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February 8, 2013

Commonwealth District Playoff Preview

VirginiaPreps.com is proud to continue its AAA Basketball Playoff Coverage. We're your stop for Recaps, Postgame Audios, Previews, Blogs and much, much more throughout the postseason all the way to the State Final at VCU's Siegel Center in March.

We now turn our attention to the Commonwealth District Tournament, where three teams will join Mountain View in the Northwest Region playoffs. Our predictions can be seen below; over the past two years we've nailed 78% of our projections. Find out how we do by staying tuned to the site through the entire playoffs!

#1 - Mountain View Wildcats (20-2; 16-0)

#8 - Orange County Fighting Hornets (7-15; 2-14)

It has been a banner season for the Mountain View Wildcats and Kevin Brown, the team's Head Coach since 2006 who was a standout player at North Stafford and went on to play professionally in England. The Wildcats are riding an 18-game winning streak, the longest among all Group AAA teams in the state. They've enjoyed a steady climb to the Commonwealth District regular season crown from being a #4 seed two years ago, to earning the #2 seed last season and not losing to any league foe in 2012-13. Mountain View does it with razor-sharp execution on offense, sharing the ball and defensively by frustrating their opponents into submission with a hard to crack 1-3-1 zone.

The catalyst for Mountain View is Brown's son, 5-foot-10 junior point guard Lucas Brown (14PPG, 6APG), an All-District performer a season ago who has been even better this year. Around him, the pieces aren't shabby either with twins Tyrell Mason and Tyrus Mason, senior Joe Wilson and senior Xavier Fisher. Tyrell scored 19 points in the regular season finale, combining size at 6-foot-5 with smarts to give the opposition fits. Tyrus provides them with a consistent outside shooter to stretch the defense. Fisher may get the nod as most improved, and Wilson is a reigning Second Team All-District performer that plays strong offensively and defensively.

Three players are shooting over 75% from the foul line for Mountain View, which is among the many major concerns for Orange County, making the district playoffs for the first time. The Fighting Hornets fell by 51 in December to the Wildcats and then by 28 in the regular season finale, so it shows the progress they have made. Sophomore guard De'Andre Clark had 20 points and three treys against them this year in one meeting, while Damien Clark is capable, which he showed when had 18 points and four treys in an upset of Riverbend. That being said, they have been held under 40 points 10 times.

Pick: Mountain View 63-30. On paper, this is a substantial mismatch. In many ways it's remarkable that Orange County beat out a Brooke Point team that won the regular season district title just two years ago for the eighth and final seed in the league playoffs. Their next step as a program will be advancing in the postseason, but don't expect that to happen until 2014 or 2015 at the earliest. Maybe the most impressive thing about Mountain View during their 18-game win streak is that only five games have been decided by single-digits. Each of the last two years they have lost in the district tournament title game, falling to Stafford in 2011 and North Stafford in 2012. This is a very determined, hungry Wildcats bunch playing with a purpose.

#4 - Stafford Indians (13-9; 8-8)

#5 - Albemarle Patriots (12-10; 8-8)

Champions of the Commonwealth District Tournament in 2011, the Stafford Indians are trying to get back to that point and they have been hanging around in most every game. That's rather impressive because Danny Tryon's team graduated nine seniors from a year ago. Fortunately for them, they brought back a few good ones with experience and skills, headlined by senior guard Da'Shawn Harris. Known as 'Dada,' Harris brings speed in the open floor and playmaking ability to the table. Albemarle won the first regular season meeting back on December 18th by a count of 55-52, but Stafford got revenge on the first of February, 58-52 in a contest where Harris scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half. Senior forward Evan Greening added 20 points in that victory.

That wasn't Greening's only strong showing this year. He stepped up with 15 points and 12 rebounds versus North Stafford and is a force on the backboards for this team. Another senior guard, Ryan Jones, stabilizes them at times, and a player that could be an x-factor is Quan Evans. Inserted into the starting lineup in early January, Evans struck for 20 points and four treys against North Stafford, and in a game that figures to be nip-and-tuck throughout, a couple of long range shots can swing things very easily.

For the second year in a row, Albemarle enters the Commonwealth District Tournament with a record of 12-10 overall, 8-8 in league play, except this time they are the #5 seed instead of the #6 seed. They don't have a double-double machine like Andrew Mann anymore, but they do have a couple of streaky scorers to watch out for in Harmon Hawkins and De Mallory, a tandem that combined for 30 points the last meeting. Coach Greg Maynard was disappointed in his team's rebounding down the stretch in the six-point loss to Stafford to start February. If they can limit the Indians to one shot and execute their sets in the half-court like they're hoping, then there's a good chance they advance to the semifinals.

Pick: Stafford 54-52. This is a tricky matchup for Stafford, and like most 4/5 games in the district playoffs, it qualifies as a toss-up. What's unique about Albemarle is while they aren't the most athletic or quickest team in the district, they have three forwards that can play inside-out and shoot the ball. In fact, Albemarle made six treys in that last meeting. Greening and Evans are vital to the Indians having success. Look for the loser to probably be stuck on 52 points since that was the case the last time they met. Down the stretch in a tight game, Harris may be difference with how he can create scoring opportunities.

