Folks, this post is loaded. I've got previews of 7 games. Games from all over the state, including 2 girls games. And these previews are more in depth than you'll find anywhere else.
Class M Prelims are on Wednesday night. I'll preview some of those games. But first on Tuesday night it's a full slate of Class L and Class I action. There's no question in my mind what the game of the night is. It is Merrimack vs. Pinkerton. (By the way, the portion of this post you see on the blog's main page is what us media types like to call a teaser!) Below I preview Merrimack/Pinkerton as well as Tuesday night's other big match-ups. Buckle up...and get those reading glasses on!
Merrimack (12-2) @ Pinkerton (10-4)
VERY interesting game here. Totally contrasting teams. The inside play of Pinkerton vs. the guard oriented Merrimack squad. The Tomahawks have the advantage on the perimeter. But how about the 6'3" Eric Watson trying to guard the Astros' 6'7" Zach Mathieu down low or the 6'0" Travis Maser trying to contain the 6'4" Ben Proulx? Yikes! Pinkerton's whole game is pounding the basketball down low to those two guys, and Merrimack is giving up 4 inches at both spots.
There's no question that Merrimack will want to speed up the pace of this game, make it up tempo. Try to force Pinkerton to take shots early in their possessions instead of going down low to their bigs. In the half court, don't be surprised if Merrimack goes zone to offset those match-ups. Making the Astros beat you from the outside is a wise choice, since they're one of the worst shooting teams in Class L.
The advantage the Tomahawks have is that not only do they have better guards, but Watson and Maser also have the ability to step out and knock down shots. This will draw Mathieu and Proulx away from the basket and open up the lane for driving opportunities by Anthony and Dimitri Floras as well as offensive rebound chances.
With all of the talk about big men, this game also has a nice match-up of little guys. Merrimack 5'8" senior Matt Hardwick and Pinkerton 5'7" junior Chad Park are the two best players in Class L below 5'9". And both players are VERY valuable to their respective teams.
Both of these squads are aiming for one of those coveted top 4 seeds. This game has major playoff implications.
Manchester West (11-3) @ Manchester Central (6-7)
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Anytime two Manchester schools square off in boys hoops, it is ALWAYS a big deal. The kids all know each other. They played together in middle school, CYO ball or AAU. The fans all come out in full force and are more pumped up than they are for the other games. And the Manchester teams always have some pretty darn good basketball players as well.
When these teams met on day 2 of the QCIBT, West won it on a last second shot leaner by Richard Valentin. Two of the better players for Central in that game though were Junior Brown and Audie Melendez. Both players have been out of the lineup lately and could miss this game as well. They would be key losses too, because Brown and Melendez are the Little Green's two best defenders.
Both of these teams really like to push the ball and play at a fast, frenetic pace. This combined with the atmosphere in the gym for a Manchester city rivalry game should make for a very entertaining evening of hoops in the center of the Queen City.
Two potential all-state players to watch out for are West's Valentin and Central's 6'7" center John Wickey. Unsing heroes to keep an eye on are junior guard Samy Abdalla for West and sophomore guard Gabe LaCount for Central.
Bishop Guertin (11-3) @ Manchester Memorial (9-5)
Two teams going in different directions. Guertin has won 5 of their last 6, including a double digit win over Pinkerton Friday night. Memorial meanwhile got embarrassed on their home floor last Wednesday night by Dover an then barely beat Spaulding on Saturday night. Before the season started I would have picked this as the game of the night. Both of these teams were in my preseason top 5, and Pinkerton has overachieved thus far in my eyes.
I think this will be a much closer game than people expect. And the Crusaders may even pull the upset. BG's bread and butter is their press. They thrive on forcing turnovers with it and converting them into fast, easy baskets. Memorial is a well coached team and they're actually very good at breaking the press. The senior backcourt of Matt Couture, Cormac Fitzpatrick and Vinnie Zenni work well together and they don't have a problem with defensive pressure.
BG definitely has the advantage with their "Big 3" though. I'm of course referring to the Cardinals' 6'4 Sean McClung, 6'4" Connor Green and 6'5" Scott St. Lawrence. Senior Edhem Mahmutovic has the size and quickness to take one of them. And junior Shomari Morgan has the athleticism to take another. But who takes the other? One of BG's "Big 3" will have a mismatch. Because of this, don't be surprised to see junior Hervens Desire get more minutes for Memorial. Not only does he have the coolest name in NH High School basketball, but Desire has the quickness and athleticism to match up with one of Guertin's studs. Either that, or Memorial could also go zone to help offset those match-ups.
This should be a very entertaining basketball game. I expect it to be MUCH closer than the Dover/Memorial game from last week.
