Today we preview next week’s tournament in all four divisions.
We plan to cover between twelve to fourteen games next week and will continue that pace all the way until we cover all eight championship games on the weekend of March 13th & 14th.
In year’s past we haven’t known the seedings until Monday morning, with tournament games tipping off as early as Tuesday night.
I can remember my friend Trevor Howard of Littleton being convinced he was going to Sunapee in Round 1 after his last game on Friday night only to find out he was headed somewhere Monday morning.
We’re going to take advantage of all the extra time we have by going through each pod/region and telling you who we like to win and the dark horse team that could surprise some teams.
Coaching is really going to play an even bigger role next week. Coaches will have had up to 10 days to prepare for their first opponent and we are going to see which teams are best prepared when we tip off on Monday.
Brackets are now up on website. In the right hand corner of each division click the drop down menu to view either the regular season standings or the tournament brackets.
Today’s boys basketball tournament preview is brought to you by York County Community College, check out their website here YCC website and their gorgeous campus in Wells, Maine!
Teams: Portsmouth, Dover, Spaulding, Exeter & Winnacunnet
Region breakdown: The fact that Winnacunnet & Exeter will meet in the first-round is getting all the attention, as it should. It was the worst case scenario and when things are left to chance the worst case scenario has a way of finding a way.
What shouldn’t be overlooked though is that the Portsmouth Clippers drew the one-seed and home-court advantage. The Clippers are, as one coach pointed out to me, winless this season against Winnacunnet & Exeter (that coach was John Mulvey), but still would host a match-up with the winner.
That’s not going to be easy. Portsmouth is among the best programs in the state at game-planning and with two of the top twelve scorers in Division I (Kevin Cummings at 17.6 ppg. and Coleman Brewster at 14.0) that will be a tough team to eliminate at Stone Gymnasium.
Dover and Spaulding would like to change that narrative with an upset. Spaulding will need to win a low scoring game while Dover needs to get balanced production to win on the road.
I will be at Exeter on Thursday night when they host the Warriors.
My dark horse pick: Portsmouth
Possible upset special: Dover over Portsmouth
My pick to come out of the region: Exeter
Teams: Concord, Trinity, Manchester Central, Manchester Memorial, Bedford & Goffstown.
Region breakdown: Bedford/Manchester Central is a really fun first-round match-up and Pete Tarrier will be there on Monday night to kick off our two weeks of tournament coverage.
That game is a toss-up and should come down to the final minutes.
The Trinity-Concord match-up should see Keith Bike’s Pioneers moving on and they will be favored in the second-round against a Manchester Memorial team that has been plagued by injuries & is still very young. A deadly combination for head coach Danny Bryson, who hopes to get all-state guard Cam Pollock back.
Goffstown is the favorite; they’ve gone undefeated within the region and own a good win over Bishop Guertin as well. Aiden O’Connell has been dealing with ankle issues throughout the season but he’s been terrific and Ryan Cowette expects him to be ready to go next week.
My dark horse pick: Trinity
Possible upset special: Manchester Central over Goffstown
My pick to come out of the region: Goffstown
Teams: Windham, Timberlane, Salem, Pinkerton, Londonderry & Merrimack
Region breakdown: The two best teams in the region are in the play-in games as Londonderry & Merrimack drew the top two seeds.
Windham should get past Timberlane (don’t sleep on Jeff Baumann and the Owls though) while Dave Chase and the Astros should beat Salem for a second time.
EJ Perry’s Jaguars have the easiest road as they’ll have to go through Timberlane and Merrimack. The tougher road is for the Astros who will have to beat arch-rival Londonderry on the road.
Nate Stanton’s Lancers have been playing without leading scorer Jackson Cox (20 ppg.) since February 2nd. Cox though should be back for the playoffs.
How he will look after three weeks on the sidelines is still to be determined but Londonderry played Pinkerton tough twice (losing 48-45 and 53-46) without him. They can certainly beat them with him back.
My dark horse pick: Londonderry
Possible upset special: Londonderry over Pinkerton
My pick to come out of the region: Windham
Teams: Nashua South, Bishop Guertin, Nashua North, Alvirne & Keene
Region breakdown: Intriguing match-ups all over this pod. Our plan is to be at Nashua North next Thursday pending approval.
