Elite 8 Basketball Preview: Stats, interviews, analysis and more

#1 Exeter: Overall (16-5), Class A (12-1) vs. #8 Loomis Chaffee: Overall (12-12), Class A (8-6)

The #1 and #8 matchup this year  between perennial powerhouse team Phillips Exeter Academy and a fast-rising program in the Loomis Chaffee School. Exeter will be looking to gain their 3rd Class A title in four years, while Loomis will be playing for another Final Four appearance this year.

After an early first-round exit in last year’s tournament, Exeter is back this year with the #1 seed, their best seeding in recent memory. They accumulated an impressive record of 12-1 in Class A play, en route to a solid 16-5 overall record. The Big Red started off the season strong with a 3-game win streak. Including wide-margined wins over Bradford Christian Academy and Class AA school Kimball Union Academy. But the most satisfying win, however, was probably their 38-35 win over #2 Williston, which meant the Lions were able to avenge their season-ending loss to the Wildcats in last year’s playoff quarterfinals.

Despite a 3-0 start, the Lions couldn’t keep their hot streak going when they faced off against Class A foe, #7 Hotchkiss, during the annual Seacoast Classic. Hotchkiss led the game wire-to-wire and the Lions ended up falling 49-52. This loss marked their first defeat of the season as well as their first and only loss in Class A competition. However, the Big Red were able to bounce back nicely with a dominating 5-game win streak, 4 of those coming off Class A schools, their average margin of victory was an impressive 23 points during that stretch.

The rest of the season was a roller coaster ride for Exeter. The Lions were put to test with clashes against multiple Class AA, AAA, and B teams. Even though, the Lions only went 1-4 against those teams. They’ve proved that they are a competent team by defeating AA school, Tilton, and having close battles against powerhouse schools with the likes of Cushing Academy, Worcester Academy, and New Hampton School. Key wins over regional Class A powerhouses, Tabor, and Belmont Hill, eventually secured Exeter’s spot in the playoffs as the #1 seed. And of course, the Big Red coasted to a victory against long-time archrivals Andover to wrap up the season at 16-5.

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Head Coach Jay Tilton has created yet another championship caliber team this season. He not only returns a strong core, but he has also brought in new talents to supp
lement his returners. With five Division III commits and one Division I commit and 9-10 players seeing minutes, Coach Tilton’s team is undoubtedly one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the league.

His squad is led by senior captain and Dartmouth pledge James Foye. The lefty guard is a reputed 3-point shooter who also offers crafty ball-handling and intuitive play making skills to the table. Defensively, Foye has been outstanding for Exeter all season long, frequently shutting down opposing teams’ top players. As a bigger guard at 6’4”, Foye is also an incredibly versatile defender who is able to guard multiple positions.

Foye is joined by senior guard Tommy Mobley (Amherst) on the perimeter this year. Mobley has established himself as one of the top shooters in New England this season, and he will certainly be a threat from deep during postseason play.

Other important pieces to this roster include Middlebury-bound forward Perry DeLorenzo ‘16 and Mitchell Kirsch ‘17 who are both high-IQ players as well as formidable knock-down shooters. And Max Kirsch ‘16 (Claremont McKenna) who is capable of scoring both in the paint as well as facing the basket.

Jack Alberding ‘16 (Wesleyan) and Cooxooeil Black ‘16 (Colorado College) were Big Red’s interior powers this year. Jack Alberding got things done on both ends of the floor for Exeter while Cooxooeil Black, a 6’7 forward with a high ceiling, gave team troubles in the paint with his lengthy presence. They will both play a key part in Exeter’s upcoming tournament run.

The Pelicans return to the playoff scene this year under the guidance of first-year head coach Russell Battistoni. They finished the season at a record of 12-12 overall. Their .500 record can be deceiving as they are a much better team than their record shows, and an 8-6 Class A record helped the Pelicans make the tournament over teams like Belmon Hill, Taft, and Nobles.

