After losing the Section VI Class C boys basketball championship last year, Portville coach Ron McMahon was understandably downcast.
One reporter tried to get the coach to look at the brighter side -- the experience could only benefit a young team that would be ready for another step next season, right?
"OK, so we do this well next year," McMahon hypothesized. "And who would we end up playing?"
That question was rhetorical, because the answer is Traditional.
The Bulls begin what they hope is a Section VI Class C three-peat this week, and there's no reason to think top-ranked small school Traditional (18-2) won't repeat its feats of the last three seasons. Last year, it won its sectional games by 30, 33, 41 and 40 points.
Seniors Terry George (6-foot-3 forward), Daryl Jacobs (6-10 center), Greg French (5-10 guard) and Aaron Marshall (6-6 forward) appear headed for their third straight trip to Glens Falls, where they've won the state public school championship the last two seasons. French is approaching the 2,000-point mark (he's 13th on the all-time Western New York scoring list at 1,832), while smooth-scoring George and double-digit block threat Jacobs are both in the 1,000-point club.
The defending champion Bulls (C-1) are the top seed in their class, as are four other defending champs: Williamsville East (which won the A title but is now a B-1 school), East Aurora (B-2), Sherman (D), and yes, Portville (C-2).
After Wednesday's prequarterfinals and Friday's quarterfinals, Buffalo State is the place to be for six straight days of playoffs (Jamestown CC also hosts semifinals on Wednesday and Thursday).
Here's a class-by-class glance at what teams and players to look out for, and what not to miss:
A-1: Can Falls be felled?
The final version of the "old" Niagara Falls High School team came to Buffalo State loaded last year . . . and lost. This year, it is loaded and perfect at 20-0. The new Niagara Falls -- created when the old NFHS and LaSalle were closed and merged -- and the city have high expectations for the No. 2 large school Wolverines, many of whom played on the Power Cats' team that was shocked by West Seneca West last year. Ex-Power Cats like 6-5 junior Jeff Street, 6-6 sophomore Jeff Parmer, 6-1 senior Sanquin Starks and 5-10 junior Demondi Johnson have spent all season thinking about that loss. There shouldn't be another surprise this time.
No. 3 large school Jamestown (19-1) earned the top seed by going undefeated in ECIC I, and the Red Raiders hope their best team in years can be the one to knock off the super school. Junior Jay Newton plays much bigger than his 6-3 frame, senior R.J. James is a good distributor who can shoot, 6-3 Chad Wiedenhofer is a smooth inside-outside threat, Tim Anderson is a slick guard who has sticky hands on defense and junior Kris Olsen is a nimble big man at 6-4.
West Seneca West hopes to begin work on another postseason miracle at Lockport in what should be a great quarterfinal, while in the other bracket, Orchard Park awaits a likely matchup with North Tonawanda. The good news for those that survive is that they've won a tough one. The bad news is that Jamestown and Niagara Falls will probably be waiting for them.
Don't miss: Niagara Falls playing defense. The 12-man rotation has held 19 teams under 50 points.
A-2: Too weird
How crazy is this class? Top-seeded Sweet Home is just 10-10 overall and No. 2 Hamburg is 12-8, with the best overall record in the bracket co-owned by third-seed Kenmore East and fourth-seed Hutch-Tech (14-6). Fifth seed Niagara-Wheatfield had a 22-point win at Grand Island last week. McKinley is seeded sixth but played Traditional tougher than any team in Western New York. And seventh-seeded Bennett might be the best team in the bracket. But wait, there's more: Eighth seed Lake Shore (8-12) beat Hamburg by 16 points this year! Ninth seed South Park was the first team to beat Grover Cleveland! With a crew like this, even 10th seed Pioneer and 11th seed West Seneca East -- both 1-11 in league play -- can't be counted out.
Don't miss: With this class, no pick is safe. The one game you miss might be the thriller of the tournament.
B-1: Twins on top
Last year, Williamsville East won the Class A title from the No. 8 seed. What are they capable of doing as the top seed in a less-populated class, and with the Konst twins and their formidable frontcourt all returning? Both the Flames and Seneca have been keeping an eye on each other all season, anticipating a championship battle.
