How thin was the line between contention and champion in the FCIAC last season? Ridgefield and Wilton each played in the final for the first time, with the Tigers winning the border battle in overtime.
If not for Nick Laudati’s game-winning basket at the buzzer in the quarterfinals against Fairfield Warde, the Tigers might instead have had an early exit and a memorable tournament that led to the title game being moved to Alumni Hall to accommodate a large crowd would have played out entirely differently.
Who knows how many people will attend this season’s championship if the Warriors, who will be hosting the event in a long-overdue Final Four relocation to their fieldhouse, make a return appearance. And if the Tigers should again join them?
That is not an improbable scenario, though right now Class S champion Trinity Catholic and Danbury are generally considered the teams to beat. The race, though, figures to be unpredictable: of the 24 players who received All-Conference honors, just five return.
One mystery to the season will not require flipping to the final page: congratulations to the Crusaders, Hatters, Ridgefield and Trumbull: they have already qualified for the Division I playoffs in the CIAC’s mystifying new state tournament format.
Trinity Catholic. The Crusaders enter as the team to beat, but with question marks that could derail them, as was the case during the regular season a year ago before they rebounded to win the Class S championship.
Four double-digit scorers return, highlighted by Dutreil Contavio (16.8 points, 12.3 rebounds), an explosive 6-6 athletic presence. He is supported by Dimitry Moise (14.5 points). Stephon McGill and Cam Blake are two other veterans, while Rasheed Constant saw time off the bench.
There is no disputing the talent. What is uncertain on the eve of the season is will the Crusaders get reliable point guard play and chemistry, which was their biggest issue last winter. It has surprisingly been a decade since Trinity’s last conference title. The pieces are in place to end that drought.
Danbury. The Hatters have gone even longer since hanging a banner in the gymnasium — 26 years. They have been on the cusp in recent seasons and reached the final two years ago. Those not on the Trinity bandwagon see Danbury as the more viable option.
The Hatters have experience and a formidable trio in Cameron Snow, Denali Burton and Javon Hernandez. Jordan Brown is back after missing much of last season and Diante Vines has made the transition from football quarterback to defensive stopper on the basketball court.
Danbury has depth and experience, and those could be determining factors.
Wilton. The Warriors reached their first league final last year, losing to rival Ridgefield in a memorable overtime battle.
Wilton again graduated a strong nucleus and again, because of roster size, has seasoned players to lead the way, headlined by guards Kyle Maatallah, Nick Kronenberg and Scott Cunningham. Kyle Shifrin and Robbie Hermann provide inside play, and the addition of Fairfield Warde transfer Antonio Brancato is a huge offensive boost.
Coach Joel Geriak will again be able to mix and match to suit the Warriors’ up-tempo game. They also have the league’s loyalist fan base, one that won’t have to travel far to see this year’s championship.
Ridgefield. The Tigers outlasted Wilton in a grinding final but will need to count on a mostly new cast to get back.
They have one of the league’s top players in Brenden McNamara, who is comfortable both playing close to the basket and outside. Ridgefield will need a lot from McNamara and he should be able to deliver.
McNamara will be complemented by four players who will be called on to make greater contributions: James St. Pierre, Luke McGarrity and Alex Price, last seen helping pitch the school’s baseball team to the conference final.
The Tigers are always disciplined and fundamentally sound, attributes that become critical in close games.
Fairfield Warde. The Mustangs have a strong 1-2 punch in 6-3 senior Sean Conway, a Player of the Year candidate who averaged 18 points and 7 rebounds, and 6-3 center Malcolm Brune (10 points, 8 rebounds), one of the most underrated contributors on a team that went 16-7.
Matt Becker is 6-4 and ready to provide an inside presence with increased minutes, while Dan Fitzpatrick is a reliable scorer from mid-range.
Coach Ryan Swaller has numbers and could end up leading the first team from Fairfield to play in the conference final in a quarter of a century.
Stamford. The Black Knights won just six games last year but seem ready to make the biggest leap of any FCIAC team.
Stamford will be led by forward Tevin St. John (13 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) and guard Lovell Staton. Guard Josh Thervil started in all but two games as a sophomore. Guard Jelani Jackson is another talent.
Few will be surprised if the Black Knights grab a top-four spot.
