Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Boys Basketball Division III Preview


Conant has won 4 titles in a row, and over the last 4 years they have only lost 1 game. The Orioles have annually been the hands down favorites in this division (now called Division III instead of Class M), but that is no longer the case. Conant has graduated Sean Martin, Jimmy Peard and Kemph Kim and as a result this division if more wide open than it has been in a LONG time.

The following 8 teams are definitely a notch above the rest. This is the most wide-open this division has been in a long time, and all 8 of these teams have a realistic shot at cutting the nets down at SNHU come March.

This is a ranking of how the division's top teams are looking heading into the season. It is NOT a predicted order of finish - I don't take strength of schedule into account. I rank how good the teams are and that's it.

1) Berlin
No surprise here. I said they'd be the favorites way back in December of last year. I said they'd be the favorites a couple months back when I updated all of the team rankings. And I still think they're the favorites now. The Mounties made it all the way to the title game last year (taking White Mountains to the wood shed in the semis in the process), and gave Conant (who won the title going undefeated) all the could handle in the championship game. And while Conant graduated their 3 best players, Berlin returns their 3 best players. Berlin also has 4 returning starters, and 7 of their top 8 guys are back.

The Mounties return all-state player and preseason POY candidate Curtis Arsenault, a 6'1" junior forward. Arsenault is a bruising player who is an undersized big man but still has the strength to be able to score and rebound down low against bigger guys. He also has the quickness to go by the opposing team's bigs and beat them down the floor in transition. This isn't a transition team though, they're much better in a half court game. Other players to watch out for include 6'1" senior guard Jeremy Michalik (hit 3 threes and poured in 15 points in last year's semis), 6'0" junior guard Sam Aldrich, 6'0" senior guard Tyler Baillargeon, 6'1" senior forward Zach Donaldson and 5'6" junior Zach Drouin.

These guys are loaded. They might not be the fastest team or have the best ball handlers. But they are VERY good defensively, they have plenty of toughness, they have shooters and they're excellent on the boards. Plus they're deep and have playoff experience.


2) Bow
Bow is the new team in the division, as they move down from Class I (Division I). Wanna hear something that makes no sense? Bow won a playoff game last year in Class I, pushed Pembroke to the brink in the quarterfinals yet they move DOWN to D-III. Meanwhile, Sanborn only won 2 games all year last season in Class M and yet they are being forced to move UP to D-II. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'!

Anyways, back to Bow. This was a good team in Class I last year and this season they return 4 starters and a total of 10 guys from last year's team. They have the best back court in D-III with seniors Connor Hill (pictured above) and Erik Michaud, an athletic slasher on the wing in Ryan Hill and 6'4" forward Josh Faber. All 4 of them are seniors. Other returners include Max Heindl, Gregg Froleiks and Greg Roemer. Yes, those 3 guys are also all seniors.

Hill and Michaud are both tough guards who can defend and handle the basketball very well. In a division where quality point guards are rare to find, Bow has 2 of them, they're both seniors and they've been playing together for a long time. Faber could be a dominant low post player for the Falcons, and Ryan Hill and is an underrated player who can go by people off the dribble and hustles after loose balls.

One other note - they have a 1st year head coach in David Michaud (Erik's father) who takes over for previous coach Chris Gaudreau. Gaudreau tried to get the Manchester West job over the summer and after he was given the keys to the West High gym the school board decided to hire someone else.

Watch out for Bow this year. They have pretty much all seniors and they have plenty of returning talent. They can play a fast game or a slow down game. They'll miss all-state forward Tom Poitras (now playing for Rivier College), but this is a better team than the one they had a year ago. And oh yeah, moving down a division won't hurt their chances either.


3) Conant
They may have graduated their "Big 3" of Martin, Peard and Kim, but the cupboard is far from bare. They return 2 starters, including 1 who might just be the best player in the division (Ezra Hodgson). The Orioles also return a couple players who were key reserves a year ago, plus other players who make the move up from a JV team that was VERY good last year.

Hodgson is a 6'5" senior forward who is primed for a big year. He has an excellent face-up game, can knock down shots with range out to 18-20 feet away, can put the ball on the floor and go by people and also has an improving post-up game. Hodgson is a fundamentally sound big man who is also a solid defender, a good passer and unselfish offensively.

Look for senior guard Dan Sirois, senior wing Claude Jean and sophomore guard Devin Springfield to step up in support of Hodgson. Sirois and Jean have both played in plenty of big games already for this team, and the 6'1" Springfield is a sharpshooting combo-guard who was one of the division's best JV players a year ago as a freshman. Also watch out for 5'10" sophomore guard Jake Carlson, an athletic player with a scorer's mentality.

Eric Saucier is an outstanding coach who runs a great program over in the western part of the state. Conant is a basketball factory. They eat and breathe basketball in the towns of Jaffrey and Rindge. The Orioles might not have as much talent as they've had in past years, but I don't expect them to fall too far. They'll once again contend for the title.


