I often get criticized for playing the parity card too often — sometimes with validity — but this FCIAC boys basketball tournament should not be one of those instances.
Seeds two through eight are separated by just two games in the league standings. A four-team tiebreaker was needed for Nos. 3-6. Seriously, would it be that shocking for Brien McMahon to go all the way out of the No. 8 spot? I think Danbury, at No. 7, is the most dangerous lower seed.
Up top, all the teams are vulnerable, including top-seed Trumbull. Will it still win the close games that seem inevitable over the next week?
Odds are good that we will be either crowning a first-time champion, or a long title drought will end. Seeds 2, 3, 5 and 6 have never even reached the final. No. 7 Danbury has gone 25 years since its last championship; McMahon has waited 31 years and Trumbull has gone 34.
Even Trinity Catholic, despite three final losses in between, last won the conference tournament in 2008.
Something is going to give.
Here is a look at the four quarterfinals, and my picks, mostly from the gut.
No. 3 Ridgefield (14-6) vs. No. 6 Fairfield Warde (15-5); Noon. Two teams that need no introduction. This is a rematch from Wednesday night’s regular-season finale, a Ridgefield win that propelled it to the third seed and sank the Mustangs to the sixth spot. The Tigers rebounded from a 3-4 start in league play, helped by the return of Brenden McNamara, a swingman on the court and to his team’s hopes. Ridgefield is fundamentally sound, gets strong leadership from Chris Longo and in the 6-7 Nick Laudati has an inside presence most teams lack. The Mustangs closed at 2-3 after the departure of starters Giacomo and Antonio Brancato and have a 3-4 mark against the rest of the field. Another pair of brothers, Sean and J.J. Conway, lead the attack, and consistent scoring from Marcel Parsons is a must going forward. The question is whether Warde will get enough contributions from the role players who were elevated to fill holes and thus far have performed well.
No. 2 Darien (14-6) vs. No. 7. Danbury (13-7); 2 p.m. This is a game of contrasts, and the Blue Wave are one of the more intriguing teams. Many did not even have them in their preseason top eight and no one figured them for a high seed, let alone second. This is a credit to Charoy Bentley, who is showing the same ability that made his father one of the best coaches in state history. Alex Preston, the 6-8 center, is a game-changer at both ends of the court. He intimidates most teams from entering the post, and his best skill still may be as a passer with his court vision. Zak Swetye is a solid two-way player, and it will be interesting to see how Bentley sets up his defense. The question for Danbury is which team shows up. The Hatters are the most likely of the lower seeds to go all the way, but they also could make an early exit if they don’t force the Blue Wave into mistakes. This is the time for Marcus Fox to shine inside for Danbury. If there is a bellwether player for the Hatters, it is Jordan Alleyne, who will need a big tournament for the Hatters to realize their goals.
No. 4 Trinity Catholic (15-5) vs. No. 5 Wilton (15-5); 5 p.m. If every team plays at their best — not even close to a given as anyone paying attention the past two months realizes — the Crusaders are in a favorable position as the only hope for a continued run of champions from either Stamford or Bridgeport since 2000. He likely won’t be voted Player of the Year, but right now Dutreil Contavio is playing as well as anyone in the conference and is capable of controlling games on both ends of the court. He must stay out of foul trouble and control his temper. Dimitry Moise is a threat outside and would be a bigger one if he played closer to the basket more often. Perhaps the key player in the tournament is Trinity point guard Pete Galgano. The Crusaders usually feed off of his play. It now seems ages ago that the Warriors were 10-0 and a strong favorite — until their first loss…to Trinity. The Warriors are 4-5 in their last nine games, and the importance of Jack Williams, who has missed most of that time with a pair of knee injuries, was magnified. Williams and Matt Kronenberg are one of the league’s best 1-2 scoring punches, and the Crusaders have struggled at times with teams that shoot well from the perimeter, so Wilton will need to hit a high percentage. The Warriors lack height and will need to deny Contavio the ball.
No. 1 Trumbull (18-2) vs. No. 8 Brien McMahon (14-6), 7 p.m. That the Eagles were able to make it through the season with just two losses is a remarkable accomplishment that has been underplayed. Their talent level is on a par with most of the other top teams, yet they have had an uncanny way of winning close games. Buddy Bray deserves consideration for Coach of the Year, but he probably won’t get many votes because for some reason it is made out to be taboo to give it to the same person for consecutive seasons. J.J. Pfohl is the leader on offense, Johnny McElroy is a veteran of big games and Timmond Williams is having a terrific sophomore year. The rest of the lineup takes turns stepping up on different nights. The Eagles are among the best defensive teams. The Senators along with Danbury are the most unpredictable teams. They lost to Warde by 12 points two weeks ago and then rebounded to beat Wilton by 13. In fact three of McMahon’s four losses against playoff teams have been by double figures. Eric Day is definitely a Player of the Year candidate and Matt Saint-Louis is another veteran on this guard-oriented team. The Senators’ wildcard is Aaron McKeithan and his ability to get second-chance points off the glass.
Quarterfinal winners: Ridgefield, Danbury, Trinity Catholic, Trumbull
Semifinal winners: Ridgefield, Trinity Catholic
Champion: Trinity Catholic
This was the wrong year to break with my habit of not predicting the outcome of high school games — kids tend to get sensitive that you don’t like or are disrespecting them, and I have no desire to end up on bulletin boards. These selections were made immediately after the seeds were finalized last night and I decided to stay with those instincts, though there is one last-minute change. I usually feel strongly about one or two games each year, but if I go 0 for 4 in my quarterfinal picks it would really be no surprise. Danbury and McMahon are the most difficult teams for me to handicap because they are the pair most likely to swing all or nothing. A sound team like the Blue Wave can frustrate the Hatters. I am very high on Ridgefield, and I’m counting on Trinity staying hot. I think Trumbull will keep its composure against McMahon. The only pick I changed was the Danbury-Ridgefield semifinal. The Hatters here would have to get by two of the three soundest teams in the field. I think Trinity can defeat Trumbull a second time. Ultimately, I am going with the two hottest teams in the tournament that have faced recent tests (Darien’s last game against a playoff team was Feb. 1). Form usually holds come playoff time, maybe even this year. I have stuck with the Crusaders through the lean stretches and most recently the upswing. I think the Stamford/Bridgeport streak stays alive.