Remove The Term ‘Upset’ From This Boys Basketball Season

Westhill High School’s Parish Rowell brings the ball up court during a boys basketball game against Brien McMahon High School played at Brien McMahon High School, Norwalk, CT on Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Westhill’s Parish Rowell brings the ball up court against McMahon during Tuesday night’s game. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Here are some random thoughts following Tuesday’s FCIAC boys basketball play. It should continue to be apparent that outcomes are like the weather, ever-changing. Fairfield Ludlowe came into the night with a 4-2 record and generally regarded as a top contender despite a bad loss to Ridgefield. St. Joseph was 1-3 and the once-proud program was bordering on irrelevancy. I mean, nary a word has been mentioned about the Cadets this season.

What happened? The Cadets went on the road and came away with a 52-42 win. And don’t consider it an upset. The Falcons are still players in the race until proven otherwise, and St. Joseph might be able to climb back into contention.

So as we throw out a hail of bullet points, lets start with the obvious:

— Throw away the word upset from your lexicon this winter. They won’t really exist. Danbury and McMahon will be favored in their games. Bridgeport Central is lacking in personnel. It is difficult right now to see New Canaan, Darien and Norwalk being factors, though each will pull off an occasional surprise. Staples’ fate depends on how quickly Ben Casparius returns from his stress fracture and how much of an impact he has. That leaves 10 other teams that are of similar ability. Right now Trumbull might be atop that group. Each night there will be a slate of games that will be totally unpredictable. Which leads us to the next point…

— Privately, every coach I have spoken to so far admitted the league is way down this year, even a precipitous drop from a year ago, when the level of play had already dipped during a cycle that is hard to explain. But each of the coaches also stressed that the fair tradeoff is they enjoy the uncertainty of playing in what is an important game every night. One bad loss could mean the difference between qualifying for the FCIAC Tournament this year. Parity is being relished. It is also a challenge for the coaches, because this year a good one can mean the difference in an extra win or two.

McMahon's Matt Saint-Louis looks to make a move as Westhill's Nate Jefferson defends on Tuesday. (Photo: Mark Conrad)
McMahon’s Matt Saint-Louis looks to make a move as Westhill’s Nate Jefferson defends on Tuesday. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

— It turns out that youth basketball players in Wilton this year are wearing shirts that read “In Joel We Trust.” Joel of course is Wilton coach Joel Geriak. His players are responsible each year for the saying the young players sport (last year the shirts read “Fear The Tribe.”). Geriak is the man in Wilton, and for good reason. He has the Warriors off to a 5-1 start and at the top of the standings again. The former assistant no one would hire again has his players maximizing their ability and perhaps overachieving. The team is probably a year away from contending, but they will again be fun to follow. And Jack Williams may be the best player no one has heard of.

Speaking of Wilton, a great job Tuesday night in a 55-51 win at Greenwich. Playing a denial man defense on Conor Harkins, the league’s leading scorer, the Greenwich star was held to zero field goals and two points.

— Of the six remaining unbeaten teams in conference play with more than one game, the biggest surprise so far is Stamford. The Black Knights have not been winning pretty, but they have been winning, piling up games that will help them down the road. It will be interesting to see how they fare Friday against McMahon. One constant has been the defense. Danny Melzer is among the early candidates for Coach of the Year.

— Can Westhill make a run at defending its league title? Not if Vikings play the way they did Tuesday against McMahon, when they turned the ball over nine times in the second quarter. Some of it had to do with the Senators’ defense, but an equal problem was poor decision making. Point guard play seems to be a major issue at this point in terms of finding consistency. Tyrell Alexander is still the man of all trades, but he is going to need some support on a nightly basis.

— Finally, now that I have seen them each once, the question everyone asks: Danbury or Brien McMahon? First off, both teams may want to use it as motivation, but enough with the “we don’t get any respect” talk. It just isn’t true. Both teams have the talent to win a championship and the flaws to be early-round knockouts.

My opinion right now hasn’t changed: I would go with Danbury (no, McMahon, I am not dissing you!). The big reason is Marcus Fox. The teams are very similar, but Fox is a matchup nightmare for opponents. If the Hatters go to some half-court sets and get Fox the ball inside, he will be hard to stop. Fox is in the hunt for Player of the Year. I’m not sure he will win, but he is the element that other teams lack. The Senators don’t have the size to bang with him and will have to rely on denying the ball when they meet.

Would I be surprised if McMahon won? If you have read to this point, hardly. But right now in my league rankings, Danbury gets the nod.

 

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