With the prelim and tourney seedings set, now comes the tough job of picking winners and possible upsetters, those teams I think will knock off higher-seeded teams.
Perhaps the biggest factor consistently overlooked when evaluating tourney teams is the floors are 10 feet longer at all three tourney sites in Bangor, Augusta and Portland.
Teams that get a chance to practice on a college-size floor will have a big advantage in the tourney. Teams that adjust more quickly to the floor will have the best chance of winning.
The floor’s extra distance could also make physical conditioning a factor and test a team’s bench. It will also be more difficult for a team to successfully press full-court.
Given those factors, here are my picks for winners in all five North classes, boys and girls.
Looking at the new Class AA North boys, Portland and Deering probably meet in Augusta for the championship with Portland having beaten Deering twice in the regular season. I know the old adage of it’s tough to beat a good team three times and Deering has the best chance to pull off an upset, but I’m going with Portland because veteran coach Joe Russo will have the Bulldogs ready for anything.
In Class A North boys, until Hampden Academy is beaten, the Broncos are my pick. The best chance of upsetting Hampden is Medomak Valley, which has lots of tourney experience and is well coached by Nick DePatsy, who recently joined the 300-win club.
Class B North is the toughest of all five boys classes to predict. It could be one of five teams. I’m going with Old Town mainly on their coaching behind Brian McDormand, but Orono’s tradition of winning 10 Eastern Maine Tournaments make it my upsetter.
In Class C North, George Stevens Academy’s recent two-point loss to Ellsworth probably helps more than it hurts as it no longer has the extra pressure of an unbeaten season looming with each tourney game. I am going with GSA in Class C. The Eagles have good size, are well-coached by Dwayne Carter and have been tough all season. A possible upsetter could be Schenck of East Millinocket with high scorer Justin Thompson leading their way.
Class D boys is another tough one to pick as the top four teams have all have lost two to four games. I’ll flip a coin on this one and go with the Easton Bears and as a upsetter I’ll go with Machias.
In the North girls tourney, I like Edward Little as the champ in Class AA with Bangor lurking to be the upsetter.
In Class A North girls, the pick has to be unbeaten and defending Class A state champion Lawrence. A possible upsetter is Gardiner.
Class B is another tough pick and features parity. The winner could be Houlton, Mount Desert Island or Winslow. I’m going with No. 1 seed Houlton as the Shiretowners have the chance to win two championships in two different classes after winning in Class C last season. Because of its tourney experience the team that could have the best chance to be the upsetter is Presque Isle.
In Class C, Fort Fairfield and Narraguagus each only have one loss and are the one-two seeds, respectively. I like Fort and my upset special in this class is the always well-coached Dexter Tigers under Jody Grant.
In Class D North girls, there are again several evenly-balanced teams. Of the top four teams, two have four losses and two have five losses. There’s little pressure on a very young Southern Aroostook which still has plenty of good basketball in the seasons ahead, so the Warriors are my pick to win. Central Aroostook is the underdog as the Panthers split with Southern Aroostook in the battle of the County rivals.
Some other factors that can determine the winners in each class are:
— A team will have to survive a poor shooting game to win all three games.
— A team peaking in February will be tough to beat as will a team playing good defense.
— How well a team will deal with foul trouble, unexpected illness or injuries.
Good luck to all the teams and enjoy the tourney.