Some thoughts and observations from the first week of MIAA basketball in 2013:
Guardians on a roll –- again: Just when you thought St. Peter-Marian was done, ready to be written off as a one-year wonder, the Guardians come out swinging again. Sunday’s 54-49 upset of Catholic Memorial wasn’t glamorous, but it’s the program’s biggest win since trouncing Charlestown 61-46 some 12 months ago.
(That game, for those unfamiliar, ended up leading Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso to scrap their man-to-man defense altogether. The result was a Division 1 North title)
The Guardians have snuck under the radar for the first half of the 2012-13 season, and for good reason. After graduating stars Steve Flynn, Tre Watson, Brian Foley or ESPN Boston All-Stater Matt Mobley, there were questions abound in the talent department. Make no mistake, there’s no superstars in this year’s squad, but it’s a unit head coach Marcus Watson is very satisfied with, led by a senior-laden starting five of Tim Berry, Kevin Riley, Jaylen Ashton, Terrence Watson and Anthony Manzello.
“We’re fine with that, we don’t want to be ranked,” Watson said. “We just go out and battle. You look at us one-on-one, there’s not one kid you look at and say, ‘He’s a stud’. Yet if you look at us collectively they all do their job, they take charges, they box out. We’ve got absolutely no outside interference this year.”
CM figured to be rusty out of the gates, but caught fire in its 7-0 start with the emergence of sophomore shooting guard Giulien Smith (26 points per game). Not only did the Guardians keep him a non-factor, holding him to four points, but they mirrored the Knights’ vaunted 2-2-1 press with some of their own wrinkles added in, giving some man and diamond-and-one variants as well.
It’s a faster pace, a higher intensity of playing style, but it’s one Watson feels his team is conditioned for after a rigorous offseason. Players went through some dynamic strength training over the offseason, among the highlights in typical sessions: one-legged box drills; wrapping 45-pound plates in towels and pushing them the length of the floor; suicides on hills; wheelbarrow runs the length of the court, ending with pushups; all of it sprinkled over with deadlifts, calf raises, pull-downs, and two-mile runs.
The Guardians come into our poll this week at No. 25, its first appearance since the final 2011-12 poll, but tonight’s litmus test against rival St. John’s of Shrewsbury will give us a better measurement of where they’re at right now. The progress of underclassmen such as Connor Brown, Mike Boateng, George Anan and freshman Makai Ashton-Langford will be key, but they have shown great strides this first half of the season.
“We’re not even close to peaking, hopefully we just want to get better,” Marcus Watson said. “The kids believe in each other. They’ve never been a problem as a team, they all know their role. You can see them getting on each other, they all know what they’re supposed to be doing. We call them our ‘Fab Five’ -– not one of them is a stud, but they all do their job.”
Nobody’s yawning at Division 3: Interesting comments from Pentucket coach John McNamara following the Sachems’ 59-39 defeat of Billerica last Wednesday, saying flatly “We get tired of hearing we’re a D3 school. We can play with anybody. D3’s can play with anybody, there’s a lot of good teams.”
If that’s truly the whisper going around Eastern Mass., then it’s a circumventing one. With the Sachems’ win over the Indians, that will put three D3 squads in the top five of ESPNBoston.com’s girls basketball poll: Archbishop Williams (3), St. Mary’s of Lynn (4) and the aforementioned Sachems (5). Say what you want about the dominance of Braintree in D1 and Reading in D2 – and at the end of the day, D1 has the most depth – but the teams atop D3 can hang with anyone. I don’t think that’s an axiom.
Pentucket has a slew of quality shooters this year, but as usual it’s defense that’s the calling card. It starts with 6-foot senior Tess Nogueira, whom McNamara feels is underrated for her talents. It’s plausible to see why – she doesn’t fit into a natural position on the floor, and doesn’t always light up the scoreboard – but suffice it to say she’s one of the state’s better defenders.
“She’s a unique player for a six-footer,” McNamara said. “She’s not a natural post player, but she can do anything. She can defend the point if we want her to, but unfortunately we don’t have any other bigs. If we press, we put her at the top of the press [and] she’s long and lanky and quick, with great habits.”
In the Sachems’ 2-2-1 and diamond-and-one press looks, it’s often Nogueira that comes flying up the floor to trap. With her length, and he tenaciousness, she can create some havoc out there.
“We have had her cover point guards, if we have other matchups we think we can survive, we’ll put her our front, or if we do a zone press we’ll put her at the point,” McNamara said. “She’s got good instincts, she’s long, lanky, makes good decisions on doubling and when not to double.
“She’s one of what I think the most unsung players in the state, because she doesn’t score 20 points a game. She does a lot of other things.”
Miscellaneous: One of the more interesting stats has be Hockomock League newcomer Milford. Off to a 7-0 start, the Scarlet Hawks sit atop the Davenport division and lead the league in team scoring at 70 points per game. Yet not one player sits in the top five in league scoring average. ... We’ve mentioned New Mission, Brighton, Wakefield and North Andover as heavyweight favorites in Division 2 North. Perhaps we’ve found a sleeper in Lynn Classical, which sits at 4-5 overall but with a two-point Everett loss, overtime St. John’s Prep loss, and a win over Lynn English on its resume. Keep an eye on the Brown brothers, senior Jalen and junior Jordan.