GREENWICH — Bill Brehm asked one thing of his Greenwich High School boys basketball team in December.
Commit to The Sun.
That is what is emblazoned on the front of the Cardinals’ practice jerseys. The Sun, of course, is Mohegan Sun, the site of the CIAC basketball championship games.
The Cardinals are now one win away from their intended destination following Monday night’s 59-54 quarterfinal win over New Britain. This is the program’s first trip to the Final Four.
There is one large final roadblock on the Cardinals’ path: top-seeded and unbeaten Fairfield Prep. The Jesuits were everyone’s preseason favorites, and they are two victories from running the table.
As far as giant obstacles within giant obstacles, Prep is led by 7-2 center Paschal Chukwu, a player the Cardinals are familiar with. Chukwu spent his first two years at Trinity Catholic before transferring. He is headed next year to Providence.
Greenwich will go into the game as a decided underdog. Two of its three losses have been to Bridgeport Central, which is still alive in the other semifinal. Many consider Prep a superior team.
If that is the case we will find out over the next five days, because Prep might have to do an FCIAC two-step to win the title.
Greenwich does have one thing in its favor: 6-8 center Alex Wolf. The battle of the big men could very well be the deciding factor in the game. When Wolf is on, he is one of the state’s most dominant players. And it won’t take long to gauge Wolf’s mindset. Watch him on the first few touches. Does he go right at Chukwu or is he tentative?
It is easy to be intimidated by Chukwu’s size and — boy do I hate that this word has become popular in the basketball lexicon — length. Wolf is used to looking down at, not up to, defenders.
The Wolf test will be one early — but hardly the only — indication of the Cardinals’ chances.
Two other points to take note of:
— How do the Jesuits look to defend CJ Byrd, and what is Byrd’s “selfishness” factor. While the Cardinals’ chemistry is one of their greatest assets, and they will find it difficult to overcome an off night by one of their top six players, Byrd is the difference-maker.
Perhaps because of the Cardinals’ postseason run, the pendulum of public opinion has swung and Byrd might now win a vote for FCIAC Player of the Year over Central’s Tyler Ancrum and Westhill’s Jeremiah Livingston.
It doesn’t really matter. What does is Byrd needs a big offensive night. He has carried the team often this season, and Monday night he was as assertive as he has been all year in getting the ball in space and driving to the basket.
Byrd is deferential when discussing his play, and at least voiced the opinion after the New Britain game that he felt he was playing selfishly in taking a majority of the shots.
While staying within the framework of the offense, the Cardinals are going to need a selfish Byrd flying to the basket.
— The defensive factor. Greenwich’s defense ranks with the state’s best. It was obvious early on Monday that New Britain hadn’t faced anything like it and the guess here is that this is the best one the Jesuits will face.
Figure that Jonathan Palmer, the Cardinals’ best stopper, will be matched up against Prep’s Thomas Nolan, with point guard Tommy Povinelli of Greenwich assigned to Keith Pettway.
This is an intriguing watch, because Prep’s backcourt is as good as any Greenwich has seen.
Yes, we know, defense wins championships. In this case, the Cardinals are going to need it to get to the championship.