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Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Handicapping the MIAA boys hoop landscape

By Brendan Hall

Seedings for the MIAA boys and girls' basketball tournament will be unveiled on Friday, and starting on Monday we'll have you covered nightly from the first tip-off though the state finals in mid-March at the DCU Center in Worcester. On Monday, we'll have a full breakdown of each bracket, with predictions, as well as my annual column highlighting the state's top players poised to burst onto the scene with strong playoff performances.

To whet your appetite, here's who I've penned as the bona fide favorites in boys Divisions 1 through 4, and why.

NOTE: Records are through Tuesday night.

DIVISION 1

Springfield Central
Record: 19-1
District: West
Players to watch: Tyrell Springer, Sr. G/F; Kamari Robinson, Jr. F; Jevaughn McMilian, Sr. F; Lee Turner, Sr. G; Chris Prophet, Sr. G; Trevor Bacon, Sr. F; Cornelius Tyson, Jr. G.
The lowdown: Some are calling this Springfield’s best chance at a state title since Commerce beat a Jeff Adrien-led Brookline squad for the 2004 D1 title. The record speaks for itself, and the Golden Eagles appear to be hitting their peak at just the right time –- witness Monday’s 40-point thrashing of Commerce. Their lone blemish is a six-point loss at last month's Hoophall Classic to a Windsor (Conn.) squad that is ranked No. 2 in the Nutmeg State, and whose average margin of victory is 34.4 points per game. Springer has emerged as one of the state’s elite swingmen, while the 6-foot-5 Robinson has had a breakout year manning the boards. Between Robinson, the 6-foot-6 Bacon, and 6-foot-7 shot swatter Jevaughn McMilian, the Eagles can truly go big like few other teams across Division 1.

Central Catholic
Record: 20-1
District: North
Players to watch: Tyler Nelson, Soph. G; Joel Berroa, Jr. F; Doug Gemmell, Jr. F; Nick Cambio, Soph. F; Lucas Hammel, Jr. G; Shawn McCoy, Sr. F; Henry Rodriguez, Sr. G.
The lowdown: What makes Central so dangerous is not its starting five, which can hang with anyone, but the amount of depth it brings to the table. The Raiders can legitimately go big with three true bigs, or small with a slew of guards and slashers. And they can all shoot the ball from deep. Also consider that the Raiders have done most of their damage without the state’s premier on-ball defender, Luis Puello. The senior guard took a month to get back to full strength after spraining his ankle in late December, and re-injured it two weeks ago; his timetable for recovery is unknown at this time.

Brockton
Record: 16-2
District: South
Players to watch: Jaylen Blakely, Jr. G; Jahleel Moise, Sr. F; Sayvonn Houston, Sr. C; Jamal Reuben, Sr. F; Will Baker, Sr. G; Jarrod Shelby, Sr. F
The lowdown: Depending on which team shows up, this is a team capable of running off points in a hurry (see: comeback wins over Catholic Memorial and New Bedford) or running themselves off the floor (see: Sunday's surprising 18-point loss to Charlestown). When everything is clicking, the Boxers are one of the state's deepest and most dangerous lineups, with all the requisite parts to work with -- an even-keeled distributor (Blakely), shooters (Reuben, Baker), shot-swatting slashers (Moise, Shelby), and a big-bodied true center that keeps the cycle going (Houston). The key is undoubtedly Houston, a nightly double-double machine with exceptional lower-body strength to fight through double-teams. When he is doing his part, the Brockton offense runs cleaner and crisper.

Charlestown
Record: 16-4
District: North
Players to watch: Tyrese Hoxter, Jr. G; Rony Fernandez, Sr. G; Omar Orriols, Sr. F; Tyrik Jackson, Sr. F; Iser Barnes, Sr. G; Taris Wilson, Soph. G
The lowdown: All nit-picks of Brockton aside, there is a reason the Townies didn’t qualify for City Championships –- they are the biggest enigma in Division 1 heading to the state tournament. This is one of the state’s most skilled starting lineups, but also one that could go all the way to the Garden floor or get knocked out in the first round. Hoxter, a lanky slasher with three-point range, is going to get his. Ditto for Jackson, a true post who can fill the lane. The X-factor might be how Fernandez and Orriols respond to pressure.

Catholic Memorial
Record: 16-3
District: South
Players to watch: Matt Droney, Sr. F; Dan Powers, Sr. F; Chris Siggers, Jr. G; Aahmane Santos, Soph. G, Armani Reeves, Sr. F; Gerard Adams, Soph. C
The lowdown: When the Catholic Conference champion Knights are running hitting their shots, few teams have been able to slow them down. Droney and Powers are known for their shooting, but can score in multiple ways going to the hoop. One of the more underrated components may lie in Reeves, an Ohio State football commit who often comes off the bench and provides stiff perimeter defense. And if they can get anything out of Adams –- a raw 6-foot-8, 300-pound lane-filler with limited mobility –- it would be a bonus.

