Back with our weekly Thursday Thoughts as we head out to cover two games on Friday night.
Justin McIsaac & The Great Jon Kesty will be in Londonderry where the Lancers square off with Exeter in a battle of unbeaten teams.
I am headed back to the alma mater Friday night with Jennifer Chick-Ruth when Berlin travels to Gilford in a Division III match-up.
Next Tuesday night we will bring you coverage of two more games;
Jen and I will be at Monadnock when they take on unbeaten Mascenic Regional
Pete Tarrier finally returns to coverage with Devin Poslusny and will bring you coverage of Kearsarge traveling to Merrimack Valley.
Gold Level members have access to the full game videos and as a reminder; there will be a lot of content for our subscribers only. The players with profile pictures next to their name are our supporting families, as well as the coaches listed under each division standings.
We cannot thank them enough for supporting our efforts.
Next Tuesday our Top 16 Statewide Power Rankings will debut with our five-person panel voting each week on the Top 16 teams regardless of Division.
Exeter (4-0) at Londonderry (5-0)
Can Londonderry score enough to beat an Exeter team that scores 68 ppg?
Can Exeter win a game in the high 40’s if Londonderry forces that kind of pace?
The Blue Hawks have been using Cody Morissette more at the point since the holiday break and that has allowed the all-state guard to create more with the ball in his hands. Exeter forces you to spread out your defense because they can put two shooters in the corner and play a pick and roll game with the two Morissette brothers Cody & Josh. Head coach Jeff Holmes runs a lot of very good half-court sets and there are several options off of every play.
That’s a combination most teams cannot match and even though this team is scoring nearly 70 points night they haven’t come close to peaking as an offensive unit yet.
I doubt you’ll see them do that on Friday night only because Nate Stanton has his Lancers playing very good defense and they have the personnel to match-up with Exeter. Londonderry is going to try to run Exeter off the three-point line and make them win the game from the paint or by shooting from the mid-range.
Dakota Bertrand, sophomore Jack Anderson, and Ethan May combined for 40 points in an overtime win at Concord on Tuesday (Londonderry/Concord Box Score) and that’s been the recipe so far; put three players in double figures and ride the hot hand night to night.
Londonderry isn’t a team that is going to try to outscore Exeter, like say Alvirne will. They’ll try to keep this game close and steal it in the end.
For Exeter it’s another challenge from a team looking to take away what they do best, spreading the floor and beating you from deep.
Winnacunnet (4-0) at Bedford (1-2)
I don’t think we’re talking enough about the start Winnacunnet is off to, which is ironic because I live a half a mile from the high school.
The Warriors are 4-0, headed to Bedford Friday night to try and get to 5-0, and they have yet to play a single home game yet. We were going to be at the home opener against Manchester Memorial but the game was canceled, as was a game against Pinkerton.
Road wins over Dover (in a game we covered), Keene (I literally have coaches say ‘Well at least we don’t have to go to Keene this year'...that’s how much teams hate that trip), at Nashua North (I have a better chance of getting my daughter to change her mind on dragging me to ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ this weekend than I do of getting any information out of North) and Spaulding on Tuesday night (in front of McIsaac no less..) has them on top of the Division I standings.
Win or lose Friday night, they will play 9 of their last 13 games at home. In other words, they’re in pretty good shape right now.
The match-ups to watch in this one; Max Chartier vs Zach Waterhouse ((Zach's player profile page) and Nolan Anderson vs Jack Schaake.
Both of these teams lost to eventual champion Portsmouth in Durham last March and each has designs on getting back there in two months. The Bulldogs sputtered out of the gate but once Mark Elmendorf sets his rotation (they need a third scorer and that’s not Nick Mokas’ role…he just does about a dozen other things to help you win) they’ll look like the Top 5 team I believe they are.
Lebanon (4-2) at Plymouth (3-2)
The defending champs are in a Jackie Bradley-like offensive slump right now; scoring 81 points combined in back to back losses to Con Val and Merrimack Valley.
Both games were at home by the way. A place where few teams have won the past five years.
Matt Eylander has been as good as advertised since his return from a pre-season injury. His 17 points per game lead the team while his frontcourt partner Chris Nulty is averaging 12.8 ppg.
The sophomore class that Kieth Matte is so high on has shown glimpses but they haven’t looked ready for prime time yet. When you are a program that advances to five straight final fours, as Lebanon has, it’s a high bar to reach. If you’re scoring 40points a night, you’re asking an awful lot of your defense and so far it has been a struggle for the Raiders.
The Bobcats have won three in a row behind a lot of players that were jumping up and down with me at the UNH Wildcat stadium in November.
This is a team that defends very well and rebounds. They lack that go to scorer or knockdown shooter but Plymouth has players with a lot of experience and a very underrated coach in Mike Sullivan. Plymouth is playing 10 guys and trapping all over the floor with some very good athletes. On Friday night they’ll try to rattle a talented but inexperienced Lebanon backcourt led by point guard Logan Falzarano and John Willeman.
If they do they have a good chance to walk away with their fourth straight loss and hand Lebanon their third straight defeat.
Berlin (4-1) at Gilford (3-2)
Laconia (4-2) at Somersworth (6-0)
I tweeted on Monday night that I was going to do a deep dive in this column about Somersworth’s 60-53 road win at pre-season #1 Berlin (Box Score) and these two games give me the perfect opportunity to break down all four teams.
What was most surprising about Berlin’s home loss on Monday night wasn’t that Bryton Early was nearly unstoppable in scoring 32 points; it’s that a veteran team like the Mountaineers let him take them out of their game.
Early is a talented and immensely confident player, and to give you a better idea of his personality I’ll share my favorite Bryton Early story.
