Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Early Bird Look at Next Winter's Boys Hoop Season

Is it too early to take a look ahead at next season and who the favorites will be? Heck to the no! It's never to early to look ahead, and it's never too early to release some team rankings. Here now are my early bird top 5 teams for the 2011-2012 season in each of the state's 4 divisions. Let this article be your guide when you're watching summer league basketball games across the state and trying to figure out who the top teams in each division might be.

Division I

1) Trinity
Trinity just always seems to be a top 3 team. Don't expect that to change next season. This past season they had about 11 kids who were capable of starting for most of the state's teams - only 1 of those 11 players is graduating. How deep is this team? Junior center Silvere Aluko was the best 6th man in the state this season, yet he will likely be coming off the bench again this season. That's because the 2 bigs who started ahead of him this year (Andrew Lauderdale and Mabor Gabriel) are also coming back.

Good luck to opposing teams trying to score on Trinity next year. Not only do you have the "Tri Towers" who are all over 6'7" inside, but you also have one of the state's best perimeter defenders in Hunter Viscarello. I still haven't mentioned possibly the team's best returning player in Wol Majong, who really turned it on over the 2nd half of the season to lead the team to the title game. He could definitely be a first team all-state player next year. Travis Descoteaux, Jake Hamel, Carmen Giampetruzzi, Dawson Dickson and Pat Keefe will all battle for minutes in the back court for a team that will once again be VERY deep.

With that being said there have been a lot of rumors swirling around the Queen City about possible transfers involving Trinity players. I don't want to report anything until it's official though. So stay tuned, if there are transfers you can bet we will report it here when it is official. And I'll adjust the team rankings accordingly. But for now, Trinity is #1.

2) Merrimack
Trinity is ranked #1 because they are going to be a powerhouse defensively. Merrimack however, is loaded with offensive firepower and talent. The Tomahawks have nearly everybody back from this year's team, and they will be a scary squad for anybody to have to play against.

Merrimack returns all 5 of their starters. So even though they have been bounced in the 1st round of the tournament each of the past 6 years on their home floor you have to expect some big things from them.

Merrimack will have the single most talented player in the NHIAA next season in Dimitri Floras, who will be a junior. Floras is an explosive player who can drop 20 on any given night, and is also an underrated defender and passer. He will be the preseason Player of the Year. His sidekick is 6'4" wing Tyler Gendron, who had a breakout year this season as a junior. The other returning starters are Eric Gendron, Jared Peabody and Kyle Richardson. Gendron is a very athletic player who had as good a freshman year as any D-I player. Peabody is the team's best defender, and him, Richardson and Tyler Gendron are all 6'4" which gives the team solid size on the front line.

Giannelli, Malloch and Courtemanche are all players who have the talent to start on most other teams. On this team they'll provide good depth coming off the bench.

This is a fast, athletic team with a lot of talent. They'll be a very high scoring bunch. Their core group has been playing together for a long time. Watch out for them.

The only thing that could hold them back is if Floras decides to head off to a prep school. If he sticks around though Merrimack will contend for the title.

3) Nashua North
Yes, they only went 7-11 last year and lost in the 1st round of the playoffs. But 2 of their best players missed the second half of the season and playoffs. The Titans not only return their top 8 players off last year's squad but all of those players will be seniors next season.

Javon Williams, Ryan Gauthier and Anthony Farmer are all potential all-state players. Farmer was an all-state player this past season, is a very good defender and has a good all-around game. He had a breakout year last season as a junior and was the team's most consistent player. Williams and Gauthier are very talented players, but both missed a number of games to suspensions. If they are let back on the team and can stay on the floor North will win a lot of games. The big guys down low are 6'3" forwards Mike O'Connor and Jake Mellin. Both players made some nice strides this season and look to have big years as seniors.

Liam Burke, Parker Jamerson and Adam Fay are all guards who got plenty of playing time this past season (they will all also be seniors). Burke really had a nice game in the team's OT win over Spaulding halfway through the year. Jamerson and Fay are hard nosed, scrappy players who always give 100%.

If North can keep all of their key guys on the floor, if they can play as a team, and play well on defense consistently, there won't be many teams who will be able to play with them. All 8 of their key returning guys has plenty of varsity experience under their belts, they're fast and talented. Watch out.

