In trying to put this so-far unusual FCIAC boys basketball season in the kindest terms, I mentioned to another coach Frank and Sheila Beneski, the upstate couple known to everyone, who travel the state to see the best game of the day.
I have yet to see the Beneskis yet this winter.
Nondescript would be the best word to capture what we have seen so far. The league is practically split down the middle between the contenders for playoff spots and everyone else. The top of the league is not as strong as past years, but there is so little separating what we can call the Gang Of 5 that the unpredictability has offered intrigue.
Adding to that, most of the big games between them are forthcoming, starting Friday night when Wilton travels to Trinity Catholic and Fairfield Warde makes the trip to Danbury.
Each of the five still have to play three other schools. Only Ridgefield has played two, and won both.
Trinity Catholic and Danbury started the season as co-favorites. My sense talking to coaches is that Fairfield Warde and Ridgefield have replaced them. While the teams have different personalities, over all there is little separating them.
One reason for the bland beginning is you can already write off six and possibly eight teams from having a chance at making the FCIAC Tournament. There have been few upsets, a relative term.
The schedule ensures that the next month will offer more excitement than the past one, and the playoffs again should be wide open.
Most Outstanding Player
Sean Conway, Fairfield Warde.
Conway is leading the league in scoring and his recent high-20 games have actually been bringing his average down from what was once a 32-point mark.
Conway is also the most versatile of the top players. He can score inside and outside, is an excellent rebounder and can be just as dangerous creating chances for his teammates, especially with the magnetic way he is attracting defenses. When his teammates are knocking down open looks, you get games like the Mustangs’ impressive win over Wilton last Thursday.
The other two candidates right now are Trinity Catholic’s Contavio Dutreil and Ridgefield’s Brenden McNamara, who are having great years.
Right now, in part because of the position he plays, no one is more complete than Conway. That seems to be a consensus opinion throughout the league.
Most Improved Player
Scott Cunningham, Wilton.
After transferring from Fairfield Prep a year ago, Cunningham was part of the rotation coming off the bench for the Warriors, who advanced to the league final for the first time before losing in double overtime to Ridgefield. Cunningham provided doses of instant offense.
After watching him this year, in retrospect he was tentative trying to fit into a new system. He is now much more confident, the result of diligent offseason work, being put into an increased role and more at ease living up to being thrust into a position of go-to scorer. He has blossomed and is integral to the Warriors’ play.
Cunningham is probably tired of comparisons to his sister Erin, the school’s all-time scoring leader, male or female, now playing at Trinity College. He is no longer Erin’s little brother.
Cunningham gets the nod over Ridgefield’s James S. Pierre, who has also seen his game grow, one reason for the Tigers’ hot start.
Coach Of The Year
Ryan Swaller, Fairfield Warde.
If there is one area where the league has played out to script, it is the top five teams in mid December have maintained their positions a month later.
So why Swaller? For one, the Mustangs came into the season getting the least attention of the group. No one would have expected them to be unbeaten in league play at this point. He has taken new pieces and neatly put them together. If center Malcolm Brune returns as expected for the second half of the season, Warde will be even more formidable.
Swaller edges out Ridgefield’s Andrew McClellan. You can make the exact same case for McClellan as Swaller. The Tigers are unbeaten and McClellan has also had to use a new cast from the one that won an FCIAC title a year ago to stay unbeaten in the conference.
This title will be decided by how the top teams finish over the final 10 games.
Sean Conway, Fairfield Warde
Scott Cunningham, Wilton
Contavio Dutreil, Trinity Catholic
Brenden McNamara, Ridgefield
Timmond Williams, Trumbull
Jordan Brown, Danbury
Denali Burton, Danbury
Tyrique Langley, Norwalk
Dimitry Moise, Trinity Catholic
James St. Pierre, Ridgefield
Matt Becker, Fairfield Warde
Justin Jordan, Darien
Kyle Maatallah, Wilton
Alex Price, Ridgefield
Ra’Quan Riley, Bridgeport Central
Cameron Snow, Danbury
Predicted Order Of Finish
2. Fairfield Warde
5. Trinity Catholic
7. Bridgeport Central
Just a year ago predicting an order of finish was compounded by trying to fit 12 teams into eight spots. That task is made easier because there is such a pronounced divide in the league, one I cannot ever remember. Stamford is a team that certainly could get a spot.
As for the top five, I moved them around like puzzle pieces for about an hour after midnight yesterday. Each has demonstrated being worthy of earning the top seed. I still think if each of the five play their very best game, the Crusaders have the most talent. So why are they fifth here? They are also the school most likely to be inconsistent.
Making the guesswork even more difficult is most of the games between the quintet are still ahead. Why Ridgefield at No. 1? It already has wins over Danbury and Trinity Catholic, and thus a tiebreaker edge at this point. The Tigers though almost lost to Fairfield Ludlowe and needed to rally in the second half against Brien McMahon.
I have only seen Danbury and Fairfield Warde once each so far. I saw the Hatters (against Ridgefield) at their worst and the Mustangs (against Wilton) at their best. They likely won’t match those respective performances again.
In the end, I looked at remaining strength of schedules, the number of home games left, past play…and then did everything but flip a coin. I wouldn’t be surprised how they finish and it likely doesn’t matter except for wanting to avoid the No. 4-5 quarterfinal game.