(Last updated 12/31/09)
"Holiday Tourney Week" was from December 26 - December 30. I saw 22 games over that 5 day span. Here is what I took away from those games.
Day 1 - Saturday, December 26
Today was Day 1 of the Queen City Invitational and UMass-Lowell tournament, and I saw action at both. My day began with Londonderry vs. Acton in Lowell. I got there a few minutes into the game, so I did not give out a game ball for this one. If I did, it would have been tough to choose anyone from Londonderry. The Lancers were simply outplayed by a faster, hungrier and more talented Acton squad. It seemed like Londonderry is still trying to figure out their rotation. They played 12 players, and they substituted either 4 or 5 players into the game a few different times. The Lancers just seemed out of sync for most of the game. They lost by over 20 points. You have a coach that decided to take the year off right before the season started. You have a star guard who gets suspended right before the season starts and won't even start practicing with the team for another couple weeks at the earliest. And a lot of the other players played other sports in the fall, like football, volleyball or soccer. While many Class L teams played together all summer and fall, this team is still adjusting to it being basketball season. No wonder they only beat Keene by 6.
After leaving Lowell I headed for Memorial High School in Manchester, eager to witness a quadruple-header of action in the Queen City Tourney.
First game was Bow/Merrimack. This of course was a blowout victory for Merrimack. Two things of note in this game. First, for Bow. One of their better players Josh Faber did not play. Faber is a junior 6'4" forward and played very well when I say Bow scrimmage Plymouth a couple weeks ago. If the Falcons had him in the lineup it would have been a different game. The second thing worth noting is the passing ability and offensive rhythm that Merrimack displayed. Unlike Londonderry, Merrimack has been playing together all summer and all fall. They are further along as far as team chemistry and role identification for the players go than any other team in Class L. If Coach Goodridge sticks to an 8 player rotation, only bringing Garstang, Gendron and Amigo off the bench watch out for this team.
Next up was Dover/Exeter. This game was closer than I thought it would be, with Dover only winning by 2. Each team was playing without one of their starters. Dover was without senior guard/forward Ricardo Taveras, and Exeter was without their best player, senior guard James Holler. His brother Brad played, but James is playing in a soccer tournament down in Disney. James Holler is one of the best defensive guards in Class L, it would have been fun to see him guarding Alex Burt for 32 minutes. Exeter was able to get back into the game when Dover went cold shooting from the outside. Dover's whole offense is driving and kicking, spotting up for jump shots. Every once in awhile they'll hit a flex cutter down low for a layup, but for the most part they have no inside game. So when the jumpers aren't falling, they don't score. Give them credit though, when push came to shove, Burt and Al-Darraji stepped up and nailed some big shots for the win. Dover and Merrimack will be an excellent game tomorrow, and a rematch of the Riv. League quarterfinals. In that game though, Dover played without 3 starters in Taveras, Justin Dube and Al-Darraji.
Next up was Trinity and Central. This game had by far the biggest crowd of the day. There was not an empty seat in the house, and there many folks standing out in the hallways watching. There was pressure and it was loud. These situations are when you really find out who the players are. The story of this game to me was a very unfortunate injury for Trinity. Phil Hayden buckled his ankle just 3 minutes into the contest and did not return. It doesn't look like the Pioneers' star point guard will e returning to the lineup anytime soon. I've said on here many times how there's no real favorite in Class L. You have 6 teams who have a legit shot at winning it. With so little separating the top teams, an injury like this could really hurt Coach Keefe's team. Trinity suffers a big dropoff when going from Hayden to Dylan Lafond, the backup point guard. Lafond isn't a bad player, but he's just not ready for big minutes running the point on a team this good. Elsewhere in this one...John Wickey was very impressive with a good inside-outside game. Zach Stevens also had an excellent game, including the game winning 3 with 2 seconds left in OT. Gabe LaCount and David Madol also played well for their respective teams.
