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 opposing coaches’ breakdown the four teams and the match-ups for tonight’s Division I semifinals at the University of New Hampshire.
Justin McIsaac & I will call both games and we will have all the highlights & the post-game interviews with the two winning teams.
If you can’t make it to UNH tonight you can listen to us call the game live on The McIsaac on Sports Network, there will be a link right on our homepage to listen to us call both semifinal games.
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(1) Exeter vs. (4) Londonderry
We asked three tournament head coaches to breakdown the second match-up of the season between Jeff Holmes’ undefeated Blue Hawks and Nate Stanton’s Lancers.
Beginning with Exeter.
“What differentiates Exeter from every other team in our division is that they have three go-to guys in Josh Morissette. Ryan Grijalva and Kevin Henry. Those are three players that can score on their own when a play breaks down. Most teams just do not have that.”
Another coach talked about Exeter’s ability to make shots. “When we broke down the tape after we played them we saw that they scored 29 points on contested jump shots. That’s very difficult to beat.”
Coaches talked about the job head coach Jeff Holmes is doing. “I think Jeff is doing an incredible job, to me, he is the coach of the year in our division. When you think about the fact he has to manage, not only minutes for a lot of good players but manage personalities as well. I think he has done a terrific job. Kids on that team are sacrificing to win games.”
Another coach talked about the ‘spurt-ability’ of the Blue Hawks. “They can turn a 2-point lead into a 10-point lead in about 60 seconds. They do have scoring droughts like anyone else and the key is you need to score on them when that happens, because that 10-point run by them is coming, so you have to take advantage when they are not making shots.”
What about the Londonderry Lancers?
“They are incredibly physical. They are not dirty but they are going to grab you, push you and pull you. Your kids have to be able to handle that mentally. They are really good at getting teams to lose their focus.”
A fellow coach also talked about the challenge Londonderry poses. “They do a great job on defense. They have been holding teams in the ’40s during the tournament and they have controlled the pace in every game they have been in.”
“They don’t try to be anything they’re not. They get up on you defensively but it’s not always about trying to take the ball away as much as they do not let you go by them.”
“Ethan May is one of the best players in our division. He’s very tough and he hits difficult shots. He bails them out of a lot of possessions. To me, Jackson Cox might be the most underrated player in our division. He is so tough at getting to the rim and for a guard, he is a terrific rebounder. Just a very good player for a sophomore.”
Another coach talked about the job Nate Stanton is doing. “Nate gets every bit of effort out of them. They scrap and wear teams down and it comes in waves. They have guys coming off the bench who will make an impact as well.”
“Nate runs really good sets, he will pull those out when they need baskets, and you can count on him to come up with something good.”
How do you beat Exeter?
“I think if Exeter is going to lose it’s going to be to Londonderry. UNH has a way of turning teams that score in the ’60s into a team that scores in the ’40s, and that’s Londonderry’s game. Nate has been here before and understands how to coach at UNH.”
How about Londonderry?
“If there is an Achilles Heel with them it’s that they can get sped up. You also need to use their pressure defense against them. Don’t get through it, attack it.”
So who wins tonight?
“I’m going to go with Exeter but I think this is the team at Durham that will give them the most problems.”
“I don’t see anyone beating Exeter……….but I’ve seen crazier things in all my years.”
“The elephant in the room is there is a lot of pressure on Exeter, but I think they get it done. Their players have a very high basketball IQ.”
(2) Salem vs. (6) Portsmouth
We asked our coaches to breakdown the showdown between two-time defending champion Portsmouth and second-seeded Salem.
Starting with Rob McLaughlin’s Blue Devils.
“Their defense is so good. They are very physical, very aggressive & quick up top with their guards and will clog the middle of the paint. They are very aggressive in the passing lanes and they don’t just deflect balls, they steal them and go the other way for points. Their two guards (Zack Caraballo & Trevor DeMinico) are very fast so when they steal the ball and get a step on your player..they’re gone.”
Another tournament coach agreed, it all starts with Salem’s defense. “ They take charges, which is a real focus of their defense. So if you are a player driving to the basket you have a 6’7 shot-blocker (Ben Laycock) and you don't know if he is going to try and block your shot or draw a charge on you.”
“ Offensively their key guy is Kyle Poulin. He’s very good and hard to stop, the offense really relies on him. When he is scoring off the dribble or in the post they become a very good team offensively. Their guards will take questionable shots at times, especially DeMinico, but I think Rob (McLaughlin) allows them to because they are working so hard on the defensive end. They play very hard for Rob and he is doing a terrific job coaching.”
Another coach we spoke to agreed on that point. “ They are well coached by Rob and he seems to have a very good feel with this group in regards to what buttons to push. He knows when to go with Mike Ference or with Jared Burns. How physical are the officials going to allow Ference to be on defense? That will be something to watch.”
We asked coaches to breakdown John Mulvey’s two-time defending champions.
“ They are a very interesting match-up for Salem because Salem is all about getting you to drive to the basket and either blocking your shot or drawing a charge. Portsmouth has no desire to do that. Their offense is predicated on the 3-point shot. Everything they run is either for a 3-point shot or getting (Calvin) Hewett or (Alex) Tavares on a screener option to the basket. They are not a team that lines you up for a drive to the basket. That’s not their offense.”
Coaches talked about the play of the Clippers ‘role players’ like Coleman Brewster, Tommy Degnan, Jack Russo, and Kevin Cummings. “ At the coaches meeting on Sunday we were talking about Portsmouth and every coach seemed to have a different story about a different player stepping up and knocking down jumpers. For us it was Russo, for others it was Degnan, one coach got burned leaving Cummings open and another coach said it was Brewster that won them the game. They run very good offense and they seem to get one or two of those guys to step up every game.”
Another coach talked about all-state forward Alex Tavares. “ To me, he is the best player in our division. He can really shoot it and when he is going to the basket he is very difficult to stop.”
Two of our coaches wanted to talk about Cal Hewett’s game-winning basket in the final second of a quarterfinal win over Spaulding. Hewett inbounded the ball with 4.4 seconds left to Tavares and chased after the play, coming in and converting Tavares’ miss into an offensive rebound and game-winning basket.
“ To me, that was one of the best basketball plays I have seen in over 20 years of coaching. 90% of players make that pass and stand there and watch the play. He kept playing and that instinct is the reason they have a game (tonight).”
A second coach echoed the sentiment. “ I know he is a great baseball player and to me that makes sense because that was a play a great baseball player would make. He was backing up the play the way a shortstop or a catcher would hustle to back up a play at a base or home plate. Do I make that play as a player? Honestly, I probably watch Tavares go to the basket and hope he makes it. Hewett didn’t, he backed up the play and it won them the game.”
Who do you like to win tonight?
“ Portsmouth. I just think the experience of being there, for John Mulvey coaching there, is a big advantage. Hewett & Tavares, if it goes down to the wire and I think it will, are going to execute. You know that.”
“ I like Salem to win it, they can beat you in a number of different ways.”
“ Honestly I think it’s a flip of the coin.”