Sunday, March 12, 2017

MIAA Boys' Hoops State Semifinal Preview: Division 1

Franklin sophomore Jalen Samuels could again be an X-factor for the Panthers.
By Matt Feld (@mattyfeld612) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We've reached the final four in each division of the MIAA boys' basketball tournament, and that means a battle for Eastern Mass, plus a clash of the best from Central and Western Mass in each bracket.

We've got you covered with previews of each division as we head into the home stretch of Mass Madness.

Division 1 Eastern Mass Final

Needham (20-4) vs. Cambridge  (22-0)

Players to Watch:
Needham – Thomas Shaughnessry, Jr., SG, Will Cooper, Jr., F, Matt Shaker, Sr., SG.
Cambridge – Jakigh Dottin, Sr, PG, Daniel Rymer, Sr., F, Dimon Carrigan, Sr., C.

Date/Time/Location: March 15th, 6 pm, WPI

The Division 1 Eastern Mass Final pits a known commodity against a program on the rise. Needham has taken the entire state by storm, knocking off south sectional favorites BC High and number one seed Mansfield, en route to the school’s first ever sectional title.

Superstar Thomas Shaughnessy continued his terrific tournament for the Rockets in the south sectional final, scoring 27 points while dishing out five assists. Shaughnessy is far from Needham’s only key piece. Matt Shaker has become a consistent threat from long distance while Will Cooper, Brandon Monheimer, and Michael Klemm have become integral pieces on both ends of the floor.

Standing in Needham's way is undefeated Cambridge, who will be making its third consecutive appearance at the TD Garden. After cruising through most of the regular season, the Falcons earned their Division 1 North title, squeaking past Lawrence and Lowell before pulling away in the fourth quarter from Central Catholic. Jakigh Dottin leads the experienced group, but center Dimon Carrigan and forward Daniel Rymer make scoring in the paint against the Falcons almost impossible.

This, at face value, appears to be a game where both teams will be trying to score in exact opposite ways, with the Rockets relying on their success from deep, while Cambridge looks to eat Needham alive on the inside. If Needham is to have a fighter’s chance of knocking off the star-filled Falcons, at least eight treys is a must.

Player’s Thoughts: “Cambridge is an extremely talented team with experience playing on the big stage,” said Needham’s Thomas Shaughnessy. “I think we will bring a ton of energy and grit to a game where we will need the best of each player.”

Coach’s Thoughts: “Needham is creative on the defensive end, they’ll show three, four, five defenses in a quarter, and they’re going to need to do that against Cambridge,” said one coach. “Cambridge is just so good down low that the only way for Needham to neutralize that scoring is by hitting enough three pointers.”

Feld’s Pick: Cambridge, 69-61

Division 1 Central/West State Semifinal

Franklin (21-2) vs Springfield Central (19-2)

Players to Watch:
Franklin - Connor Goldstein, Sr., SG, Connor Peterson, Jr., PF, Chris Edgehill, Fr., PG, Jalen Samuels, So., SF.
Springfield Central - Jorge Torres, Jr., PF, Josh Pressley, Sr., G, Maickel DeJesus, Jr., G, Justin Feliciano, Jr., G, Hason Ward, So., PF/C.

March 15th, 7:30 pm, DCU Center

Each of these teams is coming off a very close win in its respective sectional final, and both squads will already be remembered among the best in school history. But, you get the feeling that neither group is satisfied, and both feel they are a team of destiny.

It would be hard to argue with either of them.

After watching rival Putnam take the state by storm in recent years, Springfield Central has dominated Western Mass this season, overwhelming opponents with both its trademark speed and underrated ball-movement. The Golden Eagles are paced by Jorge Torres and Josh Pressley, but have a number of quick guards capable of taking opponents off the dribble and creating problems.

Franklin has gotten by on stout defense, pinpoint passing and hot outside shooting thus far, but also because of the quick development of several underclassmen. Freshman point guard Chris Edgehill made the game winning steal and free throws to ice things against St. John's in the D1 Central title game and, despite some struggles at the free throw line, sophomore wing Jalen Samuels proved to be unguardable at times against the Pioneers.

From the outside, this looks like a typical "skill vs athleticism" game, but don't be fooled into thinking that Springfield Central isn't plenty skilled, or that Franklin doesn't have the horses to run with anybody. It should be a tight one, and each of these teams has shown the ability to win close games. Still, Franklin's tougher schedule, especially it's last two games against St. John's and suddenly healthy St. Peter-Marian, make the Panthers slightly more battle-tested.

Joe's Pick: Franklin, 66-63

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