Daily Journal Sports file
A four-year varsity player, Burlingame forward/center Nick Loew is arguably the best low-post player in the PAL.
If you’re a high school sports fan, one of the first questions asked of new year is: who will win the Peninsula Athletic League boys’ basketball title?
If you’re looking at the South Division, the answer is: who knows? As usual, there are several of the 10 teams that have a legitimate chance at clinching the division crown. It’s the usual suspects, but is this the year there’s a surprise?
The following is a breakdown of the PAL South Division, in alphabetical order. All records are through Thursday and are based off results given to MaxPreps.com.
With Alex Manu’s ability to penetrate defenses off the dribble, it opens up the Dons’ inside-out game, with wings Kevin Hahn and Toby Liebergesell to circle around and knock down the 3-pointers. When Manu is on and hitting his shot, Aragon can be hard to stop. The Dons can turn games into frenzied, end-to-end track meets. If the Dons struggle from the outside, however, they’ll be in trouble.
The Panthers may have the two best players at their position in the PAL. Frankie Ferrari returns to run the show at point guard a year after transferring to Riordan and then transferring back. The USF-bound Ferrari finally has the body to match his game. He’s grown at least six inches since his sophomore year and can be deadly inside and out.
Team him with power forward/center Nick Loew and Burlingame will be hard to beat. As long as Loew can avoid foul trouble, he is nearly unstoppable in the post. He can also get out and run the floor and is an option on the fast break.
Justin Gutang is the Panthers’ wild card. A junior wing, he has not shied away from looking for his shot and, if his midrange game is on, he could be that third piece crucial to winning championships.
Looks like it could be a long year for the Mustangs. Things aren’t looking much better in 2014 than they did last season when they went winless in PAL play and won only three games overall.
Capuchino is ridiculously young, with four sophomore making the varsity squad. Those sophomores, however, give the Mustangs some size — a pair of posts (Lucas Magni and Dylan Mayor) in the 6-2 range and two 5-8 guards (Jarrod Pascual and Raoul Ligon). Much like freshmen on the varsity team, it is expected sophomores will get a lot of playing time.
It’s a bit of a rebuilding year for the Scots: new coach and upwards of four starters from the team that advanced to the CCS semifinals last season.
Michael Costello, who developed into one of the better shooters in the PAL last season, returns for new coach Patrick Smith — Dave Low’s assistant the last several years. Joe Pitocchi returns in the front court and gives the Scots an inside presence.
The Scots’ biggest issue in the preseason has been consistency. They play a good game followed by a stinker. They played well in an 11-point loss to Aragon, but were buried by Half Moon Bay, 68-41. Carlmont needs to improve at both ends of the court to compete for a playoff spot.
The Knights’ preseason record could easily be reversed. Hillsdale’s biggest losing margin was 13 points. A few more baskets here and a few more defensive stops there and Hillsdale could have seven or eight wins.
The Knights’ biggest question is can they find a complement to Brian Houle, a senior guard/forward who paced the offense in the preseason. Hillsdale is young this year with only six seniors on a roster of 16. They lost a bulk of their scoring and leadership to graduation, so the Knights are going to have to get after it on each possession — both offensively and defensively — if they want to have sustained success in PAL play.
The Bears still have games against St. Francis and Half Moon Bay looming, but six preseason wins would be quite the accomplishment given their schedule.
Four of their wins have come against private schools — including neighbors Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School, two squads that will be in the mix for the West Bay Athletic League title.
Two of their losses have come against Sacred Heart Cathedral — one of three West Catholic Athletic League teams on their schedule — and Half Moon Bay, the presumptive favorite to win the PAL North Division title.
As long as the Bears stay within striking distance of an opponent, they have a chance to win thanks to the pure shooting stroke of guard Royce Branning. He poured in 29 in a 65-62 loss to Burlingame, and led the Bears in scoring against both Anderson and St. Francis-Watsonville.
The Vikings quietly enter PAL play as a contender to the South title — like they do seemingly every year.
One would have expected some growing pains this season after Mills lost its two best players to graduation in point guard Matty Wong and forward Joseph Worku. Instead, they’ve been successful during a tough preseason campaign.
The Vikings do return several players from last season’s CCS semifinal squad, including Jeremy Gibbs and Marquise Adkins, but not a lot of experience. Listed as a forward, Gibbs has the propensity to knock down the 3-pointer consistently. Adkins’ game is more suited to do the dirty work — cleaning up around the glass and rebounding.
San Mateo (5-5)
The Bearcats can go nowhere but up. They have already won more games during the preseason than the three they won all of last season when they went 1-11 in PAL play and 3-19 overall.
They are 3-0 against the PAL during the preseason, including a 48-46 win over division rival Carlmont, so the Bearcats should have some confidence going into PAL action.
An opposing coach had to be quick if he wanted to scout the Cherokees. After a pair of games locally, Sequoia took it to the road — Arizona, specifically — where the Cherokees went 1-2 at the Cactus Jam tournament.
Sequoia has been consistent offensively, averaging more than 50 points in their two wins. They put up 65 in a loss to Boulder Creek-Ariz., but only 35 in a loss to Scottsdale Christian.
If nothing else, Sequoia appears to have the size to make other teams uncomfortable, with 11 players on the roster 6-foot or taller.
The Cherokees will also be fairly young, with three sophomores and eight juniors.
The Wildcats got off to a slow start, winning only one of their first six games, getting blown out against Clear Lake by 44 points and Piedmont Hills by 33 points.
The low point came on back-to-back, one-point losses to Stagg-Stockton and Silver Creek. They finally turned the corner with a win over Westmoor and then holding off Millennium-Tracy for a two-point victory.
Josh Holman has made a smooth transition from football to basketball and look for the senior guard to lead the Wildcats’ offense this year. Michael Thompson and Kevin Kahriman have shown flashes of offense this season, but Woodside needs to get more consistent production from the entire team.
Keep an on N’Jai LeBlanc and Evan Yedinak, a pair of freshman who figure to be a major part of the Woodside rotation. A coach does not usually keep freshmen on the varsity squad unless they are going to be a major part of the program.