The Pelicans were able to balance their record at about .500 for pretty much the entire season. Early Class A wins over Belmont Hill and Deerfield were balanced out with losses to Avon Old Farms and AAA school NMH. The Pelicans continued with the win-loss trend for the rest of the season until they finally picked up steam towards the end of the season. They ended it with an impressive 3-game win streak over Taft, Salisbury, and #7 Hotchkiss. This win streak not only included the 3 most impressive wins for Loomis this season, but it also propelled the Pelicans to snatch the last playoff spot. Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.15.14 PM

The Pelicans have relied heavily on post-grad guard Andre Ferguson ‘16  for scoring. Ferguson plays primarily as a slasher, and he is one of the quickest guards in Class A. He effectively uses his speed to blow by defenders and get open shots for himself. Also known as a knockdown shooter from anywhere on the floor, look for Ferguson to serve as Loomis’s lethal weapon during their playoff run.

The young duo of 6’9” forward Nelson Boachie-Yiadom ‘18 and forward Jake Glezen ‘18 also played key roles for the Pelicans this year. Boachie-Yiadom is lengthy and athletic, as he uses his quickness to score on the offensive end while he dominates the paint on the defensive end as a premiere shot-blocker and excellent rebounder. Glezen creates mismatch nightmares as he is a 6’7” forward who is capable of scoring in the post and scoring face up as well.

We know that both Exeter and Loomis are very capable of executing on the offensive end. They both play with an unselfish style and can certainly knock down open 3-pointers. However, Coach Tilton stresses that it will be executions on defense that will dictate Exeter’s game.

Interesting matchups to look out for: Loomis guard Andre Ferguson’s quick offensive play style against James Foye’s sturdy defense. And Nelson Boachie-Yiadom’s matchup in the paint against another lengthy forward in Coo Black.

Exeter will be hosting this showdown at 6:15 pm this Wednesday. If Exeter comes out on top, they will host the winner of the Avon/Tabor match on Saturday. And if Loomis pulls off an upset, they will travel to the winner of the Avon/Tabor match on Saturday.

– Kenneth Wu

#2 Williston: Overall (20-5), Class A (13-2) vs. #7 Hotchkiss: Overall (15-10), Class A (10-8)

Williston was ranked the #2 seed in the tournament was last year, and they went on to win the Class A championship. Can they repeat again this year?

First, they will have to start their path to repeat with a quarterfinal matchup against the tough #7 seed Hotchkiss Bearcats, who will be looking to avenge their regular-season loss to the Wildcats.

Williston started the season off with high hopes after bringing in 4 new post-graduates to go along with a strong returning core. However, the Wildcats got of to a much slower start than expected as they  went 4-4 in their first 8 games, including disappointing losses to Class A foes, #1 Exeter and Andover.

Even though Williston didn’t live up to the expectations set for them, we’ve learned never to count the Wildcats out, and sure enough, after the Christmas break, it was a whole different story for the revamped Wildcats. They went on an extraordinary 16-1 run to cap off the season.

During that rampage, the Wildcats tore opponents apart by outscoring them 1174-779 and beating them with an average of 24.8 points. Notable wins during that stretch include a pair of wins over last year’s tournament finalist #6 Suffield Academy, a 46 point rout  over reigning Class B champions, Canterbury, and a double-digit win over #4 Tabor, and a comeback victory against #5 Avon where the Wildcats erased a 15-point Winged Beaver lead.

After returning most of their core players from last year’s championship roster, Coach Michael Shelton has somehow managed to boost the team’s depth even more by adding 4 ultra-talented post-graduates to the team. In a recent interview, Coach Shelton proudly told us that this year’s squad is actually even deeper than his championship squad last year. With 10 players who regularly see minutes, and all 10 of them are either seniors or post-graduates, Williston is one of the deepest and most experienced teams in New England.

With many weapons at their disposal, Coach Shelton explained that it is very hard to pinpoint one or two players to credit for Williston’s recent triumph. Coach Shelton believes that all 13 guys on the team play an equally important role to Williston’s success. Any player on the team can step in and score in the double digits on any given night. However, there have been a couple players who have produced big performances for the Wildcats night in and night out:

Jake Ross ‘16 has improved greatly for Williston this year both as a leader and a player. He is a versatile forward who excels  at playing multiple  positions. He also possess a sweet outside shooting stroke and keen playmaking abilities.

