Team to beat
Hempfield: After sharing the section title the past two seasons, the Spartans -- guided by new coach Mark Marino -- are the outright favorite this season. The inside-outside duo of 6-foot-7 junior forward Tony Pilato (10 points per game) and 6-3 junior guard Kason Harrell (16.4 ppg) is the best in the section. Both were named all-section last season.
Norwin: Three starters return for the Knights, who won't be as big as last season, but could be quicker and deeper. Junior Curtis Perz is one of the top guards in the section. Backcourt mates Logan Deri and Zach Bryan are also back.
Connellsville: The Falcons aren't short on size, and that could lead them to a big season. All five starters are back, four of whom are at least 6-3. Trent Bauer, a 6-9 senior center, and Jade Maher, a 6-4 senior guard, are the top returnees.
Kiski Area: Mike Simmons, a 6-2 junior guard, will lead the way for a Cavaliers team that lost its top two scorers and has a new coach in Joe Tutchstone. The Cavaliers (45.2 ppg) led Class AAAA in scoring defense last season.
Latrobe: Having been hit hard by graduation, the Wildcats hope to make the playoffs behind a solid backcourt that includes juniors Matt Cullen and Chad Kissell.
Penn-Trafford: The Warriors will try to reload after losing seven seniors. Four sophomores are expected to start, led by the lone returning starter, 5-9 guard Timmy Vecchio.
Albert Gallatin: The Colonials went winless in section play and won just one game overall the past two seasons.
Team to beat
Gateway: In what should again be a hotly contested race for the section title, give the edge to a Gators squad that returns many key players from last season's section runner-up. Tom Kromka, a 6-6 senior forward, is a three-year starter. Also back are senior guard Shomari Thomas and junior guard-forward Daylon Harris.
Fox Chapel: Seniors Matt D'Amico (22.1 ppg) and Brian Papich (15.2 ppg) were both all-section picks last season and form one of the top backcourt tandems in the WPIAL. Junior guard Billy Urso also returns.
Plum: The Mustangs fell short of the playoffs last season, but have a good chance of qualifying this season with 6-1 senior guard Nick Stotler and 6-6 senior center Austin Dedert leading the way.
Central Catholic: The defending section champion Vikings lost eight seniors, so a young group that includes 6-4 junior forward Sean Whalen will be expected to grow up fast.
Franklin Regional: The Panthers are an experienced bunch and bring back leading scorer Charan Singh, a 6-2 senior guard.
McKeesport: Coach Corey Gadson is hoping for big contributions from his son, William (a senior guard), as well as junior guard Jordon Payne.
Penn Hills: Junior forward Deandre Schifino-Winbush was one of the Indians' top players a season ago.
Woodland Hills: The Wolverines are searching for improvement after not winning a section game last season.
Team to beat
New Castle: Defending WPIAL champion New Castle headlines a section that sent four teams to the WPIAL semifinals last season (Hampton, North Allegheny and Seneca Valley were the others). The Red Hurricanes, who won the WPIAL Class AAA title two seasons ago, lost three starters from a 29-1 team, but should be outstanding again with 6-2 senior guard Malik Hooker (16.8 ppg), a Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 pick last season, 5-9 senior guard Anthony Richards and Stew Allen, a 6-3 senior forward.
Hampton: The Talbots were the WPIAL runner-up to New Castle the past two seasons and could unseat the Red Hurricanes as champion this time around. Ryan Luther (21.2 ppg), a 6-8 senior guard-forward, has committed to Pitt. He and his twin, Collin, are three-year starters, as is junior guard David Huber.
North Allegheny: The only teams to beat the Tigers last season were New Castle and Hampton. The Tigers should be in the hunt for the section title again with the return of 6-1 senior guard David Haus, 5-10 senior guard Joe Mancini and 6-2 senior forward Elijah Zeise.
Seneca Valley: The Raiders will be much smaller this season, but they have some speedy, playmaking guards in senior Matt Darby and junior T.J. Holl.
North Hills: The Indians are hoping to be in the thick of the playoff race. The team doesn't have much size and will rely on guard play. Senior guards Danny White and Dylan Mitchell are returning starters while guard Shawndale Jones is a promising sophomore.
Butler: The Golden Tornado will look to improve on last season's 2-12 record in the section.
Pine-Richland: Dean Steliotis, a 6-4 senior forward, is the only returning starter from last season's team that placed fifth.
Shaler: New coach Brian Bibey takes over a team that lost WPIAL scoring leader Geno Thorpe (25.4), who is now playing at Penn State.
Team to beat
Upper St. Clair: This season could feature a second consecutive section title for the Panthers, who return several key players from last season's team that won 17 games in a row at one point. J.J. Conn, a 6-2 senior guard-forward, is back, as are senior guard Conor Gallagher and senior forward Will Ross.
Bethel Park: The Black Hawks lost their top three scorers, but a solid group of guards, led by junior Joey Mascaro, should keep them near the top of the section.
Mt. Lebanon: Junior guard Jonny David, the son of head coach Joe David, is the top returnee for the Blue Devils, who have been among the top three in the section five years in a row.
Baldwin: The Highlanders will try to improve on last year's 8-14 record, but top returnee Arnes Bajgora, a 6-6 senior, is out for the first part of the season recovering from a knee injury.
Moon: Senior forward Tyler Crenshaw and junior guard Kyle Bondi are returning starters.
Canon-McMillan: Junior guard Sam Bohn was third on the team in scoring and first in assists a season ago.
Peters Township: The Indians bring back one starter, 6-5 junior guard Tim Swoope.
Trinity: Tim Tessmer, the Hillers' third coach in as many seasons, must replace four starters from last season's 11-11 team.
Team (Last season)
1. New Castle 29-1
2. Hampton 22-6
3. Gateway 16-7
4. Fox Chapel 17-7
5. Hempfield 17-6
Players to Watch
Stew Allen, New Castle, 6-3, Sr., Forward
Trent Bauer, Connellsville, 6-9, Sr., Center
Arnes Bajgora, Baldwin, 6-4, Sr., Forward
J.J. Conn, Upper St. Clair, 6-2, Sr., Guard-forward
Matt D'Amico, Fox Chapel, 6-2, Sr., Guard
Austin Dedert, Plum, 6-6, Sr., Center
Kason Harrell, Hempfield, 6-3, Jr., Guard
David Haus, North Allegheny, 6-1, Sr., Guard
Malik Hooker, New Castle, 6-2, Sr., Guard
David Huber, Hampton, 6-2, Jr., Forward
Tom Kromka, Gateway, 6-6, Sr., Forward
Collin Luther, Hampton, 6-6, Sr., Guard-forward
Ryan Luther, Hampton, 6-8, Sr., Guard-forward
Joe Mancini, North Allegheny, 5-10, Sr., Guard
Brian Papich, Fox Chapel, 6-2, Sr., Guard
Curtis Perz, Norwin, 6-1, Jr., Guard
Tony Pilato, Hempfield, 6-7, Jr., Forward
Anthony Richards, New Castle, 5-9, Sr., Guard
Charan Singh, Franklin Regional, 6-2, Sr., Guard
Dean Steliotis, Pine-Richland, 6-4, Sr., Forward
Nick Stotler, Plum, 6-1, Sr., Guard
Danny White, North Hills, 6-2, Sr., Guard