The triumphant return of the Thursday Thoughts looks at 8 games being played around the state on Friday night.
For those of you who are new to our coverage and even returning families, we will have boys & girls basketball coverage, statistics & content all way through the eight championship games and BABC/NHsportspage senior and underclassman games in March.
We are out covering 7 games this week alone.
The Gold Level families & coaches are a big part of our 9-person team. Unlike most newspapers & websites we give you unlimited free content. That doesn’t mean this website and the coverage we provide doesn’t cost a lot of money.
The coaches and families who support us (about 4% of our weekly audience) with a once a year membership are making this coverage possible, so we will be thanking the families and promoting the athletes in their families all year long.
We can’t thank each & every one of them enough and we hope it is a group that continues to grow.
Look for the Players Locker Room's 8 questions’ interviews to resume soon.
We are covering four games on Friday night:
Austin Grass & I will be at NHTI in Concord when a battle of unbeatens takes place when pre-season #1 Newmarket takes on pre-season #2 Littleton.
Pete Tarrier & Joel Johnston will be in Merrimack when the unbeaten Tomahawks take on pre-season #1 Nashua North.
Lance Legere & ‘The Franchise’ Jennifer Chick-Ruth will be in Epping for a girls/boys doubleheader when the Blue Devils take on the Woodsville Engineers.
Nashua North (1-1) at Merrimack (3-0)
I’m not quite sure why the Titans are struggling early but a trip to Merrimack doesn’t feel like a cure. Steve Lane’s team has had to go on the road for their first 3 games of the season (a close win at Concord followed by a close loss at Bedford on Tuesday night).
Brendan Choate, Curtis Harris, Connor Dunning, and Nate Kane are all producing but early on they have lost games to Thornton Academy (Maine) in their holiday tournament and to Mark Elmendorf’s Bulldogs.
Tim Goodridge’s team is going to make you earn every basket and work on every offensive possession. They are balanced as far as their scoring, Jared Dyer is one of the best defenders/rebounders in the state and senior Adam Ellis can now officially be referred to as a veteran starting point guard.
Tim Eckert has played well early on and Patrick Yudkin is the Tomahawks X-factor. At times Yudkin looks like a difference-maker and at others, he isn’t as assertive. To beat one of the best teams in the state they’ll need him at his best.
Nashua North is so tough to defend because there isn’t any one player you can focus on. Keene sent all of their attention at Choate in last year’s first-round playoff game and did a good job of slowing him down but Connor Dunning buried them with 24 points. Kane is one of the best shooters in the division when he gets going and Curtis Harris is so good because he can get you 14 points without you running a single play for him.
Expect your typical 48-44 Merrimack score in this one. The Titans will take 2-1 after three tough road games (don’t sleep on Concord) while a win here makes Merrimack a legitimate championship contender.
Windham (2-1) at Bedford (2-1)
Year 2 of EJ Perry’s return to New Hampshire basketball is right on course and they have a real chance to get to 3-1 tomorrow night.
This is starting to look like one of Perry’s Salem teams from a decade ago, not at the elite level those championship teams led by Josh Jones & Mike Kimball played at, but in both attitude and toughness.
Riley Desmarias has the trust of his head coach in running the Jaguars offense and came up big with 18 points and 4 3-pointers in a 55-52 win over a tough Salem team on Tuesday.
In that game the Blue Devils ran all-state shooting guard Joey DaSilva off the 3-point line and drew two charges against him, forcing DaSilva to the bench.
Expect Bedford to game plan for DaSilva as well and make someone else beat them from the outside. The Bulldogs have the size to keep players like Westin Lippold off the glass and are coming off of a statement win over Nashua North.
Justin O’Neil looked like the first team all-state forward we projected in scoring 26 points while point guard Connor Butts came up huge with 17 points for the Bulldogs in the win.
Dover (3-0) at Portsmouth (2-1)
The Green Wave are going to find out how serious of a contender they are tomorrow night.
