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EPC, Colonial League boys basketball tournament preview: Who to watch, what are the top storylines, and who will win

Pocono Mountain West's Adrian Brito looks to score against Allentown Central Catholic's Anthony Jones and Jahrel Vigo on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, during the EPC boys championship game at PPL Center in Allentown. This year's EPC tournament begins Friday night. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)
Pocono Mountain West’s Adrian Brito looks to score against Allentown Central Catholic’s Anthony Jones and Jahrel Vigo on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, during the EPC boys championship game at PPL Center in Allentown. This year’s EPC tournament begins Friday night. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)
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It has been a boys basketball season filled with milestones. Players such as Emmaus’ Will Barber and Palmerton’s Brayden Hosier reached 1,000 points. Parkland’s Nick Coval became his school’s all-time scoring leader. Pat Boyle, Notre Dame-Green Pond’s coach, reached 500 career wins. All were accompanied with nice celebrations.

But those celebrations will likely pale in comparison to the ones that will come with league championship victories.

Next Thursday night, PPL Center in downtown Allentown will host a girl-boy championship doubleheader followed the next night by a championship twin bill at Freedom, and the trophy and medal presentations and the accompanying array of picture-taking are something that those involved will remember for a long time, if not forever.

The season had a few surprises, not all of them on the court. Perhaps the biggest unexpected moment came at Palmerton where coach Ken Termini resigned after a few of his players attended a school board meeting and asked for his ouster. Joe Egan is the interim coach.

That coaching change provides the backdrop for what could be a compelling Colonial League tournament where the Blue Bombers figure to have a shot at the program’s first-ever Colonial championship and first league title of any kind since a Centennial League crown in 1989.

In the EPC, the teams that were expected to do well lived up to their billing. Parkland, Pocono Mountain West, Allentown Central Catholic, Liberty and Emmaus are the top five seeds and are all repeat EPC tourney participants.

If there’s a surprise in the EPC tourney, it’s in who is not involved. Bethlehem Catholic had made the tournament seven consecutive seasons — there was no league tournament in 2021 due to the pandemic — and won the championship in 2018 and 2018, but did not qualify this season in large part because of major knee injuries suffered by three players.

Freedom and East Stroudsburg South, who also made the tournament last year, are not involved in the eight-team EPC field this season.

Here’s a look at who’s involved and who expect:

Eastern Pennsylvania Conference

The schedule 

Friday’s quarterfinals: No. 8 seed Nazareth (12-10, 8-8) at No. 1 Parkland (17-5, 15-1); No. 7 Northampton (14-8, 8-8) at No. 2 Pocono Mountain West (19-3, 14-2); No. 6 Whitehall (15-7, 9-7) at No. 3 Emmaus (17-5, 13-3); No. 5 Allentown Central Catholic (17-5, 12-4) at No. 4 Liberty (17-5, 13-3).

6 past champions

2017: Allen; 2018: Bethlehem Catholic; 2019: Bethlehem Catholic; 2020: Allen; 2022: Parkland; 2023: Allentown CCHS.

5 players to watch

Parkland’s Nick Coval: He is averaging 22.6 points per game and has made 58 3-pointers. His 48 treys in the 16 EPC regular-season games was tops in the league. He is expected to repeat as league MVP.

Central Catholic’s Jahrel Vigo: He is averaging 18.6 points per game and is also one of the league’s top rebounders. But his value can’t be measured in stats. He can impact a game with his athleticism as his dunks can electrify a crowd and change momentum.

Emmaus’ Will Barber: He averages 19.4 points per game and has scored in double figures in every Emmaus game. He has been a big part of the Green Hornets’ program for four seasons and has played in 83 games. His experience and leadership is vital to his team’s chances.

Pocono Mountain West’s Adrian Brito: He has emerged as one of the league’s biggest stars as a junior. He is averaging 17.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game and is also an 81.6 percent foul shooter.

Liberty’s Blake Hargrove: The sophomore guard built on an impressive freshman season this year and is averaging 16.5 points per game. He has had a 3-pointer in every game but one and had six in a regular-season overtime loss to Parkland.

4 storylines to follow

Can either Nazareth or Northampton, who both needed a tiebreaker to get into the field at 8-8, pull a quarterfinal-round shocker?

Can Allentown Central Catholic keep the momentum going from its decisive win over Parkland on Monday night and carry it into a tough road game at Liberty?

Can Coval, who enters the postseason with 1,938 career points, reach the 2,000-point mark during the tournament?

Can either Emmaus or Pocono Mountain West, who have not won an EPC title since the league began in 2014-15 break through for a league championship?

3 facts to note

Pocono Mountain West is the hottest team entering the tournament with eight straight wins since a 67-60 double-overtime loss at Allentown Central Catholic on Jan. 12.

