Yags’ Point Forward - Regular Season Rundown
Believe it or not, we’re already on the verge of wrapping up another prep season here in New England as the six state associations and the NEPSAC head into their final regular season games over the next few weeks. Here’s a look at some of the conference races and individual games with postseason implications heading down the stretch.
Brewster remains undefeated and continues to put more distance between themselves and the rest of the pack with each passing week. Jason Smith’s clinched the regular season championship last week with a 93-87 win over New Hampton and have won their conference games by an average of 20-points per contest. If Makai Ashton-Langford and Curtis Haywood II aren’t leading Brewster into the AAA Championship Game at Rhode Island College in a few weeks, we’ll have a shocking upset to discuss.
Northfield-Mt Hermon (5-2 in AAA) battled through a handful of inconsistent performances at the beginning of the season to put themselves right back where everyone expected them to be prior to the season: in the AAA title hunt. As long as John Carroll’s crew wins one of their three remaining games (South Kent & Bridgton twice) they’ll play host in the AAA semifinals to determine who heads to RIC. NMH’s only two losses have come at the hands of Brewster and revenge could become the storyline come the postseason.
South Kent (3-4), St. Thomas More (3-6), New Hampton (3-6) and Bridgton (1-6) will fill out the conference’s first round bracket to see who moves on to make their upset bid on the road.
Things are going to get extremely interesting in AA before it’s all said and done. Cushing (8-1 in AA) has defined who they are at this point in the season and first year coach James Cormier has no reason to change the recipe. Play suffocating defense, value the basketball, try to take shots that you’ve made hundreds of times before, run hard when you’re on the wings and let Wabissa Bede do his thing. It sounds simple enough. Yet, the majority of teams can’t maintain the necessary level of discipline and only one team has Bede. Mix in the ever-evolving, versatile skillset and rising confidence of David Duke and the result is a dangerous contender that can beat anyone on any given night.
While Cushing has the inside track on the top seed, it’s the 4-horse race for the 2-5 seeds and sleeping sniper on the backside of the bracket that could make this year’s AA tournament a wild one.
Tilton (11-3) has been one of the more consistent teams throughout the season, playing a tough schedule and regularly coming away with quality wins. Max and Marcus Zegarowski handle the work on the perimeter while Pittsburgh-commit Terrell Brown takes whatever the defense gives him on a nightly basis. Tilton has most likely clinched itself a first round home game and possibly even home court leading into the finals.
Vermont (8-3) came into the season as the hands-down favorite in AA, which only proved to place heavy expectations on their shoulders and weigh them down for the majority of the season’s first few months. After a season that can be described as anything but smooth, Alex Popp’s guys might be healthy, gelling and peaking at the right time. Marcus Santos-Silva poured in 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in their 82-76 come-from-behind win over Northfield-Mt Hermon this week, capping a 6-1 stretch over the last three weeks that included wins over Cushing and Cheshire. Depending on the seedings, we could see a Cushing-Vermont rematch as early as the semi’s, as late as the finals or altogether miss it if they fail to do their jobs.
Proctor (10-3) and Cheshire (10-4) are the final two teams jockeying to put themselves in a position to receive a first round home game but one of them will most likely be traveling come tourney time. Proctor’s dynamic guard duo of Geo Baker and Caleb Green are capable of feeding off one another’s success to get red hot and put their opponents in a pick-your-poison type of situation. Baker and Green played a huge role in Proctor handing Vermont their only loss of the month, a 76-70 win back on February 3rd.
Cheshire has found sustained success this season by playing a brand of basketball that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from their personnel. 6’ post-grad Rich Kelly’s ability to push the pace, make quick decisions and attack opposing defenses at their weakest points over the course of a game has been one of the best shows in New England this year. Kelly’s attacking style is obnoxiously relentless, admirable and irritating, sometimes all at the same time depending on whose lens you happen to be looking through. After Kelly received an offer from Marist this past week, it was impossible not to start drawing comparisons to former Kingswood-Oxford point guard Jared Jordan, who led the nation in assists in ’06 and ’07 after flying under the radar throughout his prep career. Regardless of where Kelly plays his college ball, it’s going to take a team willing to keep up with Cheshire’s marathon conditioning in order to knock them out of AA title contention.
