Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hoops Scrimmages - Weekend Recap

While the girls basketball teams in Division III (Class M) and Class S (Division IV) have already begun playing the regular seasons, the majority of the high school basketball teams in NH are still in preparation mode for the 2010-2011 season. This past weekend many teams played scrimmages in order to define roles, work on their plays and build continuity within their squad. I was at 5 scrimmages over the weekend, and here's a recap of each.

With the preseason scrimmages I try to see teams that I haven't seen in summer or fall leagues. Teams like Milford, Bishop Guertin, Manchester Central and Trinity I have seen plenty during the summer and fall. But over the weekend I got a chance to see Spaulding (boys), Somersworth (boys), Lebanon (girls), Bow (girls), Coe-Brown (boys) and Gilford (boys). This article contains recaps of 5 games and has scouting reports on all 6 teams that I saw this weekend.

Spaulding vs. Somersworth (boys)
1st quarter - Spaulding wins 21-17
2nd quarter - Somersworth wins 15-14
3rd quarter - Spaulding wins 15-6
4th quarter - Somersworth wins 16-10
5th quarter - Spaulding wins 19-10
Final score - Spaulding wins 79-64

Yes, it was only a scrimmage. But judging by the size of the crowd, the atmosphere inside the gym and the intensity that the coaches and players brought to the table this definitely had the feel of a regular season contest. Division I Spaulding played Division III Somersworth on Friday night in Somersworth.

I would have to say that overall both teams looked pretty good. Although Spaulding won the game 79-64, that is a little deceiving because in the 3rd quarter when the Red raiders won 15-6 Somersworth didn't play any of their top 8 players while Spaulding went almost exclusively with their key guys. Most of the Hilltoppers that played in that quarter had played in the JV game earlier that night, while the Red raiders were treating that quarter like a regular season game. So if you take away the 3rd quarter and look only art the quarters when both teams were playing their key guys, Spaulding still won it but only 64-58. That tells you that these are two fairly evenly matched basketball teams.

One of the things that jumped out to me when watching this game was not necessarily who did play for Spaulding but who did not. There's been a lot of buzz on the seacoast about the transfer of 6'5" junior forward Derek Jeffrey from Farmington to Spaulding. Jeffrey was the starting center for the Tigers last season but is now at Spaulding and played with the Red Raiders during their fall league. The hope for fans of Coach Cronin's team was that Jeffrey could combine with 6'4" sophomore forward Dominic Paradis to give the team a dominant inside duo for the next 2 years. With those 2 on the outside, Brian Cronin shooting the ball from the outside and Justin Slattery running the point this could have been the surprise team in D-I this season. But instead Jeffrey didn't play vs. Somersworth. He wasn't on the bench with his team, and according to Coach Cronin he is academically ineligible.

Ok, that's enough about players who weren't on the floor. Let's get back to the players who actually did play in this game. Somersworth went with a starting lineup of Matt Fauci, Bobby Shatinsky, Pat Lavin, Brody Hornung and Dillon Lanctot. All 5 of them were either starters or key reserves on last year's team that made the Class M quarterfinals. Fauci and Shatinsky carried the Hilltoppers offensively, while the others played solid defense and got after it on the boards. Fauci is a lightning quick 5'8" guard who goes all out on every play despite his size he's not afraid to take it hard to the rim against bigger players. Shatinsky's specialty is a pull-up jumper that he can make anywhere on the floor from 20 feet away or closer. He's a lefty, so if you allow him to put it on the floor left and give him enough room to shoot that pull-up he'll make you pay.

As for Spaulding they went with a starting 5 of Cronin, Paradis, Slattery, Taylor Guillian and Russell Conner. Cronin was red hot to start the game, pouring in 10 points in the 1st quarter. He was quiet after then though, and finished with 13 on the game. Cronin is clearly one of the top shooters in the state though, and he's a kid that you simply cannot leave open. He also brings leadership to the table, as he's constantly encouraging his teammates, calling out plays, letting them know where to be on the floor and making sure they're all on the same page. Having Cronin out there is like having a coach on the floor at all times. This reminds me a lot of what Ryan Dunn brought to the table last year for Winnacunnet.

