Nine days ago the FCIAC girls basketball tournament started with a favorite and what was considered a balanced field. Unpredictability was expected.
When it was all over, just one lower seed won one of the quarterfinal games — No. 6 Greenwich against No. 3 Westhill — and the higher seed won the remaining three games.
Two days ago the FCIAC boys basketball started with a favorite and what was considered a balanced field. Unpredictability was expected.
Just one lower seed won one of the quarterfinal games — No. 5 Stamford against No. 4 Westhill.
Will the higher seed win the remaining three games?
The smart money says so. No. 1 Bridgeport Central and No. 2 Greenwich will be favored in Tuesday’s semifinal games, against, respectively, Stamford and No. 3 Ridgefield. And the Hilltoppers would be the favorite in the final.
But the Tigers and Black Knights have more similarities than differences. In fact, the Final Four shapes up as the team with the most talent and the three that have the best chemistry.
It would be foolish to think it impossible that at least one team adorned in black and orange will be playing for the title Thursday night.
No. 2 Greenwich (19-2) vs. No. 3 Ridgefield (17-4), 6 p.m. Greenwich scratched out a 49-45 victory in the teams’ regular season meeting on Jan. 14. One big difference: the Tigers were playing with Matt Brennan, their leading scorer, who underwent season-ending knee surgery on Friday. Actually, just as remarkable as Ridgefield’s run this season with a new coach and the loss of three starters is their 7-1 mark since losing Brennan. The Cardinals have a player to handle every need: CJ Byrd driving to the basket, Alex Wolf dominating inside, Jonathan Palmer playing lockdown defense, Tommy Povinelli hitting open 3-pointers and Leonel Hyatt doing a little big of everything. Ridgefield answers by playing as fundamentally sound as any team in the league. It will need to counter with inside-outside contributions from Patrick Racy and Charlie Irwin. Can Matt Brady get open looks outside? Who will Greenwich coach Bill Brehm assign Palmer to, and who will Zach Ward, the Tigers’ stopper, be asked to contain by coach Andrew McClellan? This is an intriguing game because of playing styles. Ridgefield can win, but has a smaller margin for error. If they can again keep the score in the 40s, the Tigers could earn their first trip to the final. It won’t be easy.
No. 1 Bridgeport Central (20-1) vs. No. 5 Stamford (15-6). Maybe the top seed is not as coveted a position as it seems. At least in boys basketball. The No. 1 team had lost two of the previous three years in the quarterfinals, and the Hilltoppers needed a last-second block against St. Joseph to advance. Tyler Ancrum missed half the game with foul trouble, and his absence was an indication of just how important he is to Central’s success, and why he was voted the FCIAC’s Player of the Year. Marcus Blackwell stepped up with a 26-point performance for the Hilltoppers, who quite simply have the most talent in the league, capable of making a run at a state title if they can play with greater consistency. Does that mean the Black Knights should stay at home? Hardly. A preseason sleeper, they were much more, improving by eight games on last year’s 6-14 mark. Kenny Wright, who carried the team as it matured early in the season, played one of the best games of his career against Westhill, scoring 18 of his 24 points in the second half. He will need a repeat performance. A big concern is how the Stamford guards will handle Central’s pressure. Turnovers must be limited. Gianni Carwin has to provide perimeter scoring and, again, as coach Danny Melzer has said all season, center Kweshon Askew is the X-factor. If he plays well at both ends in the paint, the Black Knights’ upset hopes exponentially rise.