Finally, the last game of the day was West/Memorial. West started the game up 8-0, and it looked like an upset was brewing as Richard Valentin controlled the tempo. But Memorial slowly got back into, chipping away at the lead. West didn't score again till midway through the 2nd quarter - they went almost 9 minutes without a point! Memorial got the win, because they are a much more disciplined basketball team and more experienced than West is. West will get better as the season goes, but for now they through the ball away too much, must improve their shot selection and free throw shooting. While they're rough around the edges, the Blue Knights do have a lot of talent. They're very fast and athletic. They also do lack depth, however. Coach Carey only seems to have confidence in about 6 kids, and only two of them had any varsity experience prior to this season. Shomari Morgan, Cormac Fitzpatrick and Matt Couture all played well for the Crusaders. Memorial should beat a Hayden-less Trinity team tomorrow to advance to the QCIBT finals.
Day 2 - Sunday, December 27
Today was another day of exciting holiday hoops action. First I was in Lowell to see Pelham play. They took on a very good Lincoln-Sudsbury team, and lost 63-53. Spirou had an exceptional game for the Pythons but it was a tough game for his supporting cast. I got the feeling Coach Kress was trying out some different things, using different lineups, etc. because it was a game that didn't count towards the standings. I say this because Pelham was within striking distance the whole game but still played about 13 kids. When I saw Pelham scrimmage Trinity, they were very disciplined. They didn't commit silly fouls, they didn't turn the ball over and they had good shot selection. They weren't quite as sharp in those areas today, however. Pelham is still a contender in Class I, though.
Next up I once again made the drive from Lowell to Manchester for the Queen City Tourney. I got to the Exeter/Bow game a little late, but it was a very close game throughout. Yesterday both of these teams played without key players. Exeter was without senior guard James Holler and Bow was without junior forward Josh Faber. Holler once again wasn't there as he's still down in Disney playing soccer. Faber however, returned to the lineup for the Falcons and had a big impact on this game. He is very agile for a big man and made some nice drives and spin moves to the bucket. I thought Bow did a nice job hanging in there with a good team and getting back into it. They were down 31-25 at the half, but went on a 6-0 run to start the 3rd quarter to tie it up. Louie Vigars and Tucker Munroe made some big plays down the stretch for Exeter to seal the win. The final was 58-50, but it was a much closer game than that.
Next up was Central and West. An excellent basketball game. Two teams just playing their butts off. In the end, Richard Valentin was just too much for Central to handle. It was tied up and West had one last chance. Everyone in the gym knew Valentin was going to take his man one-on-one. And Central still couldn't stop him. He drove into the paint, put up a shot, got it to go and the foul. 59-55 final West over Central. I give the Little Green credit, though. They don't have the most talent, and they're not deep at all, but Doc has this team playing very hard. They took Dover to OT in the season opener, they took Trinity to OT last night, and they lost in closing seconds to West. They play hard, they never give up, and they play tough defense. West meanwhile has more natural talent, quickness and athleticism, but they lack discipline. Their shot selection is questionable at times, they commit silly fouls at times and they turn the ball over too much. The Blue Knights are a team that lacks experience, though. They'll get better as the season goes on, and Coach Carey will get them to play more disciplined.
Next up were the two semi-final games. Dover/Merrimack and Trinity/Memorial. I would not be at all surprised if these were the 4 teams we see in Durham come March. I was very interested to see how the Dover/Merrimack game would turn out. Ricardo Taveras was back in the lineup for the Green Wave, which means both of these teams were officially at full strength. May the best team win. The difference in the game was the first quarter. Dover led by as many as ten in the first frame, 26-16. I counted six three pointer's for Alex Burt in the first quarter alone, he was on fire. It was 47-33 Dover at the half. Merrimack made it a game in the second half, but the lead was too much to come back from and Dover won 69-66. Having Taveras back makes a big difference for Coach Romps' squad. Dover is not very deep. They only have 6 kids that they like to play a lot with Burt, Faustino, Al-Darraji, Duffy, Dube and Taveras. Having all six available means you can rotate them in and out. This does two things. One is the six of them stay fresh. The other is that the other players who aren't as experienced or skilled aren't forced to play too much. Bottom line is when all six of them are playing Dover is VERY tough to beat. And it doesn't hurt to make shots the way they were today either. As for Merrimack, we found out today that they are indeed beatable. As far as toughness goes, these are the two best teams in the state if you ask me.
