By Dave Ruden
Consider the second and third paragraphs from my preseason FCIAC boys basketball preview:
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.
As you can see, not much has changed in a month. Central is unbeaten and the team to beat. And there are still 10-12 teams harboring hopes of reaching the conference tournament.
Surprises? How many expected Greenwich to still be unbeaten? How many considered Wilton and Trumbull to be prominent players? How many expected the early struggles for Trinity Catholic and St. Joseph?
What’s to come over the next month? Here are some midseason awards and a look into the crystal ball.
Most Outstanding Player
Tyler Ancrum, Bridgeport Central. People seem to discount Ancrum because of the talent around him. But no player has a greater effect on opponents’ game plans.
That steady diet of zones the Hilltoppers see — and will continue to see? All designed to keep Ancrum from penetrating and unleashing a devastating transition game.
The few teams that tried to man-up Central have been punished badly.
Ancrum has still been the most dominant player in the league.
Most Valuable Player
Jeremiah Livingston, Westhill. The difference between best song and record is still a puzzlement to Grammy watchers. The difference between most outstanding and valuable? The most outstanding is the best player. The most valuable is the one who, if removed from the lineup, would hurt his team the most.
Thus, Livingston gets the nod over Stamford’s Kenny Wright. Both have carried their teams. Livingston is more capable of completely taking over a game, as he has several times.
Most Improved Player
Matt Brennan, Ridgefield. Graduation losses were supposed to send the Tigers tumbling. That they have a good chance to earn one of the top four seeds is due to the sharp-shooting Brennan, who has emerged as a go-to player.
Coach Of The Year
Bill Brehm, Greenwich. I admit it, I flip-flopped on this one. You can make an argument for Stamford’s Danny Melzer, Wilton’s Joel Geriak or Trumbull’s Buddy Bray and I wouldn’t attempt to talk you out of it.
So why pick the coach who, after Central, has the best 1-2 talent punch in the league? I’ve seen seven of the eight teams that would be in the conference tournament if the season ended today and the difference between the Cardinals and the rest of the pack is not that great.
One would have thought Greenwich would have slipped up once or twice. It still might. But it hasn’t yet. Byrd-Wolf is a big reason. But the Cardinals’ defense has been the most underrated factor.
Tyler Ancrum, Bridgeport Central
CJ Byrd, Greenwich
Roy Kane Jr., Norwalk
Jeremiah Livingston, Westhill
Alex Wolf, Greenwich
Kenny Wright, Stamford
ShaQuan Bretoux, Bridgeport Central
Jonny Dzurenda, St. Joseph
Tremaine Fraiser, Trinity Catholic
Eric Houska, Wilton
Matt Staubi, Darien
CJ White, Danbury
Marcus Blackwell, Bridgeport Central
Matt Brennan, Ridgefield
Patrick Racy, Ridgefield
Reggie Stewart, Harding
Matt Turner, Trumbull
Notes: I really wanted to keep this to 15 players but had a hard time deciding which two to cut. And I feel pretty confident about the first team but admit that there is definitely room for disagreement on the second and third teams. Distinguishing between them was one of the most difficult tasks. Truth be told, there are about eight players of very comparable ability.
I just looked over my preseason teams, when I had six players on each. Just three of my first team picks are still there. Two players here were not even mentioned in my preview.
One, Brennan, has played extremely well every time I have seen him.
Predicted Order Of Finish
1. Bridgeport Central
7. St. Joseph
Notes: This might have been the most fruitless effort here, because after the first two teams it is a crapshoot. I’ve also discounted a few rumors going around about possible ineligible players and assuming the rosters will stay the same.
After looking at current records and remaining schedules, I think the Livingston factor will keep Westhill in the third spot. Ridgefield is the most fundamentally sound team.
Even though they are in a deep, deep hole, I am counting on the Arkel Ager factor to key a big second-half run for the Cadets. It will be interesting to see how they fare tomorrow night at Greenwich.
I’ll confess, I had three different teams in the eighth spot: Wilton, Trinity Catholic and Norwalk. I will feel more confident about the Crusaders if they can win their next two games, at Danbury and Norwalk. I initially had Wilton winning a tiebreaker over Trinity.
The Bears have been a mystery team. They have the most favorable remaining schedule so we are giving them the slight nod
Key Remaining Games
Norwalk at Wilton, Feb. 7; St. Joseph at Trinity Catholic, Feb. 14. Highlighting just two games when three games separate 13 teams in league play may seem foolish. But these two contests could be fatal to the losers’ conference hopes. St. Joseph-Trinity is currently one of the FCIAC’s best rivalries in any sport. It will be great if a lot is riding on the outcome.
The Arkel Ager Effect. Ager, the highly touted transfer who was academically ineligible until last week, is said by people who have seen him play to be a game-changer. I’ll be interested to see him in person against Greenwich. If he is as good as advertised, the Cadets are poised for a big late-season run and could possibly become the greatest threat to Central.
The 50-50 battles. The parity predicted in the league has played out. Almost every night will see teams of similar ability facing off. Will anyone be able to run off a long string of wins and both secure and elevate their playoff statuses?
Can Anyone Beat Central? This has been the big storyline from day one. The short answer: if the Hilltoppers are at the top of their game, no one will touch them. The difference between them and the rest of the field is that great.
It is interesting that in their city battles, they routed both Harding and Bassick. But there have been close calls with Ridgefield, Norwalk and McMahon that offer hope for opponents.