BC High
Record: 14-5
District: South
Players to watch: Jameilen Jones, Jr. G; Charles Collins, Jr. G; Justin Roberts, Sr. F; Oderah Obukwelu, Sr. F
The lowdown: Few active coaches have had as much tournament success as Eagles coach Bill Loughnane, who won three D1 state titles at South Boston (1992, 1995-96) before coming down the road to Dorchester and leading the Eagles to their first D1 title in 2007. That’s just one of the main reasons we like BC’s chances in the postseason. The other main one is physicality -– Roberts and Obukwelu, two football stars, do the dirty work underneath, opening up the perimeter for Jones, one of the state’s elite scorers.

Others to watch: Acton-Boxborough (20-1), Andover (11-7), Barnstable (14-4), Boston Latin (16-5), East Boston (14-4), Franklin (16-4), Holy Name (17-3), Lawrence (13-5), Madison Park (15-2), Mansfield (12-7), Needham (15-5), Newton North (17-3), North Quincy (17-3), Springfield Cathedral (10-9), Springfield Commerce (14-5), St. John’s (Shrewsbury) (16-5), St. John’s Prep (11-7), St. Peter-Marian (17-4), West Springfield (16-3), Westford (17-4), Weymouth (17-3)

DIVISION 2

North Andover
Record: 19-1
District: North
Players to watch: Zach Karalis, Sr. G; Isaiah Nelsen, Jr. F; Brendan Miller, Soph. G; Derek Collins, Jr. G; Mike Moroney, Sr. F; John Miller, Sr. F
The lowdown: Everybody’s favorite little sleeper is suddenly the team to beat in the North district, after slowly building steam all of January and February. It starts with the WPI-bound Karalis, one of the district's smoothest shooters, and it continues down low where Nelsen and Moroney doing the dirty work. Man-to-man defenses beware: this is as surgical an offense as you'll find around, excelling at using screens to clear runways to the basket and create confusion. Defensively, the Knights' help defense has been very efficient, hedging off screens with the best of them.

King Philip
Record: 17-3
District: South
Players to watch: Jake Layman, Sr. F; John Mullane, Sr. F; Christian Fair, Sr. G; Mike Schmidt, Sr. G; Sam McDonald, Jr. F; Dever Carrison, Jr. F
The lowdown: Layman, a 6-foot-8 Maryland signee who is ranked the No. 61 overall senior by ESPNU, is more than capable of singularly taking a game over -- he's proven as much with his gaudy stats this year. But like the Pat Connaughton-led St. John's Prep squad last year, the Warriors' superstar needs consistency from the supporting cast each night for this team to survive. Perhaps it's encouraging, then, that the Warriors were able to stave off Oliver Ames last weekend without Layman in the lineup, getting a big night out of Mullane. Losing promising junior Tykei Hallman doesn't help matters, however.

Stoughton
Record: 16-4
District: South
Players to watch: Aaron Calixte, Jr. G; Marcus Middleton, Jr. G; Joe Bunce-Grenon, Jr. G; Steffan Jackson, Sr. F; Antonio Ferreira, Sr. F
The lowdown: The Black Knights aren't exactly backpedaling into the tournament, but they're not exactly in fifth gear either after losing two straight to Franklin and Needham, before holding off a 2-18 Walpole team to wrap up their regular season schedule. Calixte is arguably the state's most gifted -- and creative -- playmaker, capable of going off for 30 points on any given night, while Middleton has established himself as one of the state's premier perimeter defenders. This team fancies and uptempo style to combat its lack of size, but when teams go inside they are often met by the high-energy shot swatter Ferreira.

Brighton
Record: 15-3
District: North
Players to watch: Malik James, Soph. G; Theo Oribhabor, Jr. G; Prince Onaegbu, Jr. F; Daivon Edwards, Jr. G; Jerard Mayes, Sr. F.
The lowdown: The Bengals have stumbled since losing star sophomore Nick Simpson for the year due to academics, but we’ll have a much clearer idea of what the team is like without Simpson following this week's City Championships. Here's what we do know: Brighton can shoot with the best of them, and when Edwards' shot is falling he can take a load of pressure off of the distributor James. When pressing, the Bengals have shades of head coach Hugh Coleman's mentor, legendary Charlestown coach Jack O'Brien, scribbled all over them. With an athletic lineup, the Bengals take proper angles in the press and prefer to be the aggressor at all times.

