Yags’ Point Forward - Mid Season Prep Report
Believe it or not, we’re already past the midway point of the ’17-’18 prep season and the season’s storylines are starting to write themselves. While this year’s race to the National Championship remains wide open, the NEPSAC conference standings are starting to separate the contenders from the pretenders and the resumes of independent programs have gotten stronger.
But before we try to figure out what the post-season picture will look like, there’s a much more important topic to tackle.
COACH QUINN REACHING 1,000 WINS
On Wednesday night, the entire New England basketball community recognized St. Thomas More head coach Jere Quinn for collecting his 1,000th career Win. And for good reason! There aren’t many individuals that can produce sustained success at one program and remain as passionate about the game in their 40th season as they were in their first.
Coach Quinn played his own prep ball at Archbishop Molloy in Queens and collegiately at Central Connecticut in New Britain, CT prior to starting his coaching career at STM. He has made a positive impact in the lives of a countless number of young men off the court while consistently winning at the highest level on it, ever since. He’s racked up his impressive win total with some teams that featured heroic overachievers and others that featured future-NBA superstars. Whenever he gets to reminiscing though, he’s just as likely to bring up the former as he is the latter. And that’s where the beauty lies. Coach Quinn is the walking embodiment of what NEPSAC basketball is all about and the fact that he’s cherished every step along the way should be an example to us all.
The Irish kid from NYC has undoubtedly earned the right to be honored alongside the game’s all-time greats in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. before it’s all said and done.
Thank you and congrats, buddy!
As of right now, this looks like a two-horse race between Northfield-Mt Hermon and Brewster. After holding home court and splitting the season series against one another, both will be favorites to win the remainder of their AAA contests. New Hampton, Bridgton and St. Thomas More will be more than happy to throw a monkey wrench into those plans though and are all capable of doing it.
Harvard-bound 6’6” PG/Wing Noah Kirkwood has made the biggest impact of any newcomer within the conference. His ability to create in transition, for both himself and his NMH teammates, is unparalleled within the New England prep ranks. An improved jumper has made Kirkwood deadly from every level and forces opponents to pick their own poison defensively. If he’s not ripping through the lane to score, he’s finding a weapon like Nate Laszewski on the perimeter. When the ball isn’t in his hands, he’s as much of a threat to make a sharp backdoor cut as he is to wait patiently on the wing for an open look. NMH’s offense is poetry-in-motion when it’s clicking on all cylinders.
Brewster, meanwhile, has played more of a “Closer By Committee” style this season. With a roster that runs deep with high-major talent, they’ve relied upon almost every one of those prospects to step up in a big spot at some point already this season. They also have the one player that no team in New England can match up with physically.
West Virginia-signee Derek Culver can take over games for long stretches without an offensive play being run in his direction. His ability to carve out space, rise for put-back dunks or tear away what would normally be an opponent’s rebound has set the tone in multiple Brewster wins. His low-maintenance profile allows teammates Isaiah Mucius (Wake Forest), Buddy Boeheim (Syracuse), Walter Ellis and B.J. Shaw to operate in ways they feel comfortable. The physical mismatch is tough enough but the 6’10” manchild also owns a smooth lefty stroke from the foul line-extended as well. Culver is a game-changer on multiple fronts.
Crazier things have happened but NMH and Brewster look like locks to receive bids to New Haven for the National Championship tourney in March.
Coming into the season, there was no question which team had the most individual talent in AA. But talent alone doesn’t guarantee wins in the nation’s best prep conference, especially when that talent is young. Roles still have to be defined and egos always need to be managed. Someone has to take the reins, hold everyone accountable and demand success.
Head coach Jacque Rivera has done exactly that up to this point at MacDuffie. His team is off to a 9-0 start in-conference and has pulled away from the majority of the pack. Rhode Island-signee Dana Tate has provided a steady veteran presence to an otherwise young rotation. Tate has always been a runaway train in the open floor but the versatile 6’7” wing’s improved jump shot has allowed him to expand his repertoire. Tate will be able to rely upon NEPSAC-newcomers James Bouknight and Richard Springs even more down the stretch, now that their adjustment period is in the rearview.
St. Andrew’s is the only other undefeated team in conference at 4-0. Cole Swider has been electric on a nightly basis, averaging well over 30ppg and recently became the program’s all-time leading scorer with a 36-point performance against Vermont. The Villanova-signee also dropped an efficient 41pts against Woodstock at HoopHall and had a 49-point outburst earlier in the season. Swider would be my choice for MVP if the season ended today.
