Morrison: Plenty to watch for in the Boverini Tournament

St. Mary's senior guard Stephen Fama and the Spartans will battle against English in the first round of the Boverini Tournament. (Item Photo by Katie Morrison)

The Boverini Tournament tips off this afternoon, and there will be plenty of players and storylines to watch as four boys teams and four girls teams will battle it out for the right to hoist the two trophies.

St. Mary’s has swept the boys and girls tournaments for the past two years, but the Spartans aren’t a shoo-in on either side this season. Let’s break down the talent.

The boys division is extremely competitive. The early game between the Spartans and the Bulldogs (3) is shaping up to be the must-see matchup of the day. The defending champs have a pretty different look this season after graduating three mainstays in Jonathan Mola, Mike Cerulli and Jonny Mercado. But after a little waiver-related drama in the first few weeks of the season, the Spartans got a boost recently from the addition of Peabody transfer Chibuikem Onwuogu. They also have added height in the center with transfer Joseph Abate-Walsh, and senior guard Stephen Fama and junior guard Jalen Echevarria lead the way for St. Mary’s.

One thing the Spartans always have going for them is that they’re battle-tested. They’ve already played in a tournament, taking on BC High and Fenway at the Cathedral Holiday Hoopfest last week. And that experience will probably work in St. Mary’s favor; although it lost to BC High in a close game, it bounced back to beat Fenway in the next day. The Spartans always come ready to play, especially when there’s a trophy on the line.

But watch out for English. With Antonio Anderson at the helm, the Bulldogs have rocketed to a 4-0 start this season. In the Bulldogs’ most recent clash, against Malden Catholic, they showed both the positives and negatives of the group. Early in the game, English was doing just about whatever it wanted: hitting deep threes, getting easy layups (even dunks) in transition. The game got away from the Lancers before they even knew what happened. English can do that to you with its speed and talent.

But what was a 26-point lead at one point evaporated until it was just six points in the second half. That up-tempo pace led to turnovers and bad shots, and Malden Catholic worked its way back into the game. If the Bulldogs lose focus like that against the Spartans, it might be the difference.

Classical has a lot going for it in this tournament. The Rams are looking locked and loaded in the early part of the new season, and they get to play on their home court. And unlike St. Mary’s, which is dealing with a still-evolving roster (at least up until last week) and English, which has a new coach and a couple of brand-new starters in Ademide Badmus and Alonzo Linton, Classical has had time to gel. Yeah, there’s a new coach in Jasper Grassa, but he’s been an assistant coach on the team for a few years. The kids knew what to expect coming into this season. And the starting lineup is very similar to last year’s. Guys like Jaylen Johnson, Erick and Edwin Solis and Dyrrell Rucker spent a lot of time on the floor together last season, and that experience means something.

They’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the ball, but Classical’s biggest weakness can be its reliance on shooting threes. When their shooters are hot from beyond the arc, the Rams are one of the hardest teams to beat in the area. But when it’s off, it can be an uphill battle.

Tech, on the other hand, is somewhat of an unknown commodity. The Tigers are coming off a loss to Chelsea to drop them to 3-1. They’ve had a couple of impressive offensive showings, but those came against weaker teams. However, the success that Tech found last year, when it made a late push to make the playoffs, is carrying over. The team seems to be buying into coach Stevie Patrick’s vision, and it’s paying off. This will be an excellent test for the Tigers, since these teams represent some of the toughest competition they’ll face. While Tech won’t need to beat Division 1 teams like Classical to make a tournament run, it will help the Tigers see where they stand.

Now for the girls. The defending champions open against a gritty English team at 1:30. The Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them. The Spartans dismantled the two Northeastern Conference teams they’ve played this year, beating Saugus in their season opener and routing Salem, 65-18, last week. St. Mary’s has had its ups and downs this season, but the records coming into the tournament don’t mean a lot. The Spartans came into last year’s tournament with just one win in five games, and still took care of business.

But English can be a disruptive and scrappy team. The Bulldogs don’t have a ton of size, but they certainly are quick. They come into the tournament at 2-1, just a buzzer-beater away from being 3-0. I wouldn’t be surprised if English gave St. Mary’s some trouble, especially early on. There’s something to be said for a team that is quick and aggressive, and English is both.

Finally, the Classical girls will take on Swampscott in a long-awaited rematch…just kidding. These two teams just played each other last Thursday, and it wasn’t close. Swampscott is young and has to go through some growing pains before it hits its stride.

But if there’s one team that knows not to take anyone lightly the second time around, it’s Classical. After falling to Swampscott (a different-looking team with more veteran presence than the Big Blue have now) in the first round of the Boverini last year, the Rams flew past English in the consolation game.

The next week, the Rams saw their rivals again, and this time, English was more than ready for what Classical was bringing. The Rams escaped with another win, but it took overtime and some luck to wrap it up.

After an early exit from the tournament last year, Classical will have a chip on its shoulder coming into tonight’s game, and I expect the Rams to take care of business.

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