#3 - Colonial Forge Eagles (15-7; 12-4)

#6 - Riverbend Bears (12-10; 7-9)

If it wasn't for the amazing run Mountain View is on, everybody would be talking about what Colonial Forge is doing. Coach Jason John's Eagles has the program thinking about capturing a district tournament title in just year two at the helm. Last season, this team was a #8 seed in the district playoffs. The Eagles are red hot, having won seven consecutive games with their last loss coming back on January 11th to Mountain View. Meanwhile, Riverbend under Coach Eric Davis, had dropped six in a row until defeating Albemarle 53-39 in the regular season finale. Colonial Forge won both regular season meetings, each being somewhat of a defensive struggle at 42-40 and 49-37.

For surging Colonial Forge, their go-to guy is sophomore guard Marco Haskins, an All-District performer as a freshman. It's extremely hard to pull that off, but Haskins did, averaging 14 points per game and he's hovering around that number again with four other sophomores seeing significant minutes and three seniors. That's a nice blend for Coach Davis. Senior forward Ignacio Alleyne has come into his own, posting a handful of double-doubles. For Riverbend, they go as far as versatile senior Elijah Brown (18.8PPG), the district's top scorer, can take them. Brown had 24 points and 10 steals against Brooke Point and even put up 20 points vs. Mountain View.

After Brown, there's a bit of a drop-off for the Bears, but they are counting on junior forward/center Buck Buchanan and Chris Baird, who had 17 points and four treys in a game recently, to give them production. Early in the year, Colonial Forge seemed to be where Riverbend is now and that's turning the ball over frequently. The Eagles had 16 turnovers in the first half alone in a 10-point loss to Stafford, but they've cleaned up their issues in that department pretty well. Riverbend turned it over 30 times against Mountain View, and in close games they've struggled to find ways to score when it's not in the hands of Brown.

Pick: Colonial Forge 51-42. Surely getting that win over Albemarle had to do wonders for Riverbend's confidence because otherwise they would come in having lost as many games in a row as Colonial Forge has won consecutively. My biggest question in this matchup is can Riverbend manufacture enough points to win? Brown can take over a game in this district, but he needs his supporting cast to take some of the load off his shoulders. Colonial Forge did go 7-of-18 from the foul line the last time they squared off, so if they do it again, my guess would be the win streak gets snapped. Ultimately, Riverbend is too turnover prone, and as long as Colonial Forge's defense keeps Brown at bay, it's their game to lose.

#2 - North Stafford Wolverines (15-5; 12-4)

#7 - Massaponax Panthers (10-11; 6-10)

The North Stafford Wolverines are coming off their first regular season Commonwealth District title in 31 years. They entered the campaign with high expectations, but couldn't quite take down Mountain View, falling by seven at home and one on the road. In addition, the Wolverines were tripped up by Riverbend and Colonial Forge in a couple of puzzling double-digit losses. In Massaponax, they will face a team that has tested them twice this season. Darren Hickman's Panthers fell to North Stafford back in December in overtime, 67-62. When they met again in January, it was another narrow North Stafford win, 56-53.

A couple of football standouts in Virginia Tech signee Anthony Shegog and James Madison signee Brandon Ravenel give the Wolverines some athleticism on the court. Both are rated three-star prospects by Rivals.com in football. Senior Lyndon White (13.5PPG) is their primary offensive threat with Jordan Thompson and Usie Miller not lagging far behind. Miller has really hit the boards hard and come up with some key ones throughout the year, yanking down 11 vs. Albemarle for example. However, if multiple parts among those five are off, they're in big trouble. When all five are clocking, they're mighty tough.

Massaponax lost its leading scorer from a year ago in Trevon Jones, who put up 20 points per game and is now at Virginia Wesleyan College, one of the national powers on the Division III scene. For the third straight year, the Panthers find themselves as the #7 seed as they are still trying to get over the hump. Junior guard Aaron McFarland (13PPG) might be able to get them over it before he graduates. McFarland, also a solid rebounder, makes 85% of his free-throws and is a weapon from the outside with nearly 40 3's. Senior guard Joey Foster is one of their main distributors and a key in this game how he handles the ball pressure North Stafford throws his way.

Pick: North Stafford 60-53. Brad Lear's Wolverines aren't quite the same team we saw a season ago led by T.J. Jones nearly take them into the State Playoffs. But what they do have is a good mix of experience, senior leadership and some football guys who athletically can pose problems for Massaponax. This figures to be a tight game for a variety of reasons, though. Massaponax has had eight games decided by five points or less, going 3-5 in those situations. Each of North Stafford's last seven games has been decided by eight points or fewer. It's a dangerous game for the Wolverines, but in the end, I expect them to initiate enough contact to get the Panthers in foul trouble and pull it out late.


Commonwealth District Tournament Picks:

Quarterfinals: Mountain View over Orange County; Stafford over Albemarle; Colonial Forge over Riverbend; North Stafford over Massaponax

Semifinals: Mountain View over Stafford; Colonial Forge over North Stafford

Championship: Mountain View over Colonial Forge

Tournament MVP: Mountain View's Lucas Brown

Matthew Hatfield serves as State Basketball Analyst for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail hatfieldsports2k4@yahoo.com, and don't forget to listen to him on High School Sports Talk from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.

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