednesday with the news that senior center and leading scorer Elizabeth Manner will miss the rest of the postseason with a broken thumb.

Northern Region girls’ basketball semifinals, 6 and 8 p.m. at Robinson
Preston Williams breaks down the two matchups: Edison vs. Centreville and Oakton vs. South Lakes.