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Friday, March 9, 2012
MIAA Sectional Hoop Finals: Picks Reset

By Brendan Hall

Last month, prior to the MIAA Basketball Tournament seedings, I listed a number of teams in each division to be considered true contenders for the state championship. One week later, on the first day of the MIAA tournament, I went a little deeper and made my predictions for each of the 14 boys basketball brackets.

Conveniently, this has been one of the wildest MIAA tournaments in recent years. Last night, No. 1 seeds Central Catholic and North Andover went down in their respective brackets; that adds to a number of other contenders getting knocked out, including King Philip, Cardinal Spellman, Falmouth, Catholic Memorial, BC High, Holy Name and Manchester-Essex.

The next 48 hours figure to be just as crazy. We'll be covering all 12 of Saturday's North and South sectional finals, as well as Sunday's Division 1 Central final between St. John's (Shrewsbury) and St. Peter-Marian, so be sure to stick with us throughout the weekend.

For now, I've gone back and hit the reset button on my pre-tournament picks. Here's how I think Saturday and Sunday's slate will turn out.

(NOTE: Division 4 Finals are being played tonight)

BOYS PICKS

Division 1 North
Charlestown (19-4) vs. Lexington (17-7)
Nobody could have predicted this for a final -- and if you did, I have a time warp I'd like to sell you. After some early struggles, the Minutemen have picked up the slack under second-year coach Reggie Hobbs, beating Boston Latin, Westford and Acton-Boxborough in succession to get here. But with Central Catholic and A-B out of the way, the Townies have a clearer path. Expect another big game from Tyrese Hoxter and Co. Pick: Charlestown

Division 2 North
Wakefield (17-6) vs. Brighton (19-4)
Reports of Brighton's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Once thought to be stumbling following the loss of star forward Nick Simpson and subsequent early exit from City Championships, the Bengals have roared to life behind Daivon Edwards and Malik James. Ditto for Wakefield, which came into this tournament a mystery, but has suddenly put the state on notice after knocking off No. 1 overall seed North Andover last night. Pick: Brighton

Division 3 North
Danvers (18-4) vs. Saugus (14-9)
I said this was Danvers' bracket to lose at the beginning of this tournament, and the Falcons have done nothing to prove me otherwise. Saugus beat red-hot Arlington Catholic by 16 last night to advance to the finals, but I still think George Merry will provide too much of a matchup problem. Pick: Danvers

Division 1 South
Brockton (21-2) vs. Madison Park (19-2)
True, the MP Machine is the No. 2 seed in this bracket, but how many predicted the Cardinals would make it this far? Brockton has had some close calls, such as Wednesday's semifinal win over Newton North. But as they showed in their quarterfinal against Catholic Memorial, they can turn it on in a snap. The key here might come down to depth, where I think the Boxers hold an advantage. Excited to see the big-man matchup between Brockton's Sayvonn Houston and MP's Dakim Murray -- two true post players who are among the region's most physical. Pick: Brockton

Division 2 South
Stoughton (19-4) vs. Hopkinton (17-6)
Beware Hopkinton's dribble-drive motion. Just ask King Philip, which succumbed to the Hillers in last year's D2 South Final and again in this year's quarterfinals. We all know about Stoughton's athletic prowess, spearheaded by one of the state's best backcourts in juniors Aaron Calixte and Marcus Middleton. But do not sleep on the Hillers' point guard Barrett Hanlon, a two-time Tri-Valley League MVP who has been terrific this postseason. Pick: Stoughton

Division 3 South
Wareham (23-0) vs. Martha's Vineyard (21-2)
Between Wareham's dogged waterbug point guard Darien Fernandez and Vineyard's electric junior Jack Roberts, this could be one of the day's fastest games. The Vikings are constantly uptempo -- and have one of the state's best lead guards in Fernandez, to do the damage -- while the Vineyarders can run off points in bunches pretty quickly. The key might come down to foul trouble -- Tyler Gomes was the star for Wareham in the semifinals, but they can't afford to have Fernandez on the bench for long stretches again. Pick: Wareham

Division 1 Central
St. John's of Shrewsbury (18-5) vs. St. Peter-Marian (19-5)
If St. John's wins again, for an unprecedented fifth straight Central Mass. title, they may have to rename this tournament the Bob Foley Memorial Bracket. Again and again, Foley's troops have proven that no matter the personnel, bodies graduated, or overall record, they can win out as long as they get in. SPM's Matt Mobley will likely command a sophisticated defensive look, which is why the Guardians' bigs like Steve Flynn and Brian Foley are going to need to be in peak form. Pick: St. John's

Division 2 Central
Quabbin (20-3) vs. St. Bernard's (14-10)
Once one of the state's few remaining unbeatens, Quabbin lost three games but won the Clark Tournament to give themselves some momentum headed into this bracket. It's paid off, as the Panthers have beaten opponents by an average of 24 points in the tournament. Either way, this should be a terrific coaching matchup, between Quabbin's Dennis Dextradeur and St. Bernard's Mark Pierce. Pick: Quabbin

Division 3 Central
Whitinsville Christian (16-5) vs. Littleton (18-6)
Another bracket where I initially pegged a top seed as an overwhelming favorite, and nothing has convinced me to think otherwise. Sorry Littleton, but WC has been playing some of its best basketball, beating each of its opponents by 17 points or more in this tournament. Pick: Whitinsville Christian