There is going to be a little something extra behind the BG/North match-up and right now it doesn’t seem as if Nashua South will be able to prevent it from happening.
Alvirne is the wild card in the region.
You could tell me they win the region and I wouldn't be shocked. I also wouldn’t be shocked if they lose to Keene in the first-round. Kevin Ritter’s Blackbirds are going to press you for 32 minutes and the Broncos have struggled at times against pressure from both Windham & Nashua North.
Bishop Guertin has the highest ceiling of any team but they will have to go to North to beat the Titans, and that’s as it should be. Steve Lane’s team, led by Curtis Harris-Lopez & Sam McElliott, earned that top seed.
My dark horse pick: Alvirne
Possible upset special: Keene over Alvirne
My pick to come out of the region: Nashua North
Teams: Coe-Brown, Pembroke Academy, Bishop Brady, Oyster River & Sanborn.
Region breakdown: Sanborn’s ‘Wait…is that score right?’ 16-point win over Pelham on Monday night boosted the profile of an already competitive region/pod.
Bob Ficker’s team has to be considered the favorites but Pembroke & Oyster River are both capable of pulling upsets and Coe-Brown should not be counted out on their home floor. They’ll host Pembroke in a game we plan to cover next week.
Sanborn is a tough team to play because they really don’t run a set offense. Ficker allows his scorers Dylan Khalil (I know several coaches who are giving him their player of the year vote) and brother Jared, who are scoring 37 points a night, to get out and create.
Whether it’s in the half-court or off of their man to man full court pressure it’s been very effective against a difficult schedule.
Oyster River should get Sanborn for a third time, and it should be noted the two teams split their first two meetings.
My dark horse pick: Oyster River
Possible upset special: Oyster River over Sanborn or Coe-Brown over Pembroke
My pick to come out of the region: Pembroke Academy
Teams: Souhegan, Manchester West, Pelham, Hollis-Brookline & Milford
Region breakdown: Pelham as the 3rd seed is an eye-roller but most importantly they won’t have to go to Manchester West, who they beat twice in a pair of very close games.
The game in this region to watch will be Manchester West at Hollis-Brookline. Cole Etten’s team won a pair of close games with Con Val last week and has home court advantage against both West & Pelham.
The Pelham team I watched last Saturday at Bow isn’t losing to anyone in the division but it only takes one bad performance, and Sanborn proved that to them less than 48 hours after their big win.
My dark horse pick: Manchester West
Possible upset special: Hollis-Brookline over Manchester West
My pick to come out of the region: The Fighting Jake’s of Pelham high school
Teams: John Stark, Lebanon, Hanover, Bow & Con Val
Region breakdown: Con Val at Lebanon and Bow at Hanover are going to be really fun match-ups.
The book on Lebanon is to make them beat you from the outside and not let them get into the paint (they run great offense and from what I saw two weeks ago from Jack Stone, they can knock down shots as well).
Can Con Val control the pace enough to pull the upset on the road?
You’d be wrong to look at Bow’s loss to Pelham and count them out.
At the same time, they were down 41-11 at the half on their home floor and Pembroke’s 12-point loss to Laconia on Tuesday night raises a bit of red flag for the region. (Update: Laconia won the second game at Pembroke 45-44).
The Falcons are going to have to go to Hanover to get to the regional final. I like Matt Lamy & Co. in a close one but we are going to learn more about each of these regions, in all four divisions, when we see match-ups like Bow/Hanover.
My dark horse pick: Hanover
Possible upset special: Con Val over Lebanon (there is no upset in Bow/Hanover)
My pick to come out of the region: Lebanon
Teams: Merrimack Valley, Plymouth, Laconia, Kingswood & Kennett
Region breakdown: Merrimack Valley is the outlier in this region (am I the only person that finds it odd Merrimack Valley, Pembroke and Bishop Brady are all in three separate regions?) having not played any of the other teams in the pod.
The Pride have struggled to string together wins this season but Tim Mucher has proven he knows how to win in the post-season and both Griffin Wheeler & Eli Gove have had all-state seasons.
The Laconia Sachems were the favorite the day the brackets were announced and a pair of wins over Pembroke this week only confirmed it.
