Usually, the downside of a school winning a PIAA football championship is that its boys basketball team struggles in the early part of the season while the two sports overlap.
However, North Allegheny didn't miss a beat in basketball while the football team was capturing its second PIAA Class AAAA title in three years.
North Allegheny raised its record to 9-0 over the holidays by winning its own Christmas tournament. The Tigers blasted North Catholic, 82-56, in the first round and Peters Township, 71- 35, in the championship game.
"One of the great things about our team is we have outstanding depth," North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio said. "We were able to still win games without having our full squad."
North Allegheny was without its only true post player, junior forward Elijah Zeise, during the first seven games. Zeise was a starting wide receiver and cornerback in football.
"Conditioning for basketball and football are two entirely different things," DeGregorio said. "It's hard to walk right off the football field and onto the basketball court. Elijah needed a little time to make the adjustment but he played his first games in the tournament and did pretty well."
North Allegheny adjusted without Zeise by playing with an unconventional five-guard lineup. The Tigers compensated for a lack of size with long-range shooting as they are averaging 35 3-point field-goal attempts a game.
"We have a very good shooting team and I think you're only going to see the percentages go up as we get deeper into the season," DeGregorio said. "Everyone on our team shoots the 3 and everyone is capable of knocking down the 3. It's no secret that we're a perimeter-oriented team."
Joe Mancini has led the 3-point barrage.
The junior guard hit 10 3-pointers in a 32-point performance as North Allegheny beat Wheeling Park, 85-63, on Dec. 22. The WPIAL record is 13 set by Ford City's Christopher Zilla in 1995 and matched by Fort Cherry's Dan Davis in 2004.
One night earlier, senior wing James Meeker connected on five 3-pointers and North Allegheny made 14 as a team in a 55-49 victory against Seneca Valley in a Section 3-AAAA game.
Mancini and Meeker are just part of a deep pool of guards that also includes experienced players such as senior Sean Hennigan, R.J. Colabrese and Adam Haus and junior David Haus.
All the good outside shooting has enabled North Allegheny to score 73.0 points a game. However, the Tigers are just as strong on defense, giving up 56.2 points a game with their full-court pressure despite playing a strong non-conference schedule that has also included victories against Hazleton, State College and Mt. Lebanon.
North Allegheny is also 3-0 in section play with wins against Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley and Shaler. The Tigers are in a three-way tie for first place with Hampton and New Castle.
After visiting Butler Friday night, North Allegheny will host the other two section tri-leaders next week, facing Hampton on Jan. 8 and New Castle on Jan. 11.
"It's nice to be 9-0 but what I'm most happy about is being 3-0 in the section," DeGregorio said. "It's really important to get off on the right foot in section play because the section has so many good teams from top to bottom. There is no doubt in my mind that it's the strongest Class AAAA section in the WPIAL."
First Published January 3, 2013 5:00 AM