Joining Ross is the inside-out tandem of Sam Geschickter ‘16 (Bentley) and Kyle Doucette ‘16. Geschickter is a lights-out shooter from downtown as well as an effective floor-spacer. While Kyle is a capable back-to-basket scorer with a wide array of post moves in his arsenal. With their skill-sets combined together, it can create defensive nightmares for opposing teams.

Post-graduate Jamaal David ‘16 has also been huge for the Wildcats this season. He has put up multiple high scoring games including 21 points and 6 steals against Andover, 21 against Hotchkiss, and 20 against Canterbury. The 6’5” guard has established himself as a lethal perimeter threat who can effectively use his size when mismatches occur. Defensively, David also uses his length to interfere with the opposing offense.

On the other side, the Hotchkiss Bearcats are back in the playoffs once again after a one-year hiatus. The last time Hotchkiss was in the tournament in 2014, they suffered a heart-breaking loss to Exeter off a buzzer beater during the tournament finals. This time around, the Bearcats will be looking for a another trip back to the finals under the guidance of third year coach Tim Lane.

The entire season has been an up and down journey for Hotchkiss. The Bearcats picked up notable wins this season over Andover, St. Sebastians, archrivals Taft, defending Class B champions Canterbury, and probably the most notable win of all: they handed #1 Exeter their only loss in Class A competition. After a blazing 7-2 start to the season, Hotchkiss fell into a skid by dropping 5 of their next 6 games. The skid made the Bearcats even hungrier as they responded to the skid with a 5-game win streak. The win streak not only revived Hotchkiss’ playoff hopes but also kicked off the team’s best stretch of the season: a 7-3 record in the month of February.

Elijah Bailey ‘16 has paced the Bearcats’ offense all season long, serving as their go-to offensive option. He is a score-at-will guard who lights up defenses with his volume scoring. He has put up numerous 30 point games, including 39 and 33 against Canterbury and 30 against Avon Old Farms. He averaged 24.3 points per game this season off 46.4% shooting and 40.5% from downtown. We should look for Elijah to continue putting up huge numbers for Hotchkiss in the playoffs.

Christian Porydzy ‘16 (Trinity) and Pierre Coffy ‘17 are the 3-point marksmen for the Bearcats. Christian shot an incredible 47.3% from deep this season. He managed to knock down 79 3-pointers off only 167 attempts, and averaged 3.2 made 3-point field goals a game. His most notable shooting performance include: 7/9 (78%) from deep against Canterbury, 7/10 (70%) from 3 against Brunswick, and 6/8 (75%) from behind the arc against Choate. Junior guard Pierre Coffy is also a noted 3-point shooter with a season average of 40.4% from behind the arc and 2.3 made long balls a game.

Hotchkiss is anchored in the paint by tri-varsity athlete, Amadou Camara ‘16 (Varsity Football and Varsity Lacrosse). Amadou is a tremendous athlete with a high motor. Despite being only 6’4”, He uses his superior vertical abilities to alter shots that comes his way in the paint and rebound over bigger guys. Forward Kyle Davis ‘17 will join Amadou as another big presence. Kyle is an effective rebounder on both ends of the floor and uses his linebacker-like body to his advantage when boxing out. 6’9” big man Josh Daoust should also see minutes in the Bearcats’ post-season run.

Both Williston and Hotchkiss are defensive oriented teams. Coach Shelton says that his team prides themselves on playing good defense and getting stops. While Hotchkiss’ coach Lane also emphasizes on the Bearcats’ defensive efforts. Offensively, both teams like to get baskets off quick transition offense and space the floor for spray out 3s. Williston has the advantage,size wise, with multiple big men over 6’8”. However, Hotchkiss can compensate for their lack of height with quick and crafty guards to facilitate a faster, more aggressive offensive schemes.

Williston will be hosting this can’t-miss showdown on their Easthampton, MA campus at 3:30 pm on Wednesday afternoon. If Williston prevails, they will host the winner of the Kent/Suffield matchup on Saturday. If Hotchkiss comes out with the victory, they will travel to the winner of the Kent/Suffield matchup for the next round of the tournament.

