At the start of the season one coach told me Brien McMahon was the favorite to win the league championship.
Two days ago the same coach told me the Senators were not in a slump but the beginning of a free-fall and will not qualify for the FCIAC Tournament.
That sounds more like a tech stock in 2000 than a high school basketball team.
While such a swing seems — and is — extreme, it is symptomatic of an FCIAC season where there are no great teams, no great players and a lot of good coaches trying their best to find the right pieces to succeed. It isn’t easy.
On the one hand, it feels like we are beating this down-year storyline for the season. On the other, it is instructive as the basis for analysis because there are no certains, no surprises — the word upset has hardly been seen on this site— and the real rewards will come if the FCIAC Tournament proves as unpredictable as we expect.
Last year’s Player of the Year was Westhill’s Jeremiah Livingston. The year before it was Central’s Tyler Ancrum. Go back another and you have Trinity’s Schadrac Casimir. They were able on a nightly basis to carry their teams no matter if they were faced with box-and-ones, triangle-and-twos or any other junk defense designed to stop them. There are players who have and will be needed to play the same roles this year, but none that is a guarantee to do so. You won’t even get anything near a consensus on who the best player currently is.
Right now, after seeing 11 of the 12 teams with the league’s best records — I will get to you Greenwich — I will crawl gently out onto that limb and opine that Danbury has the best talent and Trumbull the most balanced team. Right now that would be the matchup as a neutral fan, or sportswriter looking for the best story, I would most want to see on championship night. At this time of the season you normally would feel confident that at least one would reach the final. This year? I’d be a bit surprised if neither was around for title night, and for you historians the Hatters’ last appearance was in 1992 and the Eagles’ nine years earlier.
Talk about a throwback. Yet at the same time, even though the record books are filled with top seeds getting taken down in the first round, it seems the odds are higher this year because there is a tighter talent gap between 1-8.
But if not Danbury or Trumbull, who? When on, Wilton is the most fun team to watch, but that has been the case for three years now. Can style bring home a trophy? Living by the 3 is hard to do for three playoff games in six days, and what to do about that hole in the middle when the shots aren’t falling is the giant question mark in the field house. Stamford? Danny Melzer has done as good a coaching job as anyone, but the Black Knights’ best league win so far was Monday against Westhill, which is 4-5 in the league. Does that mean the Black Knights are a mirage? Not at all. It is just that the most important body of work is still to come.
The team that I have seen more than once that is most indicative of this season is Ridgefield. The Tigers kicked off the calendar year with an 18-point win at Ludlowe built on stifling defense. I had found my sleeper, especially after they won five out of six games. Then they went to Wilton last week and got Duane Bobick-ed (forgive me for a heavyweight boxing reference from nearly four decades ago — win by knockout in 58 seconds — but it is a personal favorite), followed by a loss at home to Darien. Pretender or contender? The guess here is I will have seen the team’s best and worst road games of the year, and we will have to wait and see what Ridgefield does with what is one of the more favorable remaining schedules.
Which brings us back full circle to McMahon, the most polarizing preseason (co-)favorite in recent memory. Opinions on the Senators know no boundaries. They have lost three of their last five, including by 23 points at Ridgefield. They still have to play Danbury (tonight), Trumbull, Wilton, Greenwich and the two Fairfield schools. The only game against a team with a losing record? City rival Norwalk.
So at least in theory you can see why the aforementioned coach could make a case for the Senators missing the playoffs.
Only, how do we reassess if McMahon takes down Danbury tonight?
Be assured, the shelf-live will last only until Friday night’s games.
No. 1 Danbury (11-1, 8-1) vs. No. 8 Fairfield Ludlowe (7-5, 4-4). Monday night’s decisive win over Wilton was the kind the Hatters should be able to deliver with greater regularity. The Falcons, coming off a bad loss to Staples, should be battling for a top seed, not a playoff spot.
No. 2 Trumbull (11-2, 8-1) vs. No. 7 Fairfield Warde (7-6, 5-4). Jack Moore came through with another big game, against Norwalk, and has emerged as one of the players capable of carrying a team when needed. The Mustangs have followed their best win, against Wilton, with three losses in the last four games.
No. 3 Wilton (8-4, 5-3) vs. No. 6 Greenwich (7-4, 5-3). When they are on, no team in the league is more entertaining to watch than the Warriors. The Cardinals are opening eyes with four wins in their last five games.
No. 4 Stamford (10-3, 7-2), vs. No. 5 Brien McMahon (10-3, 6-3). Are the Black Knights for real? We will find out in the coming weeks; six of their final seven games are against teams battling for playoff spots. The Senators get a chance to address their skeptics at home tonight against Danbury. They are 7-0 in their own gym.