The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 14, 2013

Jon Gerardi's boys basketball column: First HAC tournament should be fun to watch


Daily Item

---- — I don't know about you, but I'm more than excited for today's HAC all-division tournament semifinals.

After a handful of years trying to make it happen, it came to fruition this year and it's about time. We'll finally get to see the best of the best in the Heartland Athletic Conferences go at it on the court in a nice tournament.

Yes, there's various tournaments throughout the season, most notably the holiday tournaments in late December, but none of them have the quality basketball that this does. It's like a mini-District 4 tournament prior to the actual District 4 tournament.

Four of the most talented teams in all of the HAC in a great tournament that are a combined 74-8 this season and all have been solid throughout the year: Lewisburg, Danville, Loyalsock, St. John Neumann.

The two semifinals that tip off tonight are Loyalsock vs. St. John Neumann at 6 followed by Danville and Lewisburg at 7:30 at the Mifflinburg Intermediate School.

When the tournament talk started surfacing a few days ago, I was going through all the various great matchups that were possible with the four teams in my head and the various players that could face off against each other.

I'm glad to see how the semifinals turned out, especially the Danville and Lewisburg showdown. That may not be the most exciting for every basketball fan, but for me, I think it's got the most potential to be an exciting showdown.

If you've seen the Ironmen play this year, you are more than familiar with how solid of a team that is all around, not just offensively, but defensively as well.

The Ironmen's offense is being led by Bret Berg and Zach Kozick, a duo that have combined for nearly 600 points this year, 336 of which came from Berg.

Berg's also averaging 16.8 points per game this year while Kozick is adding 12.9. And those two aren't the only solid players in the Ironmen purple and orange. There's Scotty Heeter, who routinely contributes offensively, and Matt McConnell, who's averaging 8.3 ppg.

Of all the Ironmen's games so far this year, only four times did they fail to have three players score in double-digits. In other words, this group can put up the points.

Danville's defense has been terrific all season long too, and it is going to make for an extremely interesting game tonight since Lewisburg is arguably one of the most well-balanced teams in the area and have only lost to one team this entire year: Loyalsock (twice).

The Green Dragons had four of their starting five averaging double-digits prior to Tuesday night's win at Southern Columbia. Travis Conrad (14.3), Erich Kline (12.6), Sam Allen (11.5) and Mike Driscoll (9.8) lead John Vaji's Green Dragons offensively.

And while those four are great at putting up points, Lewisburg's defense is just as talented. That foursome attacks the basket better than many teams in the HAC and play as hard as any other team.

Conrad also has been phenomenal from downtown this year, draining 41 3-pointers, behind just East Juniata's Nick Lorenz (42) and Milton's Michael Jacobs (43).

And, like Danville, Lewisburg has a potent offense as well. The Green Dragons have had at least three in double-figures seven of their past eight games.

When you combine the offense and defense that Lewisburg has and put it against the Ironmen -- who seem to always find ways to win no matter who they have on the court -- it's sure to make for great basketball.

While the other semifinal may not be of much interest to local readers, Loyalsock and St. John Neumann is a great game that you may want to get there early to watch.

The Lancers have been led all season by the routine double-doubles of Roger Wilson, a 6-foot-5 senior who has a presence that's always felt inside the paint. Against Lewisburg on Saturday, the senior Lancer scored 18 points, grabbed 10 boards and blocked seven shots. When opponents try to focus solely on Wilson, the Lancers have other weapons such as Mike Pastore and Kyle Datres who can make things happen.

My predictions for this HAC tournament?

I think Danville outlasts Lewisburg in a game that may come down to the wire. On the other side, I'm going with my alma mater (Loyalsock) to knock off St. John Neumann in a game the Lancers take control of late.

That leaves a very interesting and great final of Danville vs. Loyalsock. In all honesty, that's a game I think could go either way, but I'm going with Danville for a slim win against the Lancers.

There's nothing better than a great tournament to get you ready for districts.

n Jon Gerardi covers boys basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments to jgerardi@dailyitem.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Jonidial.