The FCIAC boys basketball season hit the three-quarter pole for some teams on Friday.
Big changes over the last quarter? Westhill remains unbeaten in conference play and has the best record but there has been a shake up in the standings, with Ludlowe rising — all the way to the second spot — and Wilton slipping a few places.
Bassick — as predicted here, though I don’t consider this a major surprise — has played itself into a three-way tie, along with Staples, which refuses to go away, and Trumbull, which has dipped, for the 7th and 8th positions. Harding and Bridgeport Central are now both on the outside looking in, while, improbably, Ridgefield has caught fire, mostly by running the table against similarly skilled teams, and clings to contention.
Barring a real collapse, Westhill, Ludlowe, Norwalk, Danbury, Stamford and Wilton —the last five separated by just two games in the standings — can book plans for a trip to Fairfield for quarterfinal playoff games. That leaves six schools battling for the final two spots.
Based on the strength of remaining schedule and team talent, I expect the race to end up being between three schools: Bassick, Trumbull and Central.
The overriding themes have not changed: there is greater parity and fewer dominant players. The Vikings have the best, Jeremiah Livingston, which carries even greater weight this year.
If there was a year for a lower seed — Bassick has done it a couple of times — to pull off a surprise and win the title, or even reach the final, this is it.
Though the following no doubt will again change in a couple of weeks, on a snowy day how about a little handicapping, as we get ready for the homestretch, in order the teams with the best chance of winning the championship.
1. Westhill (14-1 overall, 13-0 FCIAC)
It is almost impossible to go through the regular season unbeaten, yet the Vikings are five games away from the feat. There have been no letdowns, and while they are not steamrolling through the field, they have found ways to win in every game when tested.
Livingston is running away now with the MVP title, while Tyrell Alexander has stepped up into one of the league’s most unsung players. If CJ Donaldson can remain on a consistent level and one or two other players continue to take turns stepping up each night, the Vikings will be tough to beat.
2. Stamford (11-3, 9-3)
The Black Knights have rebounded from an inconsistent start to run off seven straight wins, primarily against teams they should beat. We will learn more Tuesday night when they travel to Norwalk.
Kwe Askew, the 6-foot-6 center, remains the key to success. When he dominates, as he has done with greater frequency of late, opponents have a big — pun intended — matchup problem.
3. Danbury (10-4, 9-3)
The Hatters don’t stand out in any one area, but they also don’t have any exploitable flaws, which few teams can say. Tysheen McCrae is one of the better point guards, Will Orr provides a perimeter game, the Hatters have good height, rebound well and are one of the league’s most athletic teams.
Danbury also doesn’t have any bad losses, a trait that speaks well for the long term.
4. Fairfield Ludlowe (11-3, 10-2)
Everyone keeps waiting for the Falcons to fall, but instead they have been more like an engine gathering steam, coming off back to back wins against Central and Norwalk.
The Falcons are the most cohesive team in the league, have good balance and play aggressive defense, led by Chad Peterson, who has been shutting down the best opposing scorer. Matt Doyle is the go-to player on a team that spreads the points around.
Ludlowe may also be the team most unlikely to beat itself.
So after all that, are the Falcons ranked too low here? Perhaps. More a hunch that Stamford and Danbury are going to peak the final month.
There is a reason just two games currently separate teams 2-6. They are that close.
5. Norwalk (12-3, 10-3)
The Bears have been one of the most mystifying teams in recent memory. Many people feel they have the best talent in the league this year — a contention that isn’t hard to defend.
Yet the Bears have not played to their ability. They have lost to three of the teams ranked above them here, and face Stamford Tuesday night. It is a game that isn’t a must-win in terms of the standings, but a victory will enhance their credibility in a big way, and a loss will just add to the puzzle.
In terms of intrigue, Tuesday’s game ranks among the top for the regular season.
6. Wilton (10-4, 8-4)
Teams that live by the 3 also die by the 3, and that was the Warriors’ problem after a hot start that had people talking about the climb from sleeper to championships.
All the pieces remain in place. The Warriors are well-disciplined, a reflection of the job Joel Geriak has done since taking over.
It would not be startling if Wilton made a first-round exit nor found itself in the title game.
7. Trumbull (8-5, 7-5)
The Eagles have some puzzling losses and have not played well at home. They also have the personnel to play with anyone in the league and thus fulfill all the qualities to be the perfect sleeper. Can Trumbull summon the consistency?
8. Bassick (8-5, 7-5)
A hot Bassick team winning the championship out of the 8th spot? It has happened twice before, though this year’s team lacks the overall game of its predecessors.