After looking at Class I yesterday, now it's time for Class L. I've seen all 16 of these teams play, and I go into detail describing each team's chances in the tournament.
First, the bracket:
8) Manchester Memorial
5) Bishop Guertin
7) Manchester West
10) Manchester Central
11) Nashua North
Now, handicapping the field:
Very tough, scrappy, hard nosed, unselfish team. From the beginning of the season to now, 6'3" junior forward Steve Cronan is one of the most improved players in the state, hands down. You have to give these guys a lot of credit for what they've done this year. I had them ranked #13 in Class L preseason, they have definitely proved me wrong. People that knock them and say they're not the #1 team say that they have struggled against top teams late in the year. But Harry Knowles didn't play vs. Dover or Spaulding due to being sick, and in the BG game it was his first game back after missing a week. I saw firsthand on Friday night just how much Knowles means to this team in their comeback when over a good Alvirne team. He was huge for the Warriors, especially down the stretch. These guys can shoot from the outside, they're well coached and they play good team ball. However they can be beat. The way to beat them is if you have a dominant big man who can score and if you know how to break their press for easy baskets. Ryan Sweeney scored 10 points in a 2 minute span the other night against them down low. Winnacunnet also thrives by forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets off their press. If you turn it over against their press you'll lose to Winancunnet. If you are able to not only break the press but break it for easy baskets on the other end you can beat them. The Warriors are the #1 seed for both the boys and girls Class L tournaments. Could they pull off the sweep and win both? We'll see...
This past Saturday afternoon, I was producing a high school hockey tournament game for WTSN. Between periods I went on the air to talk hoops with Andy Schachat. He asked me point blank, which team is going to win the 2010 boys Class L Tournament. I said if I had to pick 1 team and I had to do it right now, it would be Pinkerton. The Astros are playing their best basketball of the season right now. They have 2 seniors who are both potential first team all-state players. And they also have a very good inside game and don't rely on outside shooting, which is VERY important come tournament time. That sounds like a pretty good recipe for a championship if you ask me. Everybody knows about Proulx and Mathieu. But Coach Rosinski has also been getting big contributions from a pair of kids that played JV last year, 6'4" sophomore forward Alex Patrikis and 5'7" junior guard Chad Park. Both players have really raised their games as the season has gone on. The drawbacks with this team is that they have had trouble finishing games, they're not very deep, and outside shooting. Depth could be a problem if they have to play BG. Shooting could be a problem if they fall behind in a game and have to make a late comeback. And finishing games, well that could be a problem against anybody. So the Astros have a lot of things that are really going for them, and they have some things that aren't. Sounds like every other team in this tournament. That's why these next couple of weeks will be so special.
With a healthy Zach Stevens, Trinity is right there with BG and Pinkerton as the 3 favorites to win this tournament, with Winnacunnet, Dover and Merrimack also right there. Without Stevens it will be tough for the Pioneers to make it to UNH. He's their second leading scorer, one of the best shooters in the state, and flat out plays his butt off every minute he's out there on both ends of the floor. However, Trinity and Guertin are the deepest teams in NH. So if anyone can overcome an injury it's them. Stepping in for Stevens will be guys like 5'11" sophomore guard Hunter Viscarello, 5'9" sophomore guard Jake Hamel and 5'11" freshman guard Travis Descoteaux. David Madol is a potential Player of the Year candidate, and Phil Hayden is a do-it-all point guard. This is still a dangerous basketball team.
The big question here is the health of 6'3" senior forward Eric Watson. On any given night Watson or either of the Floras brothers could be Merrimack's most valuable player. With a healthy Watson this team can win it all. Watson is their biggest player, and even with him in the lineup the Tomahawks lack size. So if he's not there they really lack size. Regardless of whether Watson plays, Merrimack still has some things going for them. One is that while they have some kids that can shoot the ball that is not their offense. Their offense is taking you off the dribble, making the extra pass and attacking the rim. The other thing they have on their side is that while many teams are one dimensional teams in that they are either half court teams (Alvirne, Londonderry, Salem, Memorial, Trinity, Pinkerton, Exeter) and others are fast breaking, full court teams (Dover, BG, Winnacunnet, Central, West) but errimack is a team that can play and excel at either pace the game is played. I've seen them win a slow grind it out game, and I've seen them speed up the pace and run teams out of the gym. They have the best freshman in NH in Dimitri Floras, the best defender in NH in brother Anthony Floras and some tough hard nosed role players like Matt Hardwick, Travis Maser (pictured right) and Tyler Garstang. Having good guard play, guards that can handle the ball under pressure, not turn it over and make plays is also big come tourney time. hese guys have that and they also have a bunch of seniors. Coach Goodridge's team has a lot going for them. Watson is a big question mark though. With him, they could win the title. Without him, they lose to BG in the second round. The latest on Watson is that he had tests done, and had an appointment with a cardiologist to determine his playing status. Eric, best of luck with your ticker!