4) Bishop Guertin
Like Trinity, BG is another team that has had a continuous pipeline of talent coming up over the last few years. So even though the Cardinals graduate their entire starting lineup and one of their key reserves they are still expected to be a top 5 team. Logan Kesty, Brad Holler and Joe McCarthy could have all started and been double digit scorers for quite a few D-I teams last year. Instead they got sporadic minutes off the bench for a deep and talented championship winning Guertin team. They waited patiently for their time. Well their time is now. Look for those 3 players to lead the way, and to get help from Nate Chartrand, Cooper Paul, Jordan Corbin who are all returning varsity players. Steven Toscano and CJ Boykin formed one of the better back courts in the state at the JV level this past season, and they will now battle for time on the varsity.

They might not be as good as this year's championship team, but they will still contend for a spot at UNH come March.

5) This spot is wide open. Pinkerton, Central and Alvirne appear to be the early candidates for the 5 spot, with Dover, Spaulding and Nashua South also being teams who could also have nice years.

Gun to my head, I would put Pinkerton in the #5 spot and Central in at a #6 ranking. Pinkerton has a lot of young talent in the sophomore and junior classes, and they will be led by seniors Alex Patrikis, Chris Light and Kevin Colbert.

Central meanwhile loses John Wickey and Audie Melendez. But Central has a rich tradition of winning and solid nucleus of returning players that includes Gabe LaCount, Junior Brown, Dylan Lafond and Troy Pelletier.

Division II

1) Pembroke
Pembroke's top players will only be juniors and sophomores next season. With Milford graduating all of their stars, and many other D-2 teams doing the same, could Pembroke now go back-to back? It is a possibility, but won't be easy, as Portsmouth could make a pretty good case for being the preseason #1 team.

Throughout the course of this past season, Pembroke had established its "Big 3" of Rene Maher, Pat Welch and Matt Persons. All 3 players are capable of scoring 20 points on a given night. They're all fast, can handle the basketball and can shoot it. Scary thing is Maher and person are only sophomores right now and Welch is only a freshman.

The team's other 2 starters are also back, as forwards Tyler Morrison (6'4") and Kent Noyes (6'3") return for their senior years. Most teams focus their attention on the 3 guards, but Morrison and Noyes can definitely do some damage as well. This past season the Spartans were not a deep team, going almost always with their starting 5. Look for more of the same come next winter, with maybe some increased minutes for current freshman Kafani Williams. Coming up from JV you also have guard Brad Rhoades who could contribute off the bench. Rhoades dropped 46 points in a game last year on JV. It was one of the best stories of the season, as he did it just 2 days after his mother passed away.

Pembroke may have taken an earlier than expected exit from the playoffs this year. But they had a 6 man rotation this year, and they're all coming back. Pencil them in for another season of at least 15 wins, and maybe a title.

2) Portsmouth
Here's a scary thought. The team that made it to the finals this past season and with 2 minutes left to the mighty Milford team they were only down by 2 - they return 4 of their 5 starters, and 5 of their top 6 players from that team.

Kamahl Walker was one of THE breakout players of the 2010-2011 season. The junior point guard burst onto the scene as a transfer from Worcester, MA and had a big time year for the Clippers. He's back, and so are fellow starters Kyle DiCesare, Gregg Tsougranis and Charlie Duprey (all 4 players will be seniors this coming winter). Walker and DiCesare are both potential first team all-staters. Both players could be the best player in the division on any given night. Tsougranis is a terrific defender and quintessential role player. Duprey is another unselfish player who does a little bit of everything.

Another breakout player from this past season was sophomore guard Terrance Herbert. Herbert was averaging over 10 points a game and according to head coach Jim Mulvey was their best shooter. But he was dismissed from the team late in the year for an off-court issue. If he's on the team in the title game they would have likely won that game (then again, Milford could of course say that if they had Scott McCallum in that game it wouldn't have even been close). Will Herbert be let back on the team? And if he is will he stay on the team all year? Only time will tell. If the answers to those questions was a definite yes then Portsmouth would be #1 in these rankings. We don't know yet, but the Clippers are still a very solid pick in the #2 spot.

Look for Harrison Fregeau, Jeremy Eiholzer, Alex Rigazio, Jacob Lehoux and Devin Husslage to all battle for minutes in the rotation.

