The biggest story in Division IV boys basketball going into the season is the injury to Moultonborough senior guard Drew Swedberg. Swedberg played a major role on last year's undefeated state championship team. If he was healthy he would be a preseason first team all-state pick and maybe even preseason Player of the Year.
Drew suffered a season-ending foot injury in our first scrimmage" said Moultonborough head coach Matt Swedberg, who is also Drew's father. "Drew would have been able to really showcase his talents on the floor as well as his natural leadership abilities. It was his team to lead and he was ready. We will make the most of the situation and the opportunity, especially to condition and prepare everyone for this season and the future. Our true character will show in how we handle all the upcoming situations."
The Panthers would have definitely be one of the contenders to make it back to Plymouth for the Final Four. But without Swedberg in the lineup, they will now be a very young, inexperienced team. Regardless, the favorite to win this division is Newmarket.
Besides the Swedberg injury, the next biggest story in D-IV is the fact that Newmarket could make a case that they have the two best players in the division and that Epping can also make that same case. Epping and Newmarket are arch-rivals in basketball, they combine schools in football. It would really be something if the two schools ended up facing each other in the finals.
The favorite is...
1. Newmarket - senior guard Christian Hawkins and senior forward Josh Eisfeller are arguably the two best players in the division. Hawkins is a third-year starter, and Eisfeller has improved a lot and really played some great ball while going up against D-I and D-II teams during summer league play. With Hawkins on the perimeter and Eisfeller on the block this team will have nice balance and two kids capable of taking over a game at anytime.
Joining Eisfeller inside is fellow senior Peter Carlson. With both Eisfeller and Carlson at 6-foot-5 the Mules will dominate in the paint on most nights. Not many teams in D-IV have that kind of size up front. That gives Newmarket 3 starters back from a team that went to the Final Four last year.
One of the other spots in the team's starting 5 this year would have likely gone to senior wing Kevin Clougherty, but he transferred to Somersworth (a move that helps Somersworth and hurts Newmarket in both football and basketball).
Sean Fleming, Zach Jarosz and Sam Leahy will all have to step up with the Clougherty transfer. Newmarket is always a very deep team that plays a lot of basketball together over the summer. As a result they are able to play at a higher level and have better team chemistry during the winter.
The other contenders are...
2. Epping - the Stanley brothers, Frank and Jimmy are arguably the two best players in D-IV. Jimmy is a really tough match up because he can hit the 3 or take his man off the dribble and go to the rim. Frank is more of an inside player, and uses his athletic ability to grab boards and make some great finishes in traffic. Both players really compliment each other well. Both of them are capable of going for 20+ points and 10+ rebounds on any given night.
Add in junior Jacob West and senior Brandon Carleton and you have a team that has 4 starters returning. West is the team's most athletic player - he's a high-flyer who rebounds well, plays much bigger than his listed height of 6-foot and excels in an up-tempo game by finishing in transition. Carleton is a tough guard who can handle the basketball, score when needed to and defend.
The Blue Devils have a total of 9 kids back from last year's squad, including senior guard Tyler Young who saw valuable minutes off the bench last season. They might not be as deep or as big as Newmarket, but with their 'Big 4' this is an Epping team that will simply be too fast and too talented for most teams in the division to keep up with.
3. Lisbon - after they won the D-IV title in 2011 Lisbon fell back to the pack a little bit last season. They were a less experienced team last year but still went 11-7. Now they once again have the look of a Final Four team. The Panthers return their two best players from last year (Chad Knighton and Mike Heath), they return 4 starters and 11 total players. I would say that is a pretty experienced group.
With Knighton and Heath, Lisbon has a dynamic duo that could end up being just as good as Hawkins/Eisfeller and the Stanley brothers. Knighton is playing some great basketball right now. He is a true point guard, with the ability to handle the ball vs. defensive pressure and run an offense. He can score at will but is just as good at setting teammates up for good looks. At a BST Basketball showcase during the spring there were some of the top players from all around the state there (most were D-I or D-II players). Knighton, Drew Swedberg and Nick Whipple were all there - on that day Knighton was clearly the best player of the three. Heath meanwhile has good size at 6-foot-3, and like Knighton he is a third-year starter (both started for the 2011 Lisbon championship team.
4. Littleton - speaking of dynamic duos, how about Littleton's Nick Whipple and Josh Bogardus? Both players were starters on the Crusaders' D-IV runners-up team from last season. Littleton graduated Player of the Year candidate Sam Brammer, but with Whipple and Bogardus they return two of their top three players.
Whipple is a smart, scrappy point guard who does a nice job of controlling the tempo and distributing the basketball. Both him and Bogardus will need to take on more of the scoring load with Brammer gone. At 6-foot-1, Bogardus has the size to battle inside but also has good shooting touch from the outside .
Brett Hagan and Freddie Vasquez both return, and they too played key roles last season for a Littleton squad that went 20-2.
5. Derryfield - it's not wise to pick against head coach Rob Bradley and his Derryfield Cougars, as they have made the Final Four three years in a row. They're a contender seemingly every year - don't expect this season to be any different.
The bad news is that Derryfield graduated their best player - explosive guard Gus Davis. The good news is that Davis was one of just 3 seniors on the team last year and the Cougars return 9 kids from last year.
"We have three starters back - Chris Rizos, Sr., (5'10") he will need to take over Gus's job from last year" said Coach Bradley. "Mitch Green, Sr. 6'3" - a very solid all around player. Tyler Zorn, 5'11", Jr. - good all around player and nice deep threat."
Add in Bedford transfer Roger Larrivee (6'6") and other returning varsity players like Max Anderson and you have a very talented squad. Larrivee (who is a big time golf prospect) started last year for a Bedford team that made it to the D-II title game.
Other dangerous teams are...
6. Colebrook - this is always a tough team to beat, as Buddy Trask is a very good coach who always has his kids ready to play. Senior forward Dylan Leach leads the way on a team with a lot of experience - they only had one senior last season on a team that went 10-8.
7. Concord Christian - Nick Peters scored his 1,000th point last season as a junior. He is one of the division's top players without question. These guys return 8 players from last year's squad.
8. Groveton - Groveton should once again be a strong team. They went 15-3 last year but they did graduate their two best players - Nathan Smith and Tyler Burt. Look for them to once again get a home playoff game.
Profile went 11-7 last year but is now rebuilding.
"We are an average size team for D4" said Profile head coach Paul Greenlaw, who enters his 18th season at the helm. "With 8 frosh/sophomores this is the most inexperienced team I've ever had. We'll run at every opportunity but work to control the tempo and be efficient in the half court. Working very hard on defense and rebounding as it needs to start there.
Preseason all-state team
Chad Knighton (Lisbon), Josh Eisfeller (Newmarket), Jimmy Stanley (Epping), Nick Whipple (Littleton), Nick Peters (Concord Christian), Christian Hawkins (Newmarket)