Matt Fennessy’s team has won three ‘take care of business’ games to open the season against Manchester Central, Pinkerton and Manchester Memorial. Point guard Kingsley Breen, whose selection as a first-team all-state guard in the pre-season raised some eyebrows, has been every bit as good as advertised.
Dover is also getting contributions from Darian Lopez-Sullivan, Max Casey & Kenny Healy and is coming together as a group quicker than expected.
The 3-0 start, which also includes a 3-0 record in the Oyster River holiday tournament, has given this team confidence that it can win tight games. They have a closer in Breen, they shoot free throws well and they have a coaching staff that has been there/done that in regards to beating the best teams in the division.
Their defense and more directly, their discipline on defense, will be tested by a Portsmouth offense that is very precise and features four starters who can bury 3’s when left unattended.
Coleman Brewster needed to step into a more assertive role with Jacob Boutin still out with a shoulder injury and has emerged as one of the best scorers in the division. Calvin Hewett is the facilitator that the offense runs through while both Tommy Degnan and Kevin Cummings are knockdown three-pointer shooters.
Zach Paradis gives them a big on the baseline and few teams run better offense than John Mulvey does.
My impressions of the Clippers 56-46 loss at Exeter on Tuesday night was that while the Blue Hawks were the better team, Portsmouth has to know they can beat them on a neutral floor in March. The gap isn’t that wide.
Hollis-Brookline (2-1) at Bow (2-1)
Bow is the shiny new toy in the division with every coach talking about what they look like and what their ceiling is as far as a run in March.
First of all the reports are true, Bow is huge. Each starter is 6’3 or bigger and against a very good Lebanon team, they closed out on the Raiders shooters very well and tried to filter everything back to Ben Harris and Shaun Lover in the paint.
Lebanon had an awful shooting night (I unofficially had them 2 for 23 from behind the arc). Some of that is just a bad shooting night but a lot of credit has to go to Frank Moreno’s team. I can remember a moment in last year's NHsportspage seniors vs. BABC game when Zack Caraballo of Salem caught the ball on a reversal and was ready to shoot from the corner. The defense though closed out on him and instead of your normal 6’0 Division I guard coming over to contest it was 6’6 Matt Cross who has already committed to Miami next year.
The point is there is a difference when a 6’5 player is closing out and contesting shots and that is an advantage Bow has against just about anyone in the division.
Their only loss was to a Hanover team that can shoot 3’s (Charlie Adams had 38 points in a game last week) and has the size in the middle with Jai White. That is the recipe to beat Bow, you need to be able to spread them out on defense but at the same time be able to stop them going to the rim.
The Cavaliers have the size with Quinton Wimmer and Grant Synder is one of the best mid-range scorers in the division. Do they have the shooting though to spread out the Bow defense?
Kingswood (1-2) at Con Val (3-0)
Leo Gershgorin’s Cougars are still figuring out their rotation and need to be wary of a Kingswood team that is improved & looking like a tournament team.
Dan Place’s Knights can flat out score. Ethan Arnold and Brogan Shannon are averaging 22 points per game apiece and in a game in which unbeaten Hanover dared them to get into a shootout, Kingswood scored 70 points and hung around for four quarters.
Kingswood will need to try and keep Del Bonsu-Anane off the glass and not allow an experienced Con Val team to control the pace. Few players are better at getting to the rim than Mather Kipka and when Connor Buffum is knocking down shots this is a potent inside/outside combination.
We’re going to learn more about both teams as the season gets rolling but this is a match-up you would have breezed right over two seasons ago, and now it is one to keep your eye on.
Mascenic Regional (3-1) at Somersworth (3-1)
Two teams that are far from what they hope to become this season. Both teams have looked a little off and nowhere near what they have the potential to become in March.
Somersworth has a tendency to struggle early in the season and round into shape around February. That looks to be the case early on but we’ll know more after this game.
