This post will be separated into 2 parts. Part 1 will be me talking about how many BIG games are going on around the state on Friday night, and previewing some of them. Part 2 will be me talking about a proposal I have for how this night could have been even better. Bare with me, this is a long post. But I really go in depth here and my proposal is a good one. Now, without any further ado:
Just take one quick glance at the schedule for Friday night, and you know that this is one special evening we're talking about here. You have four different games where, if they were held on almost any other night, they would be THE game to see that night. I'm talking about Nashua North vs. Nashua South, Bishop Guertin vs. Merrimack, Manchester Central vs. Trinity and Manchester Memorial vs. Manchester West. Like I said, any of those four games would be THE headliner on almost any other night. On this night, there's FOUR headliners.
These aren't the night's only big match-ups. Oyster River vs. St. Thomas is the night's "Seacoast Special" Meanwhile, Milford meets up with Hollis-Brookline in another rivalry game. Both of those games should be easy wins for Oyster River and Milford respectively, but they're still big rivalry games. Another rivalry game is Keene vs. Con-Val. These are two struggling teams, but it's a big rivalry nonetheless. Look for Keene's Theo Speas to have a big game in that one.
Getting back to Class L, another rivalry game is Londonderry vs. Salem. These are two teams with losing records, but don't be surprised if that changes by the end of the year. Londonderry has been playing without senior guard Matt Sanborn, who was suspended for the first few games of the season. Sanborn is one of the better shooters in the state. And although Salem is only 2-5, three of those losses were by five points or less. All of their losses have been to winning teams. And on Tuesday they handed Bishop Guertin their first loss of the season, thanks to a buzzer-beating three by Alex LaRosa.
One big game that is not necessarily a rivalry game is Bedford vs. Portsmouth. Portsmouth is currently my #1 ranked team in Class I. That is saying a lot because less than a month ago the Clippers were playing in the seventh place game of the Oyster River Holiday Classic. That's right, the 7th place game...and now they're ranked #1 in Class I! Bedford meanwhile gave Milford all they could handle on Tuesday night, only losing by three. They also recently beat a solid Souhegan team. This should be a good one. On a night of rivalry games, perhaps a new one will be born between these two programs.
Ok, now back to the four big games of the night...
So many storylines here. Let's see. Half of Guertin's team are Merrimack residents including star junior Sean McClung. There's all the bad blood, tension and animosity between the two schools, especially amongst the fans. There's the fact that BG Head Coach Jim Migneault was the coach at Merrimack not too long ago. There's Cardinals junior Connor Green's injury. Green, one of New Hampshire's top hoops prospects, has a sprained ankle and is expected to miss this contest. His absence will certainly play a role. And oh by the way, these are currently the two best teams in the state. I'll be covering this game for WGAM Friday Night Lights...and I can't wait! One other big reason is this: BG and Merrimack's game in the Rivier Fall League. Say what you want about summer leagues, fall leagues and holiday tournaments not meaning anything. Because what I saw at many of these games was playoff intensity and playoff level of play. Over the past 7 months, no game I have seen had the intensity that BG and Merrimack brought when they squared off in the Rivier Fall League. It was only October. But the gym was packed, there was a buzz in the air, and the atmosphere was electric. And the game itself lived up to the hype. Merrimack won it, as they were led by freshman Dimitri Floras who had an exceptional game. If there was that kind of intensity, that kind of atmosphere for a fall league game, I can't wait to see what it will be like Friday night at Bishop Guertin.
Nashua North/Nashua South
Contrary to what the NHIAA site says, this game WILL be played on Riverside Drive, at Nashua South's home gym. North Head Coach Andy Otocka made that clear when he was interviewed on WGAM's Friday Night Light's Saturday morning show last weekend. Regardless of where this game is played, you can bet that it will not only be a packed house, but the loyalties of the fans will be split pretty close to 50/50. This will make for a great atmosphere. Of course, it wasn't long ago that there wasn't Nashua North and Nashua South but rather there was simply Nashua High School. That alone makes this a big rivalry. But that also makes it fun to play the "What If" game. To ask the question, "What kind of a team would Nashua High have if it was still just one school?" Imagine Jake Nelson, Javon Williams, Kaleb Joseph, Ryan Gauthier and Anthony Muccioli...in the same backcourt! Wow. Even better imagine that same backcourt two years from now. Williams, Gauthier and Muccioli as seniors, Joseph as a junior. As long as those players keep improving, that would be THE scariest group of guards our state has seen in quite some time. Now back to reality. The reality is that it's not 2012, but 2010. The reality is that Jake Nelson still hasn't played yet this season, although he is expected to return to the Purple Panther lineup soon. And the reality is that Nashua DID split up into two schools. So what we have is two talented, but young teams. Two teams that we already saw play in the Nashua Holiday Tournament just a few weeks ago. In that game, North was clearly the better team with South making a late run to make it close. Look for more of the same this time. But with a rivalry like this, and so much youth on the floor, it would be best to expect the unexpected.