Predicted Order Of Finish
1. Trinity Catholic
5. Fairfield Warde
7. Bridgeport Central
8. St. Joseph
Sean Conway, Fairfield Warde
Dutreil Contavio, Trinity Catholic
Brendan McNamara, Ridgefield
Dimitry Moise, Trinity Catholic
Timmond Williams, Trumbull
Antonio Brancato, Wilton
Javon Hernandez, Danbury
Kyle Maatallah, Wilton
Denali Burton, Danbury
Raj Walker, Bridgeport Central
Gavin Greene, St. Joseph
Tyrique Langley, Norwalk
Raquan Riley, Bridgeport Central
Tevin St. John, Stamford
Cameron Snow, Danbury
Max Sussman, Staples
Bridgeport Central: Raj Walker, DJ Fulton, Raquan Riley.
Danbury: Jordan Brown, Cameron Snow, Javon Hernandez, Denali Burton, Diante Vines, Keyon Moore, Justin Tarsi, Arnold Peralta, Taylor Heady, Connor Goodwin, Lawrens Buissereth.
Darien: Jack Tierney, Andrew Darby, Mitch Pryor, Will Rolapp, Henry Williams, Ryan Darby, Justin Jordan.
Fairfield Ludlowe: Ty Stapleton, Jadyn Tabois, Christian Peterson, Jeff Meyers, James Bourque, Cooper Nielsen, Jack Began, Justin Schiller, Josh Evans, Jake Northrop, Patrick Kilbride.
Fairfield Warde: Sean Conway, Malcolm Brune, Matt Becker, Dan Fitzpatrick, Ethan Wolf, Chris Bogan, Matt Houghton, Jeff Seganos, Nick Crescione.
Greenwich: G Elia Gianopoulous, F Matt Robins, C Oliver Milledge, G Charlie Zeeve, F Billy Nail, F Dan Wurst, Christian Rogers, Dan Wurst, Mekhi Samb, Gianni Lorquet, Jackson Trimmer, Aidan Munnelly, Gavin Muir, Chris Mark, Chris Genaro.
Brien McMahon: Saikwon Williams, Xavier Rojas, Latrel Stewart, Justin Forde, Kelete Sherald, Paul Louis, Mike Fuller, Isaiah Williams.
New Canaan: G Luke Rwambuya, G Ryan McAleer, G Cam Nelson, G Ben Sarda, G Matt Brand, G Stephen Wronski, G Jake Sloane, G Alex Gibbens, G Aiden Bramwit, G Wyatt Wilson, F Jack Richardson, F Alex Galvan, F John Hall.
Norwalk: Joey Benincaso, Conner Mastropietro, Zyaire Sellers, Tyrique Langley, Xavier Vines, Isaiah Lopez, Malique Stevens, Jadyn Grant, Dylan Polka, Jahmai Green, Jamal Boyd, Trey Lewis, Aaron Epps.
Ridgefield: Brenden McNamara, James St. Pierre, Luke McGarrity, Alex Price, Ryan Malley, Ryan Garcon, Chris Knachel, Matthew Misurelli.
St. Joseph: F Gavin Greene, G Paul Fabbri, G Jared Grindrod, G Danny Tobin, F Brian Dineen, F Ian Argento, F Will Diamantis, G/F Bobby Sullivan, G Jake Murphy, G Ace Luzietti, G Brendan Kade, Stephen Paolini.
Stamford: F Tevin St John, G Lovell Staton, G Josh Thervil, G Jelani Jackson, F Tyler Landsiedel, G Jay Jaudon, F Manny Azolin, G Jaden Bell.
Staples: G Max Sussman, G Ben Pearl, G Luke Murphy, F Dylan Ward, C AJ Konstanty, G Evan Vishno.
Trinity Catholic: F Contavio Dutreil, F Dimitry Moise, G Stephon McGill, G Jack Soucy, Cam Blake, Rasheed Constant, Rashen Fisher.
Trumbull: Timmond Williams, Chris Brown, Evan Gutowski, Cape Holden, Quentar Taylor, John Fromageot, Jack Therriault, Isaiah Johnson, Mileeq Green.
Westhill: Sam Lombino, Chris Kopek, D’aeren Carson.
Wilton: G Kyle Maatallah, G Scott Cunningham, C Kyle Shifrin, C Robbie Hermann, G Antonio Brancato, G Nick Kronenberg, F Kyle Phillips, F Ryan Schriber, G/F Zayvion Eusebe, G Tucker Walden, C Matt Olson, C Ryan Biberon, G Zach Pozzi, G Andrew Smith, F Kyle Hyzy.