3) Bedford
Bedford has a boat land of young talent coming up. Along with Pembroke, they had the best freshman class in D-II this past season. The Bulldogs return the majority of their key players. And they will easily have the biggest team in the division.

For bigs you have 6'8" Collin McManus, 6'7" Trevor Fahmy, 6'6" Will McInerny and 6'6" Roger Larrivee. These guys are still developing their games and growing into their bodies. But there's a lot of time between now and December when next season starts. If they stay in the gym and keep working, this will be a scary group to go up against. All 4 of them got plenty of playing time last year. They all have lots of upside.

The guard play was at times a problem for Bedford. It definitely hurt them that their projected starting point guard Richard O'Brien transferred to Brewster Academy over the summer. Last season the guards were inexperienced and took their lumps. Now this winter watch for them to make some noise. Look for Trevor Glassman and James Caparell to be looked upon once again to man the back court. They'll be helped out by a pair of current freshman who have lots of potential in Jake Capistran and Cam Meservey.

Do they have a true point guard? Maybe not. Do the bigs still have some work to do keep developing their skills? Of course. But this is a very talented team. They struggled early last year, but coach John Langlois had them playing some very good basketball towards the end of the season. They have lots of size, talent and upside. This could be a scary team.

4) Souhegan
The rise of Souhegan basketball continues under coach Mike Heaney. He has done a nice job since taking over a struggling program. Look for the Sabers to make it 3 straight winning seasons, as they return plenty of talent from a team that made it to the semi-finals where they gave Portsmouth all they could handle.

Devin Gilligan will be a senior next season, and look for him to be one of the division's top players. The 6'4" wing player is versatile and can score the basketball in a variety of ways. Brandon Len returns as the team's starting point guard after having a very nice sophomore season. He's a fun player to watch, very quick, unselfish and can handle and pass the basketball as good as any returning player in the division. Also an underrated defender.

Jake Kennedy and Sean McGrath are both bigs who saw plenty of playing time this past winter. They'll be back to bring strength, toughness and physicality. Kennedy is a very good rebounder and McGrath can step outside and knock down the perimeter shot. 2 other players who saw significant playing time on this year's team and will also be back are wing Shaun McKenna (won the 2010-2011 NH Notebook 6th man award) and 6'3" forward Ben Peterson. Both players brig toughness, defensive intensity and can take the ball hard to the rim as well.

5) Lebanon
One of the certainties in NH high school basketball over the last 15+ years is that the Lebanon High boys basketball team will have a winning season. The last time the Raiders finished below .500 was in the early nineties. That's impressive stuff! Don't expect anything different next winter, as Coach Matte returns 3 starters and the core of his team from this past season.

His 2 best players are both back. David Hampton had a big sophomore season. The combo-guard can flat out shoot the lights out and is also tough as nails. He'll be an all-stater for sure next winter. And while he might be a D-I college prospect in football and might not play a whole lot of basketball outside of the winter time, there's no denying that Zander Morrill is a dominating and intimidating presence in the paint. He will likely be the best rebounder in the division this upcoming season, and uses his strong frame to get position down low to not only rebound but score as well.

Other key returning players are 6'2" forward Mark Davidson (returning starter, very good defender), 6'3" forward Matt Cowles (athletic, lots of upside) and guard Tyler Silver (scrappy player who always gives 100%).

6) Pelham
I couldn't just rank 5 teams in this division, because Pelham will also be a very strong team. They relied heavily on Steve Spirou for the last couple years, and although he is graduating the Pythons return 4 starters. They gave Milford a tough battle in the semis a few weeks ago, losing just 50-46. Next winter Pelham returns 7 players who saw minutes in that game.

The returning starters are point guard Derek Defranzo, shooting guard Brett Bailey, wing Anthony Spirou (Steve's little brother) and forward Erik Nystrom. These guys are all tough, scrappy players who are fast and will look to play a running, pressing style that Pelham has been known for over the years. Other key returners are Jake Vaiknoras (had a nice freshman year), Brian Finney (physical presence inside and on boards) and Kevin Cheam (fastest kid on team along with Defranzo).

They might not have a star player or go-to scorer like some of the other top D-II teams. And it might take some getting used to playing without Spirou, who had the offense ran through him last couple years. But not many teams out there can say they have 7 kids coming back who all got significant playing time in a game at UNH this past March. Pelham can. They have speed and toughness to burn.

