Merrimack/Trinity, Milford/Souhegan and Lebanon/Hanover headline a BIG Tuesday night of basketball in New Hampshire. Below I preview all of the night's action.
Merrimack @ Trinity
The final buzzer had barely sounded last Friday night when Trinity beat Guertin before folks were already buzzing about the Pioneers match-up with top ranked Merrimack. It's #1 vs. #3 meeting at the tiny McHugh Gym on Bridge Street.
Trinity has to be feeling good about themselves after the big win Friday night at the Colligidome. There is one point about the Pioneers that I would like to clarify. I've heard a lot lately about how Trinity has giving up the least amount of points per game in Class L. I've heard people say that because of that, it automatically makes them the best defensive team in the division. I don't agree with that. Hey, I'm not saying that they're not the best defensive team in Class L. I'm just saying that just because they're allowing the least amount of points per game DOES NOT automatically make them the best defensive team. There are many factors that come into play, such as their style of play, opponents field goal %, strength of schedule, how they've done at shutting down an opponent's leading scorer, etc. The fact is, Trinity is a half court team. They will occasionally look to fast-break, but that is NOT their style. They want a slow, grind it out type of game. Their games have a slower pace, meaning less shot attempts per team, meaning less points on the scoreboard. THAT is the biggest reason for the low point per game totals they're giving up. Of course they do have some very good defensive players. Hunter Viscarello, Sylvere Aluko and Phil Hayden are all ranked in my defensive player rankings. David Madol is also a good defender. So Trinity IS a good defensive team. They have good players and they play a slow tempo game. That's why they're allowing the fewest points in Class L. But please folks, don't just blindly look at stats and make conclusions.
Ok, enough of that rant, back to this game. Merrimack meanwhile, is 11-1 with the only loss coming on a last second shot to Salem. The Tomahawks continue to be a great story, going from a team that didn't even make the tournament last season to being the state's top ranked squad. I've said it before but I'll say it again. This team just meshes so well together. The parts all fit together so well. The stars, the role players, the bench. The players all have different strengths, they all bring something to the table and they all compliment each other well.
The one thing they don't have is size. Eric Watson is 6'3". Sophomore Tyler Gendron off the bench is 6'4", but he needs to get bigger in order to defend and bang around with the big boys down low. Watson plays bigger than his height due to his strength and toughness. Still, this team could be vulnerable against strong bigs like Madol, John Wickey and Zach Mathieu.
Nice match-up in the backcourt between Dimitri Floras from Merrimack and Trinity's Phil Hayden. It's a match-up between the smooth freshman Floras and the smart and savvy senior Hayden. Not sure if these two will be covering each other, but if they do it would be fun to watch.
Dover @ Memorial
Merrimack/Trinity might be the Class L game of the night, but this will still be a VERY good basketball game. Both teams have identical 8-4 records. And even though neither team is ranked in the top 6 teams in the Class L Power Rankings, I feel like both the Green Wave and Crusaders could easily be top 5 teams when it’s all said and done. These two teams probably had the best summers of any team in Class L.
Dover has gotten plenty of hype. But some media folks this weekend were saying that they were surprised that Memorial is 8-4. And I find THAT surprising. I had memorial ranked #5 in my preseason Class L rankings. And for most of the summer they were ranked #1. I think the reason why they’re so underrated is because people look at their roster, they know Cormac Fitzpatrick can play, and they know Matt Couture can play. I’m afraid that some people think that’s all they have, so they don’t consider the Crusaders to be contenders. These people are misinformed.
Memorial returns 7 kids not named Couture or Fitzpatrick from last years team. None of them got much playing time last year, but they all worked on their games A TON over the spring and summer. I’m talking about Shomari Morgan, Hervens Desire, Vinnie Zenni, Dan McLean, Edhem Mahmutovic, Rodney Martinez and Scott Marchwicz. This group of players has some of the most improved players in the state. Give credit to Coac Fitzpatrick for guiding them and pushing them. But also give credit to them for working hard even though they receive very little attention in the media.
I for one am not AT ALL surprised that Memorial is 8-4. The three players in that group who have really improved a ton are Morgan, Zenni and Mahmutovic. Morgan has been slowed ever since the holiday break with a sore ankle. But when healthy he has become one of the most athletic players and one of the best slashers in NH. Zenni and Mahmutovic are two seniors who bring a lot to the table. These two are very critical to the success of the team. Memorial doesn’t necessarily need scoring from these two. But they need ball handling and defense from Zenni and defense and rebounding from Mahmutovic. Then Fitzpatrick (knee), Couture (ankle) and Morgan (ankle) have all had nagging injuries this season. If they can stay healthy and if Zenni and Mahmutovic can give the team consistent play, Memorial is as good as anybody.
Dover and Memorial are two very evenly matched teams. Both teams could sue a statement win like this to get them on the right track to make a run down the stretch. Memorial is at home. But Dover has some very fond memories of playing on Crusader Way. Just a couple months ago they took home the trophy at the QCIBT by beating Memorial in their own gym. Tomorrow night will be a much different game though. In that game, the Crusaders played without both Morgan and Couture.
