The Portland Bulldogs has shown amazing discipline all year in executing their zone-trap defense which has been at the core of their game all year. The press allows players to gamble for steals that lead to easy baskets. But even when Portland players gamble and lose, there is already another Bulldog in front that has rotated over. If by chance an opponent makes it to the basket they are usually so off-balance as to not be able to get off a good shot and it doesn’t help that 6’6″ Matt Talbot loves sliding over and smacks shots like a volley ball spiker.
No one plays on Portland if they can’t fit into Coach Joe Russo’s press. That is not to say that Portland does not have offensive weapons:
- Jayvon Pitts-Young is probably Portland’s most creative and most effective scorer as he is dangerous from anywhere on the floor and is surprisingly big under the basket for a 6’1″ player.
- Point guard Justin Zukowski is deceptively fast (he can out run defenders with the ball), but that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has seen him play running back.
- Matt Talbot can drive, shoot 3s, and has soft hands on put backs. What he hasn’t shown is an ability to post-up effectively. Although that might be considered a flaw in his game, Talbot should be commended for sacrificing his game (he’d make a great wing player) in order to fill the void in the middle. That being said, Talbot is capable of a monster game from both ends of the court. If Portland can get Talbot running Bonny Eagle will have a hard time keeping pace.
- Travis Godbout is probably their best (if strictly a spot-up) 3-point shooter.
- Steve Alex is the best open court player and is very smooth to the basket.
- Reserve guard Amir Moss can score off the dribble.
- Reserve F/C Dan Kane is a surprisingly effective inside player at 6’1″
Reserve PG Joe Esposito has not been in the regular rotation this year but Coach Russo might consider inserting the flashy sophomore point guard–and cousin of Justin Zukowski–in early. Why? Because Bonny Eagle’s Dustin Cole draws fouls like a 2nd graders draw the sun in the corner of the page. Cole is the one player in the conference who has the quickness and ball handling skills to not only break Portland’s press but to put Portland in foul trouble which is why Russo’s bench will be critical.
Who will guard Cole? Justin and Jayvon both have the strength, speed, and height to give it a go but if those players get in foul trouble Portland will be hard-pressed to replace them. In which case Coach Russo might go with Steve Alex as the primary defender (at least in the first half). Alex has the length and quickness to guard Cole and might be able to stress him defensively (as Falmouth’s Tommie Coyne did). Russo can also use Alex, Kane, or 6’3″ Tanner Foley on the baseline early on to save some fouls for Matt Talbot. In short, Dustin Cole is going to get fouled, the question for Portland is who gives them.
Although Bonny Eagle’s game revolves around Cole, he does have plenty of help:
- 6’2″ Sophomore Ben Malloy has a deadly long-range shot and has an effective overall game, particularly on offense. Coach Phil Bourassa may experiment matching Malloy up against Talbot to draw Portland’s big man away from the basket.
- Guard Nick Dubay is a gritty perimeter defender who defended the post effectively against 6’5″ forwards when caught in a mis-match.
- 6’1″ Jonathan Woods has a fine inside game and good ball handling skills that might be used effectively against Talbot.
Coach Bourassa told me that Bonny Eagle is an “emotional team and it has been hard to juggle that at times but they are starting to figure it out.” Reading between the lines, it seems that emotions can get in the way of discipline leading to things like stupid fouls, forced shots, or missed assignments. Can Portland’s defense and offensive weapons frustrate Bonny Eagle into poor play? Can they find a way to mitigate Cole and stay out of foul trouble?
The game will probably be decided by clutch play down the stretch. Cole has proven himself but have the Scots come to rely on him too much? If Portland can stifle Cole can Woods or Malloy step up down the stretch? Zukowski and Godbout are probably Portland’s best clutch free-throw shooters but if they are not on the line can Jayvon, Matt Talbot, or even Joe Esposito close out a game from the line?
Western Class B finals Saturday at the Portland Civic Center or MPBN television.