Saturday, December 25, 2010

Early Season Hoop Thoughts - Boys Edition

You have back-to-back days with no games in the NHIAA. Teams have wrapped up their early season schedule, and holiday tournaments don't get started until Sunday. So I figured it was a good team to take a look around the state and give some thoughts on what has happened so far. And what is likely to happen in the near future.

This article contains coverage of all 4 divisions. The "Girls Edition" will soon follow this one.

Games I've seen so far: Mascenic @ Conant, Manchester Central @ Bishop Guertin, Lebanon @ Pembroke and Pelham @ Bedford

Division I
D-I and II teams are only 2 games into the season (some have only played 1 game) so it's tough to tell too much. But BG, Central, Memorial, Trinity and Merrimack were the preseason top 5 and they've all played like it thus far.

BG and Central put on quite a show last Friday on opening night. Both teams will only get better going forward too, which is scary for other D-I teams to fathom. Guertin will soon be getting 6'4" junior Joe McCarthy and 5'10" senior Mike Kelly back from injury. They have another key player (Kyle Remillard) who is playing but still recovering from a shoulder injury. Plus they have 2 transfers in Logan Kesty and Brad Holler who are still getting used to playing with their new teammates. That's why it's impressive that even given all of that the Cardinals are STILL the division's best team. Central meanwhile has a transfer of their own (Dylan Lafond) still getting used to playing for them. They also have another point guard (Joe Stisser) who is playing but still recovering from a knee injury, plus Junior Brown who returns to the lineup after a suspension. Both of these teams will get better as the season goes, and I expect both to make it to UNH for the final four. BG's Connor Green and Central's John Wickey are both Player of the Year candidates.

Most people probably expected the early season game between Merrimack and Manchester West to be much closer. Now in the Blue Knight's defense, they were playing without one of their best players in senior forward Jose Gonzalez. But even still, the 76-54 win for Merrimack was a little surprising. The Tomahawks also posted a double digit victory over a middle-of-the-pack Alvirne team to cement their place in the top 5.

Meanwhile, Trinity beat a pair of preseason top 8 teams. They beat Dover 44-0 and crushed a good Nashua North team 54-35. People say they lack experience and they lack a point guard. But I've said it before and I'll say it again. This is a deep and talented Pioneer squad. They might not win it, but they're a top 4 team. The lone senior in the rotation (Zach Stevens) continues to be one of the better stories in NH so far in this still very young season. Stevens has made a successful comeback from ACL surgery and has almost seamlessly gone from a kid on crutches who wasn't able to play ball all off-season to one of the best players in the state.

Also, Pinkerton has looked young and they've looked shaky early on. They only beat #15 ranked Timberlane by 7, and then in the 1st round of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tourney they lost to Greater Lawrence Tech. So far they have really missed have Zach Mathieu and Ben Proulx in there. But fear not, Astros faithful. I recall last winter at this same time. Pinkerton was playing against Greater Lawrence Tech in that same tourney's 7th place game. They barely looked like a playoff team. Yet not even 3 months later they were hoisting up the championship trophy. Point is don't count them out because of a slow start.

My Power Rankings for this division remain unchanged.

Division II
It's Milford and then everyone else. That's what the notion was in the preseason, and that's what it remains. The Spartans hopes at repeating as champs did get tougher though when starting wing Scott McCallum suffered a season-ending knee injury. This is really tough to see, as McCallum has improved as much as anybody in the state over the past year. He has worked tirelessly on his game to go from a mere role player who could occasionally knock down some shots to a versatile 6'4" wing who can knock down threes at will, run the floor and become a legit D-III college prospect. So like I said, you hate to see this happen. Milford though is still the favorite. Senior forward Kyle Nelson continues to be a force for this team blocking shots and on the boards. Then of course you also have guards Mike Mitchell, Mike O'Loughlin and Jamie Holder who are as good a back court the NHIAA has had in recent years.

The preseason #2 and #3 ranked teams met on opening night in Portsmouth as Pembroke defeated Portsmouth 61-53 in an overtime thriller. Pembroke then lost to #10 ranked Lebanon just days later. And it's still unknown how long Clippers star wing Kyle DiCesare's suspension will last. This all means that maybe these 2 teams have both faded back into the pack, joining Oyster River, Pelham, Bedford, Souhegan and Lebanon as contenders to make it to UNH. The story for Pembroke early on though has been the play of freshman two-guard Patrick Welch, who has scored 49 points in his first 2 high school games (both coming against 2 good defensive teams in Portsmouth and Lebanon).

