Many boys basketball teams across New England begin their regular season this week, while others are already underway. Here are 10 matchups across New England I'll be looking most forward to this winter (and you should too).
Charlestown at BC High, Saturday
One of the best matchups of the early season just got a whole lot more interesting, with BC High center Dan Curtis out until at least late January due to injury. The Townies excel on the fast break behind Rony Fernandes and Tyrese Hoxter, while Omar Orriols and Tyrik Jackson can stretch the defense down low. We know about BC High's Jameilen Jones, but the Eagles have some promising underclassmen coming up.
Charlestown at East Boston, Dec. 20
Hands down the best basketball rivalry in Boston, these two Division 1 teams combined for nine D2 state titles from 1985 to 2005 (C'Town 5, Eastie 4). We know about the Townies' athletic prowess, but the Jets play some of the city's toughest man-to-man defense, led by junior forward Kenny Ramos. The two teams split the regular-season series last year, with the Jets delivering the Townies a 65-61 defeat on Feb. 16; nine days later, the Townies got their revenge by beating the Jets in the Boston City Championship game.
New Mission vs. St. Anthony (N.J.), Dec. 28, Kroc Center, Dorchester
Part of the first day of festivities of the two-day "Shooting Touch Shootout", the Jersey City, N.J. national powerhouse had its way with Newton North and Catholic Memorial over the last Christmas break, and followed up by spanking D.C. area power DeMatha Catholic (Md.) in Springfield on national television a month later. But some have mused that Mission could be the strongest MIAA team the Friars have faced since New Bedford in the early 90's.
New London (Conn.) at St. Raphael (R.I.), Jan. 7
This one pits two defending state champions in one of the most highly-anticipated public school matchups of the winter for New England. New London is the defending CIAC Class L champion, and features the No. 29 overall Class of 2012 player in Providence-bound point guard Kris Dunn. St. Ray's ended Bishop Hendricken's streak of seven straight RIIL state titles last year, led by championship MVP Charles Correa. The junior point guard is one of the Ocean State's elite prospects, and has a terrific running mate in senior Cesar Mejia.
Northwest Catholic (Conn.) vs. DeMatha Catholic (Md.), Jan. 14, Springfield College (Hoophall Classic)
6-foot-8 Kuran Iverson, cousin of Allen Iverson and the nation's No. 30 overall junior, leads the Hartford power in what could be one of the strongest matchups of the five-day Hoophall slate. The last time DeMatha was up in Springfield, at last year's Hoophall, they lost 75-25 to St. Anthony on national television. Have to believe ESPNU 100 stars Jerami Grant and James Robinson won't let that happen again.
Tilton (N.H.) vs. Brewster Academy (N.H.), Jan. 15, Springfield College (Hoophall Classic)
No less than 10 Division 1 prospects will be on the floor at all times in this matchup between two of the nation's premier prep school powers. Lots of household names and ESPNU 100 talent in this one, between Tilton's Nerlens Noel, Georges Niang, Goodluck Okonoboh, Dominique Bull and Wayne Selden; and Brewster's Mitch McGary, JaKarr Sampson, T.J. Warren, Jalen Reynolds, Semaj Christon, Aaron Thomas and Joe Bramanti. Brewster won the first game in this series earlier this month, 84-78, to win its own Brewster Invitational.
Worcester Academy at St. Mark’s, Jan. 20
After serving under Ed Reilly for more than a decade, Jamie Sullivan slides over to the head coach's chair as he looks to bring NEPSAC hardware back to Union Hill. He'll have plenty of speed at his disposal between Rene Castro and Olivier Paul Betu. St. Mark's boasts three Division 1 commits this year, including ESPNU 100 players Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona) and Nik Stauskas (Michigan). How the Hilltoppers deal with the size advantage in the 7-foot Tarczewski will be intriguing.
St. John’s Prep at Central Catholic, Jan. 22
Prep swept both games last season, both times in nail-biting fashion. In the first game, the regular-season finale, Pat Connaughton hit the go-ahead basket with 20 seconds left and sealed it at the other end with a block. Then in the D1 North semifinals, Freddy Shove asserted the Eagles to victory with two big offensive rebounds in the final two minutes. Both teams come into the season ranked in the top five of ESPN Boston's preseason poll (Central No. 1, Prep No. 4).
King Philip at Stoughton, Jan. 24
A matchup between the state's top overall senior prospect, 6-foot-8 Maryland commit Jake Layman; and one of the state's fastest-rising stars, junior point guard Aaron Calixte. When these two teams met last season, Layman nearly went off for a quadruple-double for the Warriors in a 65-52 win.
Whitinsville Christian at Charlestown, Feb. 11
When these two teams met last February in rural Whitinsville, the Townies nearly ran WC off the floor before staving off a second-half comeback. That proved to be all the fuel the Crusaders needed; they didn't lose again as they captured their second Division 3 state title in seven seasons. The Crusaders graduated a ton of size, but have looked sharp in the preseason. Can they turn the tables this year in Bunker Hill?