For those of us who were disappointed by the regular season and hoping the FCIAC Boys Basketball Tournament would bring us a level of compensation, Saturday’s quarterfinals were overall a disappointment. Danbury and Bridgeport Central put on a show for almost three quarters. The game between Trumbull and Fairfield Warde was pretty good.
Three games were close until the final 90 seconds, but there was little buzz. Only the Eagles and Mustangs filled the Fairfield Warde gymnasium.
Stamford held the ball for over three minutes at the start of its game with Trinity Catholic. That was just a different representation of a day and season in which teams have been offensively challenged.
The one consolation: there were a number of good storylines as we had into tomorrow’s semifinals in Wilton, with Trinity Catholic and Danbury meeting in the first game and Trumbull and Norwalk in the nightcap.
The biggest takeaways from Super Saturday:
• If you go by the best performance, Danbury will win the championship.
• Trinity Catholic is in a lot of trouble if Contavio Dutreil gets into foul trouble.
• Live by the close games and eventually you die by them. Ridgefield survived on the edge all season. Consider there was a narrower divide between the first and eighth seeds this year than at any other time in recent memory and you know why Norwalk is still alive.
• After 21 games, we can stop talking about Trumbull as a young team. The Eagles have matured and are peaking at the right time.
• I would be surprised if Stamford’s Zach Smith is not voted Coach of the Year. But the Eagles’ Buddy Bray has gone under the radar and is certainly deserving of consideration.
Danbury and Trinity Catholic were the preseason favorites and, though both lost to Ridgefield during the regular season, held the same status heading into the playoffs. Now they will play in the game that will end up having the biggest hype in the tournament — including the final.
The Hatters had the most difficult draw of any team. They opened against Bridgeport Central, the most talented of the lower seeds. And the Hilltoppers gave them a run for a long time. They were playing their seventh game in 10 days, which left coach Barry McLeod irate. Two of them were non-league games against city rivals Harding and Bassick, so McLeod could not rest players.
But to attribute the outcome to a tired opponent is unfair to the Hatters, who played at such a high level at both ends of the court. Four players, led by Jordan Brown’s 23 points, scored in double-figures. Two others had 9 and 8 points, respectively. That’s part of what makes Danbury so dangerous. There can be a different scoring leader on any night. And Denali Burton again proved why he is so highly respected by opposing coaches. He scored 18 points but makes an impact simply by keeping the ball alive on the boards, playing well on defense and having the willingness to go to the floor for loose balls.
If Dutreil gets into early foul trouble, the way he did Saturday against Stamford, the Crusaders will be eliminated. He is the league’s best defensive player and pivotal to the offense. For that matter, if Dimitry Moise and Stephon McGill were forced to the bench for prolonged periods, it would be nearly as damaging.
Stamford had all the pieces in place for an upset Saturday. It went into a delay that lulled the Crusaders to sleep. They never got into a rhythm. If the Black Knights executed better offensively down the stretch there might be three lower seeds in the Final Four.
You will want to be at the Zeoli Field House early tomorrow for the second of a three-game series between the schools. They will meet again in Danbury in the Division I Tournament.
The winner will be a heavy favorite against either Trumbull or Norwalk. Many of us were wrong tabbing the Eagles as the odd team out in the race for tournament berths. They went 3-3 down the stretch and defeated Central and Danbury in the final week to earn their way in. And they defeated the Mustangs on their home court to advance to the semifinals for the fourth straight year.
Timmond Williams is playing as well as any player in the league not named Sean Conway right now. And Chris Brown did a tremendous job in limiting Conway to 26 points. If center Evan Gutkowski can duplicate a 16-point, 10-rebound performance, odds are good the Eagles will reach the final. And keep an eye on freshman Mileeq Green. He is getting more minutes and hit a huge 3-point shot in the fourth quarter.
A quick word about Conway. With this new state playoff format, I have no idea how much attention the Division II-V tournaments are going to get. Warde is in Division II. Most people would fail a test matching schools to their fields.
Conway is averaging around 32 points a game. The last person we know for sure to top 30 in the FCIAC is John Smyth, who accomplished that back in 1981 and 1982 (before the 3-point shot) for Stamford Catholic.
There have been better players but few who have had a better season than Conway. Fairfield University was scouting Conway Saturday and appeared impressed. Hopefully he gets a few more moments in the spotlight this winter.
Norwalk is the least likely team headed to Wilton. The Bears were mediocre over the final few weeks, alternating wins with losses. They executed down the stretch against Ridgefield and played with greater intensity. Tyrique Langley and Zyiare Sellers carried the offense, but it was on defense where the Bears stood out most.
Ridgefield looked completely out of sync and have a tough first-round state tournament game against Hamden. It will need to regroup or risk ending a great year on a three-game losing streak.
Three more games left to go in this FCIAC Tournament. We should have a track meet tomorrow that will set up a favorite against underdog narrative Thursday night.
Wilton has hosted many memorable playoff games in the past. Perhaps we get another one or two.
We need it.