Well, here we go people. The four best days of the year come this week. Tuesday = Class I semis. Wednesday = Class L semis. Saturday = Class I and Class L finals. Sunday = Showcase Event at the RAC. This is it.
Before I get to the game previews, I have a couple points to make:
Quick Awards Rant
Allow me to reiterate how I feel about Player of the Year, All-State and Coach of the Year awards...voting should not begin on any of these until AFTER the tournament is fully completed. I'm not going to go into my reasoning for this, as I already did so in great detail last week. If you missed it, read up: http://www.nhnotebook.com/2010/03/hold-phone-on-poy-and-all-state-awards.html
The reason why I bring this up is because apparently Jake Woodward from Lebanon has won POY in Class I. Now Woodward is a very good player. Along with Mike O'Loughlin, Kevin Cressy and Steve Spirou he is one of the 4 most talented players in Class I. The kid is 6'4", very strong build, very fast for a player his size, he can score inside and out and can rebound with anybody. But his team lost in the first round of the tournament. The POY should at least get his team to the final four.
Regardless of what goes down in Durham over the next few days, Woodward should be first team all-state. But not POY. There are enough POY candidates who are playing at UNH tomorrow (O'Loughlin, Neely, Barton and McDonnell for example).
Milford = Heavy Favorites? Not So Fast My Friend
All season long Milford has been the favorite to win this thing. Allow me to rephrase that. All season long Milford has been a HEAVY favorite to win this thing. Well ladies and gentlemen, that is NOT the case any longer.
Don't get me wrong, If I was being forced, and I HAD to pick right now who I thought would cut the nets down on Saturday afternoon, yes it would be Milford. The speed and overall talent of their "Big 3" is why I say that.
Milford is the favorite. But only by the very slightest of margins. They are only a half point favorite. If I were to say what % each team has of winning it all I would say Milford 26%, Pembroke 25%, Oyster River 25% and Portsmouth 24%. That's right folks, these four teams are THAT close. The title is totally up for grabs between these four teams.
Why am I making such a point of this? Because it seems like everyone else out there is confused. They think that Milford is a much bigger favorite than they really are. They're not that big of a favorite, people! I've seen all four of these teams play plenty. Yes, Milford was a pretty good sized favorite in the beginning of the season. But it's a long season. Since then; Pembroke, Portsmouth and Oyster River are MUCH different basketball teams than they were before. All three of them have improved a ton and they have gained a ton of ground on Milford over the course of the season. Pembroke has won 15 in a row. Oyster River has won 14 straight. And Portsmouth has beaten all three of the other teams in Durham already this season.
And if it comes down to coaching, you have to give Pembroke and Portsmouth the edge. Matt Alosa (Pembroke) and Jim Mulvey (Portsmouth) are the two best coaches in Class I. These two guys have a ton of knowledge of the game, they prepare their teams well, they make in game adjustments and are excellent at end of game situations. They also have a calmness and a confidence about their sideline demeanor, even in a tight game which really instills confidence in their players. Nothing against the other two coaches of course, Coach Mitchell from Oyster River and Coach Murray from Milford have done a nice job to get their teams to where they are. Mitchell also has that calmness about him and is one of the more underrated coaches in Class I. But facts are facts. And there's no denying that Alosa and Mulvey have more experience and more wins in big games.
Bottom line, the gap between Milford and the other 3 teams left in this tourney is MUCH smaller than people think, if there is even a gap at all.
Ok, now on to the game previews:
Pembroke vs. Oyster River
It's been two months since ether one of these teams lost a game. Both are playing some great basketball. Here are some quick thoughts:
Oyster River's Advantages
1) Inside play. With 6'5" Adam Goodwin and 6'4" Jack Nadeau going up against Pembroke's 6'1" Sheldon Benson and 6'1" Jackson Riel. Goodwin and Nadeau have both had some big games this season for the Bobcats, but consistency has been the problem. Nadeau has moments when he is the team's best player and at times doesn't have much of an impact. Goodwin was a non-factor when I saw these guys play Kingswood a couple weeks ago. Oyster River needs both to play big to get the win. Pembroke also has 6'4" sophomore Tyler Morrison, but Alosa has kept his minutes down all season.
2) Depth. Oyster River has 9 guys who can all play: McDonnell, Goodwin, Nadeau, along with Chris Walker (who transferred over from Winnacunnet), Alex Hennessy, Robert Sack, Jake Finacharrio, Dylan Kelly and Donovan Kelley. These guys are the deepest team in this tournament. Pembroke meanwhile, only likes to play 6 players. If any of them get injured or into foul trouble they're in trouble. I saw the Spartans play Portsmouth earlier in the year. Rene Maher got hurt and missed about 7 or 8 minutes of game time. Alosa went with the same 5 guys during this stretch. Fatigue was a MAJOR reason Pembroke lost that game.
