This week we will take a mid-season snapshot look at Divisions I & II. We'll pick the final four teams along with the player & coach of the mid-way point, dark horse teams, and all-state picks.
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Gold Level Coaches/Supporters: John Fisher of Bishop Guertin, Keith Bike of Trinity, Frank Moreno of Bedford, Rob McLaughlin of Salem, Jeff Holmes of Exeter, Matt Fennessy of Dover, Matt Azzaro of Keene, John Mulvey of Portsmouth, Nate Stanton of Londonderry, Leo Gershgorin of Alvirne, Jeff Baumann of Timberlane & Jay McKenna of Winnacunnet
If forced to pick the Final Four teams today: Pinkerton Academy, Trinity, Goffstown, and Portsmouth
Analysis: Astros coach Dave Chase has done an excellent job, and he's giving his players more freedom to create offensively. Looking back at Manchester Central's undefeated 2014 championship team, I remember how David 'Doc' Wheeler told his team, 'If you defend like crazy and rebound, you can run a motion offense, and I'll stay out of the way.'
The Astros have that look about them now, making them a very tough team to beat.
Trinity wears you down, and force you into their pace. A pace they are much better suited for than you are.
Are you 10-players deep? Do you have shooters like Andrew Politi, Devohn Ellis, Quinton Pincoske, and Max Shosa spacing the defense with their ability to knock down shots?
Do you have Tyler Bike running your offense?
You do not.
Keith Bike is content to have you hang around for three quarters and have you worn down by the fourth, making Trinity a very tough team to beat.
For the pre-season #1 Goffstown Grizzlies, sometimes adversity early pays off late. The Grizzlies' Big 3' of Rob Baguidy, Aiden O'Connell & Mason Blondeau have only played three games together this year (coincidentally, they are 3-0 in those games).
In that time, players like Cam Hujsak (season-high 23 against Salem), Peyton Strickland (season-high 18 against Nashua South), and Ryan Strand (season-high 16 against Spaulding) have all stepped up and had their moment. That brings confidence to those 'role players.
It also earns the confidence of their head coach Ryan Cowette and builds confidence in themselves and Baguidy, O'Connell & Blondeau, who now know they have teammates who can step up in a big moment.
The Portsmouth Clippers lack the big man rolling to the basket that Jim Mulvey utilized in pick & rolls when he had centers like Zach Abrams, Alex Tavares, and Patrick & Joey Glynn. Still, they can space you out with their ability to knock down three's, and head coach John Mulvey runs terrific offense.
The Clippers are your puncher's chance team. When the shots are not falling, they can be beaten by a lower-seeded team in a very deep division.
At the same time, they become a nightmare match-up for a team like Pinkerton, whose size will have to leave the paint to contest shots when they are knocking down shots.
Four good teams and four excellent coaches make up the teams we see being there in the end.
The dark horse team: Londonderry
Don't peak just yet because they aren't there yet, but if the Lancers can get the entire band together for the stretch run, they have the players and the coach to make another Final Four run.
Nate Stanton is one of the best coaches in the state. That's been my position for some time, and I can tell you from conversations with Division I coaches that his peers agree with that assessment.
The Lancers have had players like Mike Rosatano, Tyler Miles & Tyler Brown in and out of the lineup. As players return and chemistry becomes established, they will be a tough out next month.
They have size, speed and enough shooters to keep the defense honest. As players continue to emerge, like freshman Mason Paquette who scored 22 points at Portsmouth on Monday night, the Lancers will be the scary lower seed you want on the other side of the bracket.
By the end of the season, look for them to be ready to close out good teams and again be in the mix.
Mid-season player of the year: Rob Baguidy of Goffstown
Comment: He's held that ship together while players come in and out of the lineup.
Runners-up: Anthony Chinn of Pinkerton Academy and Tyler Bike of Trinity
Mid-season coach of the year: Keith Bike of Trinity
Comment: That's a very young team, and there are a lot of shooters who want the ball. Bike has been able to juggle it all to this point.