The unbalanced seeding award of the tournament goes to 10th seed Grover Cleveland (7-6 in Yale Cup), which takes its 14-6 record to seventh-seeded Amherst (8-12). Ninth seed Albion also hits the road with a 14-6 mark (at 9-11 Maryvale).
For the second straight season, Seneca (18-2) went 12-1 in the Yale Cup, with the only loss coming to Traditional. That lone loss knocked them out of the race for the top seed, and now it faces a potential road of Yale Cup foe Grover, and either stingy Starpoint (the Niagara-Orleans champion) or defending Class B champ Iroquois on its way to the final.
Williamsville South and Grand Island (15-5 and the only team to score more than 50 against Niagara Falls) could provide what one hopes for in a 4-5 seed matchup.
Don't miss: The twins. Those no-look passes from Justin-to-Jeremy -- or was that Jeremy-to-Justin? -- never get old. Also check out Seneca's multi-faceted attack: smooth scorer Ameer Drake, ultra-quick Ahmir Cole, banger Jeff Brooks and leader Darmel Whitfield.
B-2: E.A. a tall order
At first glance, the B-2 opposition looks thinner than it was last year for East Aurora, which had to get past Justin Miller (freshman at Siena) and Southwestern to win its first sectional title in 35 years.
But the top eight seeds in the bracket all have at least nine wins in league play, including the tough CCIAC I trio of third-seeded Southwestern, fifth-seeded Fredonia and sixth-seed Olean.
With 6-9 junior Dave Mallon, 6-6 senior Chris Roughton, guard Ben Pergament and a deep bench, the Blue Devils are the clear favorite in a bracket in which they've already beaten four of the teams: Riverside, Lackawanna, Newfane and Alden. . . . Richard Abrams can light it up for the Steelers, which could have an intriguing meeting with Fredonia in the quarterfinals; another might-be matchup would have Southwestern and Olean meeting for the third time. . . . The second-seeded gritty Depew team is coming off a strong late run, including a win over Iroquois that helped them to a 9-3 finish in ECIC II.
Don't miss: Mallon. Several Division I coaches have already headed to the East Aurora gym this season to check him out.
C-1: Title tradition
In a bracket in which just four teams had winning league records, hopes for the upset-of-the-season over Traditional appear to lie with Salamanca. Football players Dustin Ross and Cameron Haines (quarterback) have helped the CCIAC II champ and fifth-ranked Warriors roll to a 19-1 season, losing only to Westfield, 38-32, just after New Year's.
Don't miss: Any Traditional game. Hey, these guys are seniors. How often do teams like this come around?
C-2: Portville's place
Eight of the bracket's 12 teams have winning records, and seven of them will be shooting for defending champion Portville (16-4). The Panthers are led by savvy senior sons-of-coaches Jeff McMahon and Brian Blask. . . . Antwon Burton provides scoring punch for No. 3 seed Cleveland Hill, the only ECIC team in the class. . . . Frewsburg (15-4) lurks in the bottom of the bracket, while No. 4 Westfield or No. 5 Franklinville could give Portville a tough test in the semifinals.
Don't miss: The C-2 final might not jump out as a must-see, but it is. The Portville-Westfield final last year was Hoosiers-vs.-Hoosiers, with busloads of boosters and banners from the tiny districts filling Buffalo State's arena. How much does a trip to Buffalo State mean for these teams? After Portville won last year, coach McMahon kneeled down and kissed the court.
D: Sherman marches on?
Despite the loss of nine seniors, defending Class D champion Sherman has rolled right back to the top seed it held last year, when it marched to Glens Falls with a 24-0 mark and lost in the state semifinals. . . . But waiting at the No. 2 seed in the bottom bracket is Cattaraugus III champ Ellicottville (18-2).
Don't miss: The final. Sherman had an easy time last year against Clymer (62-31) after Ellicottville stumbled. Don't count on it happening again.