NHIAA Boys' Basketball Preview: Top dogs still have lots of bite
You don't have to look hard to find the NHIAA boys' basketball favorites in each division this season. In most cases, the school that won it all last March is the team to beat in 2013-14 as well.
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.
With Lisbon, last season's Division IV champion, in rebuilding mode, the Derryfield School of Manchester looks like the favorite in Division IV. Derryfield lost to Lisbon in last year's title game.
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.
There's also experience in the backcourt with seniors Patrick Keefe, Ryan Otis and Brad Rhoades. The Pioneers also added junior guard Luke Testa, a transfer from Pinkerton Academy in Derry.
"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."
Central returns four starters from a team that went 16-4 last season. The returnees include senior Dawson Dickson, a three-year starter at point guard; and junior guard Brett Hanson, who could be one of the top scorers in the state.
The Little Green also added 6-foot-4 senior forward John Martin, a transfer who lived in Florida last year. Central coach Doc Wheeler said Martin has a chance to be one of the better players in the league.
"We didn't finish the way we wanted to last year," Wheeler said. "We expect to be better than we were last year."
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.
"I don't know why they wouldn't be eligible," Pembroke coach Matt Alosa said. "They'll make us deeper, make us a better team."
Lebanon, Pelham, Plymouth and Portsmouth are among the teams in the next tier below Pembroke.
"It seems like the target is always on our back," Alosa said. "It's always a big game when you play 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.
Conant will rely on guards Robert O'Brien and Kyle Carland, and forward Eli Hodgson. All three were starters on the team that beat Campbell of Litchfield in last season's Division III championship game. NIck Panagiotes, the first player off the Conant bench last season, is also back.
"If we want to reach our goals this year we are going to have to commit to defense and rebounding," Conant coach Eric Saucier said. "We are quick and fast, but after Eli are not big."
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.
"I think the top four teams in Division III this year will be Berlin, Conant, Newport and Hopkinton," Saucier said. "Somersworth and Campbell are always good and should be right in the mix."
Derryfield returns six players, including four starters, from last season's runner-up team. The returning starters are 6-foot-7 center Roger Larrivee (9.5 ppg), guard/forward Bennett Doherty (8.1 ppg), shooting guard Tyler Zorn (9.6 ppg) and 6-foot-4 forward Max Anderson (9.7 ppg). All four are seniors.
"I think we have the potential to be pretty good," Derryfield coach Rob Bradley said. "You still have to play the games and get it done."
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.
"You have to play the season out and you have to stay healthy," Bradley said. "There are a lot of good teams out there."
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.
"Derryfield is clearly the favorite," Newmarket coach Jamie Hayes said. "They return a ton of size and experience. The next group is Colebrook, Littleton, Sunapee and Epping.