As we do for each of our semifinal previews we hand it over to the people who know these teams best; the coaches that face them during the season.
We had three Division II coaches break down the match-ups tonight at UNH.
We will bring you full coverage of both games tonight with Pete Tarrier, Justin McIsaac and I all on the call throughout the night. All of the highlights and the post-game with the entire winning team.
You can listen to both games live right on our site on MOSN (the McIsaac On Sports Network)
(5) Merrimack Valley vs (1) Hollis-Brookline
The Cavaliers advance to UNH for a second straight year, under first-year head coach Cole Etten, as the one seed. Merrimack Valley arrives under Tim Mucher after shocking pre-season #1 Kearsarge on the road in the quarterfinals.
We asked our coaches to break down both teams and tonight’s match-up.
“I think Merrimack Valley is the most unique team in the final four, both offensively and defensively. They will play a match-up zone and your players just don’t see that a lot, it takes some getting used to,” said one coach we spoke to. “Offensively they reverse the ball a lot, cut hard and use constant motion to break down your defense.”
Another Division II coach agreed. “They are difficult to defend because they don't have a player to key on or put your best on the ball defender on. They share the ball and they have a couple of different players who can break you down off the dribble. I like Jake Hebert and Ryan Defina a lot, two guards who play within themselves.”
Another coach talked about Merrimack Valley big man Kyle Dube, “He has been the biggest difference in that team from last year to this year. He has really improved and given them a big man who can play both ends in the paint.”
What about top-seeded Hollis-Brookline?
“It starts with how good they are in the paint. They rebound the hell out of the ball and Matt Simco is a beast.”
A fellow coach echoed those remarks. “They are very patient on offense. They will pass up open looks to be sure that Simco and (Matt) Dowling get one or two touches in the paint. Merrimack Valley will play zone against them and you’ll never see Hollis-Brookline in a rush to shoot it. They are going to make you play defense for long stretches and eventually that breaks you down.”
“ Offensively you can contain Simco, but he’s so athletic that a lot of times he gets his own miss and puts it back up and in. it’s like he’s playing catch off the backboard with himself,” added another coach. “I like Scott Van Coughnett, he’s not a great shooter, he’s more of a Marcus Smart type who does the little things. When our team played them he got under our players' skin and that’s a guy you like playing with if you are his teammate.”
“We tried to press (the Cavaliers) when we played them but our guys couldn't stay in front of Jonathan Brackett. He’s been a real difference maker, his ability to get into the lane and either finish or dump the ball down to Simco or Dowling has made them very tough to beat.”
“I think Merrimack Valley has to make Hollis-Brookline make shots from the perimeter, has to. I know the bigs are tough but they just beat Kearsarge with Mattos….they won’t get overwhelmed in the paint. This is an interesting game to me because both teams want to play half court and win it in the 40’s. There won’t be any fight over controlling pace because they are two similar teams in that regard.”
So who wins the game?
“I think Merrimack Valley upsets them. They are playing really, really well right now.”
“I like Hollis-Brookline to win it all.”
“Hollis-Brookline in a low scoring close one.”
(7) Oyster River vs (2) Pembroke Academy
Rich Otis and Lorne Lucas’s teams like to push the basketball, meaning there shouldn’t be a battle over pace. We asked our coaches to break down the teams and the match-up.
“The thing you need to be ready for with Oyster River is that they will change up their defenses a lot. They’ll play a 2-2-1 three-quarter court, a 1-3-1 half-court, they play some 2-3 zone and I’ve even seen them go man. Lorne (Lucas) does a really good job mixing up his looks so your kids need to be able to adjust to that. Rich (Otis) can tell them what they’re running but if he is at the other end of the floor there is a good chance they won't be able to hear him.”
Another coach talked about the Oyster River personnel. “They are not very deep, they’ll probably only play seven guys, but their starting five is really good. I think Kyle Landrigan is underrated. He has kind of an old-school game from the mid-range and as a group, they have a lot of length.”
A tournament coach we spoke to also broke down the key players for Oyster River. “I like Brennan Oxford, he’s limited offensively but he plays good defense and rebounds. He can pass out of the post and he & Max Lewis really complement each other well. Joe Morrell, to me, is their point guard. Cam Thibodeau is a three-point shooter for them; Morrell is becoming more of a playmaker by the game as he has really started to put up good numbers.”
What about second-seeded Pembroke?
“They are by far the best offensive team left. They have three different players who score 20 on any given night. I mean look at what Jake Sherman did in the last round, does anyone else have a player who could score 38 points in a game? I don’t think so.”
A fellow coach agreed, “The key is not to let them get going early because once they start hitting shots, particularly Sherman, they are very tough to stop.”
“Noah Cummings is their best player. He can take you off the dribble and also get them into their offense. He’s gotten stronger and I think he has been more assertive this year than he was a year ago.”
Another coach talked about the Spartans defense. “Rich has them playing much better than they did a year ago and they have the athletes to make it work. They sometimes will drop into a 2-2-1 half court trap where they try to get the ball out of the point guards’ hands. “
“They play pretty good man to man defense,” said a Division II coach. “They do some run & jump stuff to get the ball out of the point guards hand as well but against Oyster River, I think you’ll see them go half-court man to man.”
How do you try and stop the Spartans? “When we played them we guarded their best three players (Cummings, Sherman and Sean Menard) and left two defenders in the paint. It seemed to bother them and we were successful with it. Oyster River likes to trap a lot and I think that could leave some good shooters open.”
So who wins the game?
“I like Pembroke because I think they have the better offense.”
“I’ll go Pembroke but I think it will be a close game.”
“I think Oyster River is riding a wave right now and I think it gets them to Saturday.”