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5 things to watch in the opening round of the WPIAL boys basketball playoffs

Chris Harlan
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Fox Chapel boys head coach Zach Skrinjar during practice Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018 at Fox Chapel Area High School.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Upper St. Clair head coach Danny Holzer talks with Andrew Casey during their game against Mt. Lebanon Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, at Mt. Lebanon High School.

Good bye or bad bye?

Consider, each of the past two years, Fox Chapel drew a first-round bye and then lost in the quarterfinals to a team that hadn’t rested. This time, the Foxes didn’t receive a bye, and coach Zach Skrinjar is OK with that.

“I’m happy that we’re playing a little bit earlier,” said Skrinjar, whose team drew the No. 6 seed in Class 6A. “I think any coach would like to play sooner than later, just because that’s what we’re used to. We’ll see. If we win Tuesday, I’ll like what we did a lot more.”

Seventeen boys basketball teams received a bye in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs when brackets were announced Tuesday, so they’ll need to find ways to fill their free time.

Upper St. Clair drew the fourth seed and the final bye in the Class 6A bracket over Butler and Fox Chapel. It’s a new challenge for longtime USC coach Danny Holzer, who wasn’t certain whether the bye is good or bad.

“It’s the first time we’ve had the bye, so I’m not sure,” Holzer said. “I’ve already reached out to some of my good friends that have had the bye before, and just kind of picked their brain a little bit.”

The WPIAL needed byes to fill the playoff brackets once basketball expanded to six classifications in the 2016-17 season. In the two seasons since, WPIAL teams with first-round byes went 28-7 in the quarterfinals. But Class 6A teams with first-round byes have gone 3-5.

Fox Chapel has eight days between its regular-season finale and Tuesday’s playoff opener against No. 11 Seneca Valley. Upper St. Clair has a 15-day wait before its first game in the quarterfinals on Feb. 23.

“We have a plan in place,” Holzer said. “We’re scrimmaging Quaker Valley, Ambridge and Penn Hills, so we have three really good scrimmages lined up. In between there we’ll get practices in. Our kids are excited.”

Class 5A: ‘I think it’s wide open’

Mars, Penn Hills, Moon and Woodland Hills create a strong foursome at the top of boys Class 5A, but the competition doesn’t stop there. The Class 5A bracket could be the deepest in the WPIAL this year, with Class 6A a close second.

That also makes it the most unpredictable.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the top four seeds is not in the semifinals,” Penn Hills coach Dan DeRose said, “that it doesn’t play out one, two, three and four. One of the bottom seeds — five, six, seven or whoever — will knock somebody off.”

Top-seeded Mars (21-1) is the defending WPIAL Class 5A champion. Second-seeded Penn Hills (19-3) is the defending WPIAL Class 6A champion.

Third-seed Moon (21-1) lost only once all season, a double-overtime defeat to fifth-seeded Chartiers Valley (16-5). And fourth-seeded Woodland Hills (17-5) was a WPIAL Class 6A semifinalist last season.

After them are No. 6 Franklin Regional (16-6), who was last year’s runner-up, and No. 7 Montour (14-8), which defeated Chartiers Valley twice this season.

Shaler (15-7) is eighth.

“I think it’s wide open,” DeRose said. “I think there are seven, eight or maybe nine teams. I wouldn’t even count out (ninth-seeded) McKeesport. They’re going to be a hard out for somebody.”

Class 5A starts play Monday with five first-round matchups: No. 4 Woodland Hills vs. No. 13 West Allegheny, No. 5 Chartiers Valley vs. No. 12 Albert Gallatin, No. 8 Shaler vs. No. 9 McKeesport, No. 7 Montour vs. No. 10 Hampton, and No. 6 Franklin Regional vs. No. 11 Thomas Jefferson.

Class A leads the way

The Class A boys teams are the first to start the WPIAL playoffs with games Friday night.

The first-round matchups are No. 8 Bishop Canevin (14-7) vs. No. 9 Leechburg (12-9) at Fox Chapel, No. 5 St. Joseph (17-5) vs. No. 12 West Greene (7-14) at Mt. Lebanon, No. 7 Greensburg Central Catholic (16-6) vs. No. 10 Geibel Catholic (11-11) at Charleroi and No. 6 Union (16-6) vs. No. 11 Clairton (9-10) at Hampton.

Class 2A and 3A start play Saturday with Class 5A joining on Monday. Class 6A starts Tuesday. Class 4A starts Wednesday.

Ringgold rebounds from 0-12

Did any WPIAL basketball team have a bigger resurgence this year than Ringgold?

The Rams didn’t win a single section game last season, finished 3-19 overall and 0-12 in Section 1-5A. But they dropped to Class 4A this season, improved to 13-8 overall, finished section in Section 1 and earned their first playoff berth since 2014.

Now, they’ll seek their first playoff win since 2011.

No. 9 Ringgold (13-8) plays No. 8 Freeport (11-9) in a WPIAL Class 4A first-round game Wednesday at Gateway.

Early start for Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is the only defending WPIAL champion with a first-round matchup because Class 3A has a full 16-team bracket. The Leopards (18-4) face No. 16 Shady Side Academy (9-11) Saturday at Fox Chapel.

Lincoln Park seeks its fourth consecutive appearance in the WPIAL finals.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.