March Madness is finally here.
The MIAA boys and girls basketball tournaments start tomorrow night with a number of preliminary round and play-in games. Check back with us nightly through the state finals at Worcester's DCU Center for scores, updates and analysis on the day's happenings.
To whet your appetite, here is my breakdown and predictions on the 14 boys basketball brackets across the state:
Favorites: Central Catholic (20-1), Acton-Boxborough (19-1), Westford (17-4), Charlestown (16-4), East Boston (17-4), Lawrence (14-5)
Sleepers: Lowell (13-5), Boston Latin (17-5), St. John’s Prep (13-7), Andover (12-8), Lexington (13-7)
The lowdown: While Central Catholic is the overwhelming favorite here in my opinion, this is a bracket full of traps. Assuming the Raiders top the winner of tonight’s play-in between Medford and Peabody, they could face any of a number of troubling teams en route to the final –- Eastie, Charlestown, Andover and Lowell...Plenty of intriguing first-round matchups here, including Charlestown-Andover and Latin-Lexington, but the buzz kill has to be that St. John’s Prep faces Lawrence in a first-round matchup. Both teams were expected to be dangerous in this bracket...A-B should make a deep run with its three-headed monster of Kevin LaFrancis, Jake Pilecki and Joey Flannery, but watch out for Lexington in the bottom half. It’s tall lineup led by Chris Lee and Josh Sharma, and the Minutemen have surprised teams throughout the season (see: December’s win over Catholic Memorial).
Upset special: Lexington over Boston Latin
Hall’s pick: Central Catholic over East Boston, Acton-Boxborough over Westford in semifinals; Central over A-B in finals.
Favorites: North Andover (19-1), Melrose (18-2), Brighton (16-3), New Mission (14-4)
Sleepers: Wakefield (14-6), Reading (14-6), Masconomet (14-6), Chelsea (14-6), Beverly (13-7), Salem (10-10)
The lowdown: Many experts feel like this is North Andover’s bracket to lose, and it’s a fair statement to make. With three legitimate –- and disciplined –- post players who are able to spread the floor, the Scarlet Knights excel at screens and are a tough matchup positions one through five. The return of Derek Collins should take some of the scoring load off Zach Karalis, who might be the best shooter in this field...Melrose is another prohibitive favorite, with super sophomore Jalen Adams leading the charges, but a potential quarterfinal matchup with Reading feels like quite the trap game...A potential quarterfinal between New Mission and Wakefield is also intriguing. Led by Keyon Armstong, Kendall Hamilton and freshman sensation Bruce Brown, Wakefield is among the most athletically gifted in the field.
Upset special: Beverly over Chelsea.
Hall’s pick: North Andover over New Mission, Melrose over Masconomet in semifinals; North Andover over Melrose in finals.
Favorites: Danvers (16-4)
Sleepers: Whittier (18-1), Wayland (15-5), Arlington Catholic (14-6), Pentucket (13-7), Hamilton-Wenham (12-6)
The lowdown: Another bracket where the conception is it’s an overwhelming favorite’s to lose. Danvers comes into the tournament with four losses, but has played some of the most dominant stretches of games this season by any Division 3 team. It all starts with George Merry, who has better-than-advertised mobility and accompanying length to pose a nightly matchup problem underneath...Long-time Watertown coach Steve Harrington is cousins with Danvers head coach John Walsh, and might be the best coach in this bracket, if not the state. Playing against mostly Division 1 and Division 2 teams in its league slate, the defending D3 Eastern Mass champs are always battle-tested, and always save their best basketball for March.
Upset special: Watertown over Newburyport
Hall’s pick: Whittier over Watertown, Danvers over Wayland in semifinals; Danvers over Whittier in finals.
Favorites: Manchester-Essex (18-2), Pope John XXIII (17-3), St. Mary’s (Lynn) (16-4), Winthrop (16-6)
Sleepers: Snowden (9-9)
The lowdown: St. Mary’s has been in the spotlight since coming within a shred of an overtime upset of St. John’s Prep in the first week of the season, and the Spartans have lived up to the building hype for the most part. But defending D4 state champ Winthrop hasn’t disappointed either. The Northeastern South champs are led once again by league MVP Quinton Dale at forward, who is a nightly double-double threat...We pinned Manchester-Essex as one of several D4 favorites last week, but the ultimate of ultimate trap games could be on tape in the quarterfinals. Snowden is one of the most dangerous sleeper teams statewide in Division 4, led by senior guard Paul Maurice. Six of the Cougars’ nine losses were to Charlestown, East Boston and Madison Park.
