Some quick-hit thoughts from the first two weeks of MIAA basketball season, as we gear up for some exciting holiday tournaments this weekend:
1. Seeing Springfield Putnam in action for the first time this season, Friday night in a thrilling overtime comeback victory over Brooklyn’s Nazareth Regional High, I have little doubt the Beavers -– our preseason No. 1 -– is the best team in Massachusetts right now. The Beavers could not match up with Nazareth’s size, between Manhattan commits Samson Akilo and Samson Usilo, yet they outrebounded them 30-17, led by guard Jonathan Garcia with 10. They struggled shooting, yet went 55 percent from the floor and got a clutch three late from Ty Nichols to force the overtime.
The Beavers appear to be picking up right where they left off as they seek to become a growing power in New England and beyond, and it’s very much the same formula that won them their first D1 state title a season ago. They fly at ballhandlers like kamikazes, pressing the entire floor and trapping like crazy. Their wings leak out early on defense, as their forwards make it an MMA fight down low for the rebound. And quite frankly, there are few teams I’ve seen the last several years that heat the ball up the way these guys do. I may have to start charting deflections just to show you guys what I’m talking about.
And consider that, to this point, they have largely done this without returning All-State forward David Murrell, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Newcomer sophomore Tyonne Malone is a natural wing who has been playing out of position, yet he still turned in a terrific night against Nazareth, pouring in a team-high 18 points (7-of-13), seven rebounds and a block. Just wait until Malone slides over.
2. Less than a mile down the road on Roosevelt Ave., Springfield Central might be the most fascinating team to watch, under legendary new head coach Jack O’Brien. As most of our readers know, O’Brien’s Charlestown teams were a wagon like few other wagons have ever been in the MIAA, winning five D2 state titles in six seasons from 1999-2005 and seeing some of his teams ranked nationally.
As I wrote about last week, a lot of those same signature features from those Townies squads are evident at Central, with the full-court pressure, relentless trapping and hockey-like substitutions. After a nice win over Amherst to open the season, they got trounced by Hillhouse (Conn.) on Saturday night by 35. I predict it will be a season of growing pains, but this is going to be a lot of fun. There will be nights when 60 points beats the Golden Eagles, but it’s how teams get to that 60 that will be the fun part.
3. Continuing on the running theme here...I am wondering how many more teams will run this year. We saw what happened to Lynn English when they started clicking, and Putnam won a state title last year despite a miserable night shooting against one of the state’s top shooting teams. We saw BC High go much more up-and-down against Mansfield on Monday night (and, in a move not typical of coach Bill Loughnane, they came out in man-to-man), and New Mission nearly broke 80 running on Charlestown. This could be a continuing trend.
4. On paper, Brookline’s loss to Walpole has to be most surprising score of the first two weeks of the season, given that the Rebels were coming off a 20-point loss to Newton North a few nights prior. But this Rebels team is going to sneak up on a few more teams before the season is done. Dave St. Martin has done a fine job developing talent at Walpole, and seniors Ryan Fogarty and Scott Arsenault can really shoot it.
We’re not kidding, Arsenault can really shoot it.
5. New Mission coach Cory McCarthy is always an entertaining interview, and his “quintuple team” comments regarding Kentucky-bound center Karl Towns of St. Joe’s (N.J.) , whom they’ll face on Saturday, was another classic. Laugh all you want when McCarthy calls his team’s playing style “Napoleon Basketball”, but for a bunch of undersized players, they sure do play like their hair is on fire.
This St. Joe’s squad might be the most talented team Mission has ever faced under McCarthy, and Towns is arguably their most talented export since Andrew Bynum. But who am I kidding? Who doesn’t want to see Towns get quintuple-teamed?
6. Two games into the season, and new North Andover coach Paul Tanglis is already a hit, with the student section chanting “We Love Tanglis” at least once a game. That has to account for something, right?
7. Another top team learning to adjust without a star forward, Mansfield, did quite alright against BC High on Monday night with Michael Boen and Ryan Boulter playing the post positions. This should surprise nobody that Hornets players, under coach Mike Vaughan’s “universal basketball” concept, are able to adapt to new roles on the fly. Everybody always seems to know what everybody else is supposed to be doing on the floor.
8. Under the late Doug Grutchfield in their glory years, Fitchburg was always a tough out, both on district and state levels. Under Paul DeGeronimo in more recent years, the Red Raiders were one of those squads that seemed to be at their most dangerous when they only dressed seven or eight kids –- because you knew those kids had probably been through hell.
The early returns in year two under Raiders coach Jack Scott follow a similar trajectory. Despite an abhorrent lack of size -– Monday night against a much bigger St. John’s team, they were out-rebounded 37-18 –- they play with a similar tenacity, make great decisions and move the ball pretty well. Here’s hoping Scott is in it for the long-term, because something special could be brewing in the Twin Cities over the next few years.
9. I took in the much-hyped matchup between Huntington Prep (W. Va.) and Arsenal Tech (Ind.) last week on ESPN2, and was fascinated by some of the debate about the shot clock in high school basketball –- namely, that there is one. Hard to believe, but there are only eight states that operate with one. It fascinates me that in prominent states like New Jersey, one of the true hotbeds of American basketball talent, there is still no shot clock.
We may not have a high volume of high-major talent here in the Bay State, but at least we’ve got one thing right. The shot clock has never been an issue for as long as I’ve been covering high school sports in Massachusetts.