#5 Bishop Guertin
Many people were picking this team to win it all before the season, and many are picking them now. Along with Trinity they have the deepest team in the state, rotating 11 players in and out of the lineup. They have the "Big 3" of Connor Green, Sean McClung and Scott St. Lawrence. Three players 6'4" or taller who are all fast and can shoot as well as put the ball on the floor. There have already been comments on here about a possible BG/Merrimack quarterfinal match-up. Hopefully neither team is looking past the prelim. round opponent. Both opponents are dangerous, especially Alvirne. In an up-tempo game, Guertin can blow teams out of the gym. In a half court game they struggle. Tempo will be big in their tourney games. And just like with Winnacunnet, BG is a team that presses all game long. If you turn it over against their press they'll eat you alive. But if you can use up-fakes, get the ball to the middle of the floor and move the ball with the pass rather than the dribble you can beat their press for layups on the other end. The other question with this team is chemistry. On paper they have the most talent in Class L. But getting that individual talent to come together as a unit has been their challenge all year. This team is really a wild card to me. I wouldn't be surprised if they won it all with all 4 wins being by double digits. I also wouldn't be surprised if they lost by double digits to Alvirne on their home floor Wednesday night. Only time will tell.
This is not the same Green Wave team that took home the trophy at the QCIBT back in late December. Back then they were a team that played 6 kids and lived and died by the three. Now that rotation has gone deeper, with players like Jarell Mejia, Jake Howard, Richie Lund and Robert Mahan all getting some minutes off the bench. And while Dover still shoots a lot of threes, they're not shooting as many now. They're going inside more, with Morgan Faustino and Rory Duffy getting points in the paint. Alex Burt is driving to the hoop more now rather than just shooting it from deep, Kenaan Al-Darraji has a killer pull-up jumper from 15 feet. And when they are shooting threes they are coming off of dribble penetration or kickouts from the post, rather than just passing it around the perimeter and launching. These are all adjustments that Coach Romps made following the team's 3 game losing streak earlier in the year. All of this makes Dover a much tougher team to prepare for and to defend. Before the gameplan was just to extend your defense, get out on their shooters, make them put the ball on the floor and win. Not so fast anymore. This is a team capable of not only making it to Durham but winning it.
#7 Manchester West
Last season at this time I said on the WGAM Friday Night Lights site that with Knowles and Ratcliffe, Winnacunnet was the second best team in Class L. This year I say with Valentin and Hunter West is as good as anyone in Class L. Last year Knowles and Ratcliffe were let go from the team right before the playoffs. This year Quentin Hunter was let go from the team with a week left in the regular season. Richard Valentin is still on the team, but whether he will last until the end of the team's tournament run is another story. The Blue Knights top 6 players are as good as anybody. That's all well and good, just as long as those 6 are all able to stay healthy, out of foul trouble etc. Because let's be honest 6 players is not a deep team. And when one of those players is now off the team, West is a team that really lacks depth. This team still has a legit starting 5 with Valentin, Samy Abdalla, Jose Gonzalez, Greg Asselin and Aaron Martin. And the lack of depth is even more of a concern because West is a fast breaking, get out and run kind of team. This is the fastest, most athletic team in the state. And when Valentin is on his game there is no better player in our state. He has Division II college talent. But this team is not playing there best ball going into the playoffs, and their depth is a concern. The have a good match-up in the first round. West should beat Central, especially because the Blue Knights are such a better team at home and raise their play in "city games." But Pinkerton is playing their best basketball right now and the Astros should beat West in the quarterfinals.
