The top four seeds in the FCIAC girls basketball tournament, which begins Saturday, had three or fewer losses in conference play. Three schools, in fact, were tied with three defeats, including Trumbull, which will be the third seed.
In two of the losses the Eagles were held under 30 points, by New Canaan and Darien. Those neighboring schools won’t be in Westport this weekend for the quarterfinals. Neither qualified, finishing, respectively, three and four games out of a playoff spot.
Those wins over Trumbull were less aberrations then proof that the strength of the girls basketball game is as healthy as ever. Four schools combined for a total of five wins in conference play. Playing the other 13 teams, you had to be ready every night.
Fairfield Warde finished with six wins. It took Staples to overtime and lost to four other playoff teams by six points or fewer.
The top teams this year may not be as strong overall as they were a decade ago, but the dropoff is not that great. And there are more good teams than ever before. Girls basketball is attracting both the 24/7 gym rat and three-sport athletes, whose skill sets help compensate for less time working on their shooting.
Looking at the All-FCIAC team from a decade ago, the top eight players this season would be very competitive.
It is a stark contrast to the boys game, which has been on an inexplicable downswing, with no end in sight. There are fewer really good male players than ever before. The top teams this year not long ago would have been battling for the 6-8 playoff spots, if not just to qualify.
It is a nearly unanimous sentiment expressed privately by veteran watchers of the league. The boys game’s major selling point for some time has been driven by parity of a different sort from the girls. There are few teams very distinguishable from one another. Unpredictability drives excitement.
An All-FCIAC team is going to be a difficult call because the players, like their teams, are pretty much all of the same vanilla flavoring. I have been talking to a number of league coaches with the regular season winding down to get their sentiments, and most agree there are about eight to 10 similar puzzle pieces available for five spots.
Sports are cyclical, and there are many other sports where the quality is down. Specialization and the growing extinction of three-sport athletes certainly has not helped high school athletics in general.
The point here is not to knock the boys’ game but to praise the ladies. Those who prefer women’s college basketball over men’s usually point to better fundamentals. But FCIAC boys basketball is probably as technically sound as it has been, in part because of necessity and in part because there are currently a number of young and very good coaches.
Look no farther than league leader Ridgefield, which has just one loss because of a number of factors, making fewer mistakes than opponents being high on the list.
The girls game is a mixture of wily veterans and exciting young players. That is pretty much a description of Greenwich and the formula used to earn the fifth seed and a quarterfinal game against Norwalk, which is also an entertaining team to watch.
You are likely to find more running and transition play in the girls game right now. Trumbull and Ridgefield, to name just two teams, have flourished recently by having girls that both don’t want to leave the gym and want to play as many sports as possible.
Perhaps the Tigers’ quarterfinal game against Danbury, the fast-climbing team that has worked itself into title contention, will be the ultimate chess match. Ridgefield depends on the multi-sport athlete that is content to spend at least three to four months in the gym.
Staples this year is also replete with girls who have excelled in outdoor spots.
Female basketball right now is flourishing at all levels. Hopefully, owning the spotlight for three nights, the Westport and Trumbull gyms will draw some new fans. They won’t be disappointed in the product.