The biggest storylines this season continue to be the overall quality of play and the problems caused by what has been an absence of flexibility to ensure that the best officials are assigned the biggest games (and I consider this a hot offseason topic; coaches have resisted the temptation to talk about it publicly).
I will add one more: buy Bridgeport Central stock. Lots of it. The Hilltoppers have emerged as a legitimate championship contender.
The last is one of the few current positive narratives. Even the nine-team race for eight league tournament spots is becoming mired in disinterest, mostly because, perhaps fittingly, it looks like it will be decided by which teams play least worst over the final week and a half.
December favorites are fading, and right now the two best stories are what is happening with the Hilltoppers and Stamford. Last night was an example of bizarro world. Ridgefield, tied for first place, was behind in the final minute against five-win New Canaan. And one team — Norwalk — in the race for the fourth seed beat another — Trumbull — by 26 points.
It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if a slipping team regained its footing, but right now it is hard to see anyone outside of the top four seeds I have below winning the league championship.
With the girls basketball playoffs beginning this weekend and nine teams contending for eight spots, there have been some parallels to the boys’ game. And for fear of being labeled a grouch — and looking for a different angle — I wondered: which school right now has the best overall basketball programs, boys and girls?
It actually would make for an interesting race, for there is no clear-cut favorite. First, you can pare the list down to the six schools that are assured of or are in contention for having both teams in the conference tournaments: Trumbull, Norwalk, Fairfield Warde, Wilton, Stamford and Ridgefield.
The Trumbull girls, if there were actual odds, would have the highest of any team to win a title. But the boys team finishes with Trinity Catholic, Central and Danbury, and might need one win to make the playoffs.
Ridgefield is the current leader on the boys side, but my sense is, based on recent play, outsiders would make Trinity and Danbury better bets though the Tigers have defeated both. And their style is the perfect foil to both the Crusaders and Hatters.
As for the Ridgefield girls, they are the lowest seeded of the aforementioned schools, but they are also the only team to defeat Trumbull.
Norwalk and Wilton are considered the biggest threats to the Trumbull girls, but their boys teams remain in the scramble for playoff spots, with the Warriors currently the odd men out.
Then you have Stamford and Fairfield Warde, which have solid teams hanging in the middle of the packs.
If you wanted to break this down mathematically and go strictly by seeds, there is not that much separation.
If you wanted to really delve and try and put together a co-ed starting five and three-person bench, you could have some fun. The Trumbull girls’ strength is not any one individual player, but their collective performance.
In contrast, would Norwalk benefit more from one of its several top female scorers, or Ridgefield, Fairfield Warde or Stamford, which each have clear-cut go-to female offensive players? Andrea O’Connor would give Team Stamford some height, and the Wilton girls could give a boost in rebounding.
Come to think of it, a co-ed tournament with the six schools would actually be fun to watch.
Instead, it is a mental diversion as we await the start of the conference playoffs.
No. 1 Ridgefield (14-3, 12-1) vs. No. 8 Fairfield Warde (10-7, 9-4). It is hard to believe there is still a one-loss team in the league. After barely escaping what would have been the biggest upset of the season last night against New Canaan, the playoffs can’t get here soon enough for the Tigers, who have played to the level of the competition. The Mustangs, like a year ago, are experiencing a second-half fade. They won’t win just riding the Conway Train.
No. 2 Trinity Catholic (12-4, 11-2) vs. No. 7 Trumbull (13-4, 9-4). A two-point loss at Central hardly diminishes the Crusaders’ standing. If freshman transfer Akim Joseph can provide good minutes off the bench for the postseason, they are even more dangerous. The Eagles follow a nice win over Warde with a 26-point loss to Norwalk? They are 0-3 on the road against playoff contenders, with a game tomorrow at Trinity.
No. 3 Danbury (15-2, 11-2) vs. No. 6 Norwalk (11-6, 9-4). The Hatters are developing good quality depth at the right time. If they can get consistent outside shooting going forward watch out. It is hard to know which Bears team you will get on a given night, but when they are on, like last night, they can play with anyone.
No. 4 Bridgeport Central (9-5, 9-4) vs. No. 5 Stamford (12-5, 10-3). The Hilltoppers have become the dangerous second-half team most feared. I can definitely see them going all the way, but they have a lot of games to make up before the playoffs. Will fatigue become an issue? It isn’t always pretty, but the Black Knights keep grinding out wins.