Runner-up: Ryan Cowette of Goffstown
First Team All-State (mid-season)
Rob Baguidy of Goffstown
Anthony Chinn of Pinkerton Academy
Tyler Bike of Trinity
Jack Tarleton of Merrimack
Brendan Graham of Alvirne
Second Team All-State (mid-season)
Ryan Pacy of Salem
Jackson Marshall of Pinkerton Academy
Jack Radcliffe of Portsmouth
Trevor Labrecque of Nashua North
Andrew Politi of Trinity
Notes for the last week: That was an unfortunate end to the Bishop Guertin/Nashua North game on Monday, where an altercation took place after the horn sounded. That rivalry has become very personal for a lot of people involved……..Matt Fennessy's Dover Green Wave have won four in a row, and they are doing it with balanced scoring and by pushing the tempo. Stephen Gitau was terrific in the win over Merrimack (scoring 23 points), Cam O'Brien is set to have a big second half of the season, and Yoxel Rivera is one of those players who drives you crazy when he's on the other team, but you love having on your side………Windham is struggling to defend. Head coach Cole Etten has always been a defensive-minded coach, one who has no issues beating you 46-41. His return after missing a week will help get a talented team gets back on track….Winnacunnet has lost three in a row, and the next four games may define their season. They'll face Salem and Bedford on the road and host Alvirne & Exeter over the next eight days.
Gold Level Coaches/Supporters: Marty Edwards of Hollis-Brookline, David Smith of Coe-Brown, Rich Otis of Pembroke Academy, John Langlois of Manchester West, Joe Faragher of Kingswood, Mike Larson of Pelham, 'The Big Smooth' Lewis Atkins of Oyster River, Peter Pierce of Souhegan and Jason Starr of Con Val
If forced to pick the Final Four teams today: Pelham, Con Val, Lebanon, and Pembroke Academy.
You came to the wrong division if you were waiting for a big reveal.
Division II had the most established top tier of the four divisions in the pre-season, and that hasn't changed one month (half the season) in.
Now, Souhegan has every right to fire off the 'Umm..can you take a moment and glance at the standings?' messages. They sit at 7-0 with wins over Sanborn (by 32), Bow, Coe-Brown, and Oyster River.
On the surface, that's a final four resume, but they beat a Sanborn team that was missing three of its top six scorers and a Coe-Brown team that was missing three starters.
Let's see how the Sabers do when they go at Con Val, Hanover, and Bishop Brady next week.
Sanborn is another team that deserves final four consideration. Head coach Bob Ficker sends waves of pressure at you, and they have gotten very strong play this season from Jared Khalil (17.2 ppg), Jason Allen (12.2), and Andrew Pugh (11.2).
As for the four teams we are picking to be there in the end;
Pelham has been more impressive over the border than we have seen here. They battled Billerica, Haverhill, and Lowell, going 2-1, and came away a better team before they were shut down for ten days.
I was early on the Jake McGlinchey player of the year bandwagon, and I haven't vacated my seat. The Pythons don't have a lot of size, but they have very good athletes; Zach James is growing into his sniper role, and Mike Larson is one of the best coaches in the division.
The defending champs look like they are going the slow build route. Kieth Matte's team knows it's how you're playing at the end that counts, and they are coming together by the week.
Many big/playoff games come down to who has the ball in their hands at the end of the game. Pelham having McGlinchey and Lebanon having Braeden Falzarano separate them from many other teams.
Pembroke beats you with A) their balance in their starting five. Getting Shondell Hadley back has made a big difference B) the coaching of Rich Otis and C) the fact they have a crunch time closer in Mike Pitman.
When coaches talk to me about Con Val, they say that if you try and take away one player, you will get burned by another.
They are playing very hard for Jason Starr, and their lack of size is not a liability in a year where there is a lack of length across the entire division.
We will be at Pelham on Tuesday night when the Cougars square off with the Pythons.
The dark horse team: Bishop Brady
You need a puncher's chance to qualify for this category, and the Giants have it with Gumee Mbata (16.6) and Ivan Yen (15.6), both capable of big nights that would topple a higher seed on the road.
This is still a very young team, but head coach Gary Lavoie is doing a very good job, and as long as the Giants role players don't get into the habit of watching Mbata and Yen create on their own, they should be a very tough out next month.
Mid-season player of the year: Jake McGlinchey of Pelham
Comment: The difference between McGlinchey & Pitman is thisclose.
Runner-up: Mike Pitman of Pembroke Academy
Mid-season coach of the year: Peter Pierce of Souhegan
Comment: No one saw 7-0 coming, and Coach Pierce deserves a lot of credit for that.