The leading scorer for the Red Raiders was Paradis, who had 15 points to go with 8 rebounds. Paradis was quiet in the beginning, but got better as the game went on. He also had a nice block in transition to save a basket while coming over from the weak side.

However, by far the most impressive statistic of the evening was 9. That's the number of steals for Slattery, who was an absolute menace defensively all game. He was pressing full court virtually all game, and you had to be impressed by the focus and concentration as Slattery's eyes zoned in on the basketball as he pressured it and then he showed very quick hands to continually poke the ball loose and grab it away from the Hilltopper players. After watching this game I am convinced that this kid is pone of the most underrated defenders in the state.

I was also impressed by Guillian, who gotten MUCH better since last season. The 5'7" senior guard plays the game as hard as anybody, using an astounding combination of speed and energy to dart around the floor, getting from one end to the other in the blink of an eye and also hustling after loose balls and diving on the floor for them (after doing an all-out sprint from one end of the court to the other). And in the 1st quarter Guillian also made a nice move to cross over his defender and take it hard to the rim.

With both Guillian and Fauci out there you had 2 of the fastest guards in Division III, and possibly the whole state (Slattery is no slouch in that department either).

One thing I look for in these scrimmages is how far along these teams are as far as defining roles and cohesion go. Somersworth is clearly a team that has played together a lot over the course of the summer and fall. They know exactly what their starting lineup is. Anytime the got in trouble Coach Lucas went back to that lineup (Fauci, Shatinsky, Lavin, Hornung and Lanctot). When the starters were out there they were all on the same page and had more success. Coach Lucas also knows who his key guys off the bench will be, and seems to have an 8 player rotation already established. Senior forward DJ Colbert and the Francoeur brothers, Collin and Drew all played key roles off the bench for Somersworth.

Spaulding meanwhile looks like they are still figuring some things out. They know that Cronin, Paradis, Slattery and Guillian will be their main guys. But after that they played about 6 or 7 guys all about equally. Conner, Ian Christie, PJ Juneau and Nick MacGregor are just some of the Red raider players who are battling for minutes, either as the fifth starter or as one of the key reserves.

Final verdict: Somerworth is definitely a potential top 4-5 team in D-III this year. They have speed, they have shooters, they have a good offense that generates looks for their scorers and also allows for offensive rebound opportunities. And defensively they're tough, especially with their 1-3-1 3/4 court trap that typically forces lots of turnovers. I expect the Hilltoppers to be a top 8 seed, and possibly make a run to the semis over at SNHU.

As for Spaulding, I had them ranked as the #13 team in Division I before this scrimmage, and that's where they remain. One might think that I would move them down wit Jeffrey being out. But I liked what I saw from their other guys. This is a team that plays hard, and with Cronin, Paradis, Slattery and Guillian all playing well they could surprise some people.

Lebanon vs. Bow (girls)
1st quarter - Lebanon wins 16-13
2nd quarter - Lebanon wins 18-4
3rd quarter - Lebanon wins 12-1
4th quarter - Lebanon wins 7-5
Final score - Lebanon wins 53-23

On Saturday afternoon I traveled to Bow for a 1 PM scrimmage between the talented Lebanon girls basketball team and Bow. I had already seen Lebanon play last Saturday in the Oyster River Girls Jamboree, but this was my first look at a Bow team that is expected to be one of the better squads in girls Division III.

This was a match-up of 2 of the more heralded seniors in the state, but unfortunately neither Sara Romano from Lebanon nor Bow's Maggie Crisman was in action. The 6'1" Crisman was on the bench in sweats. While both teams were without their star seniors, Lebanon has plenty of other quality players and they had their way with the Falcons.