4) Mascoma
Mascoma is one of those northern teams (along with Hanover and Lebanon) who never seems to get enough respect from the southern media. But every year both their boys and girls basketball teams always seem to be at or near the top of their division. It's about time these programs get their due!

Last year the Royals beat a very good Campbell team in the quarterfinals and then nearly beat eventual champion Conant in the Class M semi-finals. Of the 13 guys who were on that team, 11 of them are back for Mascoma. Included in there is their best player, 6'4" senior forward Conner Torrey. Torrey is a big, strong, powerful post-player with good fundamentals, footwork and aggressiveness on the offensive end. He's also tough on the boards. He's as good as any player in this division.

Other players to watch out for include 5'10" senior Kyle Welenc, 6'1" senior Tim Perrier, 5'8" senior Codie Wardwell and 5'7" junior Ethan Dickinson.

These guys can play the game at a fast pace, and excel when they're able to turn teams over and get easy baskets on the other end. They have size, strength, quickness and playoff experience. Mascoma definitely has the look of a top 4 team once again.


5) Raymond
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Raymond is going to be the surprise team in this division. The Rams did not even make the playoffs last year, but the #5 ranking they have here is no typo. Every year there is one team that goes from mediocrity to title contention. 2 years ago it was Manchester Memorial who went from a 5-13 record in 2008 to the Class L championship game in 2009. Then last year it was Merrimack who went from a 4-14 record and no playoffs in 2009 to a 14-4 record in 2010 where they ended the regular season tied for 2nd place in Class L. This year the team that makes that big jump will be Raymond.

Why? Continuity, scoring weapons, toughness and quickness. These guys have literally their whole team back from last year, and their main core of guys has been playing together for a LONG time. They play with a toughness, a confidence, a swagger that good teams play with. They have 4 scoring weapons who can all light it up and can all go for 15-20 points on any given night.

5'10" junior guard Joe Morin is possibly the most underrated player in the state. He's a knock down shooter who is fearless and also hits clutch shots. 5'10" senior guard Kevin Paynter is an explosive, quick player who can play the 1, 2 or the 3. His game reminds me a lot of Shaun Munson of Winnacunnet (top 25 senior player in NHIAA). 5'11" sophomore Jordon Richard is a calm, cool and collected point guard who is tough, defends very well and handles the ball well against pressure. He is an unselfish player who gets the ball to the open man but can also make you pay if you leave him open. And 6'2" senior forward Jeff Lang is a player who plays center for this team because of their lack of size, but he is more comfortable away from the basket when facing up. He can draw the opposing team's big away from the rim and knock down shots and also is a good passer with a good basketball I.Q.

When those 4 guys are all playing well, playing together as a unit and hitting their outside shots Raymond can play with anybody in the state, let alone Division III. Unfortunately they're not the deepest team out there. Dezimen Everett, who was their projected fifth starter is out of the lineup with a foot injury. Everett is one of those "glue guys" who might not score the most points on the team but he's the kind of player who's going to do all of the little things besides scoring, the guy who keeps everyone on an even keel and on the same page. The Rams will miss having him in the lineup while he recovers. Look for Matt Esancy to step up in place of Everett.

This team lacks an inside scoring presence, rebounding, depth and playoff experience. But the bottom line is they can score, they're tough and they're quick. Over the summer they beat Campbell by 23, they beat Greater Lawrence Tech (MA) which is a very skilled, fast, talented team and they only lost 39-35 to Trinity. Watch out for Raymond this year. You heard it here first (2 months ago).


6) Somersworth
This is a good team - don't be surprised if they finish higher than this, or if they make it to the semis at SNHU. They're a veteran team that returns 3 starters and 5 key players off last year's team that was a top 6 seed in Class M. You know they have a bad taste left in the mouths after losing on their home floor in the quarterfinals last year to #14 seed White Mountains. Look for the Hilltoppers to come out hungry this season. I saw them scrimmage Spaulding last Friday night, and head coach Lorne Lucas brought intensity to the huddle and was demanding of his players, treating it like a regular season game. These guys are on a mission.

The returning starters are 5'8" guard Matt Fauci, 6'1" guard Bobby Shatinsky and 6'2" forward Brody Hornung. Other key guys who are back (and are projected starters) are 5'10" guard Pat Lavin and 6'1" forward Dillon Lanctot. Yes, all 5 of these guys are seniors. And they all played key roles and got big minutes last year and experienced an intense playoff atmosphere. In the Spaulding scrimmage Coach Lucas would go back to this starting 5 anytime his team started to get in trouble. He's comfortable with this lineup on the floor. And why not? They play with together and play sound, disciplined basketball.

Fauci and Shatinsky are the go-to-guys, although Somersworth really does have a well balanced scoring attack. Fauci is a lightning quick point guard who isn't as strong of an outside shooter but he is constantly looking to attack the rim both in the half court and on the break. Shatinsky is a silky smooth player, never forces anything, and can shoot the ball well either off the catch or the dribble. Hornung will battle down low, grab rebounds and get some garbage points off offensive rebounds. Lavin is a solid player, cool under pressure, not the fastest guard out there but he's a smart player and a clutch shooter. Lanctot is Mr. Hustle, goes diving on the floor for loose balls and grabs rebounds to keep possessions alive, can guard all 5 positions on the floor and is simply the quintessential role player.