Finally was the game everyone was there to see, Trinity/Memorial. Memorial won in a good one, 69-57 in a game that was much closer than that. These two teams must be sick of playing each other by now. They met in last year's Class L title game, the BST regular season, the BST playoffs, the Rivier Fall League regular season, the season opener 2009 and now this! The story of this game was that neither team was at full strength. Both squads had star senior guards who were out of the lineup. Trinity's Phil Hayden is out for 2-4 weeks with a sprained ankle. And Memorial's Matt Couture also tweaked his ankle. His injury isn't as serious, although I doubt he will be in the lineup for the Crusaders tomorrow in the championship game. It would be nice to win the QCIBT, but why risk it when the Class L title is the one that really matters. Without Couture, Memorial had its role players really step up. Vinnie Zenni, Rodney Martinez and Hervens Desire all played key roles in the win. Dylan Lafond played the best I've seen him play filling in for the injured Hayden. But in the end I think Memorial just played better team basketball today and that was the difference. These are both teams that will be there at the end and clearly not much separates them.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, you have some more great matchups in Manchester. Bow/Central at 3, Exeter/West at 4:30, Trinity/Merrimack at 6 and Dover/Memorial at 7:30. Good stuff.
Day 3 - Monday, December 28
Today there were no games in Lowell, so the only tourney I went to was in Manchester. It was day 1 of the Nashua tourney. I will be at that one Tuesday and Wednesday. I was going to check out BG's game today in Chelsea, but decided it was too far away. I hear they beat a good La Salle team by 18 though, so they must be playing good basketball.
The first game in Manchester today was Bow vs. Central. Bow had stretches when they looked good, but overall they played much better yesterday vs. Exeter. There was pretty much no one in attendance for this one, especially in the first half. And that's too bad because these are two good teams, and it was a solid game. Good matchup of big men between Wickey and Poitras. Wickey got the better of the matchup. Poitras had a tough time, but still had a solid game. Central played without Stephen Ferge, who hit 4 three's in the first half yesterday vs. West. Audie Melendez and Wol Majon stepped up in his absence. Melendez plays a ton of minutes, and still manages to play with a ton of energy the whole time he's out there. He plays hard, hustles and is a very good defender. He also had a big and-1 play late in the game off of a nice pass by LaCount in transition. Central wins 57-51.
Next up was West vs. Exeter. I was eager to see how this one played out, as these two teams are right next to each other in my Class L rankings. Unfortunately it was tough to gauge too much, because once again James Holler wasn't there for the Blue Hawks. Exeter still played hard though, their best player today was Louie Vigars. They play good team ball which kept it close most of the way. But West was just too fast and too athletic for them. West and South are the two most athletic teams in NH. Valentin didn't have one of his better games for the Blue Knights. He made a couple nice dishes and played good defense like always, but he forced some shots and shot a low percentage. The players who impressed the most for West were Greg Asselin, Jose Gonzalez and Quentin Hunter. West wins 57-47.
The third game of the day was Trinity and Merrimack. Trinity was once again playing without starting point guard Phil Hayden. You would think that two teams that are so good would have made for a better game than this. The first quarter was sloppy, and in the second quarter both teams played their bench the whole time. Then the starters played the whole fourth quarter and the benches played the fourth the first four minutes before the starters went back in at the end. This made made it very tough for the players to get in much of a rhythm out there. Madol and Watson didn't have their best games. Really the only player that did stand out in this one was Dimitri Floras. Also, Zach Stevens and Travis Maser played decent. Merrimack won the 3rd place game 52-45.
