On most Tuesday and Friday nights during the season, there will be more big games in Class L than in the other 3 classes combined. That is not the case tomorrow. The two biggest games are in Class I. There's also a HUGE girls game in Class I. Here's the lowdown...
Game of the Night
Pembroke (9-2) @ Lebanon (9-1)
This is a battle of the two teams who are currently ranked #2 and #3 in the Class I Power Rankings, so this could easily be a preview of a game that will happen in Durham next month. It has been well documented that Lebanon's only defeat thus far this regular season was a blowout loss to Pembroke where they only scored 27 points. In that game Jimmy Kane got a technical early and barely played. Kane, Lebanon's 6'5" senior center, is a very good rebounder and is arguably the Raiders' second best player. Having him play a full game and having this game on Lebanon's home court should be enough to make this a VERY close game. It could go either way.
Interesting matchup of Lebanon's size vs. Pembroke's all guard lineup. Lebanon's Kane (6'5") and Woodward (6'4") play pretty much the whole game. Meanwhile Pembroke likes to play 6 kids, none of which are taller than 6'1". Lebanon has size, experience, discipline, rebounding. They're very good defensively, they take good shots, they pound it inside, but the guards can hurt you too if you overplay the bigs. Their weakness however is speed. They are NOT one of the quickest teams in Class I. To beat them you have to run, play an up-tempo game. Luckily for the Spartans, that's their style. They want to push the ball upcourt and score before Lebanon gets back and sets up their defense. Look for guards Rene Maher, Coleton Neely and Dalton Cheney to really force the issue and get out on the break. Obviously, tempo will be a HUGE factor in this game. If it is an up-tempo game, another factor will be Pembroke's depth. The faster the pace of the game, the more fatigued the players will get. If you're a deep team than this is no problem. That's why Bishop Guertin is able to play that style and be successful. If you're not deep though, you have to have kids who are in good shape so they're still fresh come the fourth quarter. You also have to avoid foul trouble and avoid injury. Like I said before, Pembroke only likes to play 6 kids. They're not deep. Those 6 players are in good shape though. So it will come down to whether they can stay out of foul trouble and hope nobody gets injured. When I saw Pembroke play Portsmouth, Maher got injured in the third quarter. They were forced to go with the same 5 players the whole time he was on the bench and that's when Portsmouth made their run. Lebanon on the other hand is a deeper team. They rely for the most part on 6 kids, but they do go 8 or 9 deep. Even though they're deeper than Pembroke, Lebanon still does NOT want to run. Like I said, they just not as fast as the Spartans.
This game will feature 3 of the top 10 freshmen in New Hampshire. Two of Pembroke's top 6 players are freshman...and they're 9-2! I think that's a great story by itself. The two players I'm talking about are starting guard Rene Maher and 6th man Matt Persons. They are both ranked in the top for the Class of 2013. For Lebanon, their 6th man is also a freshman. That would be the sharpshooting David Hampton. And on the Raiders JV team is another good freshman, the 6'2" athletic Matt Cowles.
If the season ended today, you would have to give Lebanon's Jake Woodward some serious consideration for Class I Player of the Year. Nobody on Milford will win it because they have 3 really good players, so they will all get a few votes each instead of one of them getting many votes. Steve Spirou would be up there if Pelham had a better record. Ditto for Bow's Tom Poitras, Merrimack Valley's Kevin Cressy and Bishop Brady's Tyler Penney. You would think that the POY would have to come from either Milford, Pembroke, Lebanon, Bedford, Portsmouth, Oyster River, Souhegan or Kingswood. From those team's the other candidates would have to be Woodward, Portsmouth's Barton, Pembroke's Neely or Benson and Oyster River's McDonnell. Neely and Benson would likely split votes with neither getting enough to win it. Barton might get first team, but he hasn't been consistent enough to win it. Ditto for McDonnell. At times Barton and McDonnell haven't even been the best player on their own team, with Kyle DiCesare from Portsmouth and Adam Goodwin from Oyster River both doing some big things early in the year. So if you ask me, as of right now it's Woodward. Still a LONG way to go before the season's over though.
2 Other Class I Clashes
Milford (11-1) @ Pelham (6-5)
Before the season started these were the clear cut teams to beat in Class I. Oyster River and Pembroke were close behind, but definitely not on the same level as these two. Milford has lived up to the hype, but Pelham has not. To be fair, Coach Kress's squad DOES have the toughest schedule in Class I. But nobody thought they would be 6-5 right now. Souhegan might be Milford's biggest rival, for Pelham this is it. This is the game they REALLY get up for. Milford is the team they REALLY want to beat. If they can get a win here it would really get them going in the right direction as a team. They need it bad.
While these two teams do have an intense rivalry, there's a mutual respect that exists between them. This is in large part due to the fact that some of the key players on both sides play together in AAU ball. Milford's Mike Mitchell, Mike O'Loughlin and Dan Desmarais, as well as Pelham's Steve Spirou and Mike Lombard were all a part of the Granite State Jayhawks 16U team last spring/summer. Milford's Jamie Holder was also on the team before he switched over to the Mass Rivals. These kids all get along, when they're not playing against each other they're good friends. While they respect each other's games, you can bet that when the whistle blows and the ball goes up in the air tonight it will be all business and both teams will be really going at each other hard.
