NHIAA Boys' Basketball preview: Wide-open races expected
Picking a favorite to win any of the four divisions in high school boys' basketball this season is, at best, guesswork. But if you want to take a stab, start by eliminating all of last year's champions.
That's right, scratch Merrimack off the list in Division I, toss out Portsmouth from the contenders in Division II. Berlin in Division III? Sorry. Moultonborough in Division IV? Bye-bye.
How do we know? What insight do we have?
All we know is history and recent history shows that champions don't hold their titles for long. One and done has almost been a given for the past five years.
In that time, there has been no repeat winner in Division I, one (Milford) in Division II and none in Division IV. The one exception was the five-year run put together by Conant of Jaffrey in Division III that ended in 2010.
The reasons for the general lack of dynasty vary. Players leave school early for prep school (see Dimitri Floras from Merrimack), some teams are hit hard by graduation (see Portsmouth) and others suffer a devastating injury (see Moultonborough).
Unbalanced schedules skew the seedings and make it difficult for some teams to play their way through the bracket, coaches change and luck isn't on a team's side. The list goes on. Just know there is always some booby trap ready to be sprung, derailing a team's chances of repeating.
Here's a look at each division and the teams trying to be the next in line to reverse the trend of one and done:
Merrimack won the title and had two cornerstone players to build its defense around in senior guard Dimitri Floras and junior forward Eric Gendron, but all that changed when Floras left for prep school.
Don't ever count out the Tomahawks - Gendron is that good - but Trinity, Central of Manchester and Spaulding of Rochester become favorites.
Trinity lost one player to transfer (Ian Sistare), but got a couple coming in to go along with Mabor Gabriel and Carmen Giampetruzzi. The Little Green are waiting to find out if senior Isaiah Joseph gets a waiver from the NHIAA to play. If that happens, Central coach David "Doc" Wheeler thinks he has a team as deep and athletic as he has ever had.
And think about this: Central and Trinity may not even be the best team in the city if Memorial of Manchester comes together under new coach Jack Quirk.
"They have the athletes," Salem coach Rob McLaughlin said. "They have a new coach, so you don't know. If they can buy in, they can be pretty good."
McLaughlin's Blue Devils lost four starters from last year's 14-win team, but senior forward Andrew Ruffin is back and healthy, which could make Salem a darkhorse along with Alvirne of Hudson.
Respect Portsmouth coach Jim Mulvey for not counting out his team's chances of getting back to UNH to defend its title, but the reality is that the Clippers lost all five starters and their top two players off the bench from last year.
"We're starting from scratch," Mulvey said. "It's different."
Pembroke is the clear favorite. Make that the overwhelming favorite. The Spartans have a little pressure on them as they go for their first title since coach Matt Alosa starred for them in 1991. They have something to prove after suffering a disappointing loss to Coe-Brown in last year's quarterfinals as the No. 3 seed and three of the most talented players in the division in Pat Welch, Rene Maher and Matt Persons.
Souhegan of Amherst, Lebanon and Oyster River of Durham should be waiting if the Spartans falter again.
"You win with seniors and that's what those teams have," Mulvey said.
Berlin lost Division III player of the year Curtis Arsenault and a couple of good complements in Jake Drouin and Sam Aldrich, so the Mountaineers will be hard-pressed to repeat.
That leaves the door open for Prospect Mountain of Alton, runner-up twice in the past four years (2009, 2012), and Conant.
The Timberwolves have an imposing front line with Logan Roberts (6-foot-6), Austin Perrin (6-3) and Jay Mousseau (6-3), while the Orioles have one of the top scorers in Devin Springfield, who will try to get them back into the title game after a two-year absence.
Don't sleep on Campbell of Litchfield. It's been nine years since the Cougars made it to the finals. This could be the year they get back with talented guards Max Gouveia and Jesiah Wade.
Drew Swedberg was supposed to be the centerpiece if Moultonborough had any chance of repeating as champion.
Then the senior guard broke his foot in a preseason scrimmage.
"That changes us a lot," Moultonborough coach Matt Swedberg said.
Derryfield, Newmarket and any one of several teams from the North Country are capable of winning it all.
Derryfield lost all-state guard Gus Davis, but the Cougars have almost everyone else back and they added 6-foot-7 Roger Larrivee, a transfer from Bedford. Newmarket has been knocking on the door of a state title for the past five years and this might be the season they break through behind senior guard Christian Hawkins.
Littleton, Lisbon, Groveton, Colebrook and even Gorham could all be factors in the playoffs after they get done beating up each other during the regular season.
"It really helps everyone come playoff time," said Lisbon coach Sam Natti, whose team has one of the toughest schedules in the division.
One team that could make some noise is Epping with brothers Frank and Jimmy Stanley leading the way.