First Team All-State (mid-season)
Jake McGlinchey of Pelham
Mike Pitman of Pembroke Academy
Jared Khalil of Sanborn
Austin Knight of Con Val
Braeden Falazarano of Lebanon
Second Team All-State (mid-season)
Ethan Arnold of Kingswood
Christian Buffum of Con Val
Matt Canavan of Souhegan
Ivan Yen of Bishop Brady
Jackson Stone of Lebanon
Notes for the last week: Kingswood has begun to round into shape; with wins over Bishop Brady & Kennett to go along with a close loss to Sanborn…..Laconia has struggled to score when Kayden Roberts (17.1) is not on the floor. Sophomore center Keaton Beck (14.0) has played well but the Sachems need more scoring help for their all-state guard…..beginning next Tuesday Merrimack Valley will play six games in eight days..Pelham is scheduled to play twelve games in twenty days…..Gumee Mbata was the next name on that list above.
Gold Level Coaches/Supporters: Mike Rathgeber of Inter-Lakes, Jim Hill of Monadnock, Eric Saucier of Conant, Leon Shaw of Somersworth, Mike Curtis of White Mountains, Jim Cilley of Belmont, Rick Acquiilano of Gilford, Kevin Dame of Winnisquam, Jaryd Piecuch of Raymond, Nate Camp of Kearsarge and Ray Curren of Stevens
Notes for the last week: What did we learn from Kearsarge’s 53-43 win last Saturday over White Mountains? Not much. Avery Hazelton didn’t play for the Spartans, and George Jallah didn’t play for the Cougars. Chris Stanchfield and Tyler Hicks played very well, and I came away (we were going to cover the game Friday night..could not when it was moved to Saturday) feeling like both teams remain final four contenders……the ‘Wait…he had how many??’ moment of the season came on the same day when Gilford’s Mitchell Pratt scored 30 points in a 55-48 win at Hopkinton. Gilford played without leading scorer Isaiah Reese (18.7), but I’d say head coach Rick Acquilano was pretty pleased with the job Pratt did, whose previous high scoring game was 6 points, filling in……my thoughts on Stevens & Mascenic after covering both on Tuesday night; I thought Mascenic had open looks against the Cardinals zone but either were too slow to get their shot off or didn’t want to take it. They struggle to score, head coach Brandon Kear wants to see more toughness from them, and they might need to become a team that pressures you for 32-minutes to create scoring opportunities. Do they have the depth for that? That’s the question….Stevens is very physical and unselfish. They played without their point guard Hunter Larocque, and it showed (Kayden LaClair is better off the ball), but I was impressed with the toughness and leadership of Dylan Chambers. If I’m head coach Ray Curren, I focus on a top-8 seed and a home playoff game. That gym plus the drive will make them a very tough out……I tweeted this on Saturday night, but Newfound losing 48-44 to Hopkinton was more impressive than any game they have won in the last three years….Stevens might be my favorite gym in Division III; other candidates are; Hopkinton (I love the catbird seat we call games from), Conant (a lot of history in that tiny gymnasium), Kearsarge (that place seems to glow), and White Mountains (love that floor, a ton of space..great gym).
Gold Level Coaches/Supporters: Buddy Trask of Colebrook, Mark Collins of Groveton, Jay Darrah of Pittsfield, Nick Fiset of Epping, Jamie Walker of Woodsville, David Bedard of Franklin & Matt Manning of Lin Wood
Notes for the last week: Concord Christian earned a very good 72-61 win over Portsmouth Christian on Tuesday night behind 23 points from Brode Frink and 19 from Isaac Jarvis. If there will be a Division IV player on either the underclassman or senior teams that will square off with Maine in March, it’ll be Jarvis. Teams will be decided in the next ten days…..very much looking forward to the Colebrook/Groveton weekend on the 22nd (Lance Legere & I will be calling the girls/boys doubleheader). The Dowse brothers Kolten (18.8) and Kaiden (17.8) have been very good for the Mohawks, who face Littleton on Friday night. The surprise for Buddy Trask’s team has been Keenan Hurlbert, who has stepped up as a dependable third scorer…..I was very happy to hear from the Pittsburg-Canaan coaches this week and will be adding their rosters & scoring statistics soon. With the Yellow Jackets on board, we now have scoring stats from 78 of the 88 boy's teams in the state.