For a game that everyone is calling the biggest of the FCIAC regular season, there doesn’t seem to be the appropriate buzz for Greenwich’s visit to Bridgeport Central on Tuesday night.
Maybe that’s because, in reality, it is not really the biggest but the most prominent game of the regular season, as the 10 teams all bunched and battling to get into the playoffs will attest.
That’s not to say that there is not both intrigue and storylines aplenty. The Hilltoppers were once considered an unbeatable team in the conference until they played a number of close games and then were beaten, by Westhill.
Central is still considered the favorite to win the league championship. First, it has the best overall talent. Second, as hard as it is to believe this late in the season, people still are not fully buying into the Cardinals, one of three remaining unbeaten teams in the state.
Why not? Good question. The Cardinals don’t really have that Wow factor, like the Hilltoppers’ press leading to Tyler Ancrum buzzing down the court in transition and finding an open player for an easy layup.
CJ Byrd is an MVP candidate for the Cardinals and center Alex Wolf is having a strong season. Jonathan Palmer is a contender for Defensive Player of the Year. The other two starters, Leonel Hyatt and Tom Povinelli, fit like the pieces to a puzzle. There is quality off the bench.
At the core, all of the ingredients that make Greenwich such a good team are what fails to rouse excitement. It is fundamentally sound, plays well together and — most importantly — plays tremendous defense out of a variety of formations.
Yes, we know, defense wins games. It just doesn’t have the glitz of, say, the Hilltoppers’ in-your-face, up-tempo play.
Talent-wise, the Cardinals are not that far ahead of many of the teams behind them in the standings. They just have greater chemistry and perform better as a unit to maximize the parts. It is actually an incredible accomplishment that thus far they haven’t slipped up even once.
So as for Tuesday’s game: everyone seems to be predicting a comfortable Central victory. The Hilltoppers are home and have tended to play to the level of the opposition.
But they have also been slowed and vexed by good zone defenses, and the Cardinals’ will likely be the best one they have seen thus far.
Actually, the outcome will likely come down to a reversal: how will the Cardinals’ guards handle what will likely be 32-minutes of pressure, the level of which they have not yet faced.
If Central wins, the street talk will be “told you so.” If Greenwich wins, those skeptics will finally be converted.
But in the big picture, the outcome will not hurt either team over the long term, which may be why there hasn’t been the kind of hype one would expect. (Reason 2: two teams with no historical rivalry.)
Greenwich will pretty much lock up the top seed in the conference tournament with a win. Central could be in danger of falling to the third seed with a loss, depending on what Westhill does the rest of the way.
Seeing that nine teams are currently one and one-half games apart for the final three berths, the difference in degree of difficulty for the top three seeds’ opening-round games will be minimal.
While the Vikings are in the championship conversation, for now Tuesday night is still the FCIAC’s regular-season game of the year, featuring two teams with contrasting styles.
One that will hopefully exceed the non-hype.
An introduction is needed here: I admit to having no idea how to seed teams 6-8. And if you say you do, you are lying.
There has been no consistency. Each of the teams in contention are capable of winning or losing by 20 points to another on any given night.
So this week, I’m ranking the last three teams based on which I have seen live and where I think their talent level should be, though I am dropping Harding out because of its current losing streak and adding one team I have not yet seen.
No. 1 Greenwich (14-0) vs. No. 8 Wilton (8-6). The Warriors remain on my to-see list. They so far have maximized their skill more than anyone else in the hunt.
No. 2 Bridgeport Central (13-1) vs. No. 7 Brien McMahon (7-7). Larry McKinney is a player, and the Senators have enough athletic ability to be a tournament threat — if they qualify.
No. 3 Westhill (13-2) vs. No. 6 Trinity Catholic (7-7). The Crusaders’ game Friday with St. Joseph will be huge, only for different reasons than past seasons. And a moment for a word of praise for the Vikings’ Jeremiah Livingston, who at this point has been elevated to my choice for the league’s most valuable player. He is a game-changer, and he can play relatively quietly and still drop 25 on you, as he did against McMahon on Friday.
No. 4 Ridgefield (11-3) vs. No. 5 Stamford (10-4). No reason not to repeat my words from last week: I would love to see this meeting actually play out. Two teams that play better than their talent levels.