Upset special: Winthrop over St. Mary’s
Hall’s pick: Manchester-Essex over Winthrop, Pope John XXIII over Lynnfield in semifinals; M-E over Pope John in finals.
Favorites: Brockton (18-2), Catholic Memorial (16-4), BC High (15-5), Franklin (17-3), Weymouth (17-3), Newton North (17-3), Madison Park (16-2)
Sleepers: Needham (15-5), Marshfield (13-5), New Bedford (14-6), Mansfield (14-7)
The lowdown: This might be the most unpredictable field of the entire MIAA tournament. With many favorites, but none of them overwhelming, we could be in for a slew of upsets. Consider Brockton’s quarterfinal opponent will be the winner of No. 9 seed Barnstable and No. 8 seed Catholic Memorial, the latter of which lost to the Boxers earlier this month by one at the buzzer...Needham has exploded over the last two weeks, with a 30-point blowout of Newton North followed by an impressive stonewalling of Stoughton, and they may have the easiest path to the semifinals. Taunton, Natick and the MP Machine are all beatable. That’s just one reason of many why I feel Needham’s late-blooming senior Shy Davis could be the breakout star of this tournament...The toughest section of this bracket is by far the grouping of BC High, Franklin, Weymouth and Mansfield. Whoever comes out of that logjam might have the best path to the finals.
Upset special: New Bedford over North Quincy
Hall’s pick: Brockton over Newton North, BC High over Needham in semifinals; Brockton over BC High in finals.
Favorites: King Philip (17-3), Stoughton (16-4), Falmouth (18-2), Randolph (18-2)
Sleepers: Oliver Ames (12-8), Medfield (14-6), Hopkinton (14-6), Wellesley (12-8), Duxbury (11-9), Whitman-Hanson (11-9)
The lowdown: Headed into the season, the consensus was that this would be King Philip’s bracket to lose. Now it’s either the Warriors’ or Stoughton’s, and it just so happens the Hockomock rivals are on opposite ends of the bracket...Falmouth’s Paul Lundberg has certainly entered himself into Coach of the Year consideration, but the pressure could be on the Clippers’ point guard Andrew McGill to keep the ship sailing, what with injury questions in the frontcourt...Many like OA as a sleeper, due to Nick Bruha’s exceptional offensive game, but watch out for Tri-Valley League representatives Medfield and Hopkinton. Medfield has some talented underclassmen, while Hopkinton is the defending D2 South champ and have reigning league MVP Barrett Hanlon back in the fold...Quincy head coach Dave Perry predicted a Whitman-Hanson upset of KP Saturday morning on 1510 AM The Zone. That, coupled with getting their first-round home game moved 20 miles down the road to Taunton High, has got to get the Warriors fired up.
Upset special: Oliver Ames over Somerset
Hall’s pick: Stoughton over Falmouth, King Philip over Hopkinton in semifinals; King Philip over Stoughton in finals.
Favorites: Wareham (20-0), Cardinal Spellman (17-5), Martha’s Vineyard (18-2), Rockland (18-2)
Sleepers: Norton (15-5), Norwell (18-2), Bishop Feehan (15-5), Bourne (14-6), Medway (10-10)
The lowdown: Spellman senior Joey Glynn is a household name by now, but the breakout star of this tournament might be Wareham’s Darien Fernandez. The 5-foot-7 fire hydrant of a point guard is almost a microcosm of the Vikings on a whole, who are the state’s last remaining unbeaten in spite of a lack of size. Fernandez has played his way into All-State consideration with his tenacious perimeter defense and non-stop motor, and is a perfect fit for coach Kevin Brogioli’s uptempo style...We joke about the difficulties in scouting Martha’s Vineyard, but it’s true; the Vineyarders have the ultimate advantage in that department -– being on an island that is accessible only by ferry for many teams...That said, we look forward to a potential rematch between Vineyard and Bishop Feehan. Last month the Shamrocks ran out to a 17-2 lead over Vineyard before MV stormed back to win.