The key to this game will be the matchups. Will Spirou go off for 20+ points, or will Milford have an answer for him defensively? Will Pelham's guards be able to stop Milford's dribble penetration? Will either team play zone to offset matchup problems?
How about on the boards? That would appear to be the area of the game where Pelham has a definite advantage. Spirou, Lombard and Josh Boissonault are as good of a rebounding trio as any in Class I. Milford is not nearly as strong at rebounding the basketball. It will be up to Desmarais, O'Loughlin and Kyle Nelson to step up in that department.
This is also the first tough opponent Milford has had since they we found out that 6'3" forward and 6th man Scott McCallum was done for the season with a broken wrist. With that loss, the Spartans became one player less deep. It didn't matter in their last three games because they faced St. Thomas, Hollis and Con-Val. But it could make a difference against Pelham tonight.
Oyster River (8-3) @ Souhegan (8-3)
Here you have two teams with identical 8-3 records, two teams that have both had tough schedules, and they've both beaten some pretty good teams. Souhegan has beaten Portsmouth and Kingswood, while Oyster River has beaten Kingswood and Pelham. These are two pretty evenly matched teams. Oyster River has a little more talent, but Souhegan has home court. It's a toss-up! Anything could happen with this one, and this is a game I would really like to see if I could.
The matchup that I really like in this game is at point guard. You have the two tallest point guards in the state going at it, with Oyster River's Tommy McDonnell and Souhegan's Seth Cordts. Both players are 6'2" and really pushing 6'3". They are both the catalysts for their respective teams, everything feeds off of them.
Girls Game of the Night
Portsmouth (12-1) @ St. Thomas (11-2)
Not only is this a game between two seacoast rivals, but these are also possibly the two best girls teams in Class I right now. I saw St. Thomas play Dover a couple weeks ago. Dover is a decent Class L team, and St. Thomas came VERY close to beating them, losing on a last second shot. Although they lost, the Saints were a quicker, more athletic team. They also have some decent shooters. Portsmouth meanwhile is led by senior Rosa Drummond and juniors Ali Beauregard and Susie French. I'll be broadcasting this game on WTSN AM 1270 and online at wtsnam1270.com tonight at 6:30. I am expecting a very good basketball game. Portsmouth and St. Thomas are also playing in boys basketball tonight. But that should be an easy win for Portsmouth. So maybe EVERYBODY will pack in the St. Thomas gym for this one!
Class L Game of the Night
Central @ Memorial
I didn't post the records for these two teams, because it doesn't matter. You can throw them out when the Manchester schools square off. It's always a must-see game. Just think of the outstanding Queen City games we've seen already this season. Trinity/Memorial on opening night, Trinity/Central and Memorial/West a week and a half ago. Plus, Trinity/Central, Memorial/West, Trinity/Memorial and West/Central in the QCIBT. Trinity and West a few weeks ago was a great atmosphere and a solid game. I'm telling you, folks. When these Manchester schools square off in boys hoops it is the real deal!
In this particular game, injuries will play a part. It has been well documented that Memorial's Matt Couture and Shomari Morgan both injured their ankles in the QCIBT. Couture is back to 100%, but how healthy Morgan is remains a mystery. When he's healthy Morgan gives them another dimension, because he's so explosive off the dribble. He also has the ability to pull up on a dime and stick the mid-range jumper. The Crusaders are a different team when he's healthy. The injury to watch for Central is Joe Stisser. He finally came back from the knee injury that sidelined him for almost a full year. And he was playing very well since retuning, especially in Central's big win over Trinity a couple weeks back. But on Friday night in the loss to Pinkerton he banged his knee again. Will Stisser play tonight? Will he be 100%? These are key questions, because there's no doubt that the Little GReen are a better squad with him on the court running the point.
Some Love for Class M
Campbell (12-2) @ Somersworth (10-4)
Campbell only won the first matchup between these two teams by 3, and that was at Campbell. Now Somersworth gets the Cougars at their place. In a very top-heavy Class M, there have actually been quite a few upsets in the past couple weeks. Could this be the next one? I don't think so, but I do think it will be a solid, hard fought game.
Nice matchup in the backcourt between the two quickest players off the dribble with Campbell's Kiel Canada and Somersworth's Shante Cunningham. These two going at it would be fun to watch.
Somersworth also has more quickness in the backcourt with the speedy 5'9" guard Matt Fauci, a very scrappy player. The spot where Campbell has an edge though is on the wing with junior Josh Morgan. If the Hilltoppers go man on defense, they'll have Bobby Shatinsky or Pat Lavin on Morgan. Neither of those two players is even close to Morgan in terms of quickness. So if Somersworth goes man, Morgan will have a field day. If they go zone, Morgan and Canada will drain three's.
Still, Somersworth is a veteran team that plays good team basketball. I expect them to lay it all on the line against a Campbell team whose only two losses were to Conant.