New Mission
Record: 14-4
District: North
Players to watch: Isshiah Coleman, Jr. F, Nate Anderson, Jr. F; Leroy Hamilton, Sr. G/F; Percio Gomez, Jr. G/F; DaShawn Fennell, Jr. G/F; Shaquan Murray, Soph. G;
The lowdown: It's tough to get a read on the Titans, who have at once looked both brilliant and uninspiring thoughout the 2011-12 season. On one breath, they look deflated in a double-digit loss to Brighton, getting swept by a Boston City League team for the first time under head coach Cory McCarthy. In the next breath, they turn around a few days later and grind out a hard-fought win over one of Rhode Island's top teams, hot-shooting La Salle Academy. Mission won back-to-back state titles in 2010-11 with an overbearing physical presence, particularly around the rim. For them to make a three-peat, big men Coleman and Anderson will have to stay out of foul trouble and strike fear in the heart of the opposition early. This is a young, green squad saddled with big expectations on the heels of an unprecedented two-year run; but the Titans always turn it on come playoff time.

Falmouth
Record: 18-1
District: South
Players to watch: Andrew McGill, Jr. G; Damien Reid, Sr. G; Kyle Kaspryzk, Sr. F; Nate Steele, Sr. F
The lowdown: One of the most unsung coach jobs this year has to be that of Lundberg, who has this team riding a 16-game win streak after some question marks clouded them with the graduation of Nelson Baptiste and John Lavin. Two years ago the Clippers torched Salem on the Garden floor for the D2 EMass title, and running the point was little-known freshman McGill. He may still look like a freshman two years later, but his savvy on the court has kept the win streak alive. And yet question marks still surround Falmouth: Kasprzyk, one of the Clippers' few true posts, went down with an ankle injury in a 54-53 win over Barnstable.

Others to watch: Beverly (13-5), Groton-Dunstable (14-6), Hopkinton (15-5), Lynn Classical (11-9), Masconomet (12-5), Medfield (14-6), Melrose (16-2), Northbridge (16-4), Oliver Ames (12-8), Quabbin (17-3), Randolph (16-2), Reading (15-5), Salem (11-8), South Hadley (11-8), St. Bernard’s (11-10), Wakefield (14-6)

DIVISION 3

Whitinsville Christian
Record: 13-5
District: Central
Players to watch: Colin Richey, Jr. G; Tyler VandenAkker, Sr. F; Jesse Dykstra, Sr. F; Grant Brown, Jr. G/F; Antonio Estrella, Jr. F
The lowdown: This isn't the same Crusaders team of 2011, which was considered one of the state's tallest lineups, led by 6-foot-9 All-Stater Hans Miersma. No, this is quite a departure from typical WC teams, but it's still a well-oiled machine. Richey grabs most of the headlines for his shooting ability and high game IQ, but it's the surgery of its zone offense that makes WC a tough out. Never flashy, always making the extra pass for a higher-percentage look, the Crusaders will frustrate any team looking to play uptempo basketball. The Crusaders have sputtered lately, losing four of their last five after starting off 12-1; but factoring in the dearth of upper-echelon Division 3 squads in the Central and West brackets, they have to be a favorite to return to the DCU Center floor next month.

Cardinal Spellman
Record: 17-5
District: South
Players to watch: Joey Glynn, Sr. F; Rickey Donovan, Sr. F; Joey Crane, Soph. G; Paul Preziosi, Jr. G; Mike Downing, Sr. G.
The lowdown: With the Bentley-bound Glynn back in the fold, the defending South Sectional champs were considered a preseason favorite in D3. After sputtering out to a 4-3 start, the Cards are rolling, having won 10 of 11 before dropping a 71-54 decision to Whitinsville Christian on Monday. Like several other contenders with star power, the Cards can rely on Glynn filling the stat sheet every game, facilitating for players like Donovan and Crane to put in their buckets. With Wareham assured the No. 1 seed in the South, some are predicting a rematch between the Spellman and the Vikings; Wareham won their last meeting on Jan. 8, 80-72.

Wareham
Record: 20-0
District: South
Players to watch: Darien Fernandez, Jr. G; Jeff Houde, Sr. F; Tyler Gomes, Sr. F; Aaron Baptiste, Sr. F
The lowdown: Not a ton of size with the Vikings, but that hasn't stopped them from running off another unblemished run through the South Coast Conference and wrapping up their sixth straight league title. Two years ago the Vikings went run-and-gun en route to their first state title since 1977, and that style has paid dividends again this season. It all starts with Fernandez, a 5-foot-7 waterbug with a running back's build who can score from anywhere on the floor, and is fearless going to the hoop. Like some other running teams on this list, staying out of foul trouble will be paramount.