Upset special: Medway over Norwell
Hall’s pick: Cardinal Spellman over Martha’s Vineyard, Wareham over Norton in semifinals; Spellman over Wareham in finals.
Favorites: Boston Cathedral (13-6), Holbrook (16-2), Westport (19-3), Carver (16-4)
Sleepers: Bishop Connolly (15-5), Cohasset (15-5), Avon (12-8), Blue Hills (10-9), Community Academy (CASH) (3-15)
The lowdown: Written off weeks ago, we have to put Boston Cathedral back among the favorites after getting Kyle Lawyer and Joe Green back in the fold. With both of them back, the Panthers are one of the most dangerous offenses across Division 4. Look out for pint-sized point guard Carlos Bermudez, who is nearly four inches shorter than Wareham’s Darien Fernandez but has just as much heart and motor...Another star in the making might be Holbrook’s Allijah Robinson. The 6-foot-6 sophomore doesn’t get a whole lot of attention playing for a Division 4 school, but he is most definitely on the rise...Carver and Cohasset are two of the most seasoned teams in this bracket, fighting it out in the competitive South Shore League comprised mostly of Division 3 size teams.
Upset special: Boston Cathedral over West Bridgewater.
Hall’s pick: Westport over Avon, Boston Cathedral over Carver in semifinals; Cathedral over Westport in finals.
Favorites: St. John’s (Shrewsbury) (16-4), Holy Name (17-3), St. Peter-Marian (17-3), Wachusett (16-4)
Sleepers: Fitchburg (14-8), Milford (15-5), Marlborough (11-9), Doherty (10-10)
The lowdown: Plenty of contenders here, but St. John’s is the four-time defending champ of this bracket and hasn’t lost since Jan. 10. Bob Foley is the Dean of Massachusetts high school basketball, with well over 800 career wins, and his players are always at their sharpest in March. That said, the Pioneers will have gone over two weeks without game action when they face Milford on March 1...Holy Name won the rubber match with SPM to take the first annual Worcester City Championship last Friday, and are one of the best defensive teams you’ll find outside I-495. We’ve talked a lot about Anthony Hodges’ stifling perimeter defense, but 6-foot-1 Daniel Kegbeh is one of the most explosive rebounders you’ll find around...Fitchburg has sputtered of late, going 5-6 since a 9-2 start, including a five-game losing streak. But like St. John’s, the Red Raiders turn it up in March.
Upset special: Doherty over Shepherd Hill
Hall’s pick: St. John’s over Holy Name, St. Peter-Marian over Wachusett in semifinals; St. John’s over SPM in finals.
Favorites: Quabbin (18-3), Northbridge (17-4), Uxbridge (15-6), Groton-Dunstable (14-7)
Sleepers: Clinton (13-7), Auburn (12-8), St. Bernard’s (11-9)
The lowdown: After starting the year with 15 straight wins, Quabbin sputtered, losing three of four, before turning around and winning the Large division of the Clark Tournament. The Panthers will go as far as Christian Horton takes them. The senior is one of Central Mass.’s leading scorers, and is as athletic as they come...Northbridge won this bracket surprisingly last year, not with star power but with defensive grit. It’s a different story this year, with the Rams pegged as a favorite, but this is typically a well-coached squad...One must always be wary of St. Bernard’s, which historically makes deep runs in this bracket. The Bernardians’ record is filled with tough non-league decisions, including an overtime loss to New Bedford at the start of the season...Same for G-D, another historic power in this field which is led by Will Peregoy, Liam Baberich and Kyle Romich.
Upset special: St. Bernard’s over Bartlett.
Hall’s pick: Quabbin over Groton-Dunstable, St. Bernard’s over Uxbridge in semifinals; Quabbin over St. Bernard’s in final.