I took a couple things away from this game. First off, and this is something I already knew but on Saturday this belief was only reinforced - Lebanon is REALLY good. They played without their floor general Romano and still dominated. Sophomores Moriah Morton and Trina Scheie put on a show for the Raiders. Morton was all over the place, hustling after loose balls, driving hard to the basket and pushing the ball in transition. She plays the game at a fast pace and is an excellent defender. Scheie was a dominating force in the paint for Lebanon. Bow had no answer for her combination of size and skill. Scheie was all over the boards was able to score inside at will.

A scary moment for Raiders fans though came late in the 2nd quarter. Just as Scheie was really in a zone, and was able to do literally whatever she wanted on the floor, she was struck right in the face as she caught a pass in the paint. Play was stopped for a couple minutes as the Bow athletic training examined her, and then Scheie was helped off the floor. She did not return to the game. One can only hope that the injury is not serious.

With no Romano and no Scheie in the lineup it was even more impressive that Lebanon won the 3rd quarter 12-1. Morton continued to play superb basketball on both ends of the floor. And Emily Kehoe also stepped up for the Raiders. The 5'7" guard played tough defense, played both guard positions and also nailed a pair of 3 pointers. Lebanon played very good team defense throughout the game, especially with their full court press which forced a number of Bow turnovers. Karampreet Kaur also did a nice job of filling in at point guard for Romano.

Bow meanwhile struggled without Crisman in the lineup. Point guard Lindsey Nerbonne is one player who played extremely hard for the Falcons, and for the most part did a nice job of handling the ball against the intense defense pressure that Lebanon brought. Nerbonne also hit a 3 at the buzzer at the end of the 4th quarter. Still, this is a Bow team that will need Crisman in the lineup and they will also need some other players to step up if they hope to challenge Conant and Campbell this year in D-III.

As for Lebanon, they are currently my favorite to win D-II. As long as Scheie's injury isn't serious they're as good as any girls team in the state let alone the division. They just play so well as a team, they're unselfish. They don't care who scores, only that the team scores. And defensively they're very tough. Souhegan, Oyster River and Kennett (if Melissa Frase is able to come back healthy) will also be contenders. But Lebanon is just as good.

Coe Brown vs. Gilford (boys)
1st half - Coe-Brown wins 58-23
2nd half - Gilford wins 31-30
Final score - Coe-Brown wins 88-54

Immediately following the conclusion of the Bow/Lebanon girls scrimmage I headed over to Northwood to see a tri-team-scrimmage between Coe-Brown, Gilford and St. Joseph's of Canada. First up was Division II Coe-Brown vs. Division III Gilford.

Knowing what I knew going in about these 2 teams, I expected it to be a lopsided win for Coe-Brown. So I wasn't at all surprised with the domination of the Bears in the 1st half. I was surprised that in the 2nd half not only was Gilford in the game but they won the half.

In the 1st half Coe-Brown played solid team basketball. They have some dangerous weapons in 6'3" junior forward Skyler Mitchell, 6'5" senior forward Krystian Lucey and 6'0" senior guard Dan Lang. All 3 players were really on there game. Lucey has gotten much better since last year, and is now a very tough rebounder and low post scoring threat. At one point in the 1st half Lucey made an athletic move where he grabbed a loose ball at half court, put it behind his back and attacked the rim hard (not a bad play at all for a 6'5" kid). Mitchell did a little bit of everything. During one stretch in the 2nd half he really made his presence felt. In the span of about a minute Mitchell made a nifty pass to cutting teammate for an easy layup, then on defense he came out of nowhere to block a shot, then on the other end he had a very nice finish down low. Mitchell used to be strictly an inside player, but he has now extended his jumper out to 18 feet. It was Lang however, who was the most consistent offensive player for Coe-Brown. He is also their go-to-guy, as the majority of the team's half court sets and out of bounds plays are ran for him and are designed to get him open looks from long distance. Lang buried a number of threes, and is one of the better shooters in the state. He can also beat people off the dribble and made some strong drives to the rim as well. Starting point guard Tommy Darling is a tough, scrappy player and he also played well. Sophomore guard Damon Doyle came off the bench for Coe-Brown and hit a nice pull-up 3 pointer off a screen.

