Jim Fennell's High School Hoopla -- The picks: BG girls, South boys
When 14th-seeded Memorial of Manchester beat No. 3 Pinkerton Academy of Derry in the first round of the Division I girls' basketball tournament, the message should have been clear that this is a division with not many teams at the head of the pack.
Actually, there's only one team.
This tournament is for Bishop Guertin of Nashua to win or lose, plain and simple. The only way the top-seeded Cardinals (18-1) don't come away with their second straight title is if they beat themselves.
If you want to give one team a puncher's chance, take Bedford. The second-seeded Bulldogs (17-2) beat BG in the championship game of the Nashua North Holiday Classic. At the time, BG coach Scott Hazleton said Bedford was the best team in the state and a lot better than his team.
Call it a little bit of gamesmanship when you consider the Cardinals had beaten the Bulldogs a couple of weeks earlier during the regular season.
The Cardinals were in a little funk to start the season. Bedford beat them and gave them all they could handle in a 51-42 loss and, right after that game, the Cardinals did lose to a Dover team that went 7-11 during the regular season and lost by 40 points to Winnacunnet in the first round of the tournament.
That's a long time ago.
Again, this tournament is about BG beating itself.
If the Cardinals play the way they did after the first of the year, giving up an average of 36.3 points and winning by an average of 31.6 points, they won't be challenged.
Bedford is the only team that has a chance, but the Bulldogs are young and in their first season in Division I. This might be their division to rule for the next three or four years with all the depth of young talent they have, but not this year.
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ON THE OTHER HAND: The Division I boys' tournament is wide open. Don't even bother trying to pick a favorite, because there really isn't one.
Trinity of Manchester may be a popular pick after it came back to beat city rival Central on the Little Green's home court three days ago, but we're not buying.
The Pioneers are certainly good enough to win it all - and we love the way their frontcourt of Mabor Gabriel and Carmen Giampetruzzi is playing right now - but there are five, maybe six other teams that can get hot and win four straight games.
Central has a star player in Troy Pelletier and a defense that can shut any team down. If the supporting cast around Pelletier can make a few shots, the Little Green will be at UNH for the final two rounds.
If Memorial doesn't implode, then make it three Manchester teams that could be in Durham depending on how the teams are seeded. Anyone who saw the Crusaders (without starting point guard Oumaru Kante) dismantle defending champion Merrimack a couple of weeks ago would have sworn they were the best team in the state.
Spaulding of Rochester has Final Four experience from a year ago and its own matchup problem in Dominic Paradis. Merrimack may have the best player in the state in junior Eric Gendron and you just can't rule out a Tim Goodridge-coached team.
Bishop Guertin, with center Jeff Lunn and the return of guard C.J.Boykin, should not be overlooked, but if you absolutely had to pick one team to pick to win it all, Nashua South is the choice here.
The Panthers have not been consistent against the top teams in the division (great win at Central, but losses to Spaulding and Trinity) and lost to a Nashua North team that won't even make the playoffs. Sure, it's a rivalry game, but that's a game you have to win.
But there is still a lot to like about the Panthers. They have solid inside players to match up against teams with good frontcourts, an essential role player in Trevor Knight and their own player who has to be considered for player of the year, point guard Tim Preston.
So there you go, Nashua South is our pick.
Just don't make us bet on it.
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FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS-BASKETBALL VERSION: Spaulding at Memorial. This game could decide which teams gets two home games in the upcoming Division I tournament and which will have to go on the road in the second round. If Memorial beats Spaulding and South beats Pinkerton, Memorial, South and Spaulding would end up tied for the third and fourth spots in the standings. If Spaulding and South win, Spaulding would lock up the third seed and South would leapfrog Memorial into fourth. The top four seeds are at home during the first two rounds of the tournament.