DeMarco McKissic and Keaton Beck are a match-up nightmare for teams down low with their strength & athleticism. In the backcourt Kayden Roberts is very capable of beating you from the outside while Logan Dee is the kind of smart/steady guard you win games with.
Steve McDonough’s team also has home court, meaning Merrimack Valley and Kennett or Kingswood will have to win on the road.
Brogan Shannon and Ethan Arnold can go for 40-plus combined so they are the dark horse pick, but the Sachems, who need to get past Merrimack Valley first, are the team to beat and playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.
My dark horse pick: Kingswood
Possible upset special: Merrimack Valley over Laconia
My pick to come out of the region: Laconia
Teams: Winnisquam, Newfound, Gilford, Berlin, White Mountains, Inter-Lakes & Belmont.
Region breakdown: In the World Cup they would call this ‘The Group of death’, as four of the top nine teams in the division reside here in Region 1.
In news that will surprise absolutely no one I will be in Gilford on Wednesday night for their likely match-up with Kevin Dame’s Winnisquam Bears. A Final Four match-up taking place two rounds too early.
The Bears are going to pose a lot of problems for Gilford because they can flat out score and if there is an Achilles heel for Rick Acquilano’s Golden Eagles it’s that they struggle to shoot from the perimeter.
When you’re down seven points with two minutes to go, that weakness surfaces.
On the other side Winnisquam hasn’t played a team as big as Gilford, that’s where two games against Laconia would have benefited them. Phil Nichols is as smart a player as you’ll find and the backcourt of Garret Mango, Jacob Seavey and Anthony Robbins gives the Bears as deep a guard rotation as any team in the division.
On the other side of the bracket we look headed towards a White Mountains at Belmont match-up, in a game where I’d give the home team the nod, it’s that close.
Jackson Ruelke was terrific again on Tuesday night, scoring 33 points against Kingswood (there are kids that put up huge numbers in blowouts and players that put them up in close games, Ruelke is very much the latter).
White Mountains though matches up really well with Jim Cilley’s team, as they’ll be able to put 6’3 Tyler Hicks (a terrific athlete & all-state baseball player) on Ruelke while Belmont has to figure out what to do with Spartans 6’7 center Avery Hazelton.
Two very good head coaches in Cilley & Mike Curtis have a week to figure out how they will attack the other and in-game adjustments will be a key in this one.
My dark horse pick: Belmont
Possible upset special: None, I don’t consider any wins between Winnisquam, Gilford, Belmont & White Mountains a huge upset.
My pick to come out of the region: Gilford
Teams: Newport, Fall Mountain, Kearsarge, Mascoma & Stevens
Region breakdown: I don’t see any way this isn’t coming down to Kearsarge at Mascoma next Saturday night. In fact, ‘The Franchise’ Jennifer Chick-Ruth & I have already made plans to be there. Hopefully with a better view than our cardboard cut outs they have for us in the stands.
This is the weakest region of the four by a lot.
My dark horse pick: Mascoma
Possible upset special: No
My pick to come out of the region: Kearsarge
Teams: Conant, Mascenic Regional, Monadnock, Hillsboro-Deering and Hopkinton.
Region breakdown: Conant and Monadnock, who we covered on Tuesday night, will have played five games against each other when one of them moves on to play Hopkinton next week.
Those are the three best teams in the region and that makes for a lopsided bracket.
Going into their first round game both teams know they can win, it’s going to come down to who executes. Head coaches Jim Hill & Eric Saucier have see all the film and watched it from the best seat in the house. They know what the other team will be doing, and it will come down to who executes.
Waiting for them will be a very good Hopkinton team who has benefited from the fact that they played 10 of their games against Division II teams and Kearsarge, That experience will have Steve Signor’s team battle-tested for a game we hope to cover next Wednesday.
Brandon Kear’s Mascenic Vikings have lost four games in a row but they have all come against good teams (Keene, Conant & Monadnock).
They should move on in their match-up with Hillsboro-Deering and may even host the regional final if Conant or Monadnock beats Hopkinton.
Did I mention Mascenic is 0-3 against Conant and Monadnock but would host the regional final against either team?
My dark horse pick: Conant
Possible upset special: Monadnock or Conant over Hopkinton (this would be classified as a mild upset)
My pick to come out of the region: Monadnock
Region four: St. Thomas, Somersworth, Prospect Mountain, Campbell & Raymond.