Bishop Brady (3-12) @ Bow (6-9)
You know it's a slow night in class I when the headliner game is two losing teams. This is a big time rivalry game though. These teams could care less what the records are. A nice battle in the paint though between two of the state's best centers. Bishop Brady's 6'8" Tyler Penney goes up against Bow's 6'6" Tom Poitras.
Bow has to be a decided favorite in this game not only because they're at home but because they have a distinct advantage in the backcourt. Brady's guard play has been their achilles heel all season. Look for the Falcons' junior backcourt of Connor Hill and Erik Michaud to be the difference.
Lebanon (11-3) @ Kearsarge (10-6)
These are to half court, grind it out type of teams. Two disciplined, solid defensive teams. I will be absolutely SHOCKED if either team scores more than 50.
Nice match-up in the backcourt between two VERY similar players, Lebanon senior guard Dillon McCarthy and Kearsarge senior guard Cam Heffron. Neither player is flashy, they're both fundamentally sound, they're both unselfish and they're both good defenders. Heffron is a little better, but watching these two play against each other would likely feel like you're in the Twilight Zone because it will be almost like watching the same player.
That match-up is likely a wash. And in a game that is guaranteed to be in the 40's anything could happen. It won't be a blowout that's for sure. I would say that it could come down to free throws, but both of these squads are excellent from the charity stripe. The Raiders' Jake Woodward is easily the best player on either team. He makes Lebanon the favorite.
Manchester Memorial (8-8) @ Bishop Guertin (10-6)
Along with Trinity and Exeter, these two teams are the future of Class L girls. While Winnacunnet, Pinkerton, Londonderry and Central all have excellent teams THIS year, they're all teams that rely VERY heavily on seniors. Next year and the year after that watch out for the Crusaders, Cardinals, Pioneers and Blue Hawks! The top players for all four of these teams are all coming back next season.
BG and Memorial are loaded with young talent. BG is a team that will be better next season, but you're really going to watch out for them 2 years from now. Most of their top players are only freshman or sophomores. They'll have a "Big 4" which will be very scary come 2012. I'm talking about sophomore guard Alex Cohen, and a trio of freshman in Madison Gibbs, Meghan Green (little sister of Connor) and Nikki Hayner. Guertin head coach Kevin Gibbs is very high on his talented youngsters, especially Cohen and Green.
Memorial meanwhile has even more talent returning next season, and may even be the 2011 Class L favorites. Included in their young talent is 2 juniors, one sophomore and 2 freshmen. All five players are talented and will be back next season. The juniors are Ashley Gendron and Taylor Leonard, the sophomore is Amra Elezovic, and the freshmen are Allie Hartford and Danielle Fletcher.
Bottom line, tomorrow night's game between BG and Memorial will allow folks to get a glimpse into the future of girls Class L hoops.
St. Thomas (12-3) @ Portsmouth (14-3)
I broadcasted the first meeting between these two teams on WTSN. The Saints won it 56-44 at home. It was a much closer game than the final score would indicate though. Portsmouth is a more talented team than St. Thomas. The Clippers have three players who are better than anybody St. Thomas has. But The Saints play better team basketball though and they're also more disciplined.
Portsmouth's "Big 3" is as good as any in girls Class I with 6'1" senior Rosa Drummond, 5'10 junior Susie French and 5'7" Ali Beauregard. They have the talent, but they run too much isolation on offense. When their "Big 3" are all playing well and their team as a whole is sharing the ball and setting each other up for scores they can beat anybody in Class I. They also had a bunch of free throws and wide open layups that they missed in the first St. Thomas game which really hurt them.
St. Thomas on the other hand doesn't have the individual talent that Portsmouth has, but they play better team basketball. They're also more disciplined.hey make their free throws, and they make their layups. They don't really have any stars, but senior guard Caleigh MacDonald is a fun player to watch. She's quick, can handle the ball as well as shoot it. But most impressive is how smooth of a player she is. The game comes so easy for MacDonald. She's never flustered, even in key moments of the game. She plays very hard, but never seems to break a sweat. And she has a calm about her that rubs off on the rest of the team, allowing them to maintain their cool during tense moments.
Incidentally, this is the last regular season game for Portsmouth, but St. Thomas still has to play 2 others besides this one. One of those 2 contests is a make-up game with Oyster River which is being played tonight. So St. Thomas has to play Oyster River on Monday night, then Portsmouth on Tuesday night. Yikes! Fatigue could DEFINITELY play a part in the outcome of their game with Portsmouth. Luckily fr the Saints, they are a pretty deep basketball team. They typically play about 8 or 9 players who all see solid minutes.