Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Boys Basketball Top 10 Teams - Fall Edition
It's the 10 best teams in the NHIAA, regardless of division. I rank the teams based on the following scenario - if any 2 teams played each other night now on a neutral court the one ranked higher would be the favorite.
I will post my top 10, followed by the reasoning behind my picks. So without any further ado, here are the top 10 boys basketball teams in the state.
1. Manchester Central
7. Manchester Memorial
8. Nashua South
10 Manchester West
Here's why I ranked the teams that way:
1. Manchester Central - It can definitely be debated whether Central or Pembroke has a better team. But it is hard to argue that Central is the best team in Division I, and Pembroke is the best team in D-II. And while both teams are extremely fast, very talented offensively and have excellent starting fives, Central is a better defensive team and for that reason I think they would win if the 2 teams played each other. Central's starting five (Troy Pelletier, Isaiah Joseph, Dawson Dickson, Brett Hanson and Mike Plentzas) is REALLY good. If you follow D-I boys basketball in NH get ready to hear those 5 names A LOT this winter. They're fast, they share the basketball on offense and they pressure it on defense. These 5 guys have very good chemistry together and are fun to watch. Pelletier is your preseason D-I Player of the Year, Joseph is one of the most improved players in the state, and with Dickson, Hanson and Plentzas this team basically has 3 point guards out there (which means they're not going to turn it over). Also watch out for 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Gabir Gabir, who has good size, length and athleticism. He's still growing into his body and is still developing his skill set but he has a lot of potential. Then you have 5-foot-10 guard Jonathin Makori, who is one of the top freshman players in the state. Meanwhile Riley Cote, Nick Makris, Noah Edmunds and Julio Rincon are all solid players who can provide even more depth.
2. Pembroke - ok, so like I said Pembroke can definitely make a case for the #1 spot. But I just Central plays better defense. However, the odds are pretty good that nobody is going to score more points this winter than Pembroke. They are just a run-and-gun, fast-breaking team with a ton of offensive weapons. They space the floor and run the drive-and-kick offense to near perfection. Point guard Rene Maher (a four year starter) is the catalyst of the drive-and-kick offense. He is very tough to stop off the bounce, and for a little guy is also a strong finisher inside. If you collapse on his dribble-penetration though you better not leave Pat Welch open, because he's the best shooter in the state and will make you pay. Matt Persons can also shoot it from the outside. So if Maher is driving, and you have Welch and Persons on the wings ready to catch and shoot, how are you supposed to defend that? Opposing D-II coaches will have sleepless nights this winter trying to find an answer to that question. Not only do you have to worry about those three, but then inside you have to worry about Jordan Williams and Andrew Houde. Williams is a tough rebounder and inside player, while Houde can shoot or drive to the rim. Maher, Persons, Welch, Williams and Houde - it's quite possibly the most talented starting 5 in NH. Sophomore forward Dominic Timbas provides depth off the bench. They would be even deeper but junior guard Brad Rhoades transferred to Trinity. Losing Rhoades will hurt their depth, but the Spartans are still the heavy favorites to win the D-II title. These guys play together year round - with PA in the winter and with the GS Raiders AAU team in the off-season. Don't be surprised if they go undefeated.
3. Spaulding - the Red Raiders spent the past couple of years sneaking up on people, but that won't be the case this year. This year they are expected to be one of the top teams in the state. It's been a long time since these guys were rated this highly in the preseason. In fact, Spaulding has never won a state title in boys basketball, and their only title game appearance was way back in 1964. This season just might be their best shot to get back there. The Red Raiders return three starters and 9 total players off a team that made it to the Final Four. The returning starters are 6-foot-4 senior forward and preseason Player of the Year candidate Dominic Paradis, 6-foot-2 senior wing Nick MacGregor and 6-foot-4 junior forward Charlie Nevejans. And while they graduated their 3 best guards from last year (Luke Roberts, Connor Noe and PJ Juneau), they were a very deep team last year that rotated 9 or 10 kids every game. As a result you have a lot of other kids coming back who saw valuable minutes last year, including Alex Gray, Quinn Connelly, Mike Bellio and Seth Fogg.
4. Winnacunnet - to some people it might seem like I have Winnacunnet ranked a little high, considering they won only 6 games last year and didn't even make the playoffs 2 years ago. But you heard it here first - this team is a contender in D-I this season. At the Exeter Team weekend tournament this summer, Winnacunnet won the tourney. They beat Nashua South in the semis and they beat Spaulding in the finals. The Warriors return 11 kids off last year's team, and that's not even including junior guard Chris Doyle who returns after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Doyle was one of the top players on the team 2 years ago as a freshman. Guards Rich Ruffin, Sam Knollmeyer and Ryan Gigliotti and forwards Ben Gareau and Jordan Cutting all return after playing BIG roles on last year's team. Matt Guerin, Spencer Kennedy, Alec Boucher and Seth Edwards provide depth, and the wild card here is freshman Anthony Primavera. If Primavera is as good as some people are saying he is he will be one of the best freshman in the state this season. Either way, Winnacunnet has possibly the deepest team in NH. They also have a bunch of kids who have been playing together for a long time and who have been starting for 2 or 3 years now.
