It's a great time to be a basketball fan in Pennsylvania.
March Madness is going on at two different levels here in the Keystone State.
While most fans' main focus is the NCAA Tournament, the PIAA playoffs are also well underway as the third and quarterfinal round begins tonight. All of our area teams were eliminated in the first two rounds. And just three of the 18 District 11 teams that earned a spot in states are still alive.
Of course none of those three are in the Class AAAA boys bracket. That's the domain of Philadelphia area teams.
Even before the Philadelphia Public and Catholic leagues joined the PIAA in 2004 and 2008, respectively, the suburban Philly area was the state's high school basketball hot bed.
Now, with more than a quarter of the 32-team bracket coming from District 1 (Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties) and District 12 (Philadelphia), the area has been nearly dominant in state playoffs, especially the District 1 teams.
Five of the last six boys Class AAAA PIAA finalists came from suburban Philly.
Last year, Plymouth Whitemarsh got revenge for a district title game loss to Penn Wood by beating the Patriots in the state title game. It was the second time in three years that the District 1 title game featured the same two teams as the state title game.
In 2009, it was Penn Wood representing District 1 in the state final and losing to District 3 champ York.
The first year the Philadelphia Catholic League schools participated in PIAA playoffs was a banner year for districts 1 and 12. That was 2008, when Chester beat Norristown for the District 1 title and did it again a few weeks later in the state championship.
A deeper look at the 2008 brackets shows how tough those two districts were compared to the rest.
District 1's top three teams in 2008 (Chester, Norristown and Pennsbury) all made the state final four. That's the maximum that can make it as one spot is exclusive to teams from the western part of the state.
The quarterfinal round was no different. Two of the eight spots in that round come from Western Pennsylvania. The other six were all from the Philly area, including the three above as well as Penn Wood, Ridley, and South Philadelphia.
The next year, 2009, saw two District 1 teams make the final four in Penn Wood and Plymouth Whitemarsh.
Last year the Philly area had just three teams in the final eight and two in the final four, but the last two teams standing were the top two teams in District 1.
This year many fans had high hopes for boys Class AAAA District 11 teams in states. Liberty started the state tournament with a win over District 12's third place team, Roman Catholic. That's a Liberty team with several players back from last year's final four squad. Allen opened with a win over District 1 seventh place team Norristown.
But in the second round, both met Philly area opponents again and both lost. Allen fell to District 12 second place team LaSalle College Prep. Liberty lost to District 1 second place team Council Rock North.
Some of the reason for the dominance of the Philadelphia area can be explained by the sheer size of the area. More Class AAAA schools are in that area so it gets more teams in the states in that class.
The 32-team state playoff field has included 12 or 13 teams from those two districts – four from District 12, eight or nine from District 1 - in each of the past four years. And it's hard to argue that they don't deserve them considering how strong they have been. This year's ninth-place team from District 1, Penn Wood, is one of five teams in the final eight.
This year the Philly area has placed nine teams in the final 16 and five in the final eight.
Will Philly's reign over the Class AAAA boys bracket end anytime soon? Probably not. This year, District 1 champ Chester and runner-up Council Rock North seem to be on a collision course to create the third PIAA state final in four years that is a repeat of the District 1 title game.
For now and probably well into the future, the Class AAAA boys bracket will remain the domain of the Philly area teams.