Division III

1) Berlin
For this division, the #1 pick is actually a pretty easy choice. I mean don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Berlin is a lock to win it or anything. I expect Conant, Mascoma and Hopkinton to all be very good teams. But as of right now (still a long way before the season starts of course) Berlin is the obvious choice for the #1 spot.

Not only is Curtis Arsenault a returning first team all-state player, but he is the reigning NH Notebook D-III Player of the Year. Look for him to take the award home for the 2nd straight year, as he returns for his senior season in December. The 6'1" guard/forward has already scored over 1,000 career points, and if he keeps getting better he'll be very difficult for anyone to stop.

2 other starters return for the Mounties in sharpshooting guard Jake Drouin and silky smooth point guard Sam Aldrich. With Arsenault, Drouin and Aldrich, Berlin will have 3 seniors who have all been starting since they were sophomores.

2 other key players who return from this year's team Zack Bacon and Dimitri Giannos. Bacon brings toughness and rebounding while Giannos is a fantastic defender.

2) Hopkinton
This might appear to be a surprise pick to some. But I am just calling it how I see it. Hopkinton played the entire season this winter without not only their best player but one of the most talented players in the division - and they STILL had a winning year! Not only is that player expected to be back in time for next season, but they also have another returning player who is one of just 2 returning D-III players who was a first-team all-state selection this past winter. If you do the match that would give Hopkinton 2 of the top 3 players in the division next season. In my book that warrants putting them in the #2 spot for now.

Current sophomore forward Mike Auger suffered a season ending shoulder injury right before the team played its first game. He is still working his way back towards being able to play again. But Auger is expected to be back this summer and be fully healthy for the winter time. He had really developed his game quite a bit over the spring and summer before the injury. Auger is effective both on the low block as well as facing up to the basket and making plays. He's now 6'6", and can run the floor, catch and finish in transition and block shots.

Current junior Frankie Beane is one of the state's most underrated players, no question about it. Beane is a very quick player who can handle the basketball, run the point effectively and shoot it. Like I said, Arsenault is the only other returning D-III player who made first team all-state. Teams won't be able to focus too much on him though, because that will leave Auger open inside. Auger is too good and too big to cover with just 1 guy, but if you double him then Beane will make you pay. This will be a fun duo to watch next season.

Hopkinton returns 9 varsity players, so you can bet there will be some guys who emerge as solid role players in support of Auger and Beane.

The one asterisk here is that there have been some rumors that Auger might transfer to a prep school. If that happens Hopkinton will still be a good team but title contender would probably be a stretch.

3) Conant
Conant being this high in the rankings shows a couple of things. First off, it shows how good of a program the Orioles have when they can graduate 4 of their top 6 players including 3 starters and 1 player (Ezra Hodgson) who was a Player of the Year Candidate and still be ranked this high. Secondly, it shows that many of the top teams in the division are suffering some big losses to their stars via graduation so it may be a little bit of a down year in the division.

Devin Springfield and Dan Sirois both return to the starting lineup and will form one of the division's best back courts. With Hodgson gone, Springfield will be looked upon as the main scoring weapon for this team. Sirois will be looked upon to the run the point and also score a little. Jake carlson is a guard who showed some flashes of brilliance as a sophomore coming off the bench this past winter. Look for him to take on a bigger role on the team. And Keegan O'Hern is another player whose role is expected to increase. he saw limited minutes off the bench this season, but when he was in there he was a superb defensive player. Look for him to now emerge as one of the division's top defenders.

Despite the fact that they both suffered some tough graduation losses, Conant and Mascoma both have terrific programs. They are top 5 teams year in and year out. I got a chance to see a a good amount of the JV game when the 2 schools squared off. he game was played at a fast pace and at a very high level. Look for both schools to get some good talent coming up from JV to help out the varsity next winter to help keep them near the top of the D-III standings.

4) Mascoma
Like Conant, Mascoma is a perennial power who will still be a good team despite tough graduation losses. Again, part of it is them having a really good program, part of it is it being a down year for D-III. But the fact remains that Johnathan Fitzgerald will be one of the best players in the division next winter, no question about it. Fitzgerald ma a number of big plays in both of the Mascoma games I saw this past season, including the team's semi-final loss to Bow when Fitzgerald was clearly his team's best player. He's an explosive athlete and if he keeps getting better he could really be in for a big senior season.

