NHIAA Boys' Basketball Preview: Top dogs still have lots of bite
That's the situation in Divisions I, II and III, where Trinity of Manchester (Division I), Pembroke Academy (Division II) and Conant of Jaffrey (Division III) all appear to have the necessary pieces to win a second championship in as many years.
Plenty can change between now and tournament time, but these are the teams that will likely battle to be No. 1 in each division during the coming months:
A Trinity-Manchester Central parlay might be a wise investment, since Division I looks like a two-team race between the Pioneers and the Little Green.
Trinity isn't short on talent or experience. The Pioneers have two of the top players in the division in senior forward Carmen Giampetruzzi and junior forward Wenyen Gabriel. Gabriel is almost fully recovered from a fractured tibia.
"We have a nice corps coming back," Trinity coach Dave Keefe (Patrick's father) said. "They can all get up and down the floor, but Central is the most talented and deepest team in the state."
Bedford, Bishop Guertin of Nashua, Exeter, Londonderry, Manchester Memorial, Merrimack and Winnacunnet of Hampton are among the teams that could finish in the top eight.
The Division II championship looks like it's Pembroke's to lose. At least that's how many opposing coaches see it.
The Spartans went unbeaten last season and return one of the state's top players in senior guard Pat Welch, who averaged 22.8 points per game as a junior. Other returnees include senior forward Kafani Williams, 6-foot-5 forward Dominic Timbas and 6-foot-4 forward Cameron Taylor. Pembroke also added three transfers who are all at least 6-foot-7, two of whom are waiting to hear about their eligibility.
Lebanon, Pelham, Plymouth and Portsmouth are among the teams in the next tier below Pembroke.
Conant won the program's 10th title — and sixth in the last eight years — last season, and the Orioles will have an excellent chance to collect title No. 11 this winter.
Newport is another team to keep an eye on this season. The Tigers won a program-record 21 games last season and return shooting guard Andrew Houde, who averaged 22.2 points per game last season.
Derryfield has reached the Class S/Division IV semifinals in each of the last four years, and advanced to the championship game twice during that span. The Cougars lost to Lisbon in both of those championship-game appearances.
Epping and Sunapee are among those good teams. The Blue Devils have a new coach in Sean Young, but also have one of the top players in the division in senior guard Jimmy Stanley. Sunapee returned four starters from a team that was seeded No. 10 in last year's tournament and lost to Epping in the first round.