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Mapping roads to the final fours

Next week is Championship Week, home of the semifinals and finals in eight Section VI classifications as well as the Monsignor Martin Association.

The destinations are Canisius College (Monsignor Martin), Buffalo State (Section VI classes AA to B-2) and Jamestown Community College (C-1, C-2 and D). Here are the teams favored to be there and who just might surprise:

> Manhattan Cup

Favorite: Canisius began the season in this spot and now is firmly back in it after an emphatic season-ending (and series-splitting) victory over rival St. Joe's.

Contenders: With Canisius there are upper-echelon poll fixtures St. Joe's, St. Mary's and Bishop Timon-St. Jude. St. Mary's might be the most dangerous. The Lancers finished the regular season with resounding wins over good teams in Walsh and Newfane; their losses at St. Joe's (by six on Jan. 3) and to Canisius (three on Jan. 10) speak for themselves.

Sleepers: None. Everyone in the league knows each other too well.

Best matchup before Canisius College: Just nine days after St. Francis stunned Western New York with a victory at St. Joe's, it's same site, same teams in Saturday's quarterfinals. Also, small school Archbishop Walsh could be a tough out for Timon.

> Class AA

Favorite: The polls say old AA buddies Niagara Falls and Jamestown.

Contenders: Kenmore West and Frontier are also ranked in the top 10 and round out the top four seeds in a bracket that -- after city schools like McKinley and Riverside have dipped in enrollment -- resembles the ECIC I-Niagara Frontier League Challenge lineups we see during soccer and baseball seasons. It's unfortunate because city teams in this bracket have provided some of the best moments and atmospheres at Buffalo State in the last decade (namely Bennett and Riverside vs. Niagara Falls).

Sleeper: Orchard Park has been on a late-season surge -- including a finale win over Williamsville North -- behind some sick three-point shooting by Matt McCormick (he had nine during a 38-point game in a blowout of West Seneca West), but if they win their prequarterfinal they head to Jamestown. North Tonawanda might be the team you didn't expect to be at Buffalo State. The No. 5 Lumberjacks (12-6) have played Ken West and Falls tough, had a solid nonleague schedule and play at Frontier.

Best matchup before Buff State: If the seeds hold, standout Sterling Taplin and Will North (which nearly beat Jamestown) head to Kenmore West on Friday.

> Class A-1

Favorite: Clearly McKinley, the No. 2 large school.

Contenders: Williamsville South put itself firmly in this category with an ECIC II-title splitting victory at Will East on the season's final day while Hutch-Tech has been in the top 10 all season (including losses by six and one to the Macks).

Sleeper: Could be Sweet Home, which ended the season with two ECIC I wins. The Panthers have had a top-notch non-

league schedule and face ECIC II teams now (Sweet Home is the only A-1 team in ECIC I).

Best matchup before Buff State: If Hutch-Tech wants to get another shot at its Yale Cup rival, it will have to win twice, including Friday night at inconsistent but dangerous Iroquois (12-6).

> Class A-2

Favorite: The large school poll says Riverside, ranked eighth for much of the season and seeded second.

Contenders: Top-seeded Amherst and No. 3 East Aurora.

Sleeper: No. 5 Bennett notched a nice win at Hutch-Tech late in the year. No. 8 Pioneer, if it wins what could be a tough one with No. 9 Roy-Hart, would head to Amherst -- a team it beat in ECIC III play.

Best matchup before Buff State: Maryvale beat Amherst late in the year and will throw anything and everything at Riverside on Friday.

> Class B-1

Favorite: Top seed Olean is a major favorite this postseason, but every part of its bracket presents potential potholes.

Contenders: The next five seeds: Tonawanda, Dunkirk, Newfane, East and Depew have all been regulars in the small school poll. East and Depew, the fifth and sixth seeds, respectively, appear headed to the quarterfinals.

Sleepers: Burgard (5-9 Yale Cup II) and Lackawanna (5-7 ECIC IV) have good traditions and have been toughened up by league play. The 8-9 winner heads to Olean to try and shock the world.

Best matchup before Buff State: If the prequarterfinal seeds hold, Depew would head to Dunkirk in a hugely intriguing top 10 battle while East's trip north to Newfane will be a fun one.

> Class B-2

Favorite: No. 1 seed Cleveland Hill shared the ECIC IV title with Tonawanda, but with no ranked teams and four different leagues represented, this might be the most wide-open bracket.

Contenders: City Honors (12-6 but a No. 6 seed thanks to losses in Yale Cup II) is the next team to mention, but then it's very tough to tell when the contenders end and the sleepers begin. Wilson has the pedigree on paper (No. 2 seed, 13-5, ranked most of the season).

Sleeper: Take your pick. There are four teams from the competitive Niagara-Orleans league, and two of them own recent wins over Wilson: CSAT and Akron (which also beat Newfane). Emerson has been a tough out in Yale Cup II all season and that won't change here.

Best matchup before Buff State: CSAT goes for its third victory this year over surging Akron at Ken West (because CSAT's gym is too small; that makes for a tasty 6 p.m. appetizer before the Blue Devils' AA quarterfinal. Cleve Hill might have the toughest first game for a No. 1 seed as either the N-O's Roy-Hart or Emerson (beat City Honors) will not come in scared.

> Class C-1

Favorite: The smallest class (eight teams) has the biggest favorite in No. 2 small school and Yale Cup II champion OTC Middle College.

Contenders: Oracle Charter went 14-4 with a decent schedule (early win over City Honors; losses to ECIC champs Cleve Hill and Amherst as well as Westfield).

Sleepers: No. 3 Holland (8-10), No. 5 Cassadaga Valley (8-10 but the defending C champion) and No. 6 Barker (5-13, beat Akron) have taken lumps from good teams.

Best matchups before JCC: Barker plays at Holland while No. 4 seed Salamanca tries to beat CV a third time.

> Class C-2

Favorite: Claim can be made by a pair near the top of this deep class: top-seeded Silver Creek and highest-ranked Seneca.

Contenders: Did we mention deep? Eight out of 11 teams in this bracket have winning records: No. 2 seed Maple Grove went 12-0 in CCAA III while No. 5 Westfield went 10-2; No. 4 Portville is 12-6 and has played teams like Silver Creek, Olean and Walsh tough; No. 6 Randolph is the only team to have beaten Silver Creek.

Sleeper: They qualify here as a No. 7 seed just two games over .500 (10-8), but I-Prep/Grover has two losses to Seneca by a combined four points, a tough schedule and its returning players have experience from last year's trip to Glens Falls.

Best matchup before JCC: All three non-Silver Creek quarterfinals are serious.

> Class D

Favorite: Panama is the top seed after a 15-3 season which included an 11-1 mark in winning CCAA IV.

Contenders: The only league team to beat the Panthers was No. 3 Clymer, which lost twice to No. 2 Sherman.

Sleeper: The only non-CCAA school here is Olmsted, which went 4-14 and 3-11 in Yale Cup II. Olmsted heads to Sherman hoping for an upset, where it lost by 15 last year after an 0-12 Yale Cup II season.