Well this is a trend that I hope doesn't continue. For both of the last 2 games that I have been to, the JV games have been MUCH closer than the varsity. On Friday night the Merrimack and Dover JV's went to double overtime before the "Little Green Wave" prevailed. Merrimack won the varsity game by 19. And tonight I saw Lebanon at John Stark. The JV game went down to the final second of regulation with the Raiders escaping with a 57-56 win. Again the varsity game was not as close, with Lebanon playing a solid 32 minutes of basketball to win 66-55.
My Take on Lebanon/John Stark
Like the title of this post indicates, Lebanon's Jake Woodward was indeed the difference in this game. He dropped 31 on Stark tonight, with 17 coming in the second half. He is making a very good case for first team all-state and possibly Player of the Year in Class I. If he wasn't there Lebanon would really struggle to put points on the board. While their guards are smart and disciplined, they can't beat anyone off the dribble and only Hampton can shoot it. Jimmy Kane will get his share of points in the paint, but even his points usually come off of an offensive rebound. Woodward is very active, constantly putting pressure on the defense and is also very tough on the boards. He's a very difficult match-up because of his size, strength and quickness. Plus he can shoot it or drive, although he is much better at driving.
This was a VERY close game throughout the first half. There was 8 lead changes in the first half alone and it was tied at 30 at halftime. John Stark was knocking down shots from the outside, with most of their scoring coming from guards Greg LeBlond, Steve Johnstone and Tim Plunkett. I was impressed by the shooting of Plunkett. Going into this game knew about LeBlond and Johnstone. But it was actually the senior Plunkett who led the Generals in scoring with 21 points, including 4 three pointers. The 6'6" Ethan O'Neill is a solid player, but he's a finesse player. Too soft to get points down low against Kane and Woodward. So Stark had no inside game and they were relying on the outside shooting of LeBlond, Johnstone and Plunkett. They were knocking down enough shots to stay in the game in the first half, but they went cold in the second half.
Stark also went cold from the foul line. As a team they shot 5-15 from the charity stripe, ouch! Most of those 10 misses came in the fourth quarter, too when they were still in the game up until the last minute and a half or so.
Woodward was very consistent, scoring about 8 points in every quarter. He also had 11 rebounds on the game. He finishes well around the basket. And even though he scored 31 points, he didn't force anything. All of his shots came in the flow of the offense. Of course, since Lebanon doesn't have many other weapons besides him, the flow of the offense ends up with the ball in his hands more often than not.
What do I think about Lebanon's chances the rest of the way?
That's a great question, I'm glad you asked! I think they're right in that mix with the top tier of teams in Class I. The division doesn't seem as top-heavy as it did before the season. I think now you have Portsmouth, Milford, Oyster River, Pelham, Pembroke, Lebanon, Bedford, Souhegan and Bow - 9 teams that all have a shot. Stark, Kingswood and Hanover are right behind. I know Stark has beaten Bow twice, but I just think Bow will be the better team as the season goes on. Anything can happen with these teams, it'll come down to who can execute and who can get hot at the right time. It'll be a lot of fun over the next couple months, anytime two of these top 10 or so teams square off!
Back to Lebanon now.
If you're going to beat them there are two keys. One is keeping Woodward and Kane off the boards. Woodward is 6'4" and Kane is 6'5" and they're both very tough and active on the boards. And they both play pretty much the whole game. If you don't keep them off the boards they will eat you alive. After seeing the tape of Lebanon's win over Milford in the Keene Holiday Tourney, rebounding was a HUGE reason Lebanon won that game. The other key is containing Woodward offensively. He is a tough match-up where he's 6'4", has the quickness of a guard and the strength of a linebacker. Not many teams have someone who could cover him one-on-one. He's too quick for most bigs, and too big and strong for most guards. Do you play zone against him? Because then it will be tough to box out him and Kane on the glass.
Even though their guards aren't going to score many points, they are very good defenders. Jayson Martin and Dillon McCarthy especially, those two are as good defensively as anyone in Class I. McCarthy, Martin, Christian Centonze and David Hampton are all very unselfish players. They know that their job is to get the ball inside. They don't force anything. The guards aren't going to wow anyone with fancy crossover dribbles or no look passes. But they're solid defenders, and they're very disciplined. They share the basketball and make the extra pass. Lebanon only had 3 turnovers all game tonight.
I think Lebanon can compete with anyone else in Class I. It should be noted that in their blowout loss to Pembroke earlier, Jimmy Kane did NOT play (He got T'd up the previous game and had to sit). True they lost to Pembroke by 25, so they still would have lost even if he played. But it would have been MUCH closer.
How about John Stark?
Well they do have strong guard play. Just like with Lebanon, the Stark guards aren't going to beat you off the dribble (LeBlond might occasionally). But like I mentioned above all three of them (LeBlond, Johnstone and Plunkett) can all shoot it. If those three can get hot, the Generals can beat anybody. And if you focus too much on them, O'Neill will hurt you inside (although he needs to work on finishing better down low). Another positive with Stark is that LeBlond and Johnstone can really defend the heck out of people. Their weaknesses are that they rely too much on outside shooting, rebounding and free throw shooting. For someone who is such a good shooter, LeBlond was only 3-7 from the free throw line tonight.
I think Stark will win a decent amount of games. I think they're in that next tier of teamss after the top 7 or 8 in Class I. They could even win a game or two against one of those top teams if they really come together down the stretch. But overall I expected a little more from them tonight, especially on their home floor.
Back to Woodward
Jake Woodward joins Ryan Dunn of Winnacunnet, Zach Mathieu of Pinkerton and James Holler of Exeter as star basketball players in the Class of 2010...who next year in college will be playing a sport other than basketball. Woodward has a full ride to play baseball at St. John's. That's IF he doesn't get drafted my a major league team in the spring. And according to Lebanon Head Coach Keith Matte, that's a big if.
"He'll get drafted" Matte said after tonight's game. "He's got a 90 MPH fastball. If not this year then he has a full ride to play at St. John's in the Big East."
With Mathieu (Franklin Pierce), Woodward (St. John's), Mike Montville (Maryland) and Nate Jones (Wake Forest), that's four New Hampshire kids who will be playing high level college ball in baseball next year! And that's just off the top of my head, there may be others. With all the talk on here about basketball and football prospects, who knew that baseball is actually the sport that the Granite State is producing talent in!