Milford @ Souhegan
This is one of the biggest rivalries in the state, which in itself makes it a must see game. It's been a rivalry ever since Souhegan High opened its doors and the Amherst kids started going there instead of going to Milford High. There's some bad blood between the two teams and their fans, which resurfaced in the Keene State Holiday Tourney this year.
Part of the ill feelings may come from the fact that these two teams play each other so gosh darn much. They played each other a few times over the summer. They played over winter break in Keene and this will be their second regular season meeting. They've gotta be sick of each other by now! I can only imagine if they end up meeting in the tournament too!
As far as injuries go, both of these teams' starting point guards have been nursing sore ankles. Milford's all-state bound Mike Mitchell rolled his over during the Pelham game last Tuesday. Seth Cordts from Souhegan sat out the Sabers game last Tuesday's game with Oyster River with an ankle injury. Both should be able to play in this game. With a rivalry this big, I'm sure they would really have to be hurting to sit this one out. Still, if either player is slowed by injury it could affect the outcome.
As for other match-ups, look for Milford's Jamie Holder to cover Devin Gilligan of Souhegan. If that happens it will be tough for Gilligan to get his shot off against the quicker Holder.
Lebanon @ Hanover
This is the second of three big rivalry games in Class I on Tuesday night. #3 ranked Lebanon vs. #11 ranked Hanover. Lebanon won the first meeting at their place 49-40. This time it's at Hanover.
In the first meeting I really thought Hanover was lucky to only lose by 9. Jake Woodward and Jimmy Kane dominated in the paint, scoring and rebounding the basketball. And freshman David Hampton poured in 18 points including 4 three's. Lebanon could have easily won that game by 15+. But due to the slow down tempo that both of these teams play you're not going to see any blowouts.
Lebanon has to be the favorite, even at Hanover which is a very tough place to play. If the Marauders hope to win, they'll need someone besides Sam Carney or Daniel Gorman to step up and score and they'll need more of a contribution down low from the 6'7" Keegan Dufty.
Bow @ Pembroke
Yet ANOTHER rivalry game in Class I, this one between the #2 ranked Pembroke Spartans and the #12 ranked Bow Falcons. In the first meeting it was Bow 50 Pembroke 40 way back on January 5. That game came at a time when Bow was playing their best basketball of the season. They were in the midst of a 4 game winning streak, a streak that included wins against not Pembroke but Oyster River as well. Both of those wins were by double digits and both came against came against teams now ranked in the top 4 in Class I.
Since that winning streak however, the Falcons have lost 6 of their last 8 games...ouch! And other than the game at Lebanon, 5 of those 6 losses were very winnable games. Whatever's wrong in Falcon country, they'll have to fix it if they want to go anywhere in the tournament.
As for Pembroke, they're riding high after a big win at Lebanon last Tuesday. The Spartans come into this contest on an 8 game winning streak, and arguably playing better basketball right now than anyone in the division. I've said it before but I'll say it again. It is VERY impressive what Pembroke is doing considering two of their top 6 players are freshman (Rene Maher and Matt Persons). Not only that, but they only have 1 player on this year's team who got any significant playing time last year on varsity (Sheldon Benson). It's a credit to the job that Coach Matt Alosa has done, but also a credit to his players for working so hard. Their job isn't done yet though. This team has sights on a state title.
Kearsarge @ John Stark
Ok, stop me if you've heard me say this before. It's a rivalry game in Class I on Tuesday night. What a night of basketball in Class I! As if having Milford/Souhegan, Lebanon/Hanover and Bow/Pembroke all playing on one night wasn't good enough, Kearsarge and John Stark square off in yet ANOTHER Class I rivalry game! I'm getting pumped just thinking about it! I just hope that the snow doesn't get too bad so all of these games are played as scheduled.
They're expecting a packed gym in Weare for this one. Stark one the first meeting, a 72-60 decision at Kearsarge. Including that game, the Generals have scored over 70 points FOUR times this season. Milford and BG are the only teams who have don it more. You would think that based on that stat John Stark would be a to 5 or 6 Class I team. They're still 8-5, which is pretty good. But they haven't beaten anybody currently ranked in the top 10 in Class I. After this game with Kearsarge however, they have 4 games left. And 3 of those games are against Bedford, Pembroke and Lebanon. They'll have to win at least 1 if not 2 of those games to be considered a contender.
Kearsarge meanwhile is in a similar position ton their arch-rival Generals. They're 8-6. None of those wins are against teams currently in the top 10, and 2 of those wins are over Class M teams. Whoever wins this game could turn that into momentum which COULD possibly lead to a home playoff game in the first round.
Stevens @ Mascoma Valley
As an assistant coach at Class M Sanborn, I am glad that we didn't have to play either of these teams this season. Though it appears right now at least, that everyone in Class M is fighting for second place behind Conant, these two teams both have a legit shot at taking the honor.
Though Mascoma (13-2) has a better record than Stevens (11-5) one might pick Stevens to win this one based on the prior meeting between the two teams. The Cardinals won that game 58-47 just a couple weeks ago. This time though, Mascoma gets the 6'6" junior forward Kevin O'Connor and the rest of his Stevens teammates at their place.
I mentioned how everyone seems to be fighting for second place in Class M. The team that was the favorite to get that spot just a few days ago was Winnisquam. But on Friday night they lost at Mascoma 68-57. So the Royals are riding high into this revenge game with the boys from Claremont.