The big news coming out of Saturday’s FCIAC boys basketball quarterfinals was there was no big news. The top four seeds, which happen to be the four best teams, all advanced.
The paths were different. During the day session, there were nearly upsets small — Fairfield Warde defeating Staples — and large — Trinity Catholic survived against Wilton.
At night there was little drama as Fairfield Ludlowe (a 17-2 start) and Ridgefield (17-0) jumped out to big leads from the opening tip and put away, respectively, St. Joseph and New Canaan.
We head to Wilton tomorrow, where the smart money says that the playoffs will remain chalk, with Ludlowe and Warde being sent back to Fairfield and top seeds Ridgefield and Trinity Catholic playing for the title.
The Tigers would be playing for their second straight championship and third in four years, which would leave no question they are currently the premier program in the FCIAC. Two years ago Ridgefield was upset in the first round but finished as the regular-season champion.
Ridgefield’s formula this year is no superstars but a deeper lineup of very good players. There is no James St. Pierre or Brenden McNamara, but the Tigers have a strong 1-2 punch in Luke McGarrity, the favorite for FCIAC Player of the Year, and Chris Knachel.
If there was a poster child Saturday for the 2020 Tigers, it was Emmett O’Malley. Who? That was likely the question before the postseason and perhaps even now, but he stepped up and scored 9 points against New Canaan.
It could have easily been Johnny Briody, James Rush, Amos Grey or another of the army of players coach Andrew McClellan brings at opponents. There are several other teams as deep but not with the quality of depth.
And no team in the league has had better chemistry or fits together so well. It may be that the Tigers are the best version of similarly composed teams in the league this season.
One of those is Ludlowe, tomorrow’s opponent. The Falcons rely on defense, a strong point guard, quick ball movement and the contributions of many. James Bourque doesn’t often put up big numbers and thus is underrated for the way he runs the offense. And when both Ian Bentley and Rowan Keesser are on, Ludlowe has two big men who can flourish inside or out.
The Falcons will need their A game or the result tomorrow will likely be the same as the regular season, when they lost to Ridgefield by nine points because the Tigers did everything a little bit better.
Fairfield Warde, ending a five-year stretch of first-round losses, has finally advanced to the Final Four and it too will need to play near errorless ball against Trinity.
The Mustangs at different times this year have looked very strong at both ends of the court and they will need to be on at both tomorrow night to reach the final. And it certainly is an attainable task.
Brendan McMahon scored 83 points in three games last week, including 23 in the quarterfinal win over Staples. When McMahon is on, it opens up the court for twins Jordyn and Justyn Davis, and the middle for Jack McKenna and Joey Gulbin.
Warde lost the regular season meeting with Trinity at home by 15.
The storyline for Trinity Catholic resonates more for alumni. The Crusaders won their first FCIAC title in the sport at the Wilton Field House in 1993 behind Rashamel Jones, who kicked off an era where a conga line of Division I players made the program the best in the state. The win came against an undefeated consolidated Fairfield team, when the town had one high school.
There have now been six titles in all but none since 2008. It was announced on Thursday that the school is closing, so this would be the last chance for a championship.
And if all four schools play their very best, the Crusaders will be cutting down the nets. But they barely escaped against Wilton, needing a 3-point shot with 5.2 seconds left by Abdoul Rassoul Abakan, known more for his defensive play.
Trinity answered concerns about how it would handle playing in a close game down the stretch but not about a lack of depth, which Wilton exploited.
The Mustangs will need to dictate tempo and it will help if they can get the Crusaders in foul trouble.
A Ludlowe-Warde final would be one of the best events in the history of their rivalry but both will need to play error free tomorrow to prevent form from continuing to hold for another round.