Tomorrow night might be the biggest night of the Division I boys basketball season. Yes it's still early in the season, but the games count just as much in the standings now as they will on March 2. And there is no other night during the regular season with as many big time match ups as there is tomorrow night.
You have a potential final four preview, with Trinity playing at Merrimack and Nashua South traveling down the street to Bishop Guertin. As if that wasn't enough, 2 other teams who are definite contenders to make it to UNH meet up in the Queen City, where Manchester West plays host to Alvirne.
My head is spinning trying to figure out which one of these showdowns to attend. You also have 2 other games going on Tuesday night that are potential final four previews, with Berlin playing at Campbell in D-III boys and in D-II girls it's Bedford vs. Hollis-Brookline. Here's a closer look at these games and others.
Merrimack @ Trinity
Many people around the state would call this match up not only a final four preview but a championship game preview. I wouldn't disagree with those people entirely, but I think BG is right there in that same mix.
You can bet the place is going to be rocking for this tilt. Merrimack is playing on the road but they're riding high right now, coming off their first QCIBT championship since the Corey Hassan days. The 'Big 3' of Dimitri Floras and the Gendron brothers Tyler and Eric have emerged as the state's best trio - each has the ability to take a game over at any time.
Trinity has the 'Tri-Towers' of 6'10" Silvere Aluko, 6'7" Mabor Gabriel and 6'7" Andrew Lauderdale. Head coach Dave Keefe usually has 2 of these 3 bigs in at all times. They're a force inside scoring, rebounding and blocking shots. Merrimack might not have anyone 6'7" but they still have some good size. With Floras at 6'1" and Eric Gendron at 6'2" the Tomahawks have possibly the biggest back court in the state, and up front they have a number of guys who are between 6'3" - 6'5", including Tyler Gendron, Jared Peabody, Brad Jarry, Connor Whelan and Jeff Giannelli. These guys can all run the floor, crash the boards and won't be afraid to mix it up inside with Trinity's bigs.
As is the case with pretty much every Trinity game, pace is a big factor. The Pioneers are a half court team and that's no secret. They work the ball around the perimeter, then get it inside, kick it back out, etc. and patiently work for a good shot and play tough defense in the half court. They know they can't run with teams like Merrimack and BG, so pace is a big factor here. Merrimack is a team that if you don't take care of the basketball on offense and get back on defense they can go on a 16-2 run in a hurry and run you right out of the gym.
Look for Merrimack to force an up tempo game by pressing full court after made baskets. Trinity has a bunch of good guards but no true point guard. Their starting point guard Ian Sistare is very talented but he's only a freshman and is more suited for the wing. However it's tough to play an up-tempo game in in that tiny gym they have at Trinity.
Nashua South @ Bishop Guertin
Both teams had impressive showings over the holiday break, with South winning the Chick-fil-A Holiday Tournament by beating Nashua North in the final, and BG went to Chelsea, MA where they more than held their own against some of the Bay State's top competition. The winner of this game gets the title of best team in the Gate City (for now).
BG will be playing shorthanded, as sophomore super-sub CJ Boykin is out 4 weeks with a thumb injury. Boykin is a lightning quick guard who can defend and give the team some scoring punch off the bench. Guertin will miss him in the lineup over these next few weeks, but they still have plenty of talent.
Logan Kesty scored 25 points over break in a win over Cambridge Rindge & Latin, while Joe McCarthy dropped 33 points on Saint John's Prep (possibly the best team in the MIAA). Brad Holler continues to show a smooth stroke and excellent range from the outside - he hit one three in the game vs. Cambridge Rindge & Latin from about 7 feet behind the line. Cooper Paul is a tough player who does a little bit of everything and Jeff Lunn has been giving these guys a nice inside presence off the bench as well.
South meanwhile has everybody healthy, and they are coming into this game fresh off their holiday tournament championship. Anthony Muccioli is playing at a VERY high level right now as he scored 21 points in the title game win over North on a variety of jumpers and drives to the rim.
I like watching South play because you can tell that these guys genuinely like playing together and have great team chemistry. Is part of that because they have 2 different sets of brothers on the team?(the Preston brothers Jack and Tim, and the Dunham brothers Mike and David) Possibly. It might also be because other than backup guard Armond McRae none of South's key players play football and Muccioli is the only one who played for an 'elite' level AAU team. So not only do these guys have virtually everyone back from last year's team but they also played together all throughout the summer in the Hoops for Hope League but they had everyone playing together in the Rivier Fall League as well.
Both BG and South have good guard play and like to get out and run. Look for this to be an up-tempo game We all know that BG loves to press, but with guards Muccioli, Tim Preston and Yordy Tavarez South showed in the title game on Thursday night vs. North that they are pretty good at handling that kind of defensive pressure. This should be a fun one for sure.
Alvirne @ Manchester West
This is an interesting match up, because you have a red-hot West team going up against an Alvirne team that typically plays their best basketball at the end of the season rather than the beginning. West beat Trinity and Manchester Central before falling to Merrimack in one of the best QCIBT title games in recent memory. Alvirne meanwhile lost 62-54 to Nashua North in the semi-finals of the Chick-fil-A tourney.
The other factor here that favors West is home court. They're a team that especially over the last couple years is known for being a much better team when playing at home.
This game should have some interesting individual match ups, as both teams have a talented 'Big 4.' Alvirne has Tony Beaulieu, Sean Dunn, Jim Tomaswick and Tyler Livingston, while West counters with Aaron Martin, Jocarl Bureau, Travis Descoteaux and Carl Jacques. West has strong players like Caleb Dolman and Nolan Flynn, while Alvirne also has very good role players in Britton Doyle and Alec Yoksh. Both teams can really defend in the half court and have plenty of kids who can score the basketball.
This is another game where pace will be key. Alvirne's best chance for a win is to slow the game down and make it a half court game. The reason why West beat Trinity last week is because West would get steals or defensive rebounds and immediately look to run. Bureau and company got a number of easy baskets in transition. Alvirne's task will be to limit those fast break opportunities by taking care of the basketball, rebounding and taking good shots.
Berlin @ Campbell
As big as those 3 games in D-I are, you have got to talk about this big time match up in D-III. It's an early season battle of un-beatens, with 5-0 Berlin making the long bus ride south to take on 4-0 Campbell. Berlin is the hands down favorite to win the title, but Campbell is a team that is deep, talented and has something that Berlin doesn't - size.
The bottom line is that one of Campbell's best players is 6'7" junior center Caleb McKearin, and Berlin doesn't have anyone over 6'1". Is that going to decide this game? Absolutely not. Will it be a factor? Absolutely.
McKearin (transfer from Mt. Zion Christian Academy) is still a work in progress with some raw skills, but he is a talented player who has is a a threat to record a double-double every time out. While Berlin doesn't have anyone close to his size they have a number of tough, physical players who will try to throw him off his game. Look for Berlin to deny McKearin the basketball and to double-team him in the post. You can also expect them to try and push the pace and make it an up-tempo game so that McKearin is less of a factor.
Campbell might have the size advantage and the home court advantage, but Berlin has the best player in the division in 6'1" senior guard/forward Curtis Arsenault. Arsenault is a strong, powerful player who can score inside or out and is capable of posting 20+ points and 10+ rebounds on any given night. Berlin has much more experience than Campbell in playing in big games, as they went to the semi-finals last year and the title game the year before that and they have a lot of guys still there from those teams.
Bedford @ Hollis-Brookline
The game of the night on the girls side is a potential final four match up in D-II between Bedford and Hollis. Let's call this match up 'The Seniors vs. the Sophomores'. Bedford is led by their outstanding sophomore class including McKenzie Brown (currently out with an ankle injury), Haley Driscoll, Rachel Collins, Ali Glennon, Bailey Marshall and Caroline Conrad. Together they form the most talented sophomore class in the state. They are talented and have a very bright future playing together, and while Hollis is led by their seniors many of the Bedford girls play year round and on national level AAU teams so it's tough to say that Hollis has the more experienced team.
Hollis-Brookline counters with star senior players Katie Stopera, Kelsey Berry and the Gillis twins Olivia and Jillian. These 4 have been playing together for a long time and have terrific chemistry on the court. They can all shoot, handle the basketball against pressure, defend and play the game at a fast pace. They love to get out and run the break and when they do so they are excellent at sharing the basketball and making the extra pass to get the best shot possible. They don't care who scores, as long as the team scores.
The advantage Bedford has on them is inside - Hollis would have a very tough time matching up with the Bulldogs in the paint if both Brown and Driscoll were in the lineup. So with Brown being out with the injury that definitely helps the Cavalier's chances. But it still could go either way and should be a great game.
Also, don't forget about these rivalry games also taking place Tuesday night!
Some of the state's biggest local rivalries will be taking place. You have Coe-Brown vs. Portsmouth, Dover vs. St. Thomas, Con-Val vs. Keene and Moultonborough vs. Pittsfield in both boys and girls basketball.
The Coe-Brown vs. Portsmouth girls game will be particularly interesting to watch, as both teams are legit contenders to get home playoff games and appear to be very evenly matched. Watch out for sharpshooters Meredith Grady for Coe-Brown and Markey Flewelling for Portsmouth. Both teams also have first-year head coaches, with David Hartnett for Coe-Brown and Dan Parr for Portsmouth.