Playoff hoops are here

Posted 2/21/24

The basketball playoffs start this week in Rhode Island and are sure to bring some great matchups and fun brackets. The basketball postseason is without a doubt the best on the sports calendar and …

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Playoff hoops are here


The basketball playoffs start this week in Rhode Island and are sure to bring some great matchups and fun brackets. The basketball postseason is without a doubt the best on the sports calendar and this season’s is shaping up to be another fast-paced dogfight in each division.

Here is the outlook on our teams that have made it.

On the boys side, the Hendricken Hawks are in familiar, but unfamiliar, territory as they are not the favorite to win it all and repeat as champs.

Why is this familiar? Well, last season at this time most spectators had the rival La Salle Rams as the favorite and in a way, they were correct as La Salle won the Division I title. Obviously we know the Hawks came back two weeks later to win the state title, but point being, the Hawks know what it’s like to not be considered the odds on favorite.

What’s unfamiliar this time around though is how far off from being considered the favorites they are. This is my sixth winter season in Rhode Island and I can say that this is the lowest the general public has been on this team going into the playoffs.

Hendricken graduated all five of its seniors from last season. An up and down start to the season was easy to project, but Hendricken, led by Jamal Gomes, always saves its best for last. The Hawks have indeed improved as the season has worn on, but Classical has remained an unbeaten force, Barrington finished ahead in the standings as did La Salle.

Would I say Hendricken is an afterthought? No, but generally speaking, Classical is the favorite with most people choosing the Rams as the second option. It’s been awhile since the Hawks were considered to be more of a dark horse than a favorite.

I refuse to count the Hawks out, I just can’t do it. James Caldarella has been the leader that they asked him to be and Jakob Reyes has emerged as a top-notch guard. Will Mascena and Devin Lynch have also progressed as young players. That’s plenty for Gomes to work with.

The Johnston boys are in pretty much the identical spot in Division II. The Panthers are reigning champs, are fourth in the division, and have shown that they can compete with anyone. Yet, they are not grabbing many headlines.

Lincoln, like Classical, is unbeaten and seemingly untouchable. The Lions are the odds-on favorite, with Tolman and St. Ray’s right behind them. Again, it’s not like the Panthers are being counted out, but few see them as the favorite.

Broken record here, but I also refuse to count the Panthers out. Lincoln got the win in their matchup in the regular season and the Panthers have shown some cracks, but I still believe in experience, which the Panthers have more of than anyone. I’m expecting a Lions-Panthers rematch where anything can happen.

Not far behind is Cranston West, who wrapped up its regular season with a three-game win streak and winning seven of its final eight.

Considering how strong the top five or six units are in DII, it will be hard to see the Falcons reaching the finals. The talent is there, but the Falcons have not proven to be able to put it all together against the elite teams.

Jaymien Aponte and Kennedy Arias are a dynamic front court and Ryan Zarrella and Adreyan Perez are a nice 1-2 punch in the back. Again, talent and ability are not a question. It’s just hard to pick West when they have stumbled against the top teams in the division. Momentum is a huge factor in the playoffs, so if West can pick some up, then perhaps it can emerge as a contender.

The other team we’ve got in DII is Pilgrim, who is in a similar position.

Dylan Vale and Carter Clifton are a nice duo that have carried the Pats at times this season, with a crop of youngsters making an impact and filling out the rest of the lineup. Pilgrim has shown brilliance at times this season, but it feels like it is another year away from being a true contender. Reaching the playoffs was an accomplishment for the Pats, and getting a playoff win would be a huge accomplishment.

Headlining our girls teams is Johnston, who beat Davies last week to wrap up the top seed in Division IV.

A Johnston championship seems inevitable at this point.

The Panthers’ have dominated nearly every game it’s played. It lost opening night to Davies but was shorthanded with injury, and was forced to complete a late comeback against third-place Hope a few weeks back. Other than those two blips, the Panthers have steamrolled everyone in their path, including Davies and Hope in the other times they met.

Jayanah Rollins is the best point guard in Division IV while Bella Gesualdi might be the best overall player. Aubree Allen and Ava Waterman provide veteran leadership and coach Jhamal Diggs continues to show that he is one of the state’s best. There’s no reason to pick against the Panthers at this point. The only way they will come up short is by a massive upset. Not impossible, but very improbable.

The Cranston West girls are in good shape heading into the crowded Division I playoffs.

Sure, the Falcons cooled off in the second half of the regular season after looking like the state’s best team in the first half. Regardless, the Falcons have the talent and experience to compete with anyone.

Olivia Tedeschi-Moran and Maia Riccio have been fantastic leading the team while Kyla Buco continues to be a sniper from the outside. This team is loaded, so it will be about finding a groove for two weeks. The Falcons nearly clipped top-seeded North Kingstown and picked up big wins over Ponaganset and La Salle. They will be right in this thing.

Lastly, are the Toll Gate girls in Division III.

The Titans finished in third place and are also a threat to win it all. Adeline Areson and Dulce Garcia have been fantastic while Amanda Preston, Mary McNulty, Lola Olink and Rihanna Tavares have been quality players filling out the rest of the lineup.

Toll Gate, though, needs to figure out a way past Narragansett and Exeter-West Greenwich, who occupy the top two seeds and who each beat them twice. It’s hard to beat a team three straight times, so we’ll see Toll Gate can take that step. The Titans seem to be a lock to reach the final four.

playoffs, hoops, basketball


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