Monday, March 12, 2018

MIAA Boys' Basketball State Tournament: Division 1 State Semi-Final Previews

Hockomock rivals Franklin (blue) and Mansfield (white) could meet again in the D1 state title game, but each will have to get past a difficult semifinal opponent first.   Photo by Eamon Convey.
By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

With Sectional Final weekend over, its time to turn the page to the State Semi-Finals, where 16 teams across the state will try to punch their tickets to the state finals to be held in Springfield on Saturday.

While the Eastern Mass finals are, as always, scheduled to be held at the TD Garden, the Central vs West semifinals will be held in two separate locations. The Division 1 and 2 Central/West games will be held at Worcester State University, while Divisions 3 and 4 will be held at AIC in Springfield.

Monday afternoon is when all the action is set to commence, so here is our preview for the two Division 1 State Semi-Finals.

Division 1

Everett (23-1) vs. Mansfield (24-2)

Everett’s Path: Chelmsford (66-46), Waltham (84-51), Lowell (71-68), Lawrence (68-56)

Mansfield’s Path: Newton South (71-44), BC High (71-58), Newton North (70-50), Brockton (79-65)

Everett’s Key Players: Ghared Boyce, Sr., G; Isaiah Likely, Sr., F; Caleb Jacobs, Sr. G

Mansfield Key Players: Johnny McCoy, Sr., SF; Damani Scott, Sr, SF; Sam Hyland, Sr., G

Overview: The Boys Division 1 Eastern Mass final is a matchup of two teams that are in search of their first state championship in program history. After a 19-1 regular season, Everett quieted any remaining doubters behind star senior guard Ghared Boyce. After avoiding an opening round upset to Chelmsford, the Crimson Tide steam rolled past Waltham before squeaking past Lowell. In the fourth quarter of the final versus Lawrence, the Crimson Tide played some of their best basketball of the season beginning the frame on a 17-2 run to seal their first sectional championship since 1994.

Speaking of leaving little doubt, Mansfield navigated the South field in impressive style. The Hornets defeated all four of their opponents by double-figures including knocking off perennial contender Newton North by 20 points and handily defeating Brockton in the sectional final. Mansfield has not lost since January 12th and is shooting over 51-percent in the postseason.

This matchup presents a multitude of interesting matchups and storylines. Everett’s length, athleticism, and presence of a premiere scorer in Boyce are a combination the likes of which Mansfield has yet to see this year. Isaiah Likely provides the Crimson Tide with a ball-handler who also produces key second chance opportunities on the offensive glass. Eric Thompson is a force in the paint when it comes to deflecting shots and Caleb Jacobs is a solid second scoring option alongside Boyce.

Mansfield, however, has seen its offensive efficiency rise to new levels this postseason. Johnny McCoy, the Hockomock League’s MVP, broke out for a pair of 20-plus point performances in the Sectional Semis and Finals. Damani Scott, meanwhile, is a mismatch for opposing guards with his athletic build and quickness. A bevy of three-pointer shooters complement McCoy and Scott, with Tyler Boulter, Justin Vine, and Ryan Otto all capable of catching fire from long range.

The x-factor here, though, is the Hornets’ Sam Hyland. Hyland has emerged as a high level defender over the second half of the season guarding the opposing teams best player on an nightly basis. A point-forward, Hyland has the quickness of a guard while also providing Mansfield with the build of someone who can guard a wing. In all likelihood, Hyland will be on Boyce for the majority of the contest. If Hyland can keep Boyce from catching fire late, then the Hornets may just do enough to secure a trip back to the state finals for the first time in half a decade.

Pick: Mansfield, 67-64

Franklin (21-2) vs. Springfield Central (22-0)

Franklin’s Path: Lincoln-Sudbury (79-49), Natick (68-54), Algonquin (58-53)

Springfield Central’s Path: Westfield (67-48), Putnam (75-66)

Franklin’s Key Players: Chris Edgehill, So., SG; Jalen Samuels, Jr, SF; Paul Mahon, Sr., SG

Central’s Key Players: Hason Ward, Jr., C; Jorge Torres, Sr., SG; Justin Felicano, Sr., SG

Overview: Two preseason favorites will collide in this Division 1 State Semi-Final with No. 1 Springfield Central taking on 2017 state finalist Franklin. These two met last season in this very same game, with Franklin rallying from eight points down with just 45 seconds left to eventually down the Golden Eagles in overtime. This time around, Central poses a whole new threat with 6-foot-9 junior center Hason Ward emerging as one of the top big men in Massachusetts.

Central has been the team to beat in Massachusetts for the better part of a month, remaining undefeated up until this point. Alongside Ward is premiere scorer Jorge Torres, who is averaging nearly 19 points per game. Anthony Kelly has developed into a legitimate option for the Golden Eagles averaging double figures, including 17 in Central’s come-from behind victory over Putnam to claim the West crown. Josiah Green and Justin Feliciano are marksmen from beyond the three point line.

Franklin, however, is more than experienced when it comes to playing in the big moment. Sophomore star Chris Edgehill seems to thrive when the lights are on as evidenced by his pair of treys in the waning moments of last year’s state semi-final. Jalen Samuels provides matchup problems for opponents with his ability to score in transition and post up an opposing guard in order to score in the paint. Senior Paul Mahon, while capable of catching fire from beyond the arc, is also one of the top defenders in Massachusetts. Matt Elias and Brendan Rodgers also serve as scoring options.

In a game where Central is likely to control the paint for its entirety, the Panthers will need to be nearly flawless from from three-point land. Samuels, who is not usually known for his perimeter scoring, will need his jumper to be effective in order to draw the Golden Eagles’ big men out of the paint so as to open up the lane for Edgehill and Mahon.

With both teams known for their defense, this seems bound to be a game decided in the 50s. If the Golden Eagles can keep Franklin from getting hot from the perimeter, it will be hard for the Panthers to generate enough offense.

Pick: Springfield Central, 59-55

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