Finally, it was time for the QCIBT title game, Dover and Memorial. This likely would have been a different game, but the Crusaders played without two of their top three players, Matt Couture and Shomari Morgan. Still, Dover played some great basketball en route to a blowout win, 69-30. This game wasn't close at any point. Dover was making shots the whole game, and they played great defense. Alex Burt had 20 points and was given the Ron Pappas Memorial Award, as the tournament's MVP. Rory Duffy and Kenaan Al-Darraji also played very well for the Green Wave. Tough game for Memorial, but with the injuries kids like Rodney Martinez, Hervens Desire and Vinnie Zenni were able to get more minutes and they'll be better players because of it. Coach Fitzpatrick did the right thing by sitting his two guards. It would be nice to win the QCIBT, but the Class L tournament is the one that really matters. Memorial now had 8 days until their next game. Couture and Morgan are able to rest up, and they should be back healthy for the team's next game. As for Dover, they have a lot of momentum heading into the rest of their season. After the game Coach Fitzpatrick said, "They're not just in mid-season form, they're in tournament form."
Congrats to Dover on the win, and good luck to all of the teams the rest of the season.
Day 4 - Tuesday, December 29
The first three days of Holiday tournament action, I was in Lowell and Manchester. Today I was in Lawrence and Nashua. After seeing the same teams for three days in a row I was eager to see some different teams today.
First game on the dockett was at the beautiful Lawrence High School, for Pinkerton vs. Greater Lawrence Tech. Before I talk about the game I must say that I was amazed at Lawrence High's gymnasium, it's gorgeous. It looks much more like a college gym than a high school one. If you haven't seen a game there I highly recommend doing so. As for the game I was expecting a Pinkerton win, and that's what happened. It was only a couple weeks ago when I saw Greater Lawrence scrimmage Winnacunnet. The Warriors played without two of their three best players, Jesse Gould and Harry Knowles, and they still beat Greater Lawrence by about 20. Pinkerton had their full roster at their disposal today, so they were clearly the favorites in my mind. However they didn't play very well in the first half. They trailed the whole time, and at the half it was 38-31 Greater Lawrence. Chad Park is a good player for the Astros. But he sat out for almost the whole second quarter, and Pinkerton's guards struggled without him on the floor. Park played well when he was in there, but did have some turnovers as a result of pushing the ball too fast on the break. Ben Proulx and Alex Patrikis were the two best players for Coach Rosinski's team. Zach Mathieu had a decent game but lacked energy, although he played 31 minutes so that could explain it. Pinkerton ended up winning 60-51. One of the area's best players, Donald Celestin from Greater Lawrence, was unconscious scoring the basketball in the first half. He cooled off in the second half, and Pinkerton took advantage. The Astros played some solid basketball in the second half against a decent team.
Next I made the drive over to Nashua South for the Chick-fil-A tourney. The first game there was Alvirne vs. Moore Catholic. Alvirne took care of business. They beat a team they should beat. Moore Catholic has some speed, but they do lack skill. The Broncos played without Caleb Donnelly, who sat out with a minor knee injury. Donnelly should be fine for Alvirne's next real game a week from now. Moyen, Sweeney, O'Hearn and Lambert all played solid ball for Coach Bonney's squad. They win 48-45.
Next up was Bedford and Hollis. This went as expected, a 58-38 Bedford win. Bedford played their whole team, 12 kids so it was tough for anyone to get in much of a rhythm. Overall they were just the better, deeper team and it showed. Mike Marinelli and Joey Maher played well. Maher is clearly fully healed from the ankle injury that sidelined him a couple weeks ago. Hollis will have a tough time winning games in Class I, but they're actually not as bad as I thought. Some of the kids who got minutes for them in summer and fall leagues are actually on JV. And some of their varsity players didn't play in the summer and fall leagues. So the team I saw today wasn't as bad as I expected them to be. Miles Tobin is a decent player for the Cavaliers.