#8 Manchester Memorial
Which team shows up, the team that lost to Goffstown, South and by 20 to Dover; or the team that beat BG, Merrimack and Pinkerton? When you look at it, Memorial is a team that embodies just how crazy Class L has been this year. To have 3 losses that were so bad. Yet at the same time they have beaten 3 of the tournament's top 5 seeds! Coaching plays a big role in the tournament. Wednesday night's game between Salem and Memorial pits the two best coaches our fine state has to offer against each other. EJ Perry and Mike Fitzpatrick. No one does it better than these two. For the Crusaders, you know what you're going to get from Cormac Fitzpatrick and Matt Couture, the team's star senior backcourt. The players to watch for them are 6'1" junior wing Shomari Morgan, 5'11" senior guard Vinnie Zenni and 6'5" senior forward Edhem Mahmutovic. This is a deep team, with other contributors including senior sharpshooter Scott Marchwicz, senior forward Dan McLean and juniors Hervens Desire and Rodney Martinez. A lot of pieces to the Crusader puzzle. Getting all of these pieces to fit together to form a winning basketball team has been the challenge of Coach Fitzpatrick all season. I had them ranked as the #5 team in Class L preseason. I would not be surprised to see them make it to Durham.
After starting off the season 1-5, they finished the season by winning 11 of their last 12. And in the one game they lost in that streak they played without their second best player, forward Joe Gallant (pictured right). Salem however, had to hold their collective Blue Devil breathes as a result of Gallant's heart problems. The 6'4" junior is taking heart medication and up until the other day his status for the tournament was very much up in the air. As much as Alex LaRosa means to this team, without Gallant in the lineup this team loses in the first round to Memorial. But with him they have a chance to make it to Durham. Fortunately for them Gallant has been cleared to play by his doctor. If he can stay healthy, Gallant combines with LaRosa to provide one of the best 1-2 inside-outside punches in the state. This is a very disciplined well coached team. Matt Cannone and Mike Lorenz are very good role players. They're not very deep, and they're not the fastest team out there. But this is a dangerous team, especially if Gallant can stay on the floor.
#10 Manchester Central
Central is the #10 seed, but North, Alvirne, and Exeter all scare me a lot more right now. Their best player, John Wickey has been missed games due to the flu and when he has been in there of late he has been slowed by sickness. Their second best player, Gabe LaCount has also missed time due to a similar sickness. The team's third best player, Joe Stisser is done for the year with a knee injury. Starting forward Junior Brown has been in and out of the lineup for the past month. And junior guard Audie Melendez, a solid shooter and defender, also missed a few games during the season's second half with an injury. Considering all of that, it's a wonder the Little Green won 9 games in the regular season. You have to give a lot of credit to Doc Wheeler. He has been forced to use a makeshift lineup all year. I expect them to lost in the prelims to West. But next year this is going to be one of the top 5 teams in Class L. All of this season's main contributors will be back next season. And the law of averages say that they can't possibly have all the injries and sicknesses that they had this year.
#11 Nashua North
North is a team that is playing pretty good basketball right now. All season, the constants for them have been the play of seniors Alex Pratt, Trevor Rancourt and Zach Nadeau. The variables have been the play of their talented but young sophomore backcourt of Javon Williams and Ryan Gauthier. Williams is the most athletic player in NH, and Gauthier is a talented kid who is one of the most competitive players I've seen in some time. But both players have been inconsistent this year. At times they've tried to play so fast that they get out of control, and at times they force shots. But towards the end of the season both players have really turned a corner for Coach Otocka. They are both playing more mature now. They're still playing the game at a very fast pace, but doing so more under control now. When the Titans are at their best, everyone is getting involved. The seniors are meshing with the sophomores and people are sharing the ball and setting each other up for easy looks. The way they're playing right now this team can compete with anyone in NH. A lot of people are already assuming Dover will beat them and move on to round 2. I'm not one of those people. I know better. Dover is the favorite, but North will give them a good game.
Ahhh, the Alvirne Broncos. So much I could say about this team, so little time. Many people are calling Exeter the best 6-12 team in a long time. And while I agree with that, Alvirne is the best #12 seed in a long time. Yes, they are more talented than last year's team. They're 9-9 record is a little deceiving. I say this because out of the team's 4 best players, Caleb Donnelly, Ryan Sweeney, Joe O'Hearn and Sean Moyen, Sweeney is the only one who didn't have some sort of injury trouble. Donnelly got hurt during the holiday tourney. He didn't miss any regular season games, but he was definitely slowed by the injury to his leg in the 2-3 games following the break. Moyen didn't miss any games either, but he was coming back from off-season knee surgery and didn't do any work with the team at all over the summer or fall. And finally O'Hearn missed 5 games towards the end of the year with a hand injury. When this team is all healthy and on the same page they're tough to beat. It's just that that hasn't happened very often, and it has been tough for the Broncos to get in sync. Their record is also misleading because like Exeter, they have had a TON of close losses. They lost at West by 3, at North by 2, at Spaulding by 1, at Salem by 3 and at home to Pinkerton by just 2 and at home to Winnacunnet by just 5. In the Winnacunnet game they led by 12 late in the third quarter, and in one of the two losses that wasn't as close it was one of the games O'Hearn missed. Bottom line, everyone is healthy now. This is a dangerous team. The are however, a half court team. They don't want to play a fast paced game. They didn't have much trouble breaking Winnacunnet's press Friday night. How about Wednesday night against BG's?