Parkland’s Coval and Pocono Mountain West’s KJ Coles were the best free-throw shooters in the EPC regular season, making 95% and 90% respectively. Pocono West was the EPC’s top foul-shooting team in the regular season, making 76.1%.

Parkland made the most 3-pointers in the EPC regular season with 123 in 16 games. Northampton was second with 93.

2 quarterfinal matchups to see

The best quarterfinal-round matchup is one that hasn’t been seen so far this year, ACCHS at Liberty. They last met in the middle of the 2022-23 season and the Vikings won at Rockne Hall.

Everybody says that it’s hard to beat the same team three times in the same season. It’s also hard to beat a quality team twice in a week. That’s the quest of Emmaus which has beaten Whitehall 54-40 and 53-46 this season, but has to do it again to get to the semifinals for the second straight year.

1 man’s opinion

Expect the top two seeds, Parkland and Pocono Mountain West, to roll to quarterfinal wins and Emmaus and ACCHS to prevail in tight games to set up Emmaus-Pocono Mountain West and ACCHS-Parkland at PPL Center Monday night.

Colonial League

The schedule

Saturday’s quarterfinals: No. 6 Salisbury (14-8, 11-6) at No. 3 Saucon Valley (15-7, 13-5), 6 p.m.; No. 5 Bangor (12-10, 12-6) at No. 4 Northwestern Lehigh (15-7, 12-5), 6 p.m.

6 past champions

2018: Bangor; 2019: Southern Lehigh; 2020: Southern Lehigh; 2021: Bangor: 2022: Wilson; 2023: Notre Dame-Green Pond.

5 players to watch

Notre Dame’s Colin Boyle: While he is not the prolific scorer that his brother, Brendan, was for the Crusaders, Coach Pat Boyle’s youngest son does a lot of things for his team. He rebounds, passes and provides plenty of defensive intensity and leadership.

Palmerton’s Matt Machalik: One of the area’s best athletes and an all-time great at Palmerton, Machalik has a chance to do something that eluded him during his record-breaking football season and that’s get a championship. He is coming off a 30-point effort against Pocono Mountain East.

Palmerton’s Brayden Hosier: One of the league’s top players, Hosier is coming into the playoffs on a hot streak. He had three 3-pointers and 19 points against Northern Lehigh on Tuesday night and followed it up with 20 points on five treys in a nonleague win over Pocono Mountain East.

Salisbury’s Bryan Gonzalez: The Falcons have a balanced offense, but someone who might get overlooked is Gonzalez, a sophomore. He scored 18 points with four treys against Bangor and had 16 in a loss to Palmerton.

Saucon Valley’s Jack Robertson: The gritty guard is the Panthers’ scoring leader and one of its most experienced players who knows what playoff basketball is all about. He scored a combined 20 points in two games against Salisbury and will need to score more if Saucon is going to reach the semis.

4 storylines to follow

Can Palmerton end a long league-title drought in the aftermath of the controversial coaching change?

Can Notre Dame-Green Pond which went through the league’s regular-season’s schedule at 20-0 win two more to repeat as champs?

Can Saucon Valley, which lost to Notre Dame in a double-overtime thriller in last year’s league title game, get another shot at the Crusaders and get a measure of redemption?

Can Northwestern Lehigh, which got a late start due to the success of its championship football team, finish strong and pull a pair of surprises next week in the semis and finals?

3 facts to note

Bangor has won the most Colonial tournament championships with six, while Salisbury and Saucon Valley are tied for second with five apiece.

Notre Dame-Green Pond has been in the most tournaments, playing in its 24th out of 30 possible appearances. The last time the Crusaders missed the tournament was 2011.

Palmerton is 5-2 under Egan and is on a four-game win streak. The Blue Bombers are averaging 70 points in those four games.

2 matchups we want to see

Saucon Valley, which plays quality defense under second-year coach Brett Snyder, would seem to provide a tough semifinal matchup for high-flying Palmerton in the semifinals. Snyder, a former Palmerton player and assistant coach, knows the Bombers personnel as well as anyone. Saucon won the previous meeting with Palmerton this season, 54-45 on Jan. 13.

Notre Dame-Green Pond wasn’t tested much during the course of the Colonial League regular season but did have to go double-overtime to beat Palmerton 85-79 on Jan. 18. The Crusaders and Blue Bombers have had several memorable postseason matchups in recent years and a meeting between them in the league title game would likely create quite a buzz.

1 man’s opinion

Saucon Valley, which has struggled offensively twice before this season against Salisbury, figures to finally get over 40 points and find a way to beat the pesky Falcons. Northwestern Lehigh is loaded with kids who know how to win and the Tigers beat Bangor 63-48 on Jan. 15. They figure to top the Slaters again, but don’t expect a double-digit spread. So, it’s looking like Palmerton-Saucon and Notre Dame-Northwestern when the semifinals are held Tuesday at Catty.

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