As if there weren’t enough landmines to negotiate in order to come out on top in AA, St. Andrew’s (6-3) and Lawrence Academy (7-3) are currently sitting in the 6/7-seeds. Both teams are content with being overlooked and make their statements on the court instead of the worrying about winning the roster war. Lawrence boasts wins over Vermont and Tilton in the last six weeks and head into the postseason armed with confidence and something to prove.
St. Andrew’s has one the of the best underclassmen duos in New England with Cole Swider and Brycen Goodine. Swider is playing the best basketball of his young career and is coming off back-to-back 33- and 35-point performances against Proctor and Commonwealth earlier this week. Goodine is surprisingly still flying under the radar but, given his prodigious talents and explosive athleticism, it won’t be long before high-major programs start lining up for his services upon graduation in 2019.
MacDuffie and Gould will most likely match resumes up against one another for the right to enter the AA tourney as the 8-seed. While there will be no shortage of opinions come selection time, one thing everybody in New England can agree upon is that the winner of the 2017 NEPSAC AA Tournament will have earned every bit of it over the course of their three games.
Like their brethren in AA, a group of teams have separated themselves and all but guaranteed themselves a spot in the conference tournament while the playoff picture gets murkier the deeper you dive into the standings.
Suffield Academy (11-1 in A) has put together one of the most underrated overall resumes in New England, with wins over Montverde-CBD (FL) and MacDuffie on top of their 11 conference victories. Jeff Depelteau’s squad only nonconference losses have come against Northfield-Mt Hermon and St. Andrew’s in games that Suffield was in to the end. 6’5” wing Tyreek Scott-Grayson is one of the most athletic unsigned wings in 2017 and has one of the most enticing length/strength packages on the market.
At this point in the season the Tigers have proven to be the team to beat in A and will remain so heading into the tournament as the likely top seed. Their road to a title won’t be easy to navigate though.
Taft (8-4), Kent (6-3), Exeter (7-1) and Noble & Greenough (10-2) have all put together strong regular seasons within conference and have enough firepower to make a run of their own. Taft’s 6’8” big man Moses Poelking is a true weapon on both ends of the floor and commands an inordinate amount of defensive attention at the very least. Kent’s three losses have come at the hands of Taft (2) and Suffield but they’ve played an ambitious schedule from start to finish and it could pay dividends in the postseason. Their backcourt of Cornell-commit Jordan Burns and Columbia-commit Randall Brumant is as tough as their come within the conference and as basketball fans across New England know very well, a strong guard combination can lead to a ton of success in a tournament setting.
There will be a few wild cards on the visitors side of the bracket as well. While they’ll be at the mercy of the selection committee, teams like Loomis Chaffee (8-6), Trinity-Pawling (9-5) and Williston-Northampton (7-4) all have certain characteristics that make them a nightmare for particular opponents.
Brooks and Canterbury currently sit atop the standings with identical 8-0 conference records. Brooks is particularly loaded with Brown-bound wing Tamenang Choh, 6’6” wing Fru Che and the 2018 duo of 6’5” Preston Santos and 6’7” Keigan Kirby in the lineup. If the top-2 seeds were to match up at some point down the road, Brooks will look to counter Canterbury’s size, with the 6’10” Evan Goldberg and 6’8” power wing Jamaal Waters, with speed and athleticism on the perimeter.
In the middle of the playoff pack but in the front of every team’s mind will be Rivers (8-2). With the dynamic scoring ability of Jermaine Samuels and Azar Swain, Rivers has the ability to hang with anybody. That said, they’ll need a larger contribution from junior point guard Tyler Arenson if they’re going to make a legitimate title run.
The Governor’s Academy (9-2) has become a staple at the top of the B standing during Jaylyn Hinton’s time with the program and worthy wingman in DJ Frechette. Kingswood-Oxford (11-1) features a high-scoring duo of their own in 2018 wing Nick Casiano, who previously scored over a 1,000 points in 3 years at Rocky Hill (CT), and 6’6” big Jackson Meshanic.
After battling to reach the pinnacle last year, Brooks has to be considered the favorite until someone proves differently.
This year’s conference tournament will be defined by one word: Legacy.
St Luke’s 6’5” wing Walter Whyte will be looking to win another Class C conference championship and there hasn’t been anyone able to stop his winning ways in the regular season. After becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer earlier this month, the Boston University-bound Whyte will look to cement his legacy alongside teammates Joel Boyce and Jonas Harper.