It's been a tough year for the Londonderry. Right before the season started a pair of bombshells were dropped upon the Lancer basketball world. One was that head coach Jim Zorbas was taking the year off from coaching. Zorbas had been the coach for the past several years and is one of the more underrated coaches in Class L. Literally right before practices began he stepped down and handed the reigns over to his assistant Jeff Gustavson. The other hit was the suspension of senior sharpshooter Matt Sanborn. This one also happened literally right before the season started. The initial word out of Londonderry was that the 6'1" guard was out for just first 6 games of the season, which I reported on this site way back in November. But that turned into more like the first 10-12 games of the year. So not only was the coaching situation going on, but now you're trying to take a kid who hadn't played or practiced with the team all season and integrate him back into the lineup more than halfway through the year. Not an easy task for Gustavson. Luckily he had a solid group of players in 6'2" junior guard Mike Colby, 5'10" senior guard C.J. Flanders, 6'3" forward Jake Finnegan and 6'6" center Jeff Bintz. This team lacks depth, they lack speed and athleticism, they lack a point guard and guys who can pout the ball on the floor and create offense. But what they do have, with Sanborn, Colby and Flanders, is 3 of the best shooters in NH. And they also have a bunch of size and muscle down low. All of that being said, I don't see them beating Merrimack in the prelims. But if Watson doesn't play it will be close.
This has been discussed in other places already, but Exeter is way too good to be 6-12. Now I'm not saying I had them as a preseason top 5 team, that would have been silly. But I thought they would definitely finish somewhere in that 7-12 range. And these guys didn't really have any major injuries. So what happened? Well they lost by 2 to BG, lost by 3 in overtime to Merrimack, lost in overtime to Dover, lost by 1 to Winnacunnet and by 1 to Londonderry IN THE SAME WEEK, lost by 4 to Salem and lost by 1 to Central. No team has had more close losses in recent memory. Everyone talks about the Blue Hawks top 3 players being seniors James Holler, Tucker Munroe and Louie Vigars. That is true, but when this team is at its best they're also getting contributions from guys like Mike Fecteau (Epping transfer) and sophomores Brad Holler and Tim LaRoche. This team has a lot of kids who can play. They don't have any susperstars, but they have about 9 or 10 solid players. Coach Holmes has been toying with lineup combinations all year. If he can figure out the right mix of players they could upset a Stevens-less Trinity team in the prelims.
Spaulding, being the #15 seed is pretty much where I expected them to be in the preseason. But their record doesn't do them justice. They beat Alvirne, they beat Londonderry, two teams seeded ahead of them. They also had very close losses to some very good teams including Merrimack, West, Dover, Winnacunnet and Memorial. The Red raiders have two of the best shooters in the state with 5'11 senior Brad Mondoux and 6'1" junior Brian Cronin (son of coach Tim Cronin). And one of my favorite players to watch is senior forward Glen Roderick. He's one of those guys who does the dirty work down low, grabbing rebounders and defending players 5 or 6 inches bigger than him. He also takes as many charges as anyone in NH. I they can get hot from the outside they could make it close with Pinkerton Wednesday night, but the Astros size on the low block will be tough much for them to handle. Spaulding's season will end in round one. But Coach Cronin always gets the most out of his team.
The Grizzlies had a season that was pretty much expected of them this year. They went 4-14. What they can hang their hats on though, is their win over Memorial earlier in the year. They will lose to Winnacunnet in the prelims. But Alec Stephens, Brandon Shea and Ryan Lange give this team a decent backcourt. Either Goffstown, Keene or Concord, maybe even Timberlane should move down to Class I. That would make a 19 team Class L. That way every team would play everybody once each year. Either that or keep all 20 teams and make a 19 game schedule. With the current system, the one team that you don't play ends up playing too much of a role.