January 07. 2018 9:57PM

Roger Brown's The State of Sports: Basketball teams have reason to think big

New Hampshire Union Leader

Manchester Memorial boys' basketball coach Danny Bryson, is seen guiding his team during recent action. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

The holiday season brought many different things to many different people. In terms of NHIAA basketball, it delivered some high expectations to the Manchester Memorial boys’ and girls’ teams.

The Memorial boys dispatched Central, Trinity and Exeter to win the Queen City Invitational on their home court. Meanwhile, across the city, the Memorial girls won the Central Girls’ Basketball Christmas Tournament by beating Trinity, Central and Conant of Jaffrey.

The Memorial girls are 4-0 in Division I and have a lot of the qualities you look for in a team capable of making a lengthy playoff run. The Crusaders are deep — they regularly play 11 or 12 girls in a game — experienced (eight seniors) and have two of the top guards in the state in seniors Haleigh Shea and Melanie Presseau. Shea will likely score the 1,000th point of her high school career later this month, and last month Presseau committed to play college basketball at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

What the Crusaders don’t have is an abundance of height.

“Rebounding and defense are things we talk about every day,” second-year Memorial coach Greg Cotreau said. “We can score, but we have to hold teams down.”

Cotreau was working as an assistant to Manchester West girls coach Mario Pena when he left to take the Memorial job before last season. He guided the Crusaders to a 9-9 record during the 2016 regular season, but they made an early exit from the postseason with a loss to Nashua North in the Division I preliminary round. Memorial lost two seniors from that team, and Cotreau said even back then he felt that his 2017-18 team had the chance to be very good.

“During our exit interviews I gave each girl two or three things to work on,” he explained. “We had good attendance at our offseason workouts. The girls definitely put the work in. We’re definitely trending in the right direction.”

Danny Bryson, who spent seven seasons as West’s varsity head coach, is in his first season with the Memorial boys. It looks like he was handed the keys to the best-looking and fastest car on the lot. From a talent standpoint, the Memorial boys may be the best team in the state. It starts with senior forward Manny Alisandro, who will undoubtedly be in the conversation when it comes time to select the Division I Player of the Year.

The Crusaders (2-1) appear to have all the necessary ingredients to win a state title, but, as last Tuesday’s 50-41 loss to Portsmouth showed, those ingredients still need more mixing.

“You can have all the talent in the world, but you have to put it together with five, 10 guys,” Bryson said. “I think people know what their roles are and you can see they like playing with each other, but it’s still the little things like running plays through and being patient on offense that’s going to help you get to the next level. I’m very comfortable with what we have and the roles guys are assuming and growing into right now.”

If you’ve ever wagered $2 on a horse race you probably know that pace makes the race, and Portsmouth controlled the tempo (slow and slower) throughout its game against Memorial. The good news is the Crusaders probably won’t suffer through another game where they shoot as poorly as they did against the Clippers. Memorial missed 17 of its 19 3-point shots — including 15 in a row — in the loss to Portsmouth after setting a tournament record with 13 3-pointers during a victory over Trinity in the Queen City Invitational.

The other bit of good news is Memorial bounced back from that loss by beating a very good Alvirne team 59-46 on Saturday in Hudson.

“It’s early and there’s a lot of good teams, but there was so much talk and hype about Memorial in the preseason that I think we have a target on our back,” Bryson said. “Then we beat Exeter, the preseason No. 1, to win the Christmas tournament. I think every time we play a team, they’re going to come at us with their best game, so we have to come with our best game.”

The Memorial boys haven’t won a state title since 1982, when the Crusaders beat Nashua (one school then) 69-62 in the Class L championship game. Division I appears to be deep at the top this season. The hurdles Memorial will have to clear include Exeter, Winnacunnet, Portsmouth, Bedford and a surprising Londonderry team that’s off to a 4-0 start.

Not only haven’t the Memorial girls won a state championship, they’ve never reached a state championship game. They’ll probably have to get past either Bishop Guertin or Bedford to get there this year.

The Crusaders will have an idea of just how good they are in early February, when they play at Bedford (Feb. 9) and face BG at home (Feb. 11) in a three-day stretch.

“Our end goal is to get to SNHU (site of the Division I title game), but we understand it’s a process,” Cotreau said. “We’re trying to set small goals. As long as we don’t take any days off in the process, I think we can get there.”