#6 Suffield OVR (16-5) Class A (10-4) @ #3 Kent OVR (17-4) Class A (10-1)

Suffield’s clash with Kent will be a rematch of last year’s semi-final as well as a matchup in January. Suffield won last year’s semi-final and Kent took the game in January, 52-47.

After losing last year’s final to Williston and graduating three big time players, Christian Wilkins (Clemson football), Juwan Anderson (Nevada), and Sam Averbuck (Wyoming), it was unclear if Suffield would be as strong this time around.

After starting the season 6-1 with wins over Bridgton (AAA) and #7 Hotchkiss, the Tigers looked to be in great shape as their only loss had come to #4 Tabor. A rough patch would follow though, as the Tigers would lose four of their next five games to St. Andrews (AA), #2 Williston, #3 Kent, and #5 Avon, while their sole win during this stretch was against MacDuffie (AA). Suffield was sitting at 7-5 after playing maybe the the toughest five game stretch any Class A team had to face. This would not rattle the Tigers though, as Suffield won its final nine games with notable wins against #8 Loomis and #2 Williston.

The Tigers would also pick up bounce-back wins against Avon and Williston during this stretch.

The Tigers went from running the pick and roll with Juwan Anderson and Christian Wilkins last year, to a team that runs in transition and can shoot the ball much more efficiently. Coach Jeff Depelteau said that this year’s offense compared to last year’s is like night and day.

Scoring really comes by committee this year said Coach Depelteau. Miye Oni ’16 (Yale), is an athletic wing who can shoot the ball as well as jump out of the gym. Oni has averaged 17 points per game including a monster 52 point game vs. Wilbraham & Monson.

Power forward Garrett Stephenson ’17 is terrific post player, maybe even the most efficient post player in Class A, and is averaging a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds per game. Stephenson is a post player who can be matched by few Class A teams, though Kent does have 6’10” Jack Stevens (Holy Cross) who could potentially slow down the production of Stephenson.

Tyreek Scott-Grayson ’17 has also upped his production, including a 26 point outing against Avon, in a 76-63 win. The lefty can get to the basket as well as shoot a bit and could provide matchup problems.

Suffield is a team which has depth which could be crucial against Kent, considering the Lions only play a six man rotation.

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Kent finished the season 17-4 with only one Class A loss which came on the road to #5 Avon. Otherwise, Kent fell to Blue Ridge (VA) who is led by Clemson signee Scott Spencer. The other two losses came to the number one seed in AA, Vermont Academy, who is led by Miami signee Bruce Brown, and the final loss came to Wenyen Gabriel’s Wilbraham & Monson team.

The Lions mounted wins over Master’s (AA), MacDuffie (AA), a blow out win vs. #8 Loomis, two wins over #7 Hotchkiss, and their 5-point win over their upcoming adversary, Suffield.

Kent only plays a six man rotation, with the offense mainly centered around guard Kena Gilmour ’16 and Quebec native Maxime Boursiquot. The Lions’ defense is anchored by big man Jack Stevens ’16.

Gilmour, a south paw, is a good spot up shooter, while Boursiquot likes to use his strength down low, but also has the ability to expand his range from beyond the arc. Point guard Kylan Guerra ’16 will be the facilitator of the Kent offense, as the small guard is quick as well as a great passer.

Riding their 5-game win streak, Kent has beat teams by an average of 26.2 points. During this stretch the Lions have defeated KO, Westminster, Taft, #7 Hotchkiss, and TP. On the other side, Suffield has a 9-game win streak of their own, and interestingly enough, both teams win streaks began after losses to #5 Avon.

Both teams possess solid size and athleticism, it should be a battle of titans at Kent on Wednesday. Can the Lions ride the momentum of playing on their home court and having  52-47 win over Suffield under their belt from earlier in the year?

– Ethan Case

#5 Avon Old Farms: Overall (18-6) Class A (13-3) @ #4 Tabor Overall (16-8) Class A (11-2)

The #4 vs. #5 matchup will be a battle between Avon and Tabor. Tabor enters its fifth-straight tournament, while Avon is in the tournament for the first time since 1999.

