Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:
The easy: barring the arrival of spaceships whisking its players away, Bridgeport Central seems destined to win its second straight league title. The Hilltoppers have most of their top talent back from a team that caught fire during the second half of last season.
The difficult: figuring the order of finish behind Central. Take the Hilltoppers out the picture and this would be the most unpredictable year ever. It won’t be surprising if seeds 2-4 have a minimum of three losses. This is going to be a dog-eat-dog winter, with as many as 10-12 teams harboring realistic hopes of reaching the conference tournament, and more than half of them at earning a top seed.
Sound familiar? If you are Ruden Report regulars, you’ve read this twice before, first in the preseason preview, then in the midseason report.
As we put a wrap on what was an intriguing and memorable season, it seemed worth leading off with the paragraphs one last time — not to save a little writing time but in terms of comparing what we thought to what we now know.
Bridgeport Central? Check. Save for a midseason slip up at Westhill, the Hilltoppers were perfect, winning their second straight FCIAC title and third state championship under coach Barry McLeod.
Three-loss 2-4 seeds? Greenwich proved to be better than we expected, losing twice during conference play and reaching the FCIAC final for just the second time and the Class LL semifinals for the first.
Ridgefield, Westhill and Stamford occupied the postseason middle class, finishing with either four or five losses.
After that we had seven teams with between eight and 11 league wins. The final playoff spot wasn’t decided until the last game of regular season play, when everyone was glued to Twitter for the result of the Harding-Norwalk game, which the Presidents won, earning St. Joseph the eighth and final seed.
So Central and Greenwich were a clear-cut 1-2, and after that there was more parity than the league has even seen, which brought greater interest and more schools to the party.
The biggest surprises? Ridgefield and Stamford far exceeded expectations using the same formula: good team ball. Disappointments? St. Joseph should not have been sweating out the final game to earn a league playoff spot, and Trinity Catholic had enough talent to not see its 16-year run end.
From a writer’s standpoint, this year was great fun. While the overall quality of play was down, the balance more than made up for it. How great was it to see the excitement in Darien after earning a state playoff berth — and then winning a game?
While the dynamic is going to change greatly, the first impression is we could be in for more equality next winter, minus the sure frontrunner.
Sign us up now.
Onto The Ruden Report awards.
Most Valuable Player
Tyler Ancrum, Bridgeport Central. This has been a three-player race all year long. Talk to all 19 coaches and you will get votes for Ancrum, Westhill’s Jeremiah Livingston and Greenwich’s CJ Byrd. I’ll take any of the three to lead my team.
So why Ancrum? He led his team to both FCIAC and state championships. The Hilltoppers almost were defeated by St. Joseph in the first round of the league tournament. Why? Ancrum missed half the game with foul trouble.
The bottom line: Ancrum was the straw that stirred the best team in the state’s drink.
Coach Of The Year
Bill Brehm, Greenwich. First let it be stated that I cannot remember a year when there was better coaching in the league. That’s not to say there are better coaches, but look at the accomplishments this season.
Stamford’s Danny Melzer led the biggest turnaround in the FCIAC. Andrew McClellan took over at Ridgefield and got everything he could out of a team hit by graduation losses. Joel Geriak got Wilton back into the FCIAC Tournament and took Greenwich to overtime in the second round of the state playoffs. I couldn’t argue with anyone stating a case for the three.
And you know what? Everyone thinks McLeod just sat back and watched Central win on auto-pilot, but he did a masterful job as well.
But in the end, Brehm took the Cardinals where they had never gone before. This was as cohesive a team with chemistry as good as any team in the state. Sure there was a lot of talent, but it was maximized to the fullest. Greenwich’s defensive schemes were outstanding.
For Brehm to emerge from this strong a pack is a credit to the job he did.
Bridgeport Central 76, Fairfield Prep 73. The Hilltoppers saved their best for last, overcoming an 18-point halftime deficit against the unbeaten and top-seeded Jesuits, an outcome that has taken on a different context because of the unfortunate absence of postgame sportsmanship by Prep that has been the talk of the state basketball world since Saturday. McLeod can tell a few stories that haven’t surfaced.
But we have strayed off point. Central’s comeback for the ages came not just against any opponent, but an immensely talented Prep team.
This game will be recalled for quite some time, an instant classic now permanently etched in state basketball lore. The Hilltoppers summoned the heart of a champion to become champions.
Scott Shouvlin, Wilton. We have to throw a little love to Scottie “Buzzer Beater” Shouvlin, whose game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer took down Hartford Public in the first round of the state tournament. For good measure, he hit a game-tying trey in the final seconds in the next round to force overtime against Greenwich.
A public service announcement: I am going to open myself to exposure and pick just three five-player teams. And because of the balance after the first three players, there will be a lot of disputes. And many will be reasonable ones. This is just the way I saw it.
Tyler Ancrum, Bridgeport Central
Sha’Quan Bretoux, Bridgeport Central
CJ Byrd, Greenwich
Tremaine Fraiser, Trinity Catholic
Jeremiah Livingston, Westhill
Eric Houska, Wilton
Roy Kane Jr., Norwalk
Larry McKinney, Brien McMahon
Alex Wolf, Greenwich
Kenny Wright, Stamford
Marcus Blackwell, Bridgeport Central
Patrick Racy, Ridgefield
Matt Staubi, Darien
Matt Turner, Trumbull
CJ White, Danbury
Honorable Mention: Two players who deserve recognition. Jonny Dzurenda of St. Joseph. There are really 16 players fitting of honors. Consider him the sixth member of the third team, but not mentioned above so it looks like I stuck to my three five-player teams. And Jonathan Palmer of Greenwich. Anyone who plays lockdown defense like he did deserves to be lauded.
Until next year…