By Keith McShea
Every week during the basketball season a panel of voters participates in The News' large and small school boys basketball polls.
And every week we let you know, like the title says ... how The News voted.
This is just one ballot -- there are nine other voters in each poll.
Here's the previous ballot (Week 10, Feb. 26 -- penultimate poll). (Week Nine, Feb. 19 -- let the payoffs begin). Previous polls: Week Eight, Feb. 12 -- Valentine's edition, Week Seven, Feb. 5 (Canisius No. 1), Week Six, Jan. 29 (Super week); Week Five, Jan. 22 (inauguration), Week Four, Jan. 15 (MLK), Week Three (Jan. 8, back from two-week holiday break); Week Two (special Christmas edition, Dec. 18); Week One (Dec. 11). Also, here's last year's final 2011-12 post.
So who did I vote No. 1? ...
1. McKinley (22-4) [last poll: 6].
2. Canisius (23-4) .
There are two ways to vote here, and I think both are justifiable.
I just like mine better :-). First and foremost, I look at it this way: McKinley aced its final exam, while Canisius failed its last test.
Both teams had a chace to do something momentous. McKinley did. Canisius didn't.
To me, that overrides Canisius' 18-point win over McKinley on a neutral court (the MLK Classic in January) as well as the parsing of the schedules, especially after the Federation tournament. I fully understand why the Federation results point to Canisius being ahead of McKinley, which is what the final state poll says.
The way McKinley played at Glens Falls, it sure wasn't losing by 18 to Canisius. I think the Macks would have beaten Canisius.
Canisius, meanwhile, faced a Nazareth team it had beaten during the regular season for the state Catholic title and, for whatever reason, did not shoot well and did not play well in the most important game of the year.
I think McKinley deserves credit for playing outstanding basketball at Glens Falls, and I think they deserve major credit based on history. It is incredibly rare for Section VI large schools to win state championships -- especially if you're not from Niagara Falls. McKinley was the first large school that didn't hail from Falls (La Salle, new Niagara Falls) to win a state title since 1984. 1984!
And, yes, conversely, Canisius does not deserve credit for the way it ended its season. We have always graded teams far heavier in the postseason. Am I being hard on Canisius because its (repeatedly) stated goal was to win states, and it didn't do it? Perhaps. And I think that's fair.
The way McKinley played at Glens Falls, I think they would have beaten a ton of people, including perhaps all of the teams at the Federation Tournament. They played absolutely beautiful basketball. They annihilated an Aquinas team by 27 in Rochester; that Aquinas team had notched wins over Timon and St. Joe's in 2013 and had lost to Canisius by 11. McKinley then routed a Bishop Ludden team that was supposed to be better than the Macks, and stared down a possible loss in the championship game several times coming up with several clutch plays to beat Burke Catholic for the Class A title.
And now back to the Federation. Based on what I saw in the two weekends, Albany Academy, Nazareth and John Adams were not too far ahead of the likes of Burke Catholic and Bishop Ludden.
So what happened? The Federation letdown happened.
I kind of hate that I'm even bringing this up. I'm a big supporter of the Federation as it allows New York State to determine an overall champion, to include every segment of the state to have a true state playoff. When coaches or onlookers have complained that the Federation is a letdown after the NYSPHSAA tournament, I've often bristled at that notion.
But there's no getting around it. There is a Federation letdown for the public school champions.
It is HARD to win a NYSPHSAA title -- a heck of a lot harder than it is for other Federation representatives to earn their trip to Albany. NYSPHSAA teams have to survive their own sectional playoffs (at least three games), then possibly win an overall sectional final (like McKinley did against Amherst), then win at least one regional game (McKinley beat Aquinas), then win two games on the state's premier stage for boys basketball, two games that will determine who is a state champion. When teams do that, it is a tremendous feat. There is a natural, inevitable letdown that follows.
Right or wrong, rare are the public high school programs which put the Federation on their schedule. It's hard enough to win an NYPHSAA title, so it's natural to go one tournament at a time. On the other hand, the Federation is THE tournament for the state's Catholic and independent teams. Albany Academy declared itself an independent and didn't even play a playoff game to earn the trip to the Fed; it automatically qualfied, and those games at the Times Union Center were everything they were focusing on all season.