The Hilltoppers are 3-1 but their wins have come over three teams (Berlin, Franklin & Prospect Mountain) who are a combined 1-12. A team that has been to back to back championship games (winning in 2018) doesn’t need to prove itself but against a Mascenic team with final four or bust aspirations, they will get a better sense of where they are right now.
Mascenic was beaten at Monadnock a week ago and survived a 49-47 game at Raymond on Tuesday night.
First of all the Vikings will be playing their fourth consecutive road game, not an easy way to ease into a season. Second, Raymond is no longer a penciled in W on the schedule, as Division III coaches are coming to realize.
The Vikings have a trip to Conant next week before the schedule starts to ease up. They haven’t played as well as they’re capable of early but if they can get through a brutal opening stretch at 4-2 before they actually play some games in New Ipswich, they’re still on track for a Top 5 seed.
Littleton (4-0) vs. Newmarket (5-0) at NHTI
The two best teams in the division square off in what almost certainly will be a preview of coming attractions at Plymouth State University in March.
Newmarket has made 8 of the last 11 Division IV Final Fours while Littleton has appeared at Plymouth State in 9 of the last 10.
Don’t expect those trends to change in 2020.
What will be interesting to watch is how Jamie Hayes of Newmarket and Trevor Howard of Littleton, two excellent longtime head coaches, go at one another on the bigger college floor at NHTI.
Littleton is not likely to press, something I’d expect them to do next week when they face Groveton on their home floor. Newmarket meanwhile may try to push the pace, use their depth to their advantage and wear Littleton down.
Starting 5 vs. starting 5, the edge goes to Littleton but Newmarket will play 11 players while injuries have shortened the Crusaders bench to 8.
A lot of teams feel like Newmarket has been more physical defensively this season because Hayes knows if anyone gets in foul trouble he has the depth to keep up the pressure.
Parker Briggs is the best scorer in the game, maybe in the division, and you can expect Amar Phoubaykham to draw the assignment of slowing him down. The Crusaders Todd Krol-Corliss & Landon Bromley are both going to have to rebound and match-up in their zone defense against the Mules frontcourt of Owen Tower, Logan Willey and Will Chase. Those are going to be match-ups to keep an eye on.
This is going to be a fun game and it’s hard to see who comes out on top, but at the end of the day it may not mean much. There isn’t a 3rd seed you hope to avoid down the road over the 4th seed as there was a year ago when Woodsville was thought to be a level below Epping, Littleton and Newmarket.
What’s more likely is both coaches use the neutral floor and added space to see where they can find advantages to be tucked away until its win or go home in the tournament.
The winner here is the best team in Division IV for now but both teams are after something a lot more meaningful, and that gets decided in March.
Derryfield (3-1) at Colebrook Academy (3-1)
One school has video screens lining the walls of their brand new million-dollar facility while the other has one of the most iconic old school gyms in the state that is watched over by a 25 foot tall Mohawk Indian on the wall.
Tomorrow night they square off in the North Country with seeding implications down the road in the balance.
What Ed Meade’s Derryfield team will find out is that this is a Colebrook team built for their smaller home floor.
Buddy Trask’s team plays hard and they’ll cut Derryfield off and try to contain all-state shooting guard Max Byron on the perimeter. Ridge Gonzales has emerged as the Cougars second scorer, as Meade predicted in the pre-season, and his size gives him the ability to score from the perimeter or the paint. Malik McKinnon will be tasked with moving him away from the basket and out on the perimeter where defenders like Daegen Riff will contest shots.
This is a different Derryfield team than the one we have seen coached by the great Rob Bradley for the past decade-plus. Derryfield was always a team that beat you with precision, I remember Bradley once telling me if you got 10 more possessions than your opponent by not turning it over…you were probably going to win on most nights.
Meade’s first year as head coach has him pushing the pace more and getting Derryfield’s athletes out & on the move. How they react to the cozy confines of Colebrook’s gym will be interesting to see as will how they defend Carson Rancourt, one of the best shooting guards in the division.
All of which makes for what should be a very entertaining game in the North Country tomorrow night.