The first round of the CIAC boys basketball tournaments are over, with the FCIAC posting an 8-6 record.
In Class LL, conference schools were 7-4, and that includes two games in which teams from the league faced each other.
In terms of surprises, the biggest one was Westhill losing to Warren Harding. The Presidents struggled at the end of the season, but they have been thriving in the role of spoilers. In the final game of the regular season they defeated Norwalk, denying the Bears an FCIAC Tournament berth.
Next on the list would be the win by Darien, the No. 26 seed in Class L, which won its first postseason game since 1990, taking down No. 7 Guilford.
And Wilton, the 20th seed in Class LL, advanced on Scott Shouvlin’s shot at the buzzer at the end of the second overtime period to eliminate No. 13 Hartford Public.
The word upset gets bandied around too much in state play. Mid-level teams in large and strong conferences are often more talented and seasoned than the champions of smaller leagues.
In this instance, I don’t find the wins by Darien and Wilton overly shocking.
As were prepare for Wednesday’s start of second-round play, here are five thoughts as we look both behind and ahead.
1. Joel Geriak is the real deal. I covered Geriak as a player at Westhill and then as an assistant coach. He was mentored by one of the best: the well-traveled Jeff Bussey. Geriak was then passed over in five interviews before landing his first head position, at Wilton last year. Taking over a program with little reputation in the sport, he led the Warriors a year ago to a 15-9 mark, into the league tournament and to the quarterfinal round of the Class L Tournament — they lost to eventual champion Woodstock Academy in overtime by two points. Geriak was named the FCIAC Coach of the Year. It can be argued he has done an even better job this season, but has been overshadowed because of similar outstanding jobs by Greenwich’s Bill Brehm, Stamford’s Danny Melzer and Ridgefield’s Andrew McClellan. The Warriors returned to the league playoffs and lost to Greenwich. Now, up in Class LL, they get another shot at the Cardinals in the second round Thursday night. Geriak has followed the Bussey template: maximizing the ability of players with good but unspectacular talent and getting them to overachieve. If the town can continue to develop players, the Warriors are in good shape for a long time.
2. Trinity Catholic was totally dependent on Tremaine Fraiser. There were a number of teams whose fortunes rode on the performance of one player this season. One of those was the Crusaders, and that was never more evident than in their 74-50 first-round loss to Windsor. Trinity trailed, 53-47, and Fraiser had a 3-point shot that would have cut the deficit in half rim out. Fraiser then fouled out, and Windsor closed the game on a 21-3 run.
3. This was a bad year for the private schools. People bemoan the inherent advantage Trinity Catholic and St. Joseph have because they both draw students from a regional area. It has certainly contributed to their long-term success. Both teams struggled this season. While the Crusaders had little experience besides Fraiser, they were hurt by a horrible early start; talent-wise they had the ability to be a lower FCIAC seed instead of not qualifying. The Cadets were a puzzling team. They earned the final seed in the league playoffs —and nearly upset eventual champion Bridgeport Central — on the final night of the regular season. Many thought the Cadets were a state tournament sleeper. Instead, they lost in the first round to Bunnell. The pieces seemed to be in place once Arkel Ager-Lamar became eligible, but the chemistry just never developed.
4. Darien finally ended its postseason drought. Darien has one of the strongest across-the-board sports programs in the state, but boys basketball has never gained any traction. What the long-term future holds is unclear, but perhaps no team is experiencing more unbridled joy right now than the Blue Wave. Monday night they pulled away to a convincing 15-point win over Guilford. Their last postseason win? Against Crosby in the first round of the state tournament in 1990. Next up is Avon on Wednesday night.
5. Ridgefield has the best chance of all FCIAC lower seeds. The Tigers were barely mentioned in the preseason. They lost their best player, Kurt Steidl, two other starters and coach Carl Charles. Their top scorer, Matt Brennan, was lost for the season after 12 games. With surprisingly little fanfare, Ridgefield earned the third seed in the FCIAC playoffs, advanced to the semifinals and now are 18-5 following Tuesday’s win over West Haven. It certainly wouldn’t be considered a huge surprise, but the Tigers have a strong chance to make it 19 wins when they travel to No. 7 New London on Wednesday. That would likely mean a quarterfinal meeting with Bridgeport Central. If Ridgefield ends up reaching the conference semifinals and state quarterfinals, that is a pretty successful season.