The last league to open up conference play is always the Del Val, which offers a unique dynamic for its teams. The holiday schedule can be more purely crafted to provide challenges, not having to worry about league games interspersed, and the teams that make it to the start of the league slate can often be more polished given the diversity of challenges they’ve courted.
This season, things are different. I’d venture to guess that seldom in the past have not one but three Del Val teams entered league play with one win each. There’s the top tier of Academy Park, Chester and Penn Wood (alphabetical order, for now). Then there’s Chichester, Interboro and Glen Mills, with three wins between them. The Bucs won their opener against Motivation Charter and have dropped 10 straight. The Eagles, ravaged by offseason transfers after making districts last year, and the Battlin’ Bulls have needed Public League opponents to get into the win column – Audenried and Central, respectively.
As fate would have it, the three top teams played the three bottom teams in the first night of play Tuesday, and the results were predictable: Penn Wood by nine over Glen Mils, Chester by 23 over Chichester and AP by 28 over Interboro.
That’s all a long-winded intro into this week’s rankings, in which the top two spots continue to be easy to fill, the third spot doesn’t require too much mental gymnastics, and then the field is wide open. The lack of nonconference success from the Del Val is easy to point to as a reason for that quandary.
Here are this week’s rankings. Records include games through Tuesday night.
1. Bonner & Prendergast (10-0) Last week: 1
After watching Bonner’s battle with Roman Catholic Sunday, this is a no-brainer. Isaiah Wong continues to develop that killer instinct in clutch moments, and Tariq Ingraham’s game rose Sunday against better opposition, a nice addition to his diversifying offensive game. The Friars lack that consistent third scorer in a single individual (Tyreese Watson is the most likely any given night), but with the way that Malik Edwards provided big minutes and Donovan Rodriguez hit a clutch fourth-quarter 3-pointer, they have a committee of players vying to be that person each outing.
2. Haverford School (14-0) Last week: 2
The Fords passed one of the big tests of the Inter-Ac season by surviving Germantown Academy by one point. Considering they’re down two starters, 14 straight wins isn’t too bad. Asim Richards has stepped up with more offense in recent weeks, Jameel Brown has been phenomenal (including a season-high 22 points vs. GA), and Christian Ray has been as dependable as ever. Seems fitting that the game that could decide the Inter-Ac title – Haverford at Malvern Prep Feb. 5 – caps the regular season.
3. Archbishop Carroll (8-5) Last week: 3
The Patriots answered three straight Christmas-season losses with three straight wins. Carroll hasn’t hit the difficult part of its schedule yet, but that’s coming – try at Neumann-Goretti, then Bonner, then Roman, then La Salle, then at Archbishop Wood in succession starting Sunday. Encouraging signs heading into the stretch: Tairi Ketner is playing really well (I see in him some of what Keyon Butler did as an undersized big man last year), as is Ny’Mire Little in providing consistent backcourt scoring.
4. Penncrest (9-2) Last week: NR
Here’s where it gets dicey – and yes, I know AP beat Penncrest on the second night of the season. And I expect the placement of teams four through seven to change with every ranking. But Penncrest beat Chester in Chester (at Widener, but still) while missing three starters. That’s impressive, and one of those starters (Matt Arbogast) has since returned to bolster the Lions.
5. Chester (5-4) Last week: 4
The Clippers remain an enigma to me. The five losses are by 14 combined points, sure. And they’ve allowed fewer than 50 points in each of the last three games. They’ll likely burnish the record in the next week (games against Interboro, Bartram, Glen Mills). I think defense has to be the identity for this team to reach its potential. Their most consistent scorer is Karell Watkins, then Michael Smith, then a passel of guards led most nights by Akeem Taylor. Absent the out-and-out attacker on the offensive end (Watkins is that to some degree, but a low-post scorer depends on others to feed him the ball rather than taking over directly) the Clippers will take their lead from the defensive effort each night.
6. Episcopal Academy (8-8) Last week: 7
Seven losses by four points or fewer for EA. Seven! Part of me thinks that luck or late-game execution or whatever will flip for the Churchmen and all these close losses will turn into wins and they can rattle off a title chase. But the loss at Penn Charter puts them at a disadvantage in that quest. Bright side: Colin Chambers is averaging 10.3 points per game over the last eight. One of those games was a 17-point win over Academy Park, which gains them this spot.
7. Academy Park (7-2) Last week: 6
If we’re going to use the Rustin metric (trademark pending) that some of you on Twitter are very fond of, then Sun Valley should be here instead of AP by beating Rustin by 18 while AP only beat them by 15. But Sun Valley’s loss to Cardinal O’Hara is a puzzler, and AP’s two losses are in overtime to Central Dauphin East and the setback to EA. So we give AP, winners of three straight, the edge this week. Thursday’s game with Penn Wood is an intriguing proving ground, and while the Knights will be missing Tyriq Marrero, Jalen Cassidy has stepped up big in recent games, averaging 11 ppg over his last four.
Dropped out: Sun Valley
Honorable mention: Sun Valley (9-3, call it a midseason lull, though the double-overtime loss to East isn’t bad. The O’Hara setback isn’t great, though); Radnor (7-4, they beat Garnet Valley and are on a four-game winning streak, so yeah they’re here. A little intrigued as to what happens if teams can bottle up either Lewis Robinson or Jack D’Entremont, but so far that hasn’t happened much); Garnet Valley (8-3, two straight losses after an 8-1 start could just be a blip. They may be the most dependent on their starting five for scoring of anyone in the county, and when that lags, it can be trouble); Penn Wood (5-3, waiting on a big result from the Patriots one way or another, either a really good win over AP or Chester or a bad loss to someone, to opine what they can be this season); Cardinal O’Hara (6-6; the win over Sun Valley has to get them here but an 0-5 start in the Catholic League – with Bonner, Carroll and the big Philly schools still yet to come – means they are unlikely to stay).