Region breakdown: This will be a very competitve pod/region as I could see three different teams winning it.
Raymond has been hit hard by shutdowns, and they have struggled to find a rhythm this season because of it.
This was a year where Jaryd Piecuch takes the Krafton brothers around Division III to see how the Rams stack up but they have been shut down several times and have only one win over a team in the division.
Campbell is the great unknown. They have played a much tougher schedule than any other team in the pod and they’ve began to come together under first-year head coach Justin Dibenedetto.
My dark horse pick: Campbell
Possible upset special: Somersworth over St. Thomas
My pick to come out of the region: Raymond
Teams: Epping, Farmington, Nute, Portsmouth Christian, Newmarket & Pittsfield.
Region breakdown: This is a region that makes sense and once we (likely) get to Portsmouth Christian at Pittsfield (a game we are planning to cover) and Epping at Newmarket things will be pretty interesting.
I wrote last week, and talked about on my podcast with Lance Legere, that we shouldn’t assume Newmarket is going to dust themselves off after playing two games between January 29th and February 20th, and automatically be Newmarket again. While they have been sidelined Pittsfield, Epping and PCA have been competing.
Colby Bost may miss time in the tournament, and that takes one of Jamie Hayes’ best players off the floor.
Newmarket plays winless Somersworth twice this week (update: now formerly winless Somersworth) and then has a bye while they wait for the winner of Epping/Farmington.
I’m still picking Jamie Hayes’ team to win but they have had a tough time this season and they don’t have the reps the other teams in this division have from being out on the floor.
My dark horse pick: Portsmouth Christian
Possible upset special: Pittsfield over PCA
My pick to come out of the region: Newmarket
Teams: Derryfield, Holy Family, Mount Royal, Wilton-Lyndeborough, Hinsdale & Sunapee
Region breakdown: Sunapee hasn’t been as strong without Nick Pollari (out with an injury) but head coach Tim Putchler expects him back as early as this week.
The two names that immediately jump out at you are Sunapee and Holy Family. The newest member of Division IV has had coaches scrambling for film on them for weeks. Sunapee has the athletes to guard brothers Karl & Yann Yonkeau (who score 36 points per game) and you’d expect Putchler to double both anytime they have the ball.
Holy Family will have to get past Derryfield, who they beat twice this season, and then venture through the Carl Anderson Dome in Hinsdale to get there.
Mount Royal has played better of late, beating Concord Christian & Pittsfield in back to back games, but they will have to beat Sunapee on their home floor to advance.
My dark horse pick: Mount Royal
Possible upset special: Hinsdale or Derryfield over Holy Family
My pick to come out of the region: Sunapee
Teams: Lisbon, Franklin, Concord Christian, Woodsville & Lin Wood
Region breakdown: I’m ready to declare Woodsville the biggest favorite of the four regions. I’m not sure I see a team that can stay within 10 points of them, and yes they are the 4-seed…pretty sure I have made my feelings on the random draw very clear so we are moving along.
Concord Christian/Franklin is a fun first-round game. David Bedard has done a very nice job at Franklin and Concord Christian has a go to guy late in games in Isaac Jarvis. Lisbon will slow the pace to a crawl against Woodsville but they just don’t have enough offense to win in the end.
Jamie Walker’s Engineers have played a tough schedule and he does a very good job preparing his teams in the playoffs.
He will have Franklin & Concord Christian well-scouted.
My dark horse pick: Franklin
Possible upset special: Concord Christian or Franklin over Woodsville
My pick to come out of the region: Woodsville
Teams: Littleton, Groveton, Pittsburg-Canaan, Gorham, Colebrook & Profile
Region breakdown: I don’t see anything stopping a Groveton at Littleton final here. If Ryan Call’s Colebrook team had been on the same side of the bracket as Groveton you’d see a great game to get to the Crusaders but Mark Collins’ team should get by Gorham and Profile without much trouble.
Littleton is the team to beat after their win at White Mountains on Saturday. They are not as good as they were offensively a year ago but they are much better defensively and they have the size to match up with any team in the division.
My dark horse pick: Groveton
Possible upset special: Groveton over Littleton
My pick to come out of the region: Littleton