5. Trinity - some might be surprised to see them ranked this high. After all, they couldn't even get enough players together to play in the BST Summer League this year. However, late in the summer they had 2 kids transfer in to the school, and both of them are impact players. These 2 transfers should give Trinity enough depth to once again be one of the favorites in D-I. So who are these transfers? They're a pair of junior guards - Ryan Otis (transferred from Merrimack Valley) and Brad Rhoades (transferred from Pembroke). Trinity already had a solid core of returning players with their 'Big 3' of Mabor Gabriel, Carmen Giampetruzzi and Pat Keefe. This is as good of a 'Big 3' as there is in NH. All 3 have plenty of big game experience, and they all have well-rounded games. None of them is a point guard though, so look for Otis and Rhoades to share time at the point (also don't be surprised if Trinity goes with a smaller lineup and plays both Otis and Rhoades together). The other guy that you also have to really watch out for is senior guard/forward Romeo Masuku. Masuku is the team's best defender. He's 6-foot-1 and very quick so he can't cover the guards but he's also very strong with good leaping ability so he can defend bigs as well. Trinity has plenty of scorers already, Masuku's job is going to be to defend, hustle after loose balls and grab boards.
6. Salem - anyone who read my recap of the JJ Donovan Fall Ball from 2 weeks ago knows that I am high on the Blue Devils. Again, some might think I have them ranked high since they graduated not 1 but 2 kids who were first team all-state selections last season in D-I (Ben Slepian and Johnny Klecan). How can Salem lose 2 players that good and still be a top 5 team in D-I? Well if you read my Fall Ball recap you already know the answer, but in case you missed that article here is the shortened version. Andrew Ruffen returning to the lineup after missing all of last season with a knee injury is a big factor here. The 6-foot-2 senior wing has a sweet shooting stroke and can also score off the bounce. Meanwhile Salem also returns 3 kids who were either starters are key players off the bench last season in Michael Felix, Jack Hartmann and Steve Nugent. Hartmann is once again a player capable of scoring inside or out and also has a solid mid-range game. Felix and Nugent are 2 of the most improved players in the state. Felix is the best defender in the NHIAA (you heard it here first) and Nugent is tough as nails. Ruffen, Felix, Hartmann and Nugent gives Salem a very strong core. Then adding depth you have Chris Carabello, Danny Nugent, Anthony Lopez and Brent Barrett. Salem doesn't have a lot of size, but they play extremely tough defense, they have shooters, they move the ball well to look for a good shot, everyone on the team has a role and the pieces fit together like a puzzle. Plus they have Rob McLaughlin who has won the D-I Coach of the Year in each of his first 2 years as the team's head coach.
7. Manchester Memorial - this team is a wild card. On one hand I wouldn't be surprised if they ended up making the finals, and on the other hand I also wouldn't be surprised if they are playing in the 8/9 preliminary round game. This is partly because for now at least the top 7 teams in D-I are all pretty evenly matched. Another reason is because Memorial has a new head coach (Jack Quirk) and remains to be seen how this team will respond to him. After all, every kid who plays at Memorial plays their AAU ball for the Bishop Elite. The Bishop is coached by Sudi Lett, who has been the Memorial JV coach for the past couple years. Lett applied for the Memorial varsity job this summer but Quirk got it instead. Those Bishop Elite kids all really look up to Sudi, they were probably hoping he would get the job. It will be interesting to see how they respond to Quirk and his old-fashioned, no-nonsense style. The other major (or should I say Majak?) reason why the Crusaders are such a wild card is the status of 6-foot-6 guard Majak Wenyin. Wenyin petitioned the NHIAA for an extra year of eligibility, because even though he's 19 years old he missed an entire year of high school a couple years ago when he was out in Utah attending to family issues. If he gets the extra year this team could definitely give Central a run for their money in D-I. Wenyin can shoot it or drive, and his long arms disrupt an opposing offense. Even if Wenyin doesn't play this is a team that should at the least get a home playoff game. You have a very good core of talented players with seniors Zoubel Iradakunda, Tong Akot, Joel Mayola and Tyler Kelly as well as sophomores Oumaru Kante and Kabongo Ngalakulondi. All 6 of those guys were BIG contributors to a Crusaders squad that made the quarterfinals last season. You also have 3 more talented sophomores coming up from JV in Wade Gop, Wenyin Gabriel and Trevon Maughn. If that wasn't enough you also have Tschiefu Ngalakulondi (Kabongo's younger brother) who is arguably the best freshman in the state. So yeah, this team has A LOT of talent. Can they play together, can they play disciplined and will Wenyin play? These are all to be determined. There's no question though that the talent is there. Oh yeah, and all 11 of the kids I mentioned here played for the Bishop Elite this past spring.
