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It's tournament time Fun-filled regular season should make for great postseason High School Basketball: Section VI playoffs tip off tonight for girls, Wednesday for boys

There have been outstanding games, sensational performances and ultra-close contests.

And we haven't even started the playoffs yet.

The 2008-09 boys basketball season has been marked by its competitiveness and its balance, from tight league races to tough-to-figure polls, which portends for an even more exciting Section VI tournament than usual.

Even the clearest favorites -- like Niagara Falls (Class AA) and East (A-2) -- have been involved in tremendous regular season games and have some dramatic hurdles to leap over if they're to win Section VI championships. The fields in A-1 and B-1 are among the deepest brackets in recent years.

The action starts Wednesday with prequarterfinals and continues with what should be an extremely eventful Friday, as 28 games determine who will be headed to Buffalo State, Hilbert College and Jamestown Community College for the semifinals.

Here's a look at it all, bracket-by-bracket:

>Class AA

Favorite: Niagara Falls, always and -- seemingly -- forever.

The Wolverines are No. 1 in the state for a reason: wins over Nichols and Section V power Rush-Henrietta at home and Jamestown and defending state champion Bishop Maginn of Albany on the road. After cruising through the Niagara Frontier League, sometimes with shorthanded lineups, Falls' real season begins Friday.

Challengers: ECIC I's top half -- Williamsville North, Jamestown, Orchard Park, Frontier -- are certainly challenging each other, and it will make for some great hoops. The survivor might even whip up some magic against Falls.

Sleeper: Kenmore West finished the regular season by beating Lockport (its prequarterfinal opponent) and North Tonawanda. If it makes the quarterfinal, it faces a Will North team it lost to, 57-53, in the opening game of the season.

Best game before Buffalo State: Everyone is pointing to Frontier's likely trip to Orchard Park in the quarterfinals. The Falcons have beaten OP twice, but the Quakers have a knack for stepping it up in the playoffs (in all sports).

>Class A-1

Favorite: You would think it would be hard to find the favorite in the deepest class, but Sweet Home is worthy of the top seeding, having beaten Williamsville South in its league and McKinley at the MLK Shootout in one of the best regular-season games of the year. Keron Briggs is a difference-maker who quickly gets in the lane to score or set up any one of several capable teammates, and the Panthers fly around on defense.

Challengers: This may take a while.

Grand Island has had a grand season. Williamsville South has had Mark Coppola back for two games -- with him they were a top 10 large school. McKinley slugged it out with Sweet Home -- but if they do it again it will be in the semifinals since the Macks are seeded fourth. Riverside has been in the large school top 10 much of the season while Middle College has flirted with it. Hutch-Tech is seeded ninth but has many players back from an Engineers team which rode the upset train last year (wins at Lake Shore and Williamsville South) to reach Buffalo State.

Sleeper: Williamsville East has beaten Lake Shore and played Sweet Home to 11 and nine points. They've also beaten Iroquois twice, so the well-drilled Flames are likely headed to Grand Island. GI (on paper) has a tremendous athletic lineup and a 16-4 record, but it hasn't played a nonleague team as good as Will East all year.

Best game before Buffalo State: This bracket is deep, because we've got one for each round. The prequarterfinal is a nice Yale Cup matchup of Middle College against Hutch-Tech at Grover Cleveland (Middle College won in the regular season, 75-72). If the seeds hold, Riverside at Williamsville South is a tremendous matchup. That game's loser would likely be the best team in Western New York not to make it to Buff State.

>Class A-2

Favorite: East, which advanced to Glens Falls last year, seeks its second straight sectional title with a better item on its resume: Undefeated Yale Cup champions. Dallas Gary and Domonique Jackson are two long, lethal multi-taskers. Gary earns oohs and aahs for his scoring, Jackson for his all-around game. Any great team needs a guy like Henry Mingo, a 6-foot-3 senior who is an outstanding defender and rebounder. Quick guard Deon Robinson makes good decisions and nails threes, plus the Panthers have some nice depth.

Challengers: Grover Cleveland would love another shot at the Panthers after losing the Yale Cup regular season finale. The ECIC III trio of Depew, Maryvale and Pioneer will be tough outs for either Yale Cup power.

Sleeper: No. 10 seed Bennett has won five straight since losing to Lafayette; if the Tigers can get revenge on the Violets, they'd face a Grover team it played to 65-62 loss in Yale Cup.

Best game before Buffalo State: Lew-Port's Robby Seyler and South Park's Roman Brown are two big-time scorers who will meet Wednesday. Pioneer and Maryvale will likely meet for a third time Friday after splitting in the regular season.

>Class B-1

Favorite: The seedings say East Aurora. History (and the small school poll) says Olean. Niagara-Orleans fans say Medina. ECIC IV fans say it's whoever survives Lackawanna-Alden III.

Challengers: All of the above, not to mention No. 6 Fredonia, which has played Olean tough twice and had a nonleague schedule loaded with Yale Cup teams.

Sleeper: Burgard is a No. 9 seed which owns wins over Medina and Sherman and has hung in there with some of the Yale Cup's best (eight-point losses to East and Riverside).

Best game before Buffalo State: Lackawanna-Alden III comes just 10 days after the Steelers won a tough game from the visiting Bulldogs.

>Class B-2

Favorite: After a somewhat slow start, Akron won 13 straight games and a share of the Niagara-Orleans League title with an inside-outside balance. The Tigers' top seed is deserved -- no other team in the bracket is among the top nine small schools.

Challengers: Akron knows that N-O mate Wilson is tough, while Allegany-Limestone has played very good ball down in CCAA I and is ready to show the rest of Western New York.

Sleeper: Curtis Hairston, Aaron Sanders and fifth-seeded Cleveland Hill are 6-3 in its last nine.

Best games before Buffalo State: The sectional semis begin with a one-day stop at Hilbert on Monday and the seedings could lead to an intriguing Niagara-Orleans versus CCAA I doubleheader: Akron vs. Southwestern; Wilson vs. Allegany-Limestone.

>Class C

Favorite: Randolph has been a resident of the small school poll all season after a 17-2 season -- its only losses are to Southwestern in the opening week of the season and to Westfield, which it beat two more times later.

Challengers: Westfield, Frewsburg and Cassadaga Valley had to go to a triple coin flip to determine the next three seeds after all went 10-3 in CCAA II West. Those coins knew what they were doing -- Westfield has a win over Randolph and only lost by 62-60 in the most recent meeting.

Sleeper: Maritime Charter's first sectional appearance comes after a 7-13 season of all nonleague games -- against all teams larger than Class C. The military-style school is seeded eighth but, since it doesn't have a gym, it will play at No. 9 Chautauqua Lake.

Best game before Jamestown CC: The first-rounders should be interesting -- five of the games feature teams taking on the unknown as the CCAA, Yale Cup, Niagara-Orleans and some charter schools mix it up.

>Class D

Favorite: Maple Grove, which won the state championship in Class C, has been the favorite ever since the enrollment numbers said they were moving down to Class D this year.

Challengers: Not sure if this one applies here. Maple Grove beat No. 2 Sherman, 86-45 and 79-33; and No. 3 Clymer, 60-49 and 65-40.

Sleeper: The only team not to play Maple Grove in this bracket is the Yale Cup's MST Seneca, which earned a new prefix (Math, Science and Technology) and a drop-step into the smallest classification after the school altered its curriculum. The Indians did go 4-14, but slugging it out with some of the best in WNY can't hurt them as they take on Class D.

Best game before Jamestown CC: Seneca can't be a sleeper if it doesn't win its first game, a trip to tradition-laden (but 6-14) Pine Valley.

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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