Other players who return to the team after making significant contributions this past season are Ethan Dickinson, Kevin Kosiorek and Riley Green. Like Conant, Mascoma had a very strong JV team so you can expect some of those guys to come up and keep the winning going for the Royals.

5) Raymond
The Rams had a good season, especially after not making the tournament in 2009-2010. But I still did expect them to be a little better. That is more a credit to the other top teams in the Division (like Somersworth) for their stellar play than it is a negative for Raymond. Most of those raymond kids were gettign their first taste of winning, and their first taste of intense, high pressure games. They had their ups and down last winter, now this time look for them to be a top 5 team.

Like Berlin and Conant, you can also expect Raymond to have a very tough back court this coming season. They return starters Jordon Richard and Joe Morin. Richard is a tough as nails point guard who does all the little things well and is a very good defender. Morin is a very good shooter and a player who can fill up the scoring column in a hurry. He was inconsistent offensively as a junior, look for him to have a big senior season this winter though.

Other key guys coming back for the Rams are forward Tom Daigle, guard Ben Sytulek and Eric Desilets.

Division IV

1) Moultonborough
Another fairly easy pick here for the top spot. Newmarket, Lisbon and Derryfield all get hit hard by graduation losses. And while Moultonborough does graduate all-stater Patrick Cotter, they clearly have the most returning talent in Division IV.

The Panthers return 3 starters and 4 of their top 6 players from a team that went 17-1 in the regular season this past winter. They have current junior Marcus Swedberg, who in my opinion will be the best player in the division. Swedberg is 6'7", is athletic, can run the floor, step outside and hit the three, block shots and score inside. He is the "John Wickey of Northern NH". His little brother Drew Swedberg has been playing varsity since he was a freshman and started at point guard as a sophomore. Now as a junior in 2011-2012 look for him to be an all-state performer.

The other returning starter is forward Nick Sindorf, a tough player who rebounds well and plays hard. Last year's 6th man was Travis Keich-Baier. he was the best 6th man in the division outside of Derryfield's Gus Davis. Keich-Baier will now be looked to for an increased role on the team.

Moultonborough has consistently been a top team in D-IV. They just won the title in 2009. Don't be surprised if they do it again in 2012.

2) Littleton
Littleton graduates just 1 senior from a team that went 9-9 in the division. And they also have Sam Brammer, who could very well be the division's best player outside of Marcus Swedberg. Is it a stretch for them to be ranked this high? Perhaps. But not many teams in D-IV have a whole lot of returning talent. Littleton, Profile and Sunapee are all teams who will bring back pretty much their whole teams (each team's best player will also be back), so that's why those teams are up here.

3) Profile
The Patriots return 10 players from a team that went 10-8 this past winter. Look for returning all-state forward Allen Komisarek to lead the way and have another big year for Profile.

4) Sunapee
Sunapee returns 10 players from a team that went 10-8 in 2010-2011. Guard Brian Brewster is expected to contend for a spot on the first team all-state team, and he leads a talented bunch for the Lakers.

5) Newmarket
Surprised to see them this high since they're graduating the kid who was the focal point of their entire team for the last 2 seasons in Adrian Edgerly? Don't be. Since moving down a division to D-IV a few years ago, Newmarket has been a powerhouse, consistently finishing at or near the top of the division, even as different star players come and go.

The Mules were as deep as any team in D-IV last year, going at least 9 if not 10 deep most nights. They return 7 of those 10 players, including Christian Hawkins and Christian Filion, 2 very talented players who will be looked on to carry the scoring load with Edgerly gone. Other key players coming back will be Kevin Clougherty, Josh Eisfeller, Robert McGloughlin, Peter Carlson and Zach Jarosz.

6) Pittsfield
Pitsfield returns 3 starters from a team that went 11-7 this past season. Graduating 6'9" center Ben Hill is definitely a big loss, as is the graduation loss of point guard Kevin Chagnon. And this was not a deep team by any means, so they'll rely heavily on their 3 returning starters next winter. But that's why I don't have them any higher than #6.

But what they do have is Donoven Emerson, who will be a senior next season. Emerson will be one of the top 5 players in D-IV and I expect him to be one of the top scorers and rebounders in the division. The other returning starters are shooting guard Ryan Perras and forward Dominic Brooks.

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