Hanover also got a nice win over #8 ranked John Stark, although the Generals were missing their best player (Greg LeBlond) in that game. Lebanon got a big win over Pembroke on the road, but it was a costly one, as starting two-guard Kyle Farr dislocated a finger while going after a loose ball. Without Farr in the lineup they lost to #13 ranked Kearsarge.

Meanwhile I did see #6 ranked Pelham take on #7 ranked Bedford on Thursday night. Pelham looked like the MUCH sharper team. Bedford was missing Jared Fahmy (ankle) and Will McInerny (back). But those guys are both forwards. This team has plenty of forwards. If they want to make it to UNH they'll need their guards to step up. Bedford did beat a good Oyster River tea on opening night, but since then they have lost 2 in a row (including a loss to #12 ranked Goffstown). Meanwhile Oyster River blew out that same Goffstown team 83-60 on Wednesday night. In case you haven't heard, I put more stock into a team's more recent performances in my Power Rankings.Speaking of which, here are my updated Power Rankings for Division II...

1) Milford
2) Pelham
3) Souhegan
4) Pembroke
5) Portsmouth
6) Oyster River
7) Lebanon
8) Kearsarge
9) Coe Brown
10) Bedford
11) John Stark
12) Goffstown
13) Hanover

Division III
Berlin and Mascoma sit atop the standings at 4-0, but neither team has played any preseason top 10 teams as of yet. The first real test for either team comes on January 7 when Mascoma plays host to 5 time defending champs Conant.

Bow had an early loss to a good Somersworth team, but they were missing their two best players (Connor Hill and Erik Michaud) in that game). Hill and Michaud are healthy now, so it will be interesting to see how they do. The Falcons play Dover on Sunday in the Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament, which will be a good indicator as to where they are as a team right now.

Conant is the other preseason favorite to make the final four. I saw them beat up on Mascenic a couple weeks ago and I liked what I saw. They are able to play the game at a fast speed and really pressure you defensively. Senior forward Ezra Hodgson is a potential Player of the Year player, and the Oriole's guards Dan Sirois, Nate Roberge and Devin Springfield form an underrated back court. Their only loss so far was a 67-66 defeat to Brattleboro High in Vermont. Brattleboro is a Division I school in Vermont, with 1100 kids, compared to just 450 at Conant.

So in other words my top 4 preseason teams are still my 4 favorites to make the trip to SNHU come March.

Division IV
Boy, the schedules sure are crazy in this division. You have some teams (like Nute) who have only played 2 games so far, while others (like Lin-Wood) who have already played 5 games. On the girls side this disparity is even more pronounced. Mt. Zion Christian Academy has only played 3 games so far, yet Hinsdale has already played 8 games.

In the NHIAA season preview article I wrote for the New England Recruiting Report I predicted the top teams in Division IV would be Newmarket, Wilton-Lyndeborough, Moultonborough and Pittsfield. Thus far I was right but only to a certain extent.

Newmarket is 5-0 and right now you'd have to consider them the early season favorite. Led by star point guard Adrian Edgerly (pictured above), the Mules have quality wins over Wilton, Pittsfield and Division II Sanborn (all 3 of those games were on the road). All 5 of their wins have been by 8 points or more.

Moultonborough has also gotten off to a 5-0 start, but they have had a very soft schedule so far. They take on Pittsfield in their first game after the break in a game between dominant big men. You have Moultonborough's 6'5" junior Marcus Swedberg and Pittsfield's 6'8" senior Ben Hill.

Wilton is only 2-3 so far, but they have had a very difficult early season schedule. Their losses are to 5-0 Newmarket, 4-1 Pittsfield and 4-0 Derryfield. They've also had to play an underrated Epping team (who they beat 56-39). Look for this team to get better as the season goes, led by forward Steven Heck and guard Aaron Davis. And as the schedule eases up they'll move up in the standings.

Pittsfield is 4-1 and could be the 2nd best team in the division, considering they gave Newmarket their best game so far. Hill is the best college prospect in this division, and with this being his senior year Pittsfield should win their share of games. But this is high school basketball, and I'd rather have my best player be a point guard than a center. So that gives the edge to Newmarket.

Other teams who have gotten off to strong starts are Colebrook (4-0) and Derryfield (4-0). Derryfield beat Wilton 58-40 in a route, so don't be surprised if they're in it at the end. They have some solid players with sharpshooter Bryan Rivard, hard working guard Gus Davis and 6'5" forward Barret Lamp. I saw these guys play over the summer and they gave Pembroke all they could handle. Then there's also Lisbon, who is 3-1 and their only loss was a 55-52 defeat to a good Moultonborough squad.

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