Danvers
Record: 17-3
District: North
Players to watch: George Merry, Sr. C; Nick McKenna, Jr. G; Nick Bates, Jr. F; Eric Martin, Jr. G; Jon Amico, Sr. G.
The lowdown: The Falcons were a preseason favorite in the North, and have done little to prove otherwise. Keying Danvers has been a stout defense allowing 44 points per game and led i the middle by Merry, who at 6-foot-7 is more than just a big body to fill the lane. Merry gets end to end quickly, and can step out on the perimeter and facilitate for the team's best perimeter players. When drawing double teams, it's essentially time to pick your poison.

Martha’s Vineyard
Record: 18-2
District: South
Players to watch: Peter Keaney, Sr. F; Jack Roberts, Jr. G; Izak Browne, Sr. G; Del Araujo, Sr. F; Charlie Everett, Sr. F.
The lowdown: Maybe it’s because being on an island makes them difficult to scout to begin with, but the Islanders always seem to sneak up on people come tournament time. It doesn’t hurt that they’re talented from the inside out, with Keaney and Araujo grabbing tough boards as well as facilitating some motion when stepping out on the perimeter. Overall, the Vineyarders are a quality offensive rebounding team that can quickly run off points in bunches

Others to watch: Arlington Catholic (14-5), Bishop Feehan (15-4), Norton (15-5), Norwell (17-2), Rockland (18-2), Watertown (6-14), Wayland (15-5), Whittier (17-1)

DIVISION 4

St. Mary’s (Lynn)
Record: 16-6
District: North
Players to watch: Nick Gagliolio, Sr. F; Tommy Deveau, Jr. G; Rudolf Thurman, Soph. G; Matt Manning, Jr. F;
The lowdown: The Spartans might have caught the entire state's full attention after losing to defending D1 state champ St. John's Prep by two in overtime, and the rest of the way they've carried that momentum -- punctuated again by another last-second loss to Prep late last week. Gagliolo is the top scoring option for the Spartans, but the X-factor going forward will be the health of Thurman, who injured his shoulder in that Prep win and was unavailable in their loss to Boston Cathedral on Friday.

Winthrop
Record: 15-5
District: North
Players to watch: Quinton Dale, Sr. F; Joe D’Amore, Sr. G; Joshawa Babb, Jr. G; Ervin DeJesus, Jr. F; Jeff Laguerre, Sr. G.
The lowdown: Defending D4 state champs are cruising again, finishing the regular season strong by reeling off six wins in seven games. For all the talk of Danvers in the Northeastern Conference, the Vikings swept them in the regular season to win the Conference's South division outright. The one to pay attention to with Winthrop is Dale, athletic and long for his 6-foot-3 frame and one of the Conference's better rebounders.

Boston Cathedral
Record: 13-6
District: South
Players to watch: Carlos Bermudez, Sr. G; Joe Green, Sr. F; Kyle Lawyer, Sr. F; Curtis Howe, Sr. G; Anthony Bell, Sr. F
The lowdown: Lawyer and Green are back after missing some time away from the team, which means the Panthers are to be taken seriously once again. This isn't a squad known for its size, but when we tell you Bermudez is one of the more exciting players to watch in the South district we're not kidding. Listed at 5-foot-4 and gifted with speed and stocky frame, this distributor is dangerous in the open court. Lawyer and Green are the top scoring options, able to go off for 20 a night.

Manchester-Essex
Record: 18-2
District: North
Players to watch: Chris Bishop, Sr. G; Joe Burgess, Sr. G; Sean Nally, Sr. F; Max Nesbit, Sr. G; Taylor Ketchum, Sr. F; Casey Weld, Sr. G.
The lowdown: One of state’s best basketball minds, Duane Sigsbury, is at it again. Last season, the Hornets ran their offense through 2011 ESPN Boston All-Stater Joe Mussachia, and were unafraid to use all 85 feet of the floor to push the tempo. This season they've sped things up even more, and are one of the state's highest-scoring offenses (77 points per game). The player to watch with this squad is Bishop, the Cape Ann League's MVP, a 20-per-night scorer who slashes through the lanes and has hit as many as six 3-pointers in a game.

Others to watch: Avon (12-8), Bishop Connolly (16-6), Cape Cod Academy (17-3), Carver (16-4), Cohasset (15-5), Mystic Valley (17-3), Pope John XXIII (18-4), Snowden (8-9), Westport (17-3)