The Winged Beavers ended their long playoff drought this year by winning both the Founders League as well as the Tri-State League. After starting the season 3-0, the Winged Beavers ran into AAA power, NMH, and it wasn’t even close. After the NMH game, Avon would go 3-3 in its next six games with losses to Class AA Cheshire Academy, Class A Nobles & Greenough, and the defending Class B champs Canterbury. Sitting at 6-4, the Winged Beavers would then turn it up a notch, winning five straight games including wins against tournament foes #6 Suffield and #7 Hotchkiss.

Riding a 5-game win streak, the Winged Beavers faced off with the #2 seed Williston. Avon started strong and built up a 15 point lead at home, Williston would rally though to steal the game, 64-59. After the game, Avon coach Tim Roller told his team, “We do not lose another game in our gym this year.” Avon would live up to this and win the rest of its home games.

Avon won 7 of their final 8 games with notable wins over #3 Kent, #7 Hotchkiss, archrival Salisbury, and would get revenge against Canterbury in the final game of the regular season. Their only loss in this stretch was to #6 Suffield on the road, 76-63.

Avon has been led  by a slew of upperclassmen. Isaiah Nichols ’16, primarily a slasher, has done a terrific job in his post-grad year. The 6’5″ point guard has averaged close to 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, including a triple-double in Avon’s final regular season game vs Canterbury: 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Joining Nichols, is Rodney “Rocket” Henderson ’16 and Packy Witkowski ’16, who are two of the best three point shooters in all of NEPSAC Class A. Henderson has averaged 15.7 points per game while Witkowski averaged 14.8 points per game in regular season play.

Other key members of Avon’s rotation include Mark Michaud ’16 (Georgia Southern football), whose athleticism allows him to change the game on both ends of the court, whether it be his ability to get to the rim for an easy basket or his incredible ability to block shots despite only being 6’5″.

Brandon Arnold ’17 and Raheem Spence ’17 have both played very well on the defensive side of the ball, and can shoot an outside jumper. Both Arnold and Spence have the ability to be the X factors headed into postseason play.

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Reuter in action for UVA

The Tabor Seawolves are in the tournament for the 5th straight year, but this year it is the first time Tabor has not had a dominate big man. After having Jarred Reuter, who transferred after his sophomore year to Brewster Academy and is now playing at the University of Virginia, and Jesse Bunting ’15, who currently plays for Fordham, Tabor was known to play a one-in-four out offense, where they relied on Bunting and Reuter to bail the team out when down. This is no longer the case.

Head coach Chris Millette explained that Tabor no longer relied on just one player to dominate the game, and how the Seawolves had four different players who could score 20 points on any given night.

Freshman point guard Noah Fernandes is the conductor who makes the train go, as the athletic freshman uses his quickness to beat defenders. Fernandes rarely turns the ball over and has had big performances against big time teams this year such as 18 points against  St. Andrews (AA) and 22 points against Notre Dame Prep.

Jason Bird ’16 (Conn. College) is Tabor’s primary outside shooter and helps stretch the floor for the Seawolves according to coach Chris Millette.

Brandon Beloti ’16 and Jeremiah Adams ’16 (Oklahoma baseball) are two players who have excellent motors and can really wear down opponents. Beloti is athletic and hurt teams on the glass and near the rim, despite only being 6’3″. Coach Millette said Adams is the best leader he has ever coached, and that there is no such thing as a 50/50 ball with him. If there is a loose ball, Adams is already on the floor to dive on it.

Tabor has been up and down against AA and Class B teams but were very consistent against Class A teams as their only two losses came to the #1 and #2 seeds in Williston and Exeter. Notable wins for Tabor include a buzzer-beater victory over #6 Suffield and a win vs. Brimmer & May (AA). Coach Millete added that he thought his team’s best stretch was when the Seawolves went on the road for three straight games and went 3-0 in that stretch against Andover, Nobles & Greenough, and Belmont Hill. Although none of these teams made the post-season, Coach Millete said all these teams were battle-tested, and he felt it was a big step for Tabor moving closer to the postseason.

Avon and Tabor both love to get out in transition, so this game will be about who plays better transition defense and which team can execute in the half-court offense. Avon will have the advantage in size, with a number of bigger guards than Tabor.

The tip-off is scheduled for 4:45, and the winner will either travel to Exeter on Saturday or host Loomis.

– Ethan Case