Off the bench look for DJ Colbert and the Francoeur brothers (Collin and Drew) to contribute. Colbert brings toughness and muscle under the boards while the Francoeur brothers provide energy and scoring punch off the pine.

Like I said, this is a pretty good team. And Lucas is a very good coach. Watch out for them.


7) Campbell
Campbell is a talented team that is always among the top squads in the division. They were again a top team last year, but lost to Mascoma in the playoffs and they return just 1 starter.

The lone returning starter is definitely a good one, though. 6'1" senior wing Josh Morgan has already scored 1,000 points in his career. He is one of the state's top shooters and he is also tough to stop off the dribble if you play up on him too much. Joining Morgan in the rotation will be 5'11" senior guard Andy Lepine, 5'10" sophomore guard Max Gouveia, 6'2" senior forward Tyler Syphers, 5'10" junior guard Kyle Mun, 5'11" guard Jason Paquin, 5'9" freshman guard Jesiah, 6'0" sophomore guard Jacob Morgan, 6'2" sophomore Jason Rodinis and 5'10" sophomore Jackson Musco. That gives the Cougars 9 guys, which is a pretty deep team, especially for D-III.

One guy who they will really miss from the lineup though is 6'0" junior forward John Houston. Houston played JV last year as a sophomore but did get some minutes off the bench for the varsity.

"Houston is out with a broken thumb suffered in the last football game" explained Campbell coach pat Roye. "We will miss him greatly on the boards and on D."

Still, this will be another tough team to beat. Morgan is a gifted scorer, Lepine and Gouveia essentially give the Cougars 2 point guards out there on the floor. Syphers is as a good rebounder and defender, Paquin is a solid defender who can also knock down shots. And Wade is one of the top freshmen in the state. Once again this will be a Campbell team that will try to push tempo, speed up the game and get out and run. That style really favors Morgan and Gouveia in particular.

"This is a scrappy, hard working group that is committed to improving defensively" said Coach Roye. "How much we improve every day and commit to the defensive end will determine how well we are playing at the end of the season."


8) White Mountains
The Spartans were the Cinderella team of the 2009-2010 high school basketball season. They were only the #14 seed in the regular season, but then White Mountains pulled off 2 major upsets (both on the road) to advance to the semi-finals where they lost to Berlin. They return 4 starters and 11 players off of that team. When you consider that it wouldn't be surprising if they were able to make a return trip to SNHU.

While the Spartans do return 4 starters, the one that they graduated was their best player. Evan Haskins was their best ball handler, their best scorer and he was the catalyst for their whole team. They'll miss having him in the lineup, but returning to the fold is 6'5" senior forward Damon Ness, 6'1" senior forward Dan Johnson, 5'10" senior guard Conner Lane and 5'9" sophomore guard Yiram Villanueva.

Ness is a very active inside player who can rebound block shots and has a rapidly improving offensive skill set. Johnson is a fundamentally sound 4-man who poured in 18 points to go with 9 rebounds in the team's quarterfinal win over Somersworth last year. Lane is a "glue guy" and a solid defender, while Villanueva is a quick player who can defend and hit shots if left open. His older brother Josbert could take Haskins' spot in the starting lineup after he played a key role off the bench a year ago.

This is a team that is at it's best in the half court. Their strength is their bigs, Ness and Johnson. They'll want to pound it down low to them, and have both guys crash the offensive glass for easy put-backs.



Other Notes
*Stevens High would definitely be up there somewhere in this list, but their best player went prep. 6'6" forward Kevin O'Connor (who would have been a senior this season for the Cardinals) transferred to the St. Paul's school in Concord. This is the second consecutive year that Stevens has had their best player go prep. 2 years ago Kaleb Tarczewski (who is now 7'0" and has a scholarship off from Kansas University) transferred to St. Mark's.

*Hopkinton would be somewhere on this list, but there best player is out for the season with a shoulder injury. 6'5" sophomore forward Mike Auger has suffered a torn labrum, is having surgery on Wednesday and will miss the entire season. The Hawks still return 3 other starters and 9 other players off last year's team (including point guard Frankie Beane). But without Auger they are a notch below the 8 teams listed above.

*Farmington would be on this list, but one of their top players is now going to Spaulding High School. 6'5" junior forward Derek Jeffrey was a solid big man for Farmington last year as a sophomore and would have combined with 6'3" senior Jarrid Nason to give the Tigers a formidable inside duo. But Jeffrey moved and now goes to Spaulding in Rochester (although according to Red raiders coach Tim Cronin he's academically ineligible to play at Spaulding).



Preseason All-State
Ezra Hodgson (Conant), Conner Torrey (Mascoma), Curtis Arsenault (Berlin), Josh Morgan (Campbell), Connor Hill (Bow) and Joe Morin (Raymond)

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