3) Experience. Of the 9 players above that I mentioned for Oyster River, ALL OF THEM are either seniors or juniors. As for Pembroke, 2 of their top 6 players are freshmen. I'm talking about Maher and Matt Persons. Pembroke plays 7 kids, with the 7th player being the sophomore Morrison. So Oyster River plays 9 kids that are either seniors or juniors, while Pembroke plays just 4.
1) Quickness and guard play. Pembroke and Milford are the two fastest teams in Class I, and possibly the two fastest teams in the entire state. I keep talking about Pembroke and their top 6 players. The truth is, ALL 6 of those players are guards. You have 5'7" Maher, 5'10" Coleton Neely, 5'11" Dalton Cheney, 5'11" Persons, 6'1" Benson and 6'1" Riel. Alosa will rotate these 6 guys in and out of the lineup and every once in awhile will throw in the 6'4" Morrison. All 6 of the guards are fast and can handle the basketball. They make up for their lack of size by really getting after it on defense, playing tough man-to-man, getting in your face and forcing turnovers. Once they the do that they use their speed to push the ball ahead and attack the rim for quick baskets. Pembroke is flat out a faster team than Oyster River. They will have to push the ball and force the action to give themselves a better chance at the win.
2) Coaching. I already covered this earlier in this very post.
3) Star Power: 2 is better than 1. Let's take a quick look at the stars in this game. Pembroke has 2, and they're both seniors. Sheldon Benson and Coleton Neely. Oyster River has 1, Tommy McDonnell. If Benson has an off game, Pembroke still has Neely firing away. And if Neely isn't feeling it, Benson can easily carry the load. Bottom line, the Spartans can still win if one of them doesn't produce. However, if McDonnell has an off game there is no way the Bobcats are advancing to the finals. He means too much to them. He sets the pace for everything they do. Nadeau and Goodwin are good players, but they're not stars.
Milford vs. Portsmouth
The pace of the game will be a factor in the Pembroke/Oyster River game. But not as big of a factor as some think. Pembroke is a fast break team, but so is Oyster River when they're at their best. With the Portsmouth/Milford game on the other hand, the pace of the game will be a HUGE factor.
How Portsmouth Wins Games
Portsmouth is a half court team. They rarely get any points in transition. Portsmouth wins games by being well coached, disciplined, confusing teams with their half court defense and moving the ball in the half court offense to create layups and open looks from three point land.
How Milford Wins Games
Milford wins games thanks to shear speed and athleticism. They are flat out a faster, more talented, more athletic team than the Clippers are.
If that's not a contrast in style, I don't know what is!
In More Detail: Portsmouth
Portsmouth has no inside game, they don't get out and run and other than Kyle DiCesare and Billy Lane they're not going to beat anyone off the dribble. They lack overall team speed. What they can do is shoot the basketball. Mike Barton and DiCesare are excellent shooters. Mike Montville and Nate Jones can also shoot it, but they're more streaky. These guys can shoot it, but they don't have the speed to get open. In order to get their looks they rely on setting good picks, patience, discipline, ball movement, crisp passing and back-cuts. In other words, execution. The Clippers also do a very good job of switching up their defense and disguising their defense in the half court.
In More Detail: Milford
They have kids who are long and fast, like 6'3" Mike O'Loughlin, 6'3" Scott McCallum and 6'2" Jamie Holder. O'Loughlin and McCallum can shoot the heck out of the ball and they like to spot up in transition for dagger three balls. O'Loughlin takes it strong to the hoop as well. And Holder is one of the 2 most explosive players off the dribble driving to the hoop in the state (the other is West's Richard Valentin). Not to mention 5'7" point guard Mike Mitchell who controls tempo, gets the ball to the scorers in a position to score and can also score inside or outside if you pay too much attention to the other guys. 6'4" junior forward Kyle Nelson has also played some good ball of late. He gives Milford something that Portsmouth does not have - an inside scoring presence.
Breaking Down the Match-up
Two contrasting styles here. Like I said, pace will be big here. If it's a slow down game, advantage Portsmouth. If it's a fast paced shootout, advantage Milford. The coaching edge goes to Portsmouth. Also, in the first meeting between these two teams Milford really had a hard time scoring in the half court against the the Portsmouth's zone defense. The key for Milford will be to push the ball up court and score before Portsmouth is able to settle into their half court defense which confuses so many teams. For Portsmouth they have to slow the game down. f they can do that they'll be ok, because they execute better and are more disciplined in a half court game.