Next up in Nashua were the two semi-final games. First it was North vs. Campbell. As many of you already know, Campbell won. Not only did they win 77-66, but for most of the game it wasn't even that close. Their lead was actually between 12-17 for most of the night. The Cougars' "Big 3" of Kiel Canada, Josh Morgan and Shawn Henriquez all played exceptionally well. Don't be confused by their Class M classification. Campbell, and Conant for that matter also, could compete with anyone in Class L or I. Campbell and Conant played each other last Tuesday night, and from what I heard from people who were there it was an unbelievable basketball game. Back to today's game between North and Campbell. A big factor here was Javon Williams. He's a great player when he's on the floor. But he was in foul trouble all game and only played about 6 minutes. Also, Ryan Gauthier didn't have one of his better games. I was impressed by Alex Pratt and Mike O'Connor for the Titans. Zach Nadeau is also a scrappy player and is very unselfish. Kevin Rosenberg's basketball days are over, so North will need Nadeau and O'Connor to continue to play well.
The other semi-final game was South vs. Thornton Academy. I didn't know what to expect from Thornton, but I was impressed by them. They're a good basketball team and were flat out better than South tonight. They have a kid named Andrew Shaw who's 6'5", very strong, he plays point guard for them and he can shoot. Tough player and the rest of their team just fed off of his energy. I don't know how Thornton only beat Hollis by 5 yesterday. As for South, they had moments when they looked pretty good but overall they didn't look great. Defensively they weren't tough enough and offensively only Kaleb Joseph stood out. Brandon Cox, Nilsson Basora and Nick Haskell also made some decent plays but weren't consistent enough. The play of the night was an awesome drive and dish play by Joseph, which really got a rise out of the crowd.
Thornton wins 58-47 to advance to the title game tomorrow vs. Campbell. I expect a good basketball game between those two teams. The 3rd place game will be North vs. South which should also be a decent ballgame. The 5th place game will be Bedford vs. Alvirne which should also be good. Both of those teams have been playing the games in this tournament more like scrimmages though, hopefully they treat tomorrow's game more like a real game. If they do it will be a good one.
Day 5 - Wednesday, December 30
Today was the final day of my 5 day journey. It was the final day for the Farmington, Nashua and Oyster River tournaments. I started my day in Durham, then made the hour drive to Nashua for one game, then went all the way back to Durham once again.
The first stop on my agenda today was heading over to ORHS to see Portsmouth vs. Timberlane. This was a 7th-place game, and it showed. Neither team was particularly sharp. Considering Portsmouth had their whole roster and Timberlane was playing without starting forward Aaron Judson, I figured Portsmouth would win easily. But Timberlane actually started out the game with a 24-9 lead. Kevin Baker and Jake Siemering played well for the Owls. Portsmouth struggled to score against Timberlane's 2-3 zone, which they played the whole first half. The Clippers also used makeshift lineups early on. They were subbing 5 in 5 out, and split up the starters between the 2 groups so it was tough for them to find a rhythm. They played their starters and key bench players for the majority of the second half, and that's when they made their run. Portsmouth did rely too heavily on the 3 point shot, however. Nate Jones and Kyle DiCesare showed some good hustle in the second half. I left before this one was over, since I wanted to catch the majority of the North/South game an hour away in Nashua. When I left Portsmouth had a 55-50 lead with 4:51 left in the ballgame.
