By Dave Ruden
GREENWICH — Come on, admit it, a lot of us showed up at Greenwich High School Tuesday night expecting a changing of the guard. Or at least the possibility.
People still were not believing in an unbeaten Greenwich, expecting imminent deflation. And who possessed the pin? St. Joseph. Because no one believed the Cadets could continue as poorly as they started because, well, they are the Cadets. And the reserves had arrived.
Well it was the storyline that got deflated, and not long after the opening tap.
It was the Cardinals that played with the greater sense of urgency and was more fundamentally sound. Their 74-55 win was a validation of what has carried them to an 11-0 start.
You can sum up the difference between the teams easily: St. Joseph needs what Greenwich has in abundance. And that is chemistry.
“I see why they haven’t lost any games. “They pass the ball well, get the big guy looks,” said St. Joseph coach Chris Watts, referring to Alex Wolf, the Cardinals’ 6-10 center. “The chemistry needs to be there. If you are going to do anything in the postseason, you need chemistry.”
The Cadets, now 4-7 over all and 3-6 in league play, saw their FCIAC Tournament hopes reach DEFCON 1. There is no margin for error, and right now it is uncertain if a solution can be found in time.
Arkel Ager, the highly touted transfer, was supposed to be an answer. He finished with 16 points and showed in spurts against Greenwich the ability to live up to all the hype.
The problem is St. Joseph has already had a difficult time putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and, in Ager and Notre Dame of Fairfield transfer Joe Mangameli, now have two more pieces to integrate.
Watts looked and sounded frustrated afterward.
“What we have to do is come out and play as hard as other teams play us,” Watts said. “We don’t have an urgency to want to stop guys.”
If Watts needs a template for his players, he can spend Wednesday’s practice showing them a tape of Tuesday night’s game, focusing on Greenwich.
It is obvious to point to the CJ Byrd-Alex Wolf connection as the reason behind the Cardinals’ dominance. Byrd and Cardinals make it easy on headline writers, so we will resist the temptation to talk about the Greenwich forward soaring with his 31-point effort against St. Joseph, save for maybe the nasty dunk he threw down in the final minutes. Twenty of his points came in the second half.
And Wolf controlled the paint, finishing with 17. St. Joseph could not contain either player.
But the real reason people have been late on the Greenwich bandwagon is they are not paying attention to the supporting cast, namely the other three starters: John Palmer, Tom Povinelli and Leonel Hyatt.
Povinelli scored all 12 of his points in the first half. Palmer may be the best defender on what is the league’s best defensive team, and he made it hard for St. Joseph to get open looks for Jonny Dzurenda. Hyatt got into foul trouble but he made Ager work for his points.
“We love it,” Povinelli said of the Cardinals’ delight working the defensive end. “Johnny starts us off and we follow in his footsteps. It’s all man-to-man and pressure defense.”
Povinelli smiled when asked if the Cardinals sensed that there remained non-believers.
“I think a couple of people aren’t buying into the Cardinals, but it doesn’t matter what other people think,” he said.
Bill Brehm has done a masterful job of keeping his players on an even keel, though one gets the sense they are pretty self-motivated in that area.
“The more success you have, the harder you want to work,” Brehm said. “We talked about that tonight. Not getting complacent. One reason why they are not is because they have chemistry.”
That word popped up a lot Tuesday night and remained the chasm that currently separates the two teams. Can the Cadets develop what Greenwich has?
Their season right now depends on it.