Salisbury Press

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NANCY SCHOLZ/TIMES NEWS FILEPHOTO Palmerton's Linnaea Leister, left, and Mikaela Koenig of Northwestern battle for a loose ball during a recent game. The Bombers and Tigers are both looking to be a part of the Colonial League playoffs, which features a new format this season. NANCY SCHOLZ/TIMES NEWS FILEPHOTO Palmerton's Linnaea Leister, left, and Mikaela Koenig of Northwestern battle for a loose ball during a recent game. The Bombers and Tigers are both looking to be a part of the Colonial League playoffs, which features a new format this season.

CL expands basketball playoffs

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 by TODD KRESS tkress@tnonline.com in HS Sports

When the Colonial League boys and girls basketball tournaments begin in a little more than two weeks, the setup will look a bit different than it has in the past.

With the addition of Moravian Academy to a number of Colonial League sports, including boys and girls basketball, the tournament now includes six teams compared to four in previous years. Additionally, there will be a wildcard round in which the two top teams receive byes.

One of the biggest reasons for the jump to six teams was due to an uneven number of teams in each division. The West Division remains the same as in previous years with six, but the inclusion of Moravian Academy now adds up to seven squads in the East.

"With a 13th team, both divisions don't play the same amount of contests," said Bryan Geist, Colonial League President and Northern Lehigh Athletic Director. "In the East you play 18 games, and in the West you play 17 games. There is an uneven amount of games. Our concern was the No. 5 team missing by a half game, and the way to take care of that is to bring six in."

The newly formatted tournaments now provide more teams with an opportunity to fight for a league championship.

"It's getting more exposure to our Colonial League schools," Northwestern Athletic Director Jason Zimmerman said. "So many times you see just because a team might be in a stronger division, you might have a team that is a division champion with four losses and a team with two losses sitting on the outside looking in."

Clinching a top-two seed in the tournament didn't offer many advantages in the past, especially with those matchups held at neutral sites. With the new format, striving for the first or second seed has become more coveted.

"In the past, there really was no benefit to being the top two seeds other than what color uniform you got to wear," Geist said. "You still had to play a quality opponent. This way if you're a top-two team, you get a bye and you get to watch the winner of the two teams you're going to play."

The Salisbury boys basketball team is in the best position at securing a bye for the tournament. The Falcons (12-0 in the Colonial League through Monday) represent the lone unbeaten squad in the Colonial League.

Striving for a third and fourth seed in the tournament also has its benefits. Those teams will host their wildcard matchups before the semifinals and finals will go back to neutral venues.

Another thing the new format does is allow teams to stay in the playoff race longer. The Northwestern girls team, which was 6-6 heading into this week, would have been out of the four-team race last week. But the Lady Tigers are just two games out of the sixth spot with four games left on their schedule.

Division winners earning automatic bids, but not necessarily a bye. The next four best records earn the other four spots in the tournament. The teams will be reseeded once the field is set. The top two squads based on win-loss records, not division winners, are awarded first-round byes.

The wildcard round is set for Saturday, Feb. 7. The girls semifinals will be held the following Tuesday, Feb. 10, with boys semifinals on Wednesday, Feb. 11. The championship game is slated for Friday, Feb. 13.