By Dave Ruden
GREENWICH — There were a number of impartial observers who traveled to Greenwich High School on Tuesday night. The impetus was not to watch one of the FCIAC’s two remaining unbeaten teams, but rather what was an anticipated coming-out party for St. Joseph.
The Cadets had underachieved but were riding a two-game winning streak that coincided with the debut of Arkel Ager, the transfer who had been ineligible.
Most believed Ager was the panacea St. Joseph needed.
As it turned out, Tuesday night was not the celebration for the Cadets many expected. The lack of cohesion that caused the slow start was further exposed.
That had a lot to do with the Cardinals, who usurped the storyline with their 74-55 win.
Greenwich may be 11-0, but it hasn’t been afforded the respect it has earned. The simplistic reason for success has been the CJ Byrd-Alex Wolf connection, and on the surface Tuesday’s game did little to change that. Byrd just exploded, finishing with 31 points. He has had a tremendous year. I consider him underrated.
Wolf controlled the paint and added 17 points. It seems almost every team has a tall center this year, but the 6-10 Wolf is the best of the bunch.
But the reason the Cardinals have staying power this season is the play of their other three starters — John Palmer, Tom Povinelli and Leonel Hyatt — plus a more than adequate bench.
Greenwich’s unsung trio is always going to get overshadowed by Byrd and Wolf. Without Palmer, Povinelli and Hyatt, the Cardinals are not undefeated at this point. They would have slipped up somewhere.
Palmer and Hyatt are two terrific defenders. Palmer is lockdown good. And Povinelli offers the perimeter game that allows Byrd the openings to slash through and Wolf the chances to get isolated.
“Palmer is just relentless,” Greenwich coach Bill Brehm said after the game. “He doesn’t care about anything but getting his assignment done.”
The Cardinals’ real unsung hero wasn’t even in attendance Tuesday. That is assistant Billy Murphy, the former head coach at New Rochelle, who has worked closely to develop Greenwich’s multi-defense system. He had hernia surgery and missed the St. Joseph game.
“We wanted to go out and play good defense for him,” Povinelli said.
Greenwich’s team chemistry became more apparent because it is a commodity the Cadets are currently lacking.
And the Cardinals are going to still fly as high as Byrd will help take them (OK, I couldn’t resist writing that at least once this year).
As Povinelli said, “The first team that stops CJ is the first team that is going to give us a tough time.”
There is still another half a regular season to go. Parity remains the conference’s keyword. Yet because the pieces fit together so well, the Cardinals have become a storyline, not a supporting player.
No. 1 Bridgeport Central (11-0) vs. No. 8 Danbury (6-5). My picks for the No. 7 and 8 spots change by the hour as we wait for a team or two to gain consistent traction. Right now I’m putting the Hatters here based on CJ White’s ability to carry a team.
No. 2 Greenwich (11-0) vs. No. 7 Trinity Catholic (5-6). After watching the Crusaders against Stamford last Friday night, the feeling here is they have the talent to be a middle to lower seed but have really underachieved. Was the win over the Black Knights a turning point or mirage?
No. 3 Westhill (10-2) vs. No. 6 Harding (7-4). The Vikings are a good team. Can they play with the big boys? We find out Friday night when they host Central.
No. 4 Ridgefield (8-3) vs. No. 5 Stamford (8-4). If I was bringing a child to his first game with the hopes of teaching him the fundamentals of the sport, we would be headed to either Ridgefield or Greenwich.