Then it was off to Nashua for the North/South game. Coming all the way from Durham, I actually thought I was going to miss the first few minutes. But the game started a few minutes late, which worked out great for me. Electric atmosphere for this game and a packed gym. Two rival teams with some good talent going at it. Good stuff. It was an up-tempo barn-burner, so it was a fun, exciting game to watch. A ton of athleticism on the floor with kids like Williams, Gauthier, Muccioli and Basora. North wins it 60-51, though they probably should have won by more than that. The Titans led 31-16 at the half, and in the 3rd quarter they led 41-24. Someone else already said on here that tonight was the best they've seen Javon Williams play, and I agree. He was shooting from the outside, driving, making nice dishes, playing great defense and playing with a ton of energy. He was in foul trouble all last night and only played about 6 minutes. If he could have stayed on the floor North would have beaten Campbell. That's not to take anything away from the Cougars though, they played very good basketball that game. But Javon does make a big difference for North. I thought Gauthier also played well. In the first half he was getting some good looks at the basket, they were just rimming out for him. It looked like he was letting the missed shots get to him. It was clear however that he was able to keep his head up, because those shots started to fall for him in the second half, when he really did a nice job of getting to the basket and making things happen off the dribble. It probably helped his confidence by drilling a three right before the halftime buzzer. As for South, for the second straight game, Kaleb Joseph was the team's best player. He made some very athletic moves to the bucket, drives and dishes and also some outside jumpers. He did show his youth though, with a couple silly fouls and turnovers. Basora, Brandon Cox, Anthony Muccioli and Chris Thistle also played well for the Purple Panthers. The difference was a couple of big runs that North made. The key to these runs was forcing turnovers and turning those forced turnovers into easy buckets on the other end. When North was at their best they were also playing unselfish on offense. The play of the game was when North came down on the fast break and Rancourt made a nice extra pass to Pratt for the layup. Some great passing and team chemistry by Coach Otaka's team on that play, and it really gave them a lot of momentum. South made a run late to try and come back, but then Williams hit a big jumper then on the other end he took a charge around half court. A couple of big plays by Williams which iced the game. Zach Nadeau also played well for North.
Immediately following the North/South game I left Nashua and made the hour long drive back to Oyster River. I wanted to see the Bobcats play Spaulding in the Oyster River Holiday Classic championship game. I managed to get to Durham just a minute and a half into the game. I expected an Oyster River win and that's what happened, 62-61. Just like with the North/South game, this one was also a great atmosphere, loud crowd and a packed gym. It was a back and forth first quarter, with both teams making a lot of shots. Spaulding lives and dies by jump shots from their "Big Two" Brian Cronin and Brad Mondoux. Both players hit a ton of outside shots tonight which kept it close. It was 20-17 Spaulding after one quarter. The second quarter featured a pair of runs. Oyster River started the quarter on an 8-0 to take a 25-20 lead. Then over the next two minutes Spaulding went on a 7-0 run of their own, and led 36-30 at the half. While Cronin and Mondoux might do most of the scoring for the Red Raiders I have to give some credit to senior forward Glenn Roderick. He took four charges in the game, and also tried to take another one but was called for blocking. He's an unselfish player who just plays his butt off, and even though he's an undersized forward at only 6'0", maybe 6'1" he battles down low and is a solid rebounder and defender. And while I'm talking about Spaulding I'll say this. They might not win a lot of games this year. And after seeing them tonight they remain in the #16 spot in my Class L rankings. But Cronin and Mondoux are two of the best shooters in NH. As long as those two are in the lineup you can't count Spaulding out of the ballgame. They'll have at least one or two big comeback wins this season just watch. Ok, now back to the team that won this tournament, Oyster River. Chris Walker played a good all-around game, and the Bobcats got god inside play from the 6'3" Alex Hennessey, 6'4" Jack Nadeau and 6'5" Adam Goodwin. Their 6'3" point guard Tommy McDonnell is a good ball handler and controlled the tempo well, but he did force some shots in the first half,a nd missed 5 free throws in the second half. And Donovan Kelley is a tough, hard nosed guard. He's not much of an offensive threat, but he's a very good defender and very unselfish. I think you can tell by reading my post on underrated players that I value the importance of having good role players. You need stars to win, but you also need players who accept their roles, play hard, defend and take charges. They might not make the all-state team or get the recognition that the stars do but every good team needs good role players like Zach Nadeau (North), Glenn Roderick (Spaulding) and Donovan Kelley (Oyster River).
So that concludes my five day journey around the various holiday tournaments. I went to 5 different tournaments, and saw 22 games over the last 5 days. It was a blast. I saw some really good basketball games, and I'm pumped for the rest of the 2009-2010 basketball season. Keep checking back to this site for more coverage!