Gilford was led by sophomore guard Matt Dean and junior guard/forward Ronny Bean. Gilford has an excellent soccer program which routinely is a Division III (Class M) contender. This year they had a very good football team that made it to the D-VI title game. But their basketball program is not typically a very strong one. The team's first "real game" is only days away, yet the Golden Eagles didn't seem to be running any plays out there in these scrimmages on Saturday. They only dressed about 8 or 9 kids, and even those players didn't even have uniforms. There was no semblance of any set plays or of a set offense, it looked a team playing a pick-up game. Dean and Bean as well as some of the other Gilford players seemed like they're still in "football mode" as many of them just recently finished up a long and grueling football season. Still, they hung in there in the 2nd half against Coe-Brown. And at the buzzer the 6'1" Bean hit a 3 pointer to put them ahead 31-30.

Gilford vs. St. Joseph's (Canada) (boys)
1st half - St. Joseph's wins 44-20
2nd half - St. Joseph's wins 37-24
Final score - 81-44

St. Joseph's is a team from Canada that came to the states of the weekend to scrimmage a few NH teams. On Friday night they played against John Stark and on Saturday they took part in this tri-team scrimmage with Gilford and Coe-Brown. They're a pretty good team, and they had their way with Gilford.

It was the second of back-to-back games for Gilford, while it was the first game for St. Joseph's. This was evident, as was the fact that Gilford is not a very deep team while St. Joseph's is a fairly deep group. Also hurting the Golden Eagle's chances in this one was the fact that Bean sat out nearly the entire game with an injured leg.

I don't speak French, so I never knew what the St. Joseph's coaches or players were saying. But whatever it was it worked, at least in this game.

Coe Brown vs. St. Joseph's (Canada) (boys)
1st half - St. Joseph's wins by about 15
2nd half - Coe-Brown wins 34-29
Final score - St. Joseph's wins by about 10

Ok, so Coe-Brown beat Gilford by 34, and St. Joseph's beat Gilford by 37. So what would happen when Coe-Brown and St. Joseph's squared off? Well first of all I will say that despite the fact that this was the second of back-to-back games for them, the St. Joseph's team looked much tougher and brought much more intensity in this one than they did in the Gilford game. This was a nice test for Coe-Brown heading into the season. St. Joseph's is a tough, hard nosed team with size, ball handlers and shooters. If they were in the NHIAA they'd likely be near the top in either Division I or II.

It took Coe-Brown a few minutes to find their footing in the game and be able to match the intensity that St. Joseph's brought right from the opening tip. The Canadian team jumped out to a quick 19-6 lead in the 1st half behind some excellent pressure defense. They were led by a 5'9" lefty point guard who was very quick off the dribble and was able to get into the lane and make plays at will. The only player for Coe-Brown who was able to keep him in check was Doyle. Doyle (who is in excellent shape) played tough on-the-ball defense, and was able to provide full court pressure in order to slow down the St. Joseph's offense. Mitchell also played tough defense down low for Coe-Brown, and followed that up with a nice finish in the post. The Bears got better as this game went on.

The 2nd half of this game was much more evenly matched, with 2 good teams going at it hard. It now had the feel of a regular season contest, as the intensity on the floor really started to pick up on both sides. Lang started to heat up to lead Coe-Brown offensively. Mitchell and Lucey continued to work hard underneath. Doyle was playing tough defense and also had another nice pull-up jumper off a screen. And the Bears ended up winning the 2nd half 34-29. While the came out a little flat in the 1st half, head coach Dave Smith had to feel good about the way his team ended the game against such a formidable opponent.

In Division II, Milford is the clear-cut favorite. After that you have a handful of teams who are all tough and evenly matched. Coe-Brown is one of those teams.

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