East Xtra: Are WPIAL playoffs diluted?

Craig Meyer's high school basketball notebook

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The discussion has become something of an annual rite, one that can be as passionate as it is predictable -- simply, are there too many teams that qualify for the WPIAL basketball playoffs?

For a significant number of people, the answer is an easy one -- yes. Based on this line of thinking, there are too many undeserving teams that make the playoffs, some of which finished the regular season with more losses than wins. After all, 77 of the 133 boys basketball teams in the area made the WPIAL playoffs last season (57.9 percent).

With the regular season having finished Monday, 21 teams will enter the WPIAL playoffs in 2014 with losing records. While that number may seem high on the surface, recent history has shown that it's actually quite the opposite.

The 21 playoff-bound teams with sub-.500 records is actually the fewest since 2005, when just 14 teams with losing records qualified. Last season, that number was at 29, the highest it had been since 2008, when there were 34.

Exactly one-third of those 21 teams come from the East Xtra coverage area, a group that includes the boys teams at Greensburg Salem (10-12), Burrell (6-15), Kittanning (7-15), Imani Christian (5-10) and Trinity Christian (9-13), along with the girls teams at Greensburg Salem (9-13) and Winchester Thurston (9-12).

The complaints of a bloated playoff field undoubtedly still exist, but for the coaches of these teams, there's really not all that much they can do other than accept what awaits them.

"We're just going by the rules," Burrell boys coach Shawn Bennis said. "The rules say that the top four teams make it and we're one of the top four teams. We'll take it."

From the 2005-06 season through the 2012-13 season, an average of 27.9 teams with losing records made the WPIAL playoffs in a given year. Since the beginning of the 2007-08 season, that number had never been lower than 26 (in 2009).

Though its record does not indicate it, Burrell enters the playoffs with as much momentum as it has had all season in what has been an injury-plagued campaign with an inexperienced team.

The Buccaneers have won four of their past 10 games after a 2-9 start and though some may scoff at the playoff inclusion of a 6-15 team, they, like the 20 other teams with a losing record in the field, will take what they can get.

"[The playoffs] give us, the program, one more week of practice," Bennis said. "When you're building a program, as much practice and improvement you can have is a great thing."

A perfect season

Though its male counterpart lost 15 of its 21 games this season, the Burrell girls basketball team did something else entirely. With a 63-61 victory Saturday against Mount Pleasant, the Buccaneers finished the regular season 22-0. Only three of those 22 victories were decided by fewer than five points and their average margin of victory was 27.1 points per game.

This season has helped improve what was already a strong three-year run, one in which Burrell has gone a combined 64-9. Now the goal will become reaching the WPIAL championship game, something the program has never done before.

Coming up empty

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the perfection of the Burrell girls were a number of programs in the East Xtra coverage area that struggled mightily this season, failing to win a game. That group of teams includes the boys teams at Woodland Hills and East Allegheny, as well as the girls team at Wilkinsburg.

The dropoff at Woodland Hills has been perhaps the most abrupt of the three. Not even two full years ago, the Wolverines went 17-6 and finished atop Class AAAA Section 2. In the past two seasons, however, they have gone a combined 4-38.

Despite the recent struggles, there is a sign of hope for Woodland Hills moving forward. One of the team's leading scorers, forward Avram Abramovitz, just finished his freshman season averaging 10.8 points per game. In the final 10 games of the season, he averaged a team-high 15.6 points per game.

Historic high for Mustangs

Not only has the boys basketball team at Plum qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the third time in the past five seasons, but it did so in historic fashion.

The Mustangs finished the regular season 18-3, giving them their best regular-season winning percentage since 1980, which is as far back as the Post-Gazette's high school records go.

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG


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