Girls Basketball

Breaking Down The FCIAC Girls Basketball Tournament

Cassi Barbato is focused on leading Trumbull to its second FCIAC title in four years. (Dylan Goodman)

Ridgefield took down the top three seeds last year and won the FCIAC girls basketball title as the seventh seed. No sneaking past anyone the next two weeks, though truth be told the Tigers had the personnel a year ago but peaked late.

The unbeaten Tigers are the top seeds and get homecourt advantage, a huge edge. Staples, despite two straight losses, surprised many with its 10-0 start. The top seven seeds were all predicted to occupy those spots, though maybe not in the order they finished.

The tournament begins with Round of 16 games tomorrow and the quarterfinals on Saturday, with the semifinals on March 24 and the final on March 27.

Format

If we could get a slightly expanded season — the pandemic has taught us all how to think differently, often for the better — it would be great to have this format of all 16 teams qualifying. Or if you want to reward regular-season work, make it a 12-team tournament, with the top four seeds earning byes.

Right now lets root for getting all 15 games played, with complete lineups.

Biggest Early Upset

Honestly, I don’t like any. The high seeds have really stood out this year. If I have to pick one, why not choose the team that lost to its first-round opponent by 20 points just four days ago.

Danbury dominated at New Canaan on Friday. The Rams are a sleeper team and the Hatters have had a difficult stretch making up games coming out of quarantine. Tomorrow will make it four in five days. Maybe the better rested Rams pull off a surprise.

Player To Watch

There are so many players to watch. As I did with the boys yesterday, I’ll give you an injured and healthy player.

Staples’ Alva Nordin has been one of the league’s most consistent players, the top option on a team that has received contributions from six different players. Nordin injured her ankle last week against St. Joseph and the Wreckers lost their first game. She did not play against Ridgefield. Loss number two.

In a deep league I’m not sure how far Staples gets without Nordin.

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As for my healthy player, it is Trumbull’s Cassi Barbato. She got off to a slow start during a front-loaded portion of the schedule as defenses wisely made her a central focus.

The light went off recently, and the more assertive Barbato has emerged. She is on a streak of 20-plus games, and yesterday, against Danbury, she made eight 3-pointers and scored 33 points.

If provided offensive support by her teammates, Barbato will be even more effective. When she is on Barbato is the best player in a league full of good ones.

The last few weeks Barbato has lifted her game. She was part of Trumbull’s last FCIAC championship team, as a freshman. She’s intent on leaving the school with a second.

Final Four

Ridgefield, Trumbull, Ludlowe, Danbury. Ridgefield won the title as the No. 7 seed a year ago and I came so close to rolling a 7 repeat this time with Danbury. The Hatters didn’t get the draw that would have made me seriously consider picking them, and then their blowout loss to Trumbull yesterday gave me cold feet.

I’m not sure I would call it a big surprise, but I do like the Hatters to get past an injury-riddled Staples team in the second round. The other three picks are not surprises.

And The Winner Is…?

Ridgefield and Trumbull met to open the season, and a rematch to end the season would be a treat to girls basketball fans. The Tigers made it through the regular-season obstacle course unbeaten, while the 10-2 Eagles have won seven games in a row and are peaking.

One of those losses of course was to Ridgefield, by seven points. The Tigers got to play with an early lead and won with a stifling defensive effort. They held Barbato to 7 points.

Can they do it again? These teams have a lot in common. A strong group of seniors complemented by a quality supporting cast. Offenses that feed off of their defenses. Barbato and Ridgefield’s Katie Flynn have been the two top players this season.

The Tigers’ homecourt advantage is huge, and the trip from Trumbull is long. I’ve felt there was something special about the Eagles since the preseason, and with the added revenge factor I’m picking them to take the trophy home, say in a quadruple overtime game.