Weather isn't the only turbulence in Division IBy JOE DUBAL
March 07. 2018 9:47PM
WITH Mother Nature getting in a parting shot to winter on Wednesday, NHIAA boys’ hoops fans were allowed an extra day of calm before another storm of playoff basketball.
The Division I boys’ tournament, which saw its entire preliminary slate get pushed to today due to weather, is not expected to go smoothly. By that, I mean seeding has no bearing on this tournament and upsets will happen.
The tournament’s top three seeds — Portsmouth, Exeter and Bedford — are lucky enough to have earned a reprieve from the first round, which could be a blessing or a curse for the three clubs. The opening-round bye is good in a sense that all three teams will not have to endure the treachery of first round games in a year where a double-digit seed could win a title given the league’s parity. The downside is sitting and stewing a few extra days while the next opponent comes in with momentum and energy from a first-round triumph.
Again, most years don’t bring this type of elevated awareness and anxiety. While no one would admit as much, everyone knew defending champion Portsmouth was more likely than not to complete a perfect season with a championship because of their regular-season dominance a year ago. This season, however, has played out without a club standing out in the same way.
“It’s cliche when we say anyone can win each year, but this year it really is true,” Londonderry coach Nate Stanton said. “It could be any given team. We’ve got Dover here in the first round. They gave me my worst coaching loss ever a couple weeks back, but we went 3-0 to finish up against some pretty good teams. … You really have to show up any given night.”
Besides Portsmouth (16-2), every team in the tournament has at least four losses. No team has been immune to the upset bug as the majority of the field took at least one loss to a non-playoff team. Stanton identified one reason for parity might be teams simply worrying about everything they can’t control.
“When the skill level and teams are evenly structured, the key is to focus on what your team does well,” said Stanton, alluding to teams playing out of character and focusing more on how to counter a given opponent’s style. “I know for us, I’m not really changing anything. We just have to hone in on what we’re doing well as a team and perfect it going into this run.”
The sixth-seeded Lancers will certainly need to have a revised effort against the 11th-seeded Green Wave, who served Londonderry an 81-45 shelling on Feb. 20. That was Londonderry’s first game without point guard Cole Britting, who was lost for the season in the days prior due to a knee injury. Jack Anderson, Ethan May and Cole Keegan have shared facilitation duties within the Lancers’ offense, but the trio has upped the ante defensively as well, which is where Londonderry generates much of its offense.
The teams that might have the easiest go tonight may be Manchester Memorial and Manchester Central, who each routed their playoff opponents during the regular season. No. 4 Memorial downed No. 13 Nashua South by 32 points and No. 5 Central smacked No. 12 Salem by 20 just last week. Hindering either Manchester club is their affinity for spurts of undisciplined or over-aggressive play, which fortunately hasn’t come to a head for either team of late.
Memorial’s senior-laden club, headed by Manny Alisandro, Jake Santiago and Mike Roumraj, isn’t expected to take anything for granted while hopefully making a final impression with its veteran core. On the other side of town, Central is young and has gone largely underestimated all season. With game-changing play from Kyler Bosse and Antoine Revere among others, the Little Green might become the tournament darling.
“The team that stands out the most right now is Central,” Stanton said. “Just seeing what (head coach) Dave Keefe has done with them and how they went to Winnacunnet (on the last day of the season) and just dominated. That’s a scary team to play when they’re coming in peaking high like this.”
The remaining preliminary-round matchups carry compelling storylines. No. 8 Winnacunnet and No. 9 Spaulding are both teams that could easily get to Durham given long stretches of success during the season, albeit at different points in the schedule. Their meeting will hinge on whether the Warriors can find a suitable matchup for talented Red Raiders forward Arie Breakfield or if they can start the 3-point barrage early with Zach Waterhouse and company.
Seventh-seeded Alvirne will have its hands full with 10th-seeded Merrimack in its prelim. Tomahawks coach Tim Goodridge will undoubtedly have a strong defensive plan concocted for Broncos leading scorer Max Bonney-Liles, which means Alvirne will need multiple sources of offense and a great deal of grit to maneuver Merrimack’s grinding style. On the other side, Ian Cummings will be targeted within Merrimack’s offense, but the senior has shown he thrives with the attention, leaving the Tomahawks’ hopes in capable hands.
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THE RELOCATION of the Division III boys’ semifinals to Exeter High School tonight is definitely something to consider when it comes to added advantage or disadvantage for participants.
Berlin, which plays Somersworth, and Monadnock of Swanzey, which gets Campbell of Litchfield, will each add at least 30 minutes to their long treks south with the venue being changed from SNHU to Exeter. Campbell is disadvantaged minimally by extra travel while Somersworth benefits from the switch.
As far as the games go, Somersworth might be the closest thing to a favorite you will find, but Berlin is the last team the Hilltoppers want to see. The clubs split their season series with Berlin taking the last matchup 53-49 on Feb. 2. That loss was just one of two this season for Somersworth, which downed the Mountaineers by six points in their early-season tilt.
A victory for either team will depend on getting the usual production they see from their respective scoring trios. The scoring averages for Bryton Early, Evan Gray and Tyler Clark add up to 46 points for the Hilltoppers, with each in averaging double figures. Comparatively, the Mountaineers get 41 points out of the averages for Seth Balderrama, Evan Arsenault and Joey Fodor. If either team can suppress the contributions of one or more players in the opposing trio, it will likely be the difference.
Monadnock smashed Campbell by 28 on Feb. 16, but that’s not expected to carry a ton of weight when they tangle today. The two teams differ offensively as far as who is doing the scoring.
Joe Minson is far and away the Huskies’ most lethal scorer and his efforts will undoubtedly decide the team’s fate. No disrespect to what Monadnock does, but Campbell is far from a one-man show, which might show better in a playoff setting. Cougars coach Sudi Lett has five players averaging between nine and 12 points a game, meaning confidence is high when anyone puts up a shot. Joaquin Heller and Jake Scafidi are the likely candidates to rise to the occasion for Campbell in this one.
High School Basketball appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader during the season. To reach Joe Duball, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org