Anytime two Manchester schools meet, it is ALWAYS a big deal. And out of all the Queen City rivalries, this is the biggest. This is for two reasons. One is because out of the four Manchester schools, these two have been the most consistently good teams in the city. Over the last 20 or so years, both schools have been perennial Class L powers. The other reasons is the extremely close proximity these two schools have to each other. As a result, it is always a big deal when the Pioneers take on the Little Green. These two teams met in the QCIBT. And even though it was only the first round of the tournament, it drew by far the tournament's largest crowd. It was the biggest crowd I've seen at a game all year. Over the last couple years however, there's been yet another reason why these two programs have such a big rivalry. In a word...transfers. Over the past two years, Central has had 3 of their players transfer to Trinity. Last year it was Phil Hayden. He didn't want to be Will Bayliss's backup. So he went to Trinity and led the Pioneers to the state title. And this year, Gordon Duffley and Jake Hamel both transferred from Central to Trinity. Central has started the regular season out slow, but you can throw out the records when these two teams meet. Doc Wheeler has his Little Green team playing very hard, and they really get after it on the defensive end of the floor. Their junior point guard Joe Stisser has finally returned to the lineup after an injury that sidelined him since last winter. With Stisser back, sophomore Gabe LaCount is able to slide over to the wing, which is his natural position. For Trinity, Head Coach Dave Keefe admitted to WGAM that his point guard Phil Hayden is only playing at about 70% with a sore ankle. Still, the match-up to watch in this game is the one in the paint. Central's 6'7" John Wickey and Trinity's 6'6" David Madol, both just juniors, are the two best post players in New Hampshire.
This game might not have transfers, blue chip freshmen, or an intense fall league game to recapture. But what this game does have is a ton of talent across the board, and two of the better coaches in Class L. Nobody did a better job coaching their respective team last season than Memorial's Mike Fitzpatrick and West's Sam Carey. Memorial went from 16 seed to the title game. And West went 11-8 including a first round playoff win with a team most picked to struggle badly. Both team's graduated A LOT of talent. As a result, other players have had to step up. This game feature's some of the most improved players in the state. Memorial junior Shomari Morgan is possibly #1 on that list. After barely seeing the court last year, Morgan has really raised his game. He plays with a ton of energy, is very active on both ends of the floor, and he's one of the quickest players off the dribble our state has to offer. Seniors Vinnie Zenni and Edhem Mahmutovic are two other Crusader players who have produced despite seeing very limited time a year ago. It's the same story with West. The Blue Knights have played some real good basketball so far, especially consider only Richard Valentin got regular minutes last year. Sammy Abdalla is the only other player who even saw any time in close games last season. Abdalla, along with Greg Asselin, Jose Gonzalez, Quentin Hunter and sophomore Aaron Martin have all stepped in and played well. These kids have played well in just their first varsity season. Both of these squads will have extra motivation to play well. Both teams are coming off disappointing losses on Tuesday night. Memorial had a bad loss to Goffstown, and West lost by 14 to Pinkerton. These will be too angry teams. But leave it to Fitzpatrick and Carey to harness that anger, and turn it into execution on Friday night.
Ok, so clearly those are four MONSTER match-ups. Now, here's my proposal. Let me first say that I know that what I am proposing will not happen. It is obviously too late in the game to make this happen. But I just think this really would have been something special if the NHIAA had decided to do this.
So these are four big games. And they all involve Nashua or Manchester area schools. I think it's a great idea to have all four of these "Dream Match-ups" on the same day. You just have it done the right way. My proposal is this:
a) These are BIG games. Why not have them played at a point in the season where they will have more meaning? Rather than have them played in the middle of the season, I propose that they're played on the last day of the regular season. All 8 of these teams will surely be in playoff contention, with most of them likely battling for one of the coveted top 4 playoff seeds. These games will all be packed as it is, but imagine a BG/Merrimack game where one team needs a win for the top overall seed, while the other team needs a win for a top 4 seed and a second home playoff game? With even more riding on these games, they would be even better!
b) Ok, here's where my proposal gets interesting. I say, not only do you have these four big games on the last day of the regular season. But I say play them on a Saturday, that's right a Saturday. Saturday, March 6 to be exact. Plus, have them all played in the SAME GYM. Game times could be 3:30, 5:00, 6:30 and 8:00. And you could always just have the JV teams from all of these schools square off the night before in separate gyms like originally scheduled. Two different bus trips instead of one, but these schools are all so close by that it won't matter. I don't think the order the games are played in matters quite as much, since all four are huge games. What's important is that BG plays Merrimack, West plays Memorial, North plays South and Trinity pays Central...they're played on Saturday, March 6...all in the same gym...at 3:30, 5:00, 6:30 and 8:00.
Can you imagine the day of basketball this would be? It would be amazing. 8 good basketball teams, all fighting for playoff positioning. And all four are BIG rivalry games. That way, fans wouldn't have to choose which of the four games they want to see. You could see all four games, on one day! 6 straight hours of New Hampshire High School basketball at its finest. It would be like the Class L quarterfinals used to be, all four games in one day. Except with this it would be the last day of the regular season instead of playoffs. However in this scenario the games would be played in the Manchester/Nashua area so fans wouldn't have as far to travel. Plus all four games are huge rivalry match-ups, where that's not always the case in the quarterfinals. Plus, since the games would be on a Saturday, they would be the only games going on in the entire state that day. EVERYBODY would go.
Now what about the venue? Obviously BG, Trinity and West have gyms that are way too small. Especially West and Trinity have almost zero parking available. Central's gym has a leaky roof. Memorial, North and South have decent sized gyms. But I think for an event of this magnitude you would want a college gym. I vote for a Manchester college, since Manchester is more centrally located in NH than Nashua is. Why not have it at SNHU? The Penmen's season will be over by this point, so the gym would be available. It's a big gym, plenty of bleacher room. And it's centrally located in Manchester. Sounds good to me!
So that's my proposal. If you're going to have these four big games all on the same day, do it right. Make it so fans can see all four games instead of having to choose only one too see. Make it on the last day of the season so the games mean more. Have something like:
Date: Saturday, March 6
3:30 Memorial vs. West
5:00 North vs. South
6:30 Trinity vs. Central
8:00 Bishop Guertin vs. Merrimack
Like I said, I know it is too late in the game to actually make it happen. But man, this would have been awesome!