Favorites: Whitinsville Christian (13-5)
Sleepers: Sutton (10-9), Quaboag (17-4), Worcester Tech (16-4), Keefe Tech (16-2), Littleton (15-6), Southbridge (10-9), Bromfield (14-6)
The lowdown: Let’s not sugarcoat this thing. Make no mistake, this is Whitinsville Christian’s bracket to lose. People point to the Crusaders’ recent slide, losing four of five after a 12-1 start. But three of those four losses are to Charlestown, Holy Name and Franklin; and those losses are sandwiched around a very nice 71-54 win over D3 South favorite Cardinal Spellman. Plus, Crusaders point guard Colin Richey might be the best overall player in this bracket...The other team to watch out for here? Sutton, which beat WC 50-45 on Valentine’s Day. We’re still trying to figure out what happened there.
Upset special: Hopedale over South Lancaster.
Hall’s pick: Whitinsville Christian over Bromfield, Worcester Tech over Quaboag in semifinals; Whitinsville over Tech in finals.
Favorites: Springfield Central (19-1)
Sleepers: Springfield Putnam (16-4), Springfield Cathedral (11-9), Springfield Commerce (14-6), West Springfield (16-4), Chicopee (14-6), Westfield (12-8)
The lowdown: Quite frankly, this is Springfield Central’s bracket to lose. With the amount of athleticism on both the starting lineup and the bench, the Golden Eagles are the Brockton of the West, able to go 10 deep with size, scoring and some of the state’s most tenacious defense. The last team to come within single-digits of Central was Commerce, which then turned around and lost to Central by 40 in the rematch last week. Adding to the impressive Central resume is the fact that their lone loss is to Connecticut juggernaut Windsor, which is routinely beating teams by 35 points or more...The more we think about it, Central senior guard Tyrell Springer has earned his way into a spot on the Super Team...The best Springfield player not on Central might be Commerce’s Alex Lopez, a 20-per-night scorere with range. The best non-Springfield player in this field? Could be Westfield’s Joe Meade or Northampton’s Jarrod Neumann.
Upset special: Amherst over Chicopee.
Hall’s pick: Springfield Central over West Springfield, Commerce over Putnam in seminfinals; Central over Commerce in finals.
Favorites: South Hadley (11-9), Mahar (17-3)
Sleepers: Belchertown (16-4), Drury (10-8), Taconic (7-13)
The lowdown: We would have penned Sabis as a favorite in this bracket. The Bulldogs are the two-time defending champions in this field, but were knocked out of playoff contention with a Feb. 20 loss to South Hadley. For that reason, we might pin the Tigers as a favorite...Overall, this isn’t an incredibly deep field. Six of the eight qualifying teams in this bracket have seven losses or more. South Hadley is the No. 2 overall seed at nine losses.
Upset special: Greenfield over Belchertown.
Hall’s pick: Mahar over Drury, South Hadley over Greenfield in semifinals; South Hadley over Mahar in finals.
Favorites: St. Joseph Central (15-5), New Leadership (12-8)
Sleepers: Lee (15-5), Frontier (15-5), Lenox (13-7), Smith Academy (16-4), Renaissance (17-3)
The lowdown: Pittsfield area power St. Joe’s has an impressive resume. The Crusaders had a strong start to the season, losing to Holy Name by five in the Catholic School Classic at Assumption College. The Crusaders press well, and junior guard Taverick Roberson might be the most talented player in this field...The thorn in St. Joe’s side? New Leadership, which beat St. Joe’s earlier this year by the hair, 79-78. The Wildcats are led by junior guard Joe Crapps, and explosive scorer who is averaging nearly 20 points per game. Not to be forgotten, New Leadership was dominated by Wareham in the D3 state final two years ago. How fitting is it that the two could potentially meet again for a state final rematch down the line?
Upset special: Lenox over Smith Voke.
Hall’s pick: St. Joseph Central over Renaissance, New Leadership over Lee in semifinals; St. Joe’s over New Leadership in finals.
Div. 1 – Central Catholic over Brockton
Div. 2 – North Andover over King Philip
Div. 3 – Danvers over Cardinal Spellman
Div. 1 – Springfield Central over St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Div. 2 – Quabbin over South Hadley
Div. 3 – Whitinsville Christian over St. Joseph Central
Div. 1 – Springfield Central over Central Catholic
Div. 2 – North Andover over Quabbin
Div. 3 – Danvers over Whitinsville Christian
Div. 4 – Boston Cathedral over Manchester-Essex