Analysis: FCIAC boys basketball will be a wide-open sprint to the finish
Updated 11:28 pm, Thursday, January 24, 2013
The St. Joseph boys basketball team, which currently has the best overall record and has to be considered an ever-so-slight favorite if forced to pick one, has a 21-point loss to Wilton, which is currently tied for 11th place in the league rankings, on its resume.
Bassick, the two-time defending champion, has lost to unheralded New Canaan. Well, unheralded as of a month ago; the Rams are just a half game out of a conference playoff spot.
Westhill, a team nobody mentioned in the preseason, is the only remaining unbeaten team in league play.
Fairfield Ludlowe has scored 35, 32 and 30 points in three games -- and won each of them.
Darien, the only winless team in conference play, minus its best player on Tuesday almost beat Trinity Catholic and has a non-league win over Greenwich, which went to double overtime before losing to Trinity, which was the last remaining overall unbeaten team until 10 days ago, which...
What in the name of James Naismith is going on here?
Welcome to life in the FCIAC as we make the turn past the midseason pole. The word parity was not bandied about during the preseason for nothing. The top of the league has taken a giant step or two back to the pack, there are fewer teams coaches can check off as automatic wins and there is a far deeper middle class than at any time in recent memory.
Going into Thursday night's games, just two games separated eight teams that would be battling for the final four seeds in the FCIAC Tournament.
Several coaches have confided that the league is down -- using a less benign word than down -- this season, which is a relative sentiment. The top teams this year would be underdogs against the elite of years past.
But maybe the glass-half-full view offers a better picture.
Games are more competitive and there is greater uncertainty. The first four teams that would be out of the league playoffs could easily unseat a few of the teams that would be the last four in.
Expanding the scope, does anyone give Staples, riding a three-game winning streak and right now sitting in the eighth position, no chance of beating Westhill, shockingly the top seed and the team which everyone seems to be waiting to take a dive but refuses to do so? Bassick no chance against Trinity? Norwalk no chance against St. Joseph, or Bridgeport Central no chance against Ridgefield.
What has made this season more compelling are a number of trends that have served like individual chapters to a book that is now half complete. It started on opening night, when St. Joseph defeated Ridgefield in a game that very well could have been a preview of next month's championship game.
Most people will find it hard to believe that the Cadets, with their storied history, have won just one league title since joining the FCIAC two decades ago. That is one more trophy than Ridgefield has in its own showcase.
Trinity, one of the state's top powers the last 15 years, was supposed to be a middle dweller this winter. That was before Schadrac Casimir became a prime time player, averaging 27.3 points a game -- with one stunning 50-point performance in a double overtime win against Greenwich -- and Brandon Wheeler made the jump from role player to playing a lead role.
Imagine a Trinity Catholic-St. Joseph final. It would be welcome by the non-partisan fans who last week made the mistake of attending Hillhouse-Fairfield Prep and missed out on the game of the year, an instant classic, with the Cadets overcoming 5-point deficits at the end of regulation and overtime to come away with a thrilling 87-85 win.
A rematch would be welcome by everyone except the many people who want the two schools shuttled to a separate Catholic league that doesn't -- and never will -- exist in Connecticut.
Westhill, one of the most interesting case studies, hardly gets mentioned despite an undefeated record in league play. Quick quiz: name one Viking player. Can't? You aren't alone.
And that is actually one of Westhill's strengths. This year's edition has better chemistry than any of its teams in recent memory and plays a stifling pressure defense that fuels an efficient transition game.
Can the Vikings go all the way? They turn the ball over too often, but they managed to defeat a solid Central team, improbably, despite 32 turnovers. Are they for real? They finish the season with, in order, Trinity Catholic, St. Joseph and Ridgefield. Stay tuned.
If Westhill is the best team we aren't hearing about, Ridgefield runs a close second. Surely the pundits haven't been scared off by a pair of losses to good teams by the preseason favorite. And Norwalk, at 9-3, is lurking about without much fanfare.
Bassick has hit a slump, but is anyone willing to write off the two-time defending champion, with a penchant for hitting its stride in February?
This is the year we have to take a look at schools usually not in the conversation. How about Wilton, the FCIAC's mad bombers, living and dying by the 3-point shot? The Warriors are 6-2 since an 0-3 start.
Staples, considered a solid 4-6 seed in December, lost much of its bandwagon after a 3-5 start, but is now riding a three-game winning streak.
Fairfield Ludlowe has mastered the art of dictating tempo to the point that it is just one game out of a league playoff berth.
There may not be any high Division I level players in the league this season -- that is usually the case -- but a number worth making the trip to see on a Friday night. Casimir's explosiveness; the high intensity of St. Joseph's Quincy McKnight and Jake Pelletier; Ridgefield's Mr. Consistency, Kurt Steidl; Westhill's super-soph, Jeremiah Livingston; to players like Staples' Peter Rankowitz, New Canaan's Andrew Read, Danbury's Danyjoel Harris and Darien's Matt Staubi, who tend to carry their schools.
FCIAC boys basketball doesn't stink this year, unless you long for a dominant team or two rolling over the league. It is, like global-warming weather, unpredictable.
Until it is over, we don't know how that final chapter is going to end.
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