Division 1 West
Springfield Central (21-1) vs. Springfield Commerce (16-6)
In these two teams' first matchup, Central survived a tough one, 52-43. When they met three weeks ago, Tyrell Springer nailed four 3-pointers in the second quarter and Central blew out the Red Raiders by nearly 40. I don't think that will happen again, but like Brockton, Central can turn it up in a hurry -- just ask West Springfield, which led Central by three after the first quarter of Wednesday's semifinal, only to lose by 27. Pick: Springfield Central

Division 2 West
South Hadley (13-9) vs. Mahar (19-3)
South Hadley's nine losses are misleading. They earned the No. 2 overall seed in this field, and beat their first two opponents by an average of 17 points. Can Mahar, which survived an overtime thriller to get here, buck the Tigers' trend? Pick: South Hadley

Division 3 West
St. Joseph Central (18-5) vs. Lee (18-5)
This is a St. Joe's team that nearly beat Holy Name back in December, and while I admit I haven't seen too much of this field, I like their chances. An average margin of victory of 26 points so far in this tournament backs this assertion up. Pick: St. Joseph Central

GIRLS PICKS

Division 1 North
Andover (24-0) vs. Masconomet (20-3)
Again, as good as Masco has been in this tournament -- getting Super Team production out of William & Mary signee Brooke Stewart, and great complimentary play from junior Claudia Marsh -- the freight train that is Andover and All-Everything guard Nicole Boudreau will continue to roll its way through. But unlike some of the Golden Warriors' earlier tournament results, I expect the Chieftains to throw haymakers and take the Warriors to the ropes. Pick: Andover

Division 2 North
Reading (22-0) vs. Arlington Catholic (21-3)
Another juggernaut matchup in the fold here. Both teams have gone through some dominant stretches, and AC is the defending state champion here. But the Rockets are a year wiser after last season's disappointing end, and behind Olivia Healy and Morgan O'Brien this team rattles off points in bunches. Pick: Reading

Division 3 North
Pentucket (20-4) vs. Ipswich (18-4)
Win or lose, this is a major step forward for the Ipswich program under head coach Mandy Zegarowski. Unfortunately, their reward is running into the Pentucket machine. Sachems are rolling on defense, allowing just 28 points per game in the playoffs with an average margin of victory of 27 points. So tell me...what's new? Pick: Pentucket

Division 1 South
Franklin (21-2) vs. Braintree (21-2)
Led by senior Paige Marshall, Braintree is playing arguably the state's most inspired defense. Consider the Wamps allowed just eight points -- that's eight points total -- in their first-round win, and are allowing just 22.6 points per game and the playoffs. Will that be enough for Catie Phelan to overcome, or are the defensive stats misleading? Pick: Braintree

Division 2 South
Scituate (23-0) vs. Natick (18-5)
Will Lady Luck run out on Natick, or are the Red and Blue better than we projected? Either way, this is one tough Scituate squad they're about to encounter. The Lady Sailors haven't allowed an opponent to get out of the 30's in nearly a month, and routinely pick up 40 or more rebounds a game. Pick: Scituate

Division 3 South
Archbishop Williams (20-5) vs. Fairhaven (21-2)
Kara Charette will get her points for Fairhaven, but we have to wonder if it it will be enough to overcome Archies' size, which is among the state's biggest. The Bishops are green, but talented, and are playing some terrific defense right now. Pick: Archbishop Williams

Division 1 Central
Holy Name (22-0) vs. Wachusett (17-5)
After some close calls, Holy Name's magical season lives on. The Mountaineers might be Holy Name's toughest opponent to date, and are one of the region's longest. Look for the Naps to key on Bri Schnare and Shannon Holt. Pick: Wachusett

Division 2 Central
Tyngsborough (21-1) vs. Nashoba (20-2)
The top two seeds of this bracket go head-to-head, and it's hard to tell which team has been more dominant so far. The Tigers, who have allowed just 30 points a game in this bracket; or Nashoba, which has had an easier path but has won each game by double-digits. Probably can't go wrong with this one. Pick: Tyngsborough

Division 3 Central
Sutton (19-4) vs. Hopedale (18-4)
Another matchup that is even on paper. But when you knock off Quaboag, that's big points in my book. Pick: Sutton

Division 1 West
Holyoke (20-2) vs. Longmeadow (15-7)
5-foot-2 point guard Monique Heard is the most exciting player nobody in Eastern Mass. is talking about, and a potential Super Team candidate for Holyoke. I like a good story as much as the next scribe. Let's keep this one rolling. Pick: Holyoke

Division 2 West
Mahar (21-1) vs. Palmer (18-4)
Another matchup pitting the bracket's top two seeds against one another. Mahar has survived some gutsy close calls to get here, but beware of Palmer's stingy defense, which is allowing 32 points per game. Pick: Mahar

Division 3 West
Lenox (18-4) vs. Sabis (19-5)
Sabis no doubt has revenge on its mind -- and some unfinished business -- after coming up short in this bracket last year following a dominant regular season. But any time you knock off Lee -- the region's top seed, and the golden standard for Western Mass. small-school basketball since the 1980's -- that's big points in my book. Pick: Lenox