The boys basketball postseason pairings will be released Friday, and nearly all of the teams in The Salem News coverage area will be participating.
Here’s a quick rundown on what to watch for:
St. John’s Prep (16-4)
The Good: The Eagles are capable of emerging from a strong Division 1 North bracket. It all comes down to playing defense and taking care of the basketball. After defeating St. John’s last weekend, Central Catholic coach Ricky Nault said, “They might be the team to beat in the North.” When they’re not playing well, however, head coach John Dullea said they’re just “average.” That being said, everyone knows how hard it is to defend a team with three scorers; it becomes increasingly difficult when those three scorers are all perimeter guys. That’s exactly what the Eagles have in guards Ben Judson, Max Burt and Kareem Davis.
The Bad: St. John’s is talented and well-coached, and those two things on their own produce regular season wins. It takes something more to win in the postseason. If St. John’s suffers through turnover spells, advancing will become very difficult.
The Outlook: It’s hard to call any team a favorite in Div. 1 North, but there are a handful of contenders. The Prep is one of those teams along with Central Catholic, Andover, Lynn English and maybe Everett.
The Good: Danvers may have wrapped up its second straight Division 3 state title last March, but the Falcons officially became a powerhouse this season. Returning almost no experience, Danvers was supposed to come back to earth — but it didn’t happen. And don’t count on that happening any time soon. John Walsh has complete command over this program, and you’d have a hard time finding a more prepared team in the state. Making the jump to Division 2 is going to be difficult, but the Falcons aren’t just happy to be there. Walsh will make sure they’re ready to play.
The Bad: It seems like it’s style more than anything else, but Danvers is not particularly deep. Walsh to prefers to run 6-7 guys, which could be more of a challenge in Div. 2 North. In addition, 6-foot-7 center Peter Merry has been banged up the second half of the season; his health is crucial to the Falcons’ postseason hopes.
The Outlook: Danvers will get a high seed, which should keep it away from bracket favorite New Mission for a while, and most likely a very winnable first round game (depending on how many teams qualify). After that it will get very difficult, but the Falcons have proven they can play with the top teams in the Northeastern Conference, so why can’t they make another long postseason run?
The Good: Salem has size, athleticism, perimeter scoring and a post presence this year. The Witches can still play their preferred 3-2 zone or match up when needed. Jamie Dominguez fits the mold of Salem guards past, with the ability to break defenders down and hit the three when he gets space, especially in transition. Salem also features an excellent frontcourt with David Kazadi, Bryan Martinez-Rodriguez and Rashad Keys. Shaky White is another 3-point threat and sophomore Kelven Perpetuo is solid as the team’s third guard.
The Bad: After rolling through the middle of their schedule with nine straight wins, the Witches have pretty much played .500 basketball since.
The Outlook: The Div. 2 North bracket is loaded, and the postseason is all about matchups. This Salem group — if it can get back to playing the way it did in midseason — can be a matchup nightmare.
The Good: The Panthers are back at full strength after playing a portion of their schedule without leading scorer Nick Cross. John Berchoff and Cross make up a dangerous forward duo and Chris Sinclair has had an excellent senior season. He’s an energy guy who can create havoc in the open court. Cross, meanwhile, is the go-to scorer that every contender needs. When a game is on the line, there’s no debate on the Beverly sideline about which player the offense should run through.
The Bad: It’s all about consistency for Beverly. When the Panthers push themselves to continuously play at a high level, they can play with anyone. When they let up just a bit, they become a beatable team. We saw both extremes earlier this season in the Panthers’ dramatic come-from-behind win over Salem. Beverly managed just two points in the second quarter and faced a huge halftime deficit, only to increase its energy in the third quarter and storm back for the win.
The Outlook: There are definitely games from earlier in the season that coach Scott Lewis would like to replay. Beverly appears to be right in the middle of the Div. 2 North rankings, which could make for a really tough road in the playoffs. But when Cross is playing at a high level, it becomes a serious threat.
The Good: The Chieftains turned their season around after a 1-5 start and qualified last week, eliminating any potential late-season drama. They also developed a go-to scorer in junior guard Jake Rudolph, a knock-down shooter with the ability to create his own shot.
The Bad: The makeup of the Cape Ann League doesn’t necessarily prepare Masconomet to play in the Division 2 tournament; the teams it plays in the CAL are primarily Division 3 and 4 teams.
The Outlook: Qualifying for the postseason was a huge positive for a team that feels like it can only gain from this experience. Some of the Chieftains’ key players — Rudolph, Jackson Latimer, Alex Spaulding — will be back to do it all again next year.
The Good: Marblehead has made a pretty solid run toward the postseason during its recent stretch of games. The Magicians have won four of their last six, with the losses coming against Salem (in overtime) and Danvers. There have been some signature wins, including a 56-45 victory over Lynn Classical and a 73-44 pounding of Gloucester. Plus, they have developed depth behind their lead crew of Matt Millett, Spencer Craig, Cian Saunders and Will Millett.
The Bad: This isn’t a done deal yet; Marblehead still needs to win one of its final two games to qualify. They play Manchester Essex tonight (8 p.m.) in the first round of the Brad Sheridan Memorial Tournament. If they don’t do it then, they’ll have to beat either Malden Catholic or Concord Carlisle tomorrow to qualify.
The Outlook: Marblehead should find a way into the tourney, which will be a big boost for the program in coach Mike Giardi’s return to the sideline. Once the Magicians are in, they figure to be a tough out; they could be a bit of a sleeper in the bracket.
The Good: The Big Blue drew a tournament berth under the Sullivan Rule, going 3-2 against teams in Division 3 or lower. Make no mistake about it, this is a great opportunity for Swampscott and first-year head coach David Born. Swampscott is leaning heavily on some young players (sophomore Joey Ragusa and freshman Andre Reeves, in particular) and this is a transition year for Div. 3 North, with Danvers moving up and Hamilton-Wenham and Bishop Fenwick moving down.
The Bad: Swampscott saw some of the Div. 3 North iron earlier and didn’t fare well with losses to Arlington Catholic and Watertown.
The Outlook: Swampscott may not be ready to play with the big boys of the bracket, but could make a little noise if they get the right draw.
The Good: The Generals are a deep, talented team that is riding a 12-game win streak as it heads into its season finale at Amesbury tomorrow (6:30). Henry Eagar had a fantastic senior season, scoring more than 17 points per game, and junior Jimmy Campbell is a do-it-all player for H-W. The emergence of freshman Marcus Zegarowski at the point guard position has been huges.
The Bad: It may be a reach for a team riding a long win streak, but in some ways the Generals are still finding their identity. Marcus Zegarowski missed the first half of the year with a broken thumb and Nikos Lara and Nick Loeper recently returned to the lineup from injuries.
The Outlook: The Generals might be in the best position they’ve ever been in heading into the tournament, but Div. 4 North has some strong teams.
Bishop Fenwick (10-9)
The Good: Fenwick qualified in head coach John Preziosa’s first season, ending a short drought. It’s a team with solid depth built around key scorers Matt Costello and Dom Luoni. When playing well, the Crusaders should be able to play with anyone in Div. 4 North.
The Bad: The Crusaders definitely improved from the beginning of the season, but it seems like they haven’t yet been able to become a consistently good team.
The Outlook: If Fenwick can start to become that consistently good team now, then there’s no reason to think it can’t win a couple postseason games.
In The Paint, a column on North Shore boys’ basketball, runs every Tuesday during the winter sports season in The Salem News. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at 978-338-2648, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.