The FCIAC had no teams left after the quarterfinal round of the state boys basketball tournaments, which came as little surprise to most observers in what was both a strange and one of the least memorable seasons in league history.
Danbury certainly was left to wonder what might have been after Notre Dame-Fairfield won the Division I Tournament Sunday. Six nights earlier, the Hatters held a 21-point lead heading into the fourth quarter of their quarterfinal game with the Lancers.
What followed was one of many improbable comebacks during the two weeks of the playoffs, and a Danbury overtime loss.
Still, Danbury got hot in the postseason and won its first FCIAC championship since 1992. Other than the season by Fairfield Warde’s Sean Conway, there be will no reason for historians to go scurrying back to a year in which right away it became apparent there was a split between haves and have-nots.
The league tournament was an assortment of mismatches or team’s struggling to patch together points, an ongoing storyline this winter.
According to people I have spoken to outside the area, the quality of play was down statewide but more pronounced in the FCIAC.
The hope is that the bottom of the league catches up to the top for some more compelling races next year. One issue to watch in the offseason: coaches are rightfully upset that more often than not the best officials were not assigned to the most important games. Referees have told me as long as they know what nights they are working, there is not a great need for too much advance notice where they will be working.
A shortage of officials is a continuing problem, but especially during the second half of the season this should become a meritorious system.
Here are my picks for the best of the best.
Most Valuable Player
Sean Conway, Fairfield Warde. There can be zero debate on this one. Conway is not in the conversation for best players in league history, but he had one of the greatest seasons. While there are no official records to verify the last time someone from the FCIAC averaged 30 points, it has been at the very least over 25 years.
Conway put up 31.5 points a game and was the primary reason the Mustangs finished fourth during the regular season. His presence also made those around him much better, and it was when Warde got complementary scoring contributions that it was at the most dangerous.
Conway’s impact went beyond his scoring. He actually averaged a double-double, with 13 rebounds a game. That was especially important with center Malcolm Brune missing most of the season recovering from a concussion.
Conway scored a season-high 44 points against Trumbull, but his most memorable game was on the final night of the regular season against Ridgefield, when he went head to head against the Tigers’ Brenden McNamara in an outcome that only was going to affect the Mustangs’ seeding.
In the best game of the year, Conway’s game-winning shot over three defenders with 1.2 seconds remaining was the most memorable play, completing a 40-point night.
Fairfield University started scouting Conway during the postseason. It would be a treat to see him remain local.
Most Improved Player
James St. Pierre, Ridgefield. St. Pierre’s emergence is probably the biggest reason why the Tigers modestly exceeded expectations to win the regular-season title by tiebreaker. McNamara was a given coming into the year, but the supporting cast was an unknown commodity.
Most of the attention initially focused on guard Luke McGarrity, who missed most of the year because of injury.
St. Pierre was hardly a supporting player. At least two coaches designed their gameplans to take St. Pierre away, figuring McNamara was going to get his points and the key was to not let anyone else on Ridgefield hurt them.
St. Pierre could score, distribute and was a leader. His versatility allowed Ridgefield to defeat both Trinity Catholic and Danbury during the regular season.
The Tigers had a disappointing postseason, especially with their first-round loss to Norwalk in the FCIAC Tournament, but it was St. Pierre’s play that kept them within striking distance of Hamden in the state playoffs.
Most Underrated Player
Chris Brown, Trumbull; Javon Hernandez, Danbury. I asked two coaches for their input in trying to decide whether to make Brown or Hernandez the pick here. Perhaps not surprisingly, one picked Brown and one Hernandez.
I can’t decide so we have a tie. Brown was probably a little more unsung. He didn’t excel in any one area but he was solid in all. He is the kind of glue player every team needs to be successful and was a key factor in the Eagles’ late-season run that took them to the FCIAC championship game.
Hernandez set the tempo for the Hatters all year. He allowed Casey Bock to speed the game up, as was most often the case, or slow it down into a halfcourt chess match, which happened against Trinity Catholic in the FCIAC semifinals.
Both players were overshadowed by teammates. In Brown’s case it was Timmond Williams; with Hernandez it was Jordon Brown and Denali Burton.
If not for the play of Brown and Hernandez, the Hatters may not have won the league title and the Eagles would not have reached the final.
Coach Of The Year
Zach Smith, Stamford. Though the talent in the league was down, the quality on the sidelines continues to remain strong, due to an influx in recent years of some promising young coaches who should be mainstays for the next decade or two.
One of those is Smith, and he gets the nod here over Trumbull’s Buddy Bray, with consideration also given to Bock and Ridgefield’s Andrew McClellan.
The Black Knights played better than their overall skill level, in large part because Smith put his players in a position to succeed, especially on the defensive end of the court. He came up with a great roadmap that almost led to a win against Trinity Catholic in the opening round of the FCIAC Tournament.
Tough upset is the most overused word in state tournaments, thrown out each time a lower seed defeats a higher one, Stamford did take down No. 1 Simsbury in the second round of the Division II Tournament.
The Black Knights were the perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of their parts, and Smith squeezed everything he could out of them.
Jordon Brown, Danbury
Sean Conway, Fairfield Warde
Contavio Dutreil, Trinity Catholic
Brenden McNamara, Ridgefield
Timmond Williams, Trumbull
Denali Burton, Danbury
Tyrique Langley, Norwalk
Dimitry Moise, Trinity Catholic
Tevin St. John, Stamford
James St. Pierre, Ridgefield
Antonio Brancato, Wilton
Scott Cunningham, Wilton
D.J. Fulton, Bridgeport Central
Stephon McGill, Trinity Catholic
Ra’Quon Riley, Bridgeport Central
Usually it is a grind to put together a five-player first team. This was the easiest one I can ever remember. It was actually probably more difficult for coaches to put together the FCIAC’s version, with eight players, because the difference in players 7-12 becomes less obvious.
It would have been nice to cop out and go with a six-player team, because Burton is the only one outside the top five who was worthy of consideration, but there was no one to bump.
Burton and Williams are the early favorites for the preseason Player of the Year next December, and Trumbull, with everyone back, and Danbury, which will return three starters and most of their bench, are 1-2 right now to give a reprisal in the championship game.