What the local basketball junkies have been waiting for is finally here. It all starts tonight, the Class 4A Region IV boys basketball playoffs.

Now that is not meant to take anything away from the otherthree county public schools that made post-season play in Class 3A South River and 2A schools Northeast and Southern, but it's just that we all know the 4A League is the best and it also has five of our teams in the playoffs.

You could say that the 4A Region IV boys hoop playoffs are like the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. To the high schools playing,it has that kind of importance and prestige.

And this year's event is more intriguing, with four teams capable of winning it. Yes, forthe first time, any of the top four could win it.

Six have qualified, but I think you can kiss No. 5 seed Severna Park (10-12) and No.6 LaPlata of Charles County (11-11) goodbye tonight.

Severna Park, just blown out a second time this season by No. 4 Meade (17-5) on Friday night by 84-61 (the other game was 79-59, Jan. 4), has to play at Meade 7 p.m. tonight. The Falcons have run into their nearly annual off-court problems once again with a star player suspended for disciplinary reasons. He will not be permitted to play tonight.

Sixth seeded LaPlata travels to No. 3 Broadneck (15-4) tonight (all playoffgames will start at 7 p.m.). LaPlata just doesn't play the schedule our county teams do and will probably get plastered tonight by the Bruins.

Meanwhile, top seed and defending State 4A champion Annapolis (19-3) and No. 2 seed Old Mill (17-4) sit back and wait to see to whom they will play host in the region semis Wednesday. Annapolis willentertain the Severna Park-at-Meade winner, and Old Mill gets the LaPlata-at-Broadneck winner.

I don't think there is any question that it will be Meade at Annapolis and Broadneck at Old Mill in the second round. The question is who will be in the final Friday night and who will win the region.

It was just a few weeks ago, while Old Mill was rampaging through the county downing Annapolis for the first time ever in boys hoops by 68-62 and Broadneck by 68-59, that Meade coach Butch Young emphatically said, "Annapolis is still the team to beat."

Young was speaking from experience and anyone with their rightmind has to agree. After all, when all was said and done in the regular season Friday night, the Fighting Panthers held their familiar position as top seed in Region IV.

Annapolis is seeking its 11th Region IV title in the 14 years John Brady has been head coach and its 12th 20-win season in that time. Brady has rung up an incredible 296 career wins against only 47 losses.

Four straight post-season wins,two in the region and two in the states, would mean not only 300 career wins in the shortest time ever for a local coach, but also a repeat state championship.

Also, probably the most telling statistic of all concerning the Brady-coached Panthers, is that they never have failed to reach the region final. In other words, they always win at least the first game they play in post-season.

So, quite obviously, the stats well support Young's claim. But no matter how good it looks on paper, you still have to win on the court.

And this year, for the first time ever, any of the top four teams are capable of winning the region and heading to the University of Maryland, College Park for the State Final Four. That's never been true before.

Oh sure, that old jazz of "on a given day, any team can beat any other team," and "anybody who makes the playoffs is capable of winning it" is said year in and year out. But miracles usually don't happen in this region.

The team expected to win the region has won in all but one of the last 14 years.

That was the "miracle of 1981," when the Denny Saylor-coached Severna Park Falcons came out of nowhere to upset top-seeded Annapolis in overtime in the region final at Annapolis. Annapolis took a 22-1 record into that game as the overwhelming favorite,but a superb coaching job by Saylor pulled off the upset.

Meade opened 14 years ago with Young moving over from Severna Park to take the reins of the Mustangs, and other than the '81 Severna Park upset, only Annapolis and Meade have won the region.

As mentioned, Annapolis has taken it 10 times, while Meade has won it twice, and both times Meade was the favorite. Young's Stangs won it first in 1982-83 with an unprecedented three wins in the same season over Annapolis and finished with a county record 23 wins (23-2). That was the worst season in Brady's career, a 17-7 campaign.

Annapolis had gone 19-5 in 1979-80, Brady's only other non-20-win season, but still won the region and advanced to College Park.

Meade won it again in 1988 with another 23-2 record, as Player of the Year Corey Wallace led the way. Annapolis was 21-3 that season.

Only Annapolis has more 23-win seasons than Meade, four -- '85-'86; '86-' 87; '88-'89 and '89-'90.

So, as you can see, this has been an Annapolis- and Meade-dominated region, although the last two years has seen Broadneck elevated to the top two. The Bruins of coach Ken Kazmarek have been the region finalist to Annapolis the last two seasons.

And in those last two years, Meade, at 17-7 and 12-11, has not been the team it is this year. Add arguably the finest Old Mill team in its school history and you've got a four-team horse race.

Coach Paul Bunting's Patriots of Old Mill is the only one of the top four to have beaten the other three. As mentioned, the Pats downed Annapolis and Broadneck in their only meetings with those two, and took one out of three with Meade.

Old Mill lost to the Mustangs in the latter's Christmas Tournament by 71-68,after downing the Stangs in their first regular season meeting Dec. 18 by 56-54. Then, in their rubber match Feb. 8, Meade won at home over the Pats, 71-68.

Third-seeded Broadneck has lost to Old Mill (68-59), to Annapolis twice (43-36 and 75-39) and split with Meade. TheBruins dropped the first meeting with the Stangs at home, 45-42 (Dec. 7), but came back Feb. 15 to win the third seed at Meade, 69-60.

There is one big difference in Broadneck over the last few weeks that makes the Bruins a bona fide contender. Up to that point, Coach Kazhad managed to hide, if you can believe that, 7-foot-2 Boris Beck.

The German transfer student has only recently started to get some playing time and has displayed the ability to dominate under the hoop.You can't teach height and you can say that Beck is Kazmarek's ace in the hole.

Kaz has kept Beck under wraps and is now ready to turnthe big guy loose. Broadneck, which went to the Class 3A Final Four in 1986, has never been to the final four as a 4A school, and may have its best chance ever.

Boys basketball playoffs

All games at 7 p.m.

Class 4A Region IV

Tonight, Monday, Feb. 25

* No. 6 LaPlata(11-11) at No. 3 Broadneck (18-4).

* No. 5 Severna Park (10-12) at No. 4 Meade (17-5).

Semifinals, Wednesday

* Severna Park-Meade winner at No. 1 Annapolis (19-3).

* LaPlata-Broadneck winner at No. 2 OldMill (17-4).

* Region IV championship, Friday at higher seed.

Class 3A Region IV


* No. 6 South River (11-11) at Thomas Stone of Charles County (13-9).

Class 2A Region III


* No. 6Chopticon of St. Mary's County (6-14) at No. 3 Southern (12-10).

Semifinals, Wednesday

* Chopticon-Southern winner at No. 2 Northeast (15-7).

* Maryland Scholastic Association 'C' Conference boys basketball playoffs.

Today at 3.30 p.m.

* Archbishop Curley of Baltimore (8-6 league, 8-22 overall) at Severn School (11-4 and 14-7).

* Archbishop Spalding (5-8 and 6-18) at Boys' Latin (13-2 and 18-12).

Semifinals Wednesday at site to be announced.

* Girls' Public School Basketball playoffs begin tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 26.

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