Last year in the Great Bay C.C Seacoast Tournament Bryton played for Justin McIsaac’s Fighting McIsaacs team, a team that eventually beat our NHsportspage team in the final with a group of all-state players from the seacoast.
In our first meeting with The Fighting McIsaacs Bryton played about 6 minutes during his first game action before McIsaac subbed him out with another guard, to keep their rotation going.
As he came off the floor Early made it very clear he wasn’t happy to be coming out. When McIsaac asked him what he was unhappy about Early told him he wanted to know why he was coming out of the game at all?
McIsaac’s response was; you’re going to play again and by the way, I just put Liam Viviano (Division I first team all-state guard Winnacunnet) and Cody Morissette (Division I first team all-state guard Exeter) in for you. In other words, McIsaac wasn’t getting minutes for his neighbor’s kid,,, these were two college level guards.
Here’s the thing about Bryton Early though, he doesn’t think those two guards are better than him, and that's the way he carries himself. In fact, he doesn’t think any other guard in the state is better than him. He believes he’s the best guard in the state.
No, Bryton is not consistent enough and he doesn’t affect the game in as many ways as those two guards do on both ends.
When he is on, there is no better scorer in the state. Bryton’s upside, when he is focused and challenged, is at an extremely high level and on Monday night Berlin saw that version of Bryton Early.
Early hit shots from five feet behind the line, shot 9 free throws after being fouled on three separate 3-point attempts and late in the game hit a shot on fellow all-state guard Evan Arsenault literally from the hash mark, 25 feet from the rim.
He was awesome and he let the crowd, the Berlin players and anyone within shouting distance about it know. That’s his game and that’s how he gains an edge.
In return, the Berlin kids started trying to match him from long range, and essentially, that’s where Somersworth won the game. Bryton got into the head of a very smart, well-coached and mature basketball team and for one night they had no answer for him.
Somersworth head coach Rob Fauci did a terrific job and marveled after the game that he only needed to call one timeout all night long, and that was to save an offensive possession. In other words, he never once had to huddle with his team because they were confused on the floor or out of sync. Those kids; Evan Gray, Early, Tyler Clark, Ethan Johnson, Colby Grant…deserve a ton of credit.
Clark may have only had 7 points but 6 came on two huge three’s late in the game when Berlin was clawing back into the game behind Seth Balderrama (who was terrific in the fourth quarter).
On Friday night they face a Laconia team that has made a step up from the group that didn’t make the Division III tournament a year ago but still looks to be a few steps behind the elite teams in the division. Sophomore Ryan Chandler has shot the ball well and Steve McDonough has enough to go 8 players deep against a team as good as Somersworth. The key will be point guard play against Somersworth 1-3-1 pressure and the ability to stay in the game mentally if Somersworth jumps out early on them.
I expect Berlin to bounce back from the loss and be ready for the rematch on February 2nd ( a game that Justin McIsaac & I will be covering). Berlin steadied themselves in the second half but it was too late and Bryton Early wasn’t allowing them to come all the way back.
Berlin needs to be more physical against a team like Somersworth and force Early to finish at the rim. Run him off the three-point line and use their front line of Joey Fodor and Darrien Larochelle to make life difficult in the paint once Somersworth’s guards get there.
My Gilford Golden Eagles continue to look like a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces just don’t seem to fit. They don’t have an identity yet; are they a team that pounds you on the glass? Are they a defensive team? Can they win by pushing the pace?
None of it has happened so far and this is not a very good outside shooting team aside from David Hart. Gilford needs to be a team that gets every possession on offense going towards the rim and so far there has been far too many one pass, chuck it up from deep with one rebounder in the paint possessions. Adrian Siravo is a good rebounder and 6’4 Greg Madore should get looks in the low post.
The guards are capable, Nate Hudson has really good quickness up the floor and Hart is a very good shooter to spread the defense out. They just have not found the right recipe and Friday night they face a very good, and very angry basketball team.
It’s the kind of game Gilford doesn’t have to win to walk away with a lot of positives to carry forward, but they have to show they can compete with Berlin Friday night.
We’ll be there to find out if they can.
Mount Royal (4-2) at Newmarket (6-0)
Jamie Hayes’ team is the best team in Division IV right now. Winning at Pittsfield would have been proof enough but winning without two of your starters (Simon Cote & Travis Moseley) makes it pretty emphatic.
That was a big-time performance on the road and in a one-possession game deep into the fourth quarter Newmarket won with Anthony Senesombath (and his 31 points) fouled out on the bench.
The Mules looked poised and although Jay Darrah & Pittsfield are more than capable of winning the rematch on February 6th, Newmarket is the team to beat today.
People are starting to pay attention to Mount Royal, a team that has been led by brothers Alex & Andrew Normandin, who average 19.2 and 16.8 points per game respectively.
Mount Royal might be that team that come March you find yourself saying, ‘Wait……Mount Royal is the 6 seed??’
After Friday night they’ll only play two games against teams that currently have a winning record; Pittsfield and Sunapee (3-1). That doesn’t mean they’ll go through the schedule virtually unscathed, Mount Royal plays 8 of their last 12 games on the road but they do avoid tough crossover games (they got Canaan-Pittsburg and Lin Wood) and they return the nucleus from a tournament team of a year ago.
The New Hampshire High School Hoops Show returns Saturday morning at 9:07 am. Pete Tarrier & Dave Haley re-cap every game from the Friday night schedule while covering all four divisions. We’ll have two coaches on the show every week and you can listen in right here on our homepage by clicking the LISTEN LIVE BUTTON. The show airs every week during the season on 99.9 FM & 1370 WFEA radio in the Manchester area or listen for FREE on the TuneIn Radio App.
Our guests on Saturday will be Nate Stanton of Londonderry and Jeff Baumann of Social Media Giant Timberlane.