FAIRFIELD — The way this season has played out, would anyone be totally surprised if we were preparing for an FCIAC Tournament boys semifinals with seeds 5-8?
Well, yes. It would have been a bit startling if No. 8 Danbury were still alive after top-seeded Westhill ran through the conference in the regular season. Yet the Hatters, who withered down the stretch, were sitting within a basket with four minutes left before the Vikings ended the game scoring the final six points.
The 46-38 final turned out to be the second closest game of the day.
Otherwise, really, seeds were irrelevant. Ludlowe-Wilton? Pick-em. Norwalk-Bassick? Pick-em. Trumbull-Stamford. The Pick-em-ist.
If you judge teams solely on seeding, only No. 7 Wilton broke through for the little guys. Saturday was a reaffirmation of the league’s parity, and a reminder that each of the six middle seeds have succeeded with diverse styles, but also have flaws and been prone to bouts of inconsistency.
We learned something in each of the four games:
Norwalk 72, Bassick 63. There are many people who feel the Bears have the best talent in the league. It is a fair debate. Saturday’s game though gave further argument to another belief shared by many: Norwalk has been doing it all backwards.
The Bears use a zone as their base defense. Against the Lions they fell behind by a lot early. Sure, a missed Kobe Ancrum dunk that turned into a Roy Kane dunk on the other end was like a 5-Hour Energy Shot.
More importantly, the Bears started to press and go man against Bassick. That fueled the run that led to their first big postseason game in years.
When the Bears are in a zone they grow passive and neutralize their athleticism — though that was not the case at the end against Bassick. It is a formation that should be used as a change of pace or situationally.
The more aggressive defense ups their work rate and maximizes their attributes.
Wilton 56, Fairfield Ludlowe 45. Wilton often lives and dies by its outside shot. When the ball is moving across the court like a pinball, resulting in open looks, the Warriors are a tough out when converting. And when Matt Shifrin is on fire, he may be the best streak shooter in the league.
Another belief among coaches gained credence: Chad Peterson is the key to Ludlowe. Not to take anything away from leading scorer Matt Doyle, a most important piece. And the Falcons have developed more offensive weapons throughout the year.
But Peterson is the key to Ludlowe’s stifling defense. When he got into foul trouble in the third quarter and was forced to the bench, the Warriors took advantage and pulled away. We didn’t get enough of the Peterson-on-Shifrin matchup we desired. Either did the Falcons.
Ludlowe has enough other options to win if Doyle has an off night. It is much more difficult for them if Peterson is off — off the court.
Trumbull 59, Stamford 56 (OT). Trumbull has been my sleeper pick all year, until it caught fire at the end of the season, climbed to a No. 4 seed and wasn’t a sleeper anymore.
These two teams are closely matched, more so than when the Eagles won by 18 points during the regular season. Stamford did a good job containing Rashard Rodriguez, but Ed McElroy got off to a good start and finished with 24 points.
Stamford shot poorly but, more importantly, the Eagles’ Ben McCullough was able to play the Black Knights’ Kwe Askew to a near draw. When Askew dominates, Stamford is dangerous.
If Jay Devito’s game-tying shot at the buzzer had dropped in rather than out after hanging on the rim for what seemed minutes, we might be talking instant classic.
Westhill 46, Danbury 38. What makes the Vikings a different team than previous undefeated top seeds is they had to play a number of close games this season and find ways to win. On a night when Tyrell Alexander and CJ Donaldson were held to 9 points, Brendon Thomas stepped up in the paint.
Westhill finds ways to win no matter the situation. That is a vital March quality.
Now that we’ve looked into the rear-view mirror, time to look ahead to Tuesday’s semifinals at Fairfield Warde.
No. 3 Norwalk (16-5) vs. No. 7 Wilton (15-6), 6 p.m. If the Bears stay in their zone, then we will be looking at whether the hot- or cold-shooting Warriors show up. If they press, how will Wilton handle it?
Norwalk should enjoy a big edge on the boards, and Roy Kane has been dominating of late. But he cannot do it alone. What will the Bears get out of Zaire Wilson and Jeremy Linton?
Wilton’s Joel Geriak has had the most success and done the best job of all the new coaches that have recently entered the league. He is a great in-game coach for adjustments.
Wilton won the first meeting on the road. It is certainly capable of doing it again, setting up a possible final against Westhill, Geriak’s alma mater. But the Bears have the superior personnel. This should be an interesting chess match.
No. 1 Westhill (21-1) vs. No. 4 Trumbull (15-6), 7:45 p.m. The Eagles would be a much more attractive upset pick if this were a first-round game. Now that the Vikings have one close-call under their belt, it would be surprising if they fail to bring their A game the rest of the way.
This is a tough matchup for the Eagles, but never underestimate the hot team, and they are second to the Vikings right now in that category. Rodriguez will need to score more than he did against Stamford to complement his other virtues, McCullough will have to be a presence in the middle, and McElroy needs to get good shots on the perimeter and put them down.
Livingston has been unstoppable, and he is likely going to have to weave his way through an assortment of zones, along with CJ Donaldson. Saturday was proof how important Alexander has been, a double-double machine until a rare off night against Danbury.
The guess here is that won’t happen again, and someone else will take his turn stepping into an important supporting role.