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SWC boys basketball: Breaking down the playoffs

Updated 12:03 am, Friday, February 22, 2013
  • Bunnell high school's Issac Vann goes up to dunk the ball in a boys basketball game against Stratford high school played at Bunnell high school, Stratford, CT on Saturday, December 22nd, 2012. Photo: Mark Conrad / Connecticut Post Freelance
    Bunnell high school's Issac Vann goes up to dunk the ball in a boys basketball game against Stratford high school played at Bunnell high school, Stratford, CT on Saturday, December 22nd, 2012. Photo: Mark Conrad

 

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No. 3 ND-Fairfield (15-5) vs. No. 6 Masuk (9-11), noon: The Lancers enter the playoffs on a six-game winning streak that began after back-to-back road losses to Bunnell and Bethel in late January, riding the hot hand of senior guard Danny Upchurch. Masuk went 4-2 in February, getting a lift from the return of Matt Gerak as well as inspired play from senior point guard Dom Migliaro. For the Panthers to have chance for an upset they must play strong defense. The pick: ND-Fairfield 72, Masuk 60.

No. 2 Bethel (18-2) vs. No. 7 Weston (10-10), 2 p.m.: The Bobcats had no trouble in the first meeting, winning 52-36 back on Jan. 2. Bethel comes into the postseason with four consecutive double-digit victories, so this figures to be a warmup for Dan Garvin & Co. The pick: Bethel 68, Weston 50.

No. 4 Kolbe Cathedral (14-5) vs. No. 5 Stratford (12-7), 5 p.m.: These two nearby rivals have already squared off twice this year with Kolbe winning both times by a combined 12 points. The Red Devils rattled off five straight wins to close out the regular season after the second loss to the Cougars on Feb. 2. Kolbe finished strong, too, until a 22-point loss to Bethel on Tuesday. The pick: Stratford 59, Kolbe Cathedral 56

No. 1 Bunnell (18-2) vs. No. 8 Newtown (8-12), 7 p.m.: The Nighthawks deserve credit for rebounding from a slow start, as well as having to deal with the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy hovering over their heads all season. That said, Newtown is likely overmatched by Bunnell's two-headed 20-point scorers, Matt Nolting and Issac Vann, as well as its very talented supporting cast. The pick: Bunnell 80, Newtown 61.

Sleeper: Notre Dame-Fairfield. The Lancers haven't lost since a Ryan Pittman reverse layup at the buzzer downed them against Bunnell on Jan. 29. After the game coach Vin Laczkoski was upbeat, feeling his team had turned a corner. Notre Dame won the SWC two years ago, with Upchurch (24 ppg.) earning MVP honors as a sophomore. The improved play of Jaylen Jennings and CJ Davidson give the Lancers enough options should they match up with Garvin and Bethel in the semifinals Tuesday at Newtown.

Most likely first-round upset: Stratford over Kolbe Cathedral. Picking a No. 5 over a No. 4 isn't a colossal upset, but Stratford is dangerous. Senior leader Bernard Brantley is getting closer to 100 percent after he broke a bone in his foot on Jan. 5 against Bunnell, which kept him sidelined over a month. Marcus Vereen, Aaron Smith and Eric Rankin are quietly very solid for Stratford and the coaching of Paul Dudzinski can't be overlooked.

Story line: Will it be a "chalk" tournament? Like any high school postseason hoops' tournament, the SWC has had its fair share of surprises throughout its history. This year the way the league unfolded the top seeds, Bunnell and Bethel, especially, seemed head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the league. After fifth-seeded Stratford there is a decided drop-off.

Player to watch: Issac Vaan, Bunnell: The Bryant-bound Garvin will be determined to end his career with a trophy for Bethel, but this feels like the full-on coming out party for Vann. The silky 6-foot-5 junior swingman, dubbed "Mr. Showtime" by Bunnell students, has filled up the stat sheet all season and can dominate games on both ends of the floor. The only question is how well Vann and the top-seeded Bulldogs handle the pressure of being the team to beat over the next week.

mcardillo@ctpost.com; @CTPostCardillo