So there is a letdown. And I wouldn't write it if I didn't see another team in a similar spot. Watervliet of Section II (Albany area) was in the Federation as the NYSPHSAA champion in Class B, and I didn't see the same brand of excellent basketball from them as I saw the prevous week. Surely, the opponents deserve credit, but watching McKinley and Watervliet at the Fed, there just seemed like there was something missing.
I would certainly be more willing to entertain the schedule comparisons, and to consider Canisius' regular season win over the Macks, IF Canisius had MADE it to the Fed. The Crusaders had their chance to get there, and they didn't. They don't deserve a No. 1 vote over a McKinley team that made history as it put on a tremendous display of basketball.
3. Jamestown (19-3)  -- A clear No. 3 for me. This basketball program is an exceptional one. Returning its entire roster other than Campion makes it a fairly strong favorite for next year, when it will attempt to win four AA titles in five years. Whoa.
4. Niagara Falls (17-4)  -- Wolverines fizzled with low-scoring loss to Jamestown.
5. Amherst (20-2)  -- They get credit -- and a big bump on this ballot -- for its Class A classic with McKinley that went down to the final seconds.
6. Bishop Timon-St. Jude (13-14)  -- Tigers followed win over St. Joe's with a pretty fiesty effort against Canisius in the final. Strong finish and some momentum for next season in South Buffalo.
7. St. Joe's (20-6)  -- Certainly have to be behind Timon after the season-ending loss.
8. Clarence (15-5)  -- Red Devils spent entire season in this neighborhood of the poll.
9. Kenmore West (14-7)  -- The victory in the quarterfinals keeps them here and keeps them one spot of the team they beat in its own gym, which would be ...
10. Williamsville North (15-4)  -- ... the Spartans, which are an easy 10th pick over the best of the rest (which would have to be headed up by Hutch-Tech, I'd have to believe).
1. Olean (21-2)  -- Bitter disappointment to season in that regional buzzer-beater shocker, but a clear choice here, especially the way the season ended for ...
2. Silver Creek (23-1)  -- ... the Black Knights, who did make it to Glens Falls for the first time with a very nice second-half charge against Mynderse. Silver Creek is a rock-solid No. 2. I think putting them at No. 1 on the strength of making it to Glens Falls is not strong at all. Perhaps if Silver Creek had kept ascending and came away with a state title (which, if it played a little better, it could very well have done) and an undefeated season, they'd be worthy of a No. 1 vote. But definitely not in a Class C group which appeared, not surprisingly, to be a notch below the Class B squads.
3. St. Mary's (19-8)  -- Lost the Class B Catholic state title by two points to Monsignor Scanlan, which went on to win the Federation title with some smart, hardfought victories by a talnted, but not overly so, group. Lancers' ungodly loss to Canisius in Manhattan Cup semifinals can be thrown away; they notched very impressive victories over Nichols (twice) and Cleveland Hill in the season's final weeks. Throw that together with Scanlan's Fed title, and they're an easy No. 3.
4. Middle Early College (16-6)  -- Not sure why many like East over the Kats, especially since MEC won at East in the final week of the regular season behind one of several standout late-season performances from Keir Anderson.
5. East (15-7)  -- Quality finish with the B-2 title, I just like the Kats better.
6. Oracle Charter (18-1)  -- Loss to Middle College knocked them down a few pegs, but a landmark season indeed for the Phoenix. Fifty years from now: "Yeah, this big bad McKinley team won a state championship that year, and we won in their gym!"
7. Cleveland Hill (20-5)  -- Keeping them ahead of the surging Steelers based on the regular season, but I'm really not happy about it.
8. Lackawanna (19-3)  -- That's only because the Steelers were extremely impressive in the postseason before running into Olean.
9. Portville (18-3)  -- Three losses, all to Silver Creek, and a VERY impressive, 28-point semifinal blowout of a Maple Grove team which spent much of the season in this end of the poll.
10. Fredonia (15-5)  -- I thought the Hillbillies might have a shot to take B-2, and I was wrong. But I still liked the way they played. Nichols remains the top team that is not on this ballot, but based on what I saw at the end of the season (albeit in two games against St. Mary's), there wasn't enough there to convince me they should be placed ahead of the other teams listed here as well.
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