8. Nashua South - like Memorial, South is another team that I wouldn't be surprised if they move up this list as the season gets going. The Purple Panthers return 4 of their top 5 players from a team that won 10 games last year. Leading the way is the Preston brothers - Jack Preston (a 6-foot-5 senior forward) and Tim Preston (a 5-foot-10 junior point guard). They are 2 of the top players in D-I, and after they have grown up playing against each other in the driveway it should be fun for them to play together on the varsity for the third season. Yordy Taveraz and David Dunham are also returning starters. With the Preston brothers, Taveraz and Dunham you have a very talented core to build around. Adding depth is senior guard Cody Wyatt, who was a valuable player off the bench last year.
9. Souhegan - Pembroke is the heavy favorite to win the D-II title, but if anyone beats them it will likely be either Souhegan or Lebanon. Souhegan is led by senior point guard Brandon Len, who is a preseason Player of the Year candidate in D-II (Pat Welch is the other). Len dropped a whopping 50 points in a single game vs. Milford in this year's BST Summer League. The scary thing is, he's an even better passer than he is a scorer. Souhegan returns 4 starters from a team that won 17 games last year, with the other returning starters being bruising forward Jake Kennedy, athletic guard Tyler Ford and sharpshooter Zach Simmonds. Not many teams in D-II will be able to match up with that 'Big 4'.
10. Manchester West - this team would definitely be higher, but they suffered a tough loss with sophomore guard Zack Jones separating his shoulder. Jones (who transferred to West from Concord High) really improved a lot over the off-season, and was definitely on the verge of a breakout sophomore season with the Blue Knights before getting injured a couple weeks ago. He won't need surgery but is expected to miss the entire season. If Jones was healthy I would probably have West ranked in either the #6 or #7 spot on this list. Losing him hurts, but West still has enough talent to be at least a top 8 seed in D-I. Leading the way is Jocarl Bureau, Carl Jacques, Adrien Stillwell, Nolan Flynn, Alfred Neyonee and Kahlil Bureau. Bureau was a force in D-I last season before an off the court incident caused him to miss the rest of the season. With Bureau in the lineup West was a legit title contender. Well guess what folks, Bureau is back now and he's playing some great ball. His brother Kahlil is also on the team now and he is also a big, athletic kid. Jacques is a third year starter at guard and Flynn is a deadly long range shooter. Stillwell (a transfer from Central) is a dominant inside scorer and rebounder, while Neyonee (another transfer from Central) is a tough wing player who can defend, rebound and slash to the rim.
Ok, I couldn't keep it to just 10 teams. Here's 2 more who are also going to be really good this winter:
11. Conant - They might be in Division III, but they could definitely play with the big boys. Conant doesn't have a ton of size, but what they have is a very dangerous starting 5. All 5 kids can shoot, handle the basketball and run the floor. 6-foot-3 senior guard Devin Springfield is your preseason D-III Player of the Year. He's entering his third year as a starter, and is joined in the starting lineup by guards Jake Carlson, Robert O'Brien and Kyle Carland and forward Eli Hodgson. These 5 guys have been playing together for a long time, and they will be simply too fast and too skilled for most D-III teams to keep up with. Springfield and Carlson is a very talented duo and both are good senior leaders. Word on the street though is that O'Brien is one of the most improved players in the state and is now just as good if not better than them. This fall O'Brien has been playing for the Prodigy AAU basketball program, where he starts for a team that includes Jacquil Taylor (numerous high-major offers) and Maurice Taylor (committed to D-I North Carolina A & T). Look for Nick Panagiotes and Josh Leblanc to provide the squad with depth. Campbell and Somersworth will both have very good teams as well, but Conant is your preseason favorite in D-III.
12. Lebanon - it was another year and yet another winning season for Coach Matte and his Lebanon Raiders in 2011-2012. They went 11-7 last season but this year they are even better. David Hampton is a kid who doesn't get a lot of publicity outside of the Upper Valley but he should be. He's a 4 year varsity player, a 3 year starter and this year he will be scoring his 1,000th point. He will be a first team all-state player in D-II this winter and maybe even a Player of the Year candidate. He is far from a one man show, as Hampton combines with fellow senior Matt Cowles to form one of the best duos in D-II. Cowles is 6-foot-4 forward who was playing the best ball of his career towards the end of last season. He has the potential to score 15+ points and grab 10+ boards every time he steps on the floor, and we all know Hampton can shoot it from anywhere and score 20+ points on any given night. Hampton and Cowles are very good, but they have plenty of help, as Lebanon returns 6 of their top 8 players off last year's team. Senior guard Vincent Guerin and junior wings Nic Shepherd and Dominick Morrill all return after playing key roles on last year's team. Also adding depth is junior guard Kalin Sou, a quick player who plays tough defense.