The only blemish on Tilton’s 9-1 conference record was put there in mid-December, when Ismael Massoud’s buzzer-beater gave MacDuffie a dramatic 87-85 win at the St. Andrew’s Holiday Tourney. It’s been established that any Marcus Zegarowski led team is dangerous against anyone, anywhere but it’s been continuously reinforced throughout the season. The Creighton–bound floor general has already led Tilton to AA wins over Cushing (2), Vermont and South Kent along with roads wins over IMG and DME on their Florida trip.
While making it into the AA postseason bracket doesn’t solely come down to W-L record, it could mean more than ever this year since so many teams are indiscernible from one another. Both Cushing and South Kent have raced out to 6-3 starts, putting them in a tie for the 4th seed right now. Lawrence (5-3) and Kimball Union (4-4) are the only other teams with a .500 or above record. Worcester (5-6), Vermont (3-4) and Gould (4-6) are all within striking distance of being in the mix.
INDEPENDENTS & OUTSIDE NEW ENGLAND
Woodstock’s success has been well documented throughout the season, as the first-year program rose to #1 in the national polls heading into the holidays. Even after a loss to SPIRE this weekend, Woodstock (21-2) is averaging close to 100 points per game and looks like they’ll be a force to in the postseason. Ty Perry has been one of the region’s most explosive scorers, going off for 52-points against Tilton in the BABC Invitational and earning offers from St. Bonaventure and Fordham in the process.
Putnam Science (16-4) put together one of the most impressive wins of the season when they ended Woodstock’s undefeated streak at 19-games in late-December. Tom Espinosa’s squad followed that up with a win over Montverde, a team that would go on to knock stun NMH prior to HoopHall, to keep their momentum moving in the right direction. PSA also has a 79-61 win over Massanutten, a team currently ranked #2 in the Prep Circuit poll. Jose Perez and Kyle Lofton are surrounded by a stable of young pups who are only going to get better as the season goes on.
Chris Chaney’s Scotland Campus (12-0) program has risen to #1 in almost every national prep poll and are the only undefeated team remaining.
Massanutten (18-2) has one of the nation’s premier point guards in Penn State-signee Rasir Bolton, pairing him with explosive wings Tyrese Martin (Rhode Island) and Mekhi Long. The only other blemish on their record was a recent 1-point loss to Miller School (VA). Already sporting impressive wins over NMH and Hargrave, Massanutten will clash with Fork Union this week.
Hargrave (19-3) remains a southern powerhouse under new head coach Lee Martin. This year’s team is similar feel to the overwhelming majority of NE’s strong prep programs: They’re a threat to beat anyone but they’re also susceptible. They also have a developing wild card in 6’3” PG/Wing Trey McGowens. The 2019 high-major prospect gives Hargrave a legitimate game-breaker come tournament time.
After starting the season with nine straight wins, including wins over STM and Bridgton at the Prep Showcase, Fork Union has hit a bit of a rough patch. After losing to Sunrise and host team SPIRE at the Grind Session event this past weekend in Ohio, FUMA fell to 13-5 overall. They still have more than enough time to right the ship.
SPIRE (19-3) is bound to break into the updated Prep Circuit National Top-10 after the run they’ve put together over the last month. SPIRE has won 9-straight after losing to Hargrave in early-December. The streak has included wins over Woodstock, Vermont, FUMA and Lee. SPIRE features a kennel of pitbulls led by Caleb McConnell, Jalen Pickett, Dom Welch, DeVon Baker and Jared Simmons who get up-and-down with the best. They don’t give up much on the boards despite their lack of true big man and play a beautiful brand of pace-&-space basketball.
CBD Montverde (13-5) has put together some quality wins after going 6-5 over an 11-game stretch in the middle of their schedule. Their win over NMH prior to HoopHall was followed by a win over MacDuffie during the event at Springfield College. Powerful 6’4” wing Jermaine Couisnard has attracted some of the nation’s power programs, with offers from Virginia Tech, Louisville, South Carolina and Illinois.
Finally, there’s one team that I’m openly rooting for to pick up the pace and secure a trip to New Haven in March.
IMG (12-6) has lost 4 out of their last 5, a spiral that started with a loss to Tilton. The backcourt duo of Maryland-bound Eric Ayala and NBA Draft prospect Anfernee Simons are two players that nobody wants to face in tourney play. Ayala has bailed IMG out routinely over the course of the season, drilling big buckets whenever called upon. Simons may be the most explosive and efficient scorer in the country as a 6’4” wing with an easy outside stroke and explosive athleticism to finish above the rim. Having those two at the party will bring some electricity to Albertus Magnus.