For all the talk about focusing on just the next game, John Mulvey’s eyes scrolled down quickly when the Division I schedule came out.

The Portsmouth High School boys basketball team’s slate would be front-loaded with rivalry games: Winnacunnet, Exeter, Dover and Spaulding, all before the season reached the midpoint.

“It’s interesting that we play them all fairly early,” said Mulvey. “We have all those tests and they’re going to be good tests for us. It’s exciting that we have good basketball on the Seacoast.”

A quick peek at the standings as the one-third pole approaches shows what many onlookers suspected at the start of the season, that the balance of D-I power rests on the Seacoast.

Exeter is 5-0, deep and averaging better than 60 points a game. Winnacunnet is 5-0, deep and allowing a minuscule 34.2 points a game. The only other unbeaten team to this point is Salem (6-0).

Go down a tier and you’ll see Spaulding (3-2), Portsmouth (3-3) and Dover (3-3) right in the mix, each producing at least one result to this point that makes us think they could be a tough tournament out down the road.

But as far as the tasty head to head matchups? We’re blowing through them faster than the Patriots blew though the Chargers.

On Friday, Portsmouth will host Spaulding, closing out the “Seacoast 5” portion of its schedule just eight games into the regular season.

In fact, once we get past a monster night of rivalry games on Feb. 1 (Winnacunnet at Exeter, and Spaulding at Dover), there’s only two Seacoast 5 battles left: Dover at Exeter on Feb. 26, and Winnacunnet at Spaulding on March 1.

So now’s as good a time as any for a Seacoast 5 snapshot, good teams -- potentially great teams -- that each have something they’ll need to overcome to get to where they want to be.

* Exeter -- history. It’s tough to pick a deeper team at this stage of the season than the Blue Hawks. They have forwards who can score in bunches (Josh Morissette and Kevin Henry), and ball-handlers galore, a group led by Ryan Grijalva, Cam Clark and Max Rose.

But in the back of their minds, every Exeter fan wonders what kind of misfortune awaits in March, like last year, when a winnable semifinal game against Dover slipped through the Hawks’ fingers.

* Winnacunnet -- peaking too early. The Warriors check all the boxes of a contender. They have one of the state’s best big men in 6-foot-7 Jack Schaake, a dynamic scorer in Ben Allen and a bunch of seasoned role players who do the things that need to be done on the court.

They've answered every challenge so far. But the schedule the rest of January and February is a daunting one, with very few breathers.

“This is just part of a Division I season, where you are going to have to play tough teams on the road,” coach Jay McKenna told Seacoast Media Group after Friday’s hard-fought, 55-50 win at Manchester Central.

* Spaulding -- handling the ball. 1,000-point scorer Arie Breakfield is a star. Guard Keagan Calero can get to the basket and score.

We all know the Red Raiders can defend. Can they handle the ball enough against pressure to get it to their standouts and keep pace with the league’s elite? Ball-handling was a culprit in Friday’s 51-38 loss to Exeter that saw the team concede the game’s final 10 points and not score for the last 2:46.

* Portsmouth -- handling the moments. With only two players (Alex Tavares and Calvin Hewett) back from last year’s championship rotation, it was going to take time for the young players plugged into the holes in the lineup to catch up.

Guys like Thomas Degnan, Coleman Brewster, Jacob Boutin and Zach Paradis have shown flashes that their development is ahead of the curve, at both ends of the court.

“Last year I played JV and this year I’ve had to step up a lot,” said Brewster, a sophomore point guard who scored 18 points against Memorial on Tuesday. “Be more mature and handle it. But I think I’ve been playing pretty well and the guys are good with it.”

The flip side was getting overwhelmed at the start at Salem on Friday, falling behind 16-0 in a game they’d eventually lose, 58-43. That won't be the only teaching moment this winter.

* Dover -- the supporting cast. Few players in Division I are going to command defensive respect like combo guard Ty Vitko, a 6-foot-3 ball-handler/slasher/shooter who’ll put the team on his back some nights.

Fleshing out the lineup to give him the offensive help he needs is a top early-season priority. Kingsley Breen, a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard, has emerged as a second option, but more are needed.

“Ty’s a very good player and he’s very experienced,” said Dover coach Matt Fennessy. “We just don’t have a lot of experience (around him). We have a number of role players back from last year, but they’re in elevated roles and they have to make plays consistently.”

 

Mike Zhe is a Herald staff writer. He can be reached at mzhe@seacoastonline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeZhe603.