Mars center Josh Goetz is one of the biggest players in the WPIAL.
Over the past few months, Goetz's much-improved skill and increased contributions to the top-ranked team in Class AAA have made him stand out even more.
Goetz, who is 6 feet 8 and 230 pounds, has had an eye-opening senior season, helping the Planets to a 13-2 record (before a non-section game Wednesday night at North Hills) , 7-0 and first place in Section 1. Goetz is averaging 12 points and a team-high 13 rebounds per game.
"If there's someone [in the WPIAL] who has improved more than him, I'd love to see him," Mars coach Rob Carmody said.
Goetz was a starter last season when Mars advanced past the first round of the WPIAL playoffs for the first time in school history. Goetz made big strides that season, and had 15 points and nine rebounds in a first-round win against West Mifflin.
Still, Goetz had a long way to go to reach his potential. That's where this season enters the conversation. Goetz has flashed an impressive mid-range game and a nice assortment of post moves, in addition to his rebounding ability and solid defensive play.
"Here's a kid who last year was just comfortable shooting layups. Now he's stepping out and making 10- and 15-foot shots and is a good free-throw shooter. He's just totally become a complete basketball player," Carmody said. "When you throw in the fact that he has a 6-8, 230-pound frame, it's really noticeable. He's just had an outstanding year."
Goetz, whose sister, Ali, starts for the Mars girls team, is suddenly attracting a lot of college interest. Carmody said Division II and Division III schools are showing interest, and the Naval Academy and Air Force have also been in touch.
Shady Side eyes turnaround
After going more than two weeks without winning a game, Shady Side Academy has hit a portion of its schedule that might give the Indians the momentum they need to gain a WPIAL playoff spot for the 10th consecutive season.
After routing Springdale on Jan. 4, Shady Side Academy dropped five games in a row to fall to 2-5 in Class AA Section 3. A victory against South Allegheny Tuesday, however, put the Indians (5-12, 3-5) alone in fourth place for the section's final playoff spot.
The Indians, however, began a three-game stretch Tuesday against the two teams with whom they were tied -- South Allegheny and Riverview -- as well as Springdale, the only team they were ahead of in the standings.
The Indians play host to Riverview Friday and travel to Springdale next Tuesday. The Indians were edged by Riverview earlier in the season, 37-36.
Section 3 is top-heavy with Greensburg Central Catholic, Jeannette and Serra Catholic all having fine seasons, so the final postseason berth will likely be claimed by Shady Side Academy, South Allegheny or Riverview. The Indians finish section play against Serra Catholic and at Jeannette.
Life after Mason
With high-scoring guard Micah Mason on its side, Highlands was a threat to beat just about anybody the past few seasons.
Without him, the Golden Rams have not won a game.
Highlands is 0-17 overall, 0-8 in Class AAA Section 1. The Golden Rams are one of three winless WPIAL teams, Southmoreland and West Greene being the others.
Mason led the WPIAL in scoring the past two seasons (33.3 points per game in 2010-11 and 28.7 in 2011-12) and is now a starter at Drake University, a Division I program in Iowa. Highlands also lost four other starters from last season's team. This season, the Golden Rams are averaging 43.2 points a game.
Here are a few boys games to keep an eye on this week.
Friday, North Allegheny at Seneca Valley, 7:30 p.m. -- Seneca Valley looks to avenge a 55-49 loss at North Allegheny on Dec. 21, a game in which the Tigers made 14 3-pointers. Seneca Valley has won six games in a row to put the Raiders in third place in Class AAAA Section 3. Meanwhile, second-place North Allegheny has scored at least 71 points in their past seven wins.
Tuesday, North Catholic at Vincentian Academy, 7:30 p.m. -- Vincentian, the top-ranked team in Class A boys, leads North Catholic by one game in Section 2, so a Royals victory here would essentially wrap up the section title race. Vincentian got 29 points from Ryan Wolf to win at North Catholic, 80-68, on Jan 8. The Royals have scored at least 73 points in every game.