Boys Basketball

Commentary: State Basketball Playoffs A Continued Disservice To Players, Coaches, Fans

New Canaan and St. Joseph will both be competing in Division IV of the state playoffs. (Gregory Vasil)

If the members of the boys basketball committee took the time to study possible draws in constructing the state tournament — based upon recent history I am not certain I want to take that leap assuming affirmatively — I could see them staring at something that looks very much like the mathematical equation on the board at the beginning of Good Will Hunting.

Unfortunately, Matt Damon’s Will Hunting isn’t around to help out.

The state playoffs begin tonight on the road toward crowning five — yes, five, we are after all Connecticut (and five finals in Mohegan Sun make more money than four) — champions.

It may seem unfair not to wait until after the tournament for our annual dart-throwing at the easiest of targets. It is not like everyone else isn’t already doing it, but now that the brackets are set up and in a sense there are teams to serve as faces, it is more timely.

Of the 10 teams in the latest GameTime poll, four are not competing in the Division I tournament, ostensibly the one designed for the best teams. For those who want to argue this is like football, and Greenwich doesn’t face Ansonia, fine. But the five fields are not based on the male populations at schools either.

So what does winning a title make you the best of? Basically an amorphous group of schools that were predetermined nearly a year ago, based on recent history, not 2018-19.

The lack of logic defies logic.

Staying closer to home, the top four seeds in the just completed FCIAC Tournament will be competing in three different classes. New Canaan, which is 2-2 against Division I schools and was LL in football, is in Division IV.

The Rams have been the best story of the FCIAC season. They qualified for the state playoffs for the first time in a decade. They even earned a little national attention along the way because of an insane buzzer-beating halfcourt shot in a win over Stamford.

New Canaan should be competing against top teams. It should at least be playing against teams of similar sizes. A state title would be a worthy exclamation point. But take a look at the other 27 Division IV teams and find me some commonality. At least St. Joseph hails from the same conference.

But the Rams’ placement, like all other schools, was decided last April.

And you can find over two dozen others that are not classified properly.

In Division I, the road to Mohegan Sun is really a skip to the end of the block. Twelve of the 20 teams get first-round byes, which means it is likely the champion will have only won four games.

That is a playoff? Sixteen teams would still be laughable but preferred because at least there wouldn’t be any byes.

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And for those who decry needing to win just 40 percent of your games to qualify for the postseason in most sports, you don’t need to win any in Division I.

The boys basketball playoffs are one of the state’s showcase events. The weekend at Mohegan Sun is special. But because of constrictions that really are self-imposed — Trinity Catholic and St. Joseph are schools of choice, Brien McMahon and Trumbull, despite special programs, are not though treated that way — there is an unwillingness to solve this problem the way everyone would like to. With four divisions: one for schools of choice and three — L, M and S — based on the number of male students.

So modifications are made annually that give players, coaches and fans something substandard. Two years ago a committee member decided to come up with an admittedly arbitrary — I saw the emails — system based on schools’ past performances.

That is a red light right there. You are forming divisions based on expectations from the past and not the present body of work. That does not allow for teams like New Canaan, which matured this year because of senior leadership. It does not allow for teams that may get either an impact transfer or the occasional star or two that turns a program with a weak pedigree into a contender for a season or more.

The bottom line: playoff divisions should be based on actual performance, not on what is anticipated months earlier based on dated data.

So I will revisit my own modest proposal, which has been met with mostly positive reviews. At the end of league playoffs, or sometime shortly before, a field of 32 teams should be selected and seeded by a committee, using records and strength of schedule. You eliminate the chance that schools will throw games, which happened at Ridgefield many years ago and ruined a perfect Division I Tournament, because there is no formula that will reveal where teams are ranked.

If you want to create theater, you could stream a selection show.

After you choose the 32 schools, the remaining qualifiers are put into L, M and S divisions based on size.

So you have a true state champion and three more based on the commonality of size.

Is it perfect? No. Smaller schools are not going to want to play against larger ones in a Division I Tournament and would rather opt competing for the S title.

Another complaint is schools being able to scout each other during the year. First, in this era it takes 10 minutes to get a scouting report on almost any other team. And if this is the biggest issue, so be it.

Coaches I talk to regularly dislike the current format. Three complained to me in the past week they feel the committee is essentially a fiefdom and there is no forum for input.

The bottom line: the boys basketball tournament continues to be treated like an unsolvable mathematical problem, and we have a current system that no one in this state should be proud of.

When the five champions are raising their index fingers at the Mohegan Sun rafters in two weekends and chanting “We’re No. 1,” we should be able to answer the question “No. 1 of what?”