I’ve reached the juncture, near the halfway point of the season, where I’ve seen every team that appears in this week’s Super 7 and 10 of the 13 teams discussed below. Those observations, though, offer only minimal insight on which is the best team in Delco.
The best I can offer this week is a clear delineation after the top four teams in the rankings (Penncrest isn’t far back, either, but the relative weakness of the Central League makes it tough to measure them against others that have pursued daunting nonleague schedules). Sorting those top four to glean a No. 1 will be an ongoing process. Each of the four has a legitimate case as the top team, and the more difficult aspect in compiling these rankings was envisioning one of those teams in fourth.
After much deliberation, here’s the thought process I went with: What is each team’s biggest weakness? What happens when things go wrong and each team has to scramble to find that default, emergency plan of attack? On that basis, a one team emerged as the No. 1. (Rankings based on games through Wednesday, Jan. 11.)
1. Bonner & Prendergast (11-1) Previous: No. 2
The Friars biggest weakness is depth beyond their sixth or seventh guy. That’s a distant concern many nights and not enough to keep Bonner from the top spot. They have the best scoring depth one through five with Justin Gans, Christian Lane, Tymir Cooper, Dylan Higgins and Ajiri Johnson, all of whom average 9.8 points per game or more to make them difficult to defend every trip down the floor. They can shoot 3s without being dependent on the triple. The last team in Delco saddled with a loss this season, they’ve recovered nicely in a stretch of three games in three days. With Archbishop Wood (Johnson vs. Seth Pinkney will be a heck of a matchup) and St. Joseph’s Prep looming, I’m not necessarily sold on Bonner occupying this spot long-term, but the Friars are in good shape.
2. Archbishop Carroll (9-3) Previous: No. 1
The Patriots’ shortcoming is finding easy baskets, something the driving of Cooper and Lane and the length of Johnson alleviate for Bonner. Solid as Jesse McPherson and Devon Ferrero are, they’re not consistent fonts of offense in the low post with their backs to the basket. When Justin Anderson’s shooting isn’t there, the Patriots look at a loss for points. Much of their easy offense is facilitated by the supreme court vision of freshman point guard A.J. Hoggard. But as in the Wood game Sunday, when Hoggard is benched for extended spells (which will happen to a freshman), offense can dry up. The continued growth of Khari Williams and Colin Daly off the dribble can remedy that, but they’re not there yet.
3. Chester (7-2) Previous: No. 3
I look at Chester and sometimes wonder where the scoring comes from. They have three primary scorers – Ahrod Carter, Jamar Sudan and point guard Michael Smith. Carter’s offense relies on his shooting ability beyond the arc. Sudan draws the attention of an opponent’s best defensive player, and so many of his points are by sheer determination off the bounce. And Smith is a sophomore. Jordan Camper is averaging 12 points per game, but the vast majority of his offense comes via rebounds or lobs; his back-to-basket post skills aren’t yet polished to the point where he can be fed consistently. As long as Chester’s defensive compass points north, as Tuesday against Penn Wood, they’ll be fine.
4. Haverford School (12-1) Previous: No. 4
It pains me to put the Fords fourth (though not as much as the other three here, I suppose). Haverford has won nine straight. It has beaten reigning champ Germantown Academy in a home game forfeited to the neutral site of Philly U and Episcopal Academy on the road. The Fords have the high ground in the Inter-Ac. They possess four scoring options, though Tuesday was a quiet outing from Jameer Nelson Jr. When push comes to shove, the Fords are occasionally too dependent on Kharon Randolph and Christian Ray, who accounted for 66 percent of the points in the Inter-Ac wins. They struggled against EA in the second quarter when Randolph ran into a bad vein of shooting. Both can generate offense multiple ways, which makes them more difficult to stop. But can Gavin Burke or Nelson single-handedly win the Fords games? Burke came close Tuesday, but on balance, it’s still the Randolph-Ray show.
5. Penncrest (10-2) Previous: No. 5
The Lions are on a 10-game winning streak and flying high into the Jan. 20 meeting with Conestoga which could be a battle of league unbeatens. Coach Mike Doyle runs an eight-man rotation, and six players (including Chris Mills, Justin Heidig and Manny Ruffin) have recorded a double-figures game in the streak. That’s pretty solid considering the Lions only allow an average of 43 points per game.
6. Strath Haven (9-2) Previous: No. 6
To illustrate the difference between Penncrest and Haven, look at points differential. In 12 games (losses included), Penncrest has outscored opposition by a total of 116 points. Strath Haven in 11 games has outpaced opposition by just 35. Even if you remove the outlier that was Penncrest’s 64-40 win Dec. 16, the difference still averages four points per game. The Panthers have done an amazing job coping without Pat O’Kane and Cooper Driscoll, and John Harrar has been at the center of that. But credit coach Dave McFadden for getting his guys to do just enough to eke out eight wins by single digits.
7. Academy Park (6-3) Previous: NR
I’m elevating the Knights into the Super 7, and not just because of EA’s continued slide. Frank Wolf’s team has won five of six. Nick Simmons is turning into the veteran leader he had to be for this team to rebuild from last year’s departures, and the supporting pieces like Marq Greenwood, Shermik Lofton and Nasiem Harley are stepping up. I could see AP challenging Penn Wood for that place as the second team in the Del Val.
Dropped out: Episcopal Academy
Honorable Mention: Episcopal Academy (8-9; EA is 2-8 in games decided by nine points or fewer. They’ve outscored opponents by 68 points this season despite being under .500. On the bright side, Nick Alikakos is out of the boot and could be returning soon); Penn Wood (3-5, I see the Patriots still struggling for an identity. They’re a good shooting team, but that’s a fickle one to choose. More balance on getting to the basket off the dribble is needed to amplify the drive-and-kick game); Garnet Valley (8-4, the scoring averages for Austin Laughlin and Brandon Starr have come out of the stratosphere, in part as the Jags have settled into a more reasonable pace of around 60 points per game. That duo still accounts for 73.6 percent of the Jags’ scoring, but seems difficult to sustain); Springfield (6-5, the Cougars possessed four scoring options plus point guard Kyle Long, then added a fifth in Mike Webb, who is averaging 10.7 points per game in six games. Springfield is 2-4 in those contests, though. All those options, five of whom are guards, appear to require some balance); Glen Mills (5-4, forwards Myron Sanders and Ja’Qualyn Kelly are going to create matchup problems for teams like AP and Penn Wood, both guard-oriented attacks. If